Guide to Creating a Major Donor Rating Chart, Part 2

donor rating (1)

Last month, we advocated in the Fundraising Free Press that organizations cull their databases and speak with board members about people who could be major donors. To get very practical, we offer in this article a sample spreadsheet with commentary to – hopefully – make clear how to do the science of rating and then how to do the art of analyzing the data.

The rating process is conducted by a small group of informed people, perhaps 5 to 7 members, who think through the prospect list in a confidential session of no more than 30 names.

Recall that there are six objectives:

  1. How do we know the prospects, who is the right person to contact them and what do we think is the extent of their networks?
  2. Is this person philanthropic, are there touch points between proven giving and our mission, do we believe we can interest this person in our mission?
  3. What is the person’s history of giving in terms of amounts; could we expect a major gift (size to be determined) from this prospect (individual/corporation/foundation/trust, etc.)?
  4. Are there special factors that would separate out a prospect from the crowd? For instance, in a capital campaign CDS conducted, the prospect was not wealthy but knew many wealthy and influential people in the community and could get us appointments with other prospects. He got an extra point or two.
  5. What are the anecdotes, impressions, feelings, history, rumors and beliefs that surround the individual?
  6. Who is the best person in our organization to continue developing a close relationship?

Rate your prospects with 1 through 5 for Linkage, Interest and Ability to give, with 5 being the highest. Remember to focus on your top prospects, especially those who get a high rating for wealth. This is where the money is. That part is mostly science: art comes to play in ranking your best prospects into A1 or A2 or A3, B1 or B2 or B3, or C categories. You want both your high wealth prospects and the ones you believe you can get “quick wins” with at the head of your list.

Let’s take a look at the prospects in our spreadsheet and begin to analyze what priority we should assign to each person. In this example, we have Tim, Mary, Stan and Dorothy as the prospect managers analyzing the prospect list.

Successful Banker

He and his family have been in the community for a long time. He’s accustomed to being asked for advice and helping to lead the charge with community activities and improvements. In terms of Linkage, Tim (one of the prospect managers) and our banker are good friends. Tim is certain he can get an appointment to meet and solicit the banker, so we give a 5 there for Linkage. But our banker is not so interested in our program, getting a 3. Finally, we know from past experience that he can be a leader in giving, if not at the top, rating a 4 in Ability.

Young Architect

What an enthusiastic young man we have! He’s very interested in our project and we suspect that he is trying to build a name for his firm. While he rates a 5 in Linkage, and a 4 in Interest, his Ability likely is a 1, if not a 0.

Family Trust/Trustee

One of the sweetest people you’ll ever met, she has been a dowager/doyenne in the community for many years. She’s set in her ways so we’re unsure how she will react to our planned project. Stan thinks she has Ability through the family trust to be a top giver so he advocates a 5, but others remind him that he doesn’t know her that well, thus a 3 for Linkage. As to her Interest, the group votes a 3.

Solid Businessman

If there is someone who represents the community, it’s our friend here. Dorothy knows him very well and advocates a 5 for Linkage. All agree that our businessman is committed to the community and is interested in our project—he gets a 4 there. But raters believe he’s got lots of capital tied up in inventory so they are uncertain of his Ability, rating it a 2.


This young woman is full of ideas and making a great start in developing her product. Newly arrived in town, she’s engaging in civic affairs and appears very interested in our project. While John is the person who knows her best, he doesn’t know her very well, all agreeing to a rating of 2 for Linkage. She gets a 4 for Interest, but a lowly 1 for Ability; all of her money is tied up in developing her product.

Spiffy Foundation

This foundation actually has a sizeable endowment. However, we have never cultivated their executive director or board members. Tim gets along well with the Executive Director, but can’t say he’d rate the relationship above a 3. Our project might meet the foundation’s guidelines for giving, but is somewhat tangential, so give a rating of 3 for Interest, which might be generous. Finally, our team gives a rating of 3 for Ability because the foundation seems to want to be a friend to all, making smaller gifts to a wider number of nonprofits.

Analysis as Art

Based on our rating, we can rank-order our prospects. The Banker gets the top rating on total points, followed by the Trustee, based on having a high rating in the Ability category.  The Foundation leads the second tier followed by the businessman, and the others fall in step behind. Our Young Architect may have more points, but with little in the way of assets, he and the Entrepreneur trail the others.

The process requires thoughtfulness and as an art is inexact, but when you have 30 or 100 prospects, it can help you prioritize your efforts to focus on the best prospects for the greatest gain. Now that you have an understanding of how to rate your donors use the following link for a template to use with your own donor lists:

Prospect Rating Tracker template:download_button


D.C. Dreger, ACFRE is a Vice President at Custom Development Solutions (CDS).  He has over 30 years experience as a fundraising and organizational development professional. He can be reached at

Custom Development Solutions, Inc. (CDS) is among the most sought after fundraising consulting firms specializing in the strategic planning and tactical execution of capital campaigns for non-profits throughout the United States and Canada.  If you have a fundraising question, please call CDS at 800-761-3833 or send an email to