How to Get Your Board Members To Help Identify Major Gift Prospects

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Sometimes when board members are asked to help identify major gift prospects, it can be uncomfortable.

Here’s why:

Board members often don’t want to share names of people they know because they’re afraid they will be asked to “hit up” their friends.

And this is perfectly natural. We don’t blame them.

But, many of our capital campaign clients need help from their board members who may be connected to philanthropists in their community. When we work with clients to develop their campaign donor pyramids and master campaign prospect lists, often they turn to key board members to open doors.

Here is our practical solution to this challenge. It’s an actionable exercise with board members designed to gain their help in this most important arena.

A “game” to help get board members focusing on the largest major gift prospects of all.

This VIP Prospect “game” introduces board members to the fundamental fundraising activity of prospect identification.

We like to approach board members with a light touch. The idea of a game helps to lower the pressure and make the fundraising discussion more casual – but it’s still very productive.

When you set up fundraising discussions as activities that are fun and interesting  – then everyone will be more more likely to participate. And people will all be more productive.

Ask board members: “Can you consider this? Who might be the 10 people who could catapult our organization’s financial future?”

This helps board members brainstorm about very, very high level prospects. Major prospects.

We are asking them to think about people and organizations who can make a huge – not small – difference.

We’d recommend this: Don’t ask your important volunteers to focus on $100 or even $1000 prospects. Instead, let’s ask them to think much bigger.

Let’s try to identify major gift prospects who are the few wonderful donors (foundations, corporations, individuals, organizations) who could absolutely catapult your organization to a whole new level.

This is the level that can make a huge impact on your community or your cause.

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Who are VIP Prospects?

They are the civic, philanthropic, political, religious, corporate or social leaders in your community. Or they are major players at your organization or in your field.

These major donors, important stakeholders and key leaders should of course be your top priority.

Not only do they give, but they are also important opinion leaders who influence many other donors.

Think broadly.  But DO think big when your team is considering major gift prospects!

How to play the VIP Prospect Game with board members.

We do this at every Easy Fundraising for Board Members retreat that we present. Even more, we run this exercise with Capital Campaign Steering Committees, too. And everyone loves it – including board members.

This is an easy way for board members to help identify major gift prospects.

Set the game up by asking your board members:

1. “Please take out a small scrap of paper. You do not have to turn this in to anyone.

3. “See if you can identify 10 people (or sources of revenue) who could actually catapult our organization’s future.

4.  “The people you name could be current or former donors.  Or they could be prospective donors.

5.  “They have to be people we could reasonably approach. Not someone pie in the sky like Oprah or Bill Gates.

Then sit down quietly and let them work. It’s fun to see the thoughtful looks on faces around the room.

Give them plenty of time here. Then ask,

6. “Now please turn to the person next to you and discuss one of the names on your lists.

Processing the Exercise

One of our goals is to help board members get used to this kind of high-level strategic thinking about mega fundraising opportunities.

This is really how you want to go about identifying new major gift prospects.

Ask them:

“What was your experience like doing this exercise?

They’ll probably have a lot of  comments.

Someone may say:

“It was different and interesting to focus at such a high level.”


“It puts everything on a completely different level. It’s challenging. And it’s where we SHOULD be focusing.”

Or someone might say,

“I don’t know anybody who can make this list.”

Or you’ll get anything in between.

Lower the pressure and you’ll get more done.

The hook in this exercise is that it is private.

They don’t have to turn their list in.  (The fundraisers may not like it but we need to start here.)

It makes everything different by removing the pressure.

They are free to think broadly and not be self conscious like people often are in a full board meeting.

What might result?

Afterwards, a board member may say:

“What about Mr. Washington? Do we know him? Has he ever given? I play golf with him. I think I might be able to get the door open to him.”

And suddenly you have a board member who is willing and interested in helping.

We like the concept of “catapult.”

This helps move board members away from “managing” and into “strategic thinking” – particularly thinking about strategic alliances that could change everything.

Don’t waste time thinking small.

A VIP Prospect Task Force

The final step that we recommend to clients: Don’t leave all this good thinking to waste.

At this moment, board members are focused and interested in discussing prospects. They are activated and curious.

Ask for volunteers for a temporary “VIP Prospect Task Force.”

Their job is to meet ONLY twice with the staff and help create or add to your organization’s own Major Donor Prospect List.

Every time we do this exercise, we have at least half of the board members willing – and wanting – to talk more about this topic.

It’s interesting. And it’s the high-level place where board members should be focusing.

Bottom Line – Help board members identify major gift prospects:

Here’s what this game does for board members:

  • It introduces them to a new way of thinking about identifying prospects.


  • It introduces them to the whole idea of cultivation strategy – how to get the door open at the highest possible level.

This is a great way to introduce key Major Gifts and Capital Campaign concepts to board members. Even more, you’ll gain their buy-in and participation.