The Three Keys – AFFINITY: Finding the Major Gift Donor of Your Dreams

Last updated: October 6, 2016

Share Article:


In the second of The Three Keys Series, we explore Affinity. Let’s discuss how and why a strong affinity rating indicates your prospect may be your organization’s next major gift donor.

Affinity describes a natural liking for someone or something. In the nonprofit space, we understand affinity (or linkage) as the strength of a person’s connection to a cause. In short, affinity is all about relationships.

But it’s a tough world out there, and it seems everyone is trying to win the heart of your beloved prospect. And since nobody likes to be the victim of unrequited donor love, an affinity rating is a useful way of finding the major gift donor of your dreams.

A quick case study on affinity.

Helen Brown has some great insight on ratings, especially in this post on measuring inclination. As you can guess, inclination is another term for affinity or linkage. She declared affinity the most important element of the ratings scorecard.

Here’s why:

Helen describes the case of Bill Gates. He is one of the richest men in the world, so there is no question about his capacity to give. We also understand his propensity to give. His philanthropic history is wide and varied, but tends to revolve around eradicating diseases across the world. Bill is passionate about finding cures or treatments for malaria, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS. So while Bill has the capacity and propensity to give, he may not be very inclined to give his wealth to an animal shelter or a law school. Why? There’s no connection, no chemistry, and no interest.

Look to your current donors.

Many times your best prospects are likely in your database already. These donors also have an established history with your organization (see our previous post on propensity). This makes it easier to evaluate your relationship with these donors and identify new opportunities to further develop these relationships.

See if you can spot the opportunities here:

Donor A is the husband of a board member at your organization. He is a retired business consultant and frequently attends fundraisers with his wife the board member. He is an annual giver, but is otherwise inactive.

Donor B is an alumni and former shining star on your school’s varsity soccer team. Donor B has given very small gifts to the school each year since graduation, but she is finally on her feet with a successful physiotherapy practice. The school is building a new soccer facility and needs to fundraise for a training and rehabilitation center.

Donor C has been involved with your hospital foundation since he was a child. He volunteers several hours a week and seems to know every patient and their families by name. He is an outspoken advocate for your hospital and its cause, but he doesn’t have the resources to donate a major gift.

What do you see?

Could you inspire passion in Donor A by asking him to volunteer at your next fundraiser, or perhaps consult on a special project? How could you appeal to Donor B’s strong connection with your school’s athletics program? Donor C may not be a good major gift candidate, but maybe as a champion of your cause he knows people who are.

Examine your donor database. Look for committed donors who provide great value to your organization over their lifetime. Determine if the donor or their families have been recipients of your services. Consider their attendance at events, their volunteer record, and if they engage with your organization by subscribing to your marketing material, connect on social media, or participate in fundraising campaigns.

Consider using an external electronic screening tool.

Electronic screening tools will match each donor or prospect screened to wealth, philanthropic, and biographical records. Consider screening your database with a tool designed to help you prioritize your best prospective donors.

From there, you can build a list identifying your best supporters and any lapsed donors. Create a report that provides the complete year-by-year giving history of each donor who has given more than, for example, $100 in a single gift to any organization. Of course, that is adjustable number to whatever works for your organization.

iWave Screening allows you to choose what to screen for: philanthropy, wealth, or affinity. You can screen your database and new prospects across all three indicators, or you could focus on affinity. iWave Screening’s customization and transparency features ensure the screen is accurate and relevant to your organization. This process will help you identify the known or unknown constituents within your database who have the greatest potential to become major gift donors.


At a minimum, everyone in your organization’s circle should be asked for an annual donation. A common response is, “sure, it’s important to remind donors. But everyone? Really?” Don’t assume your board members or volunteers will always remember to give, even if they are expected to. Keeping up to date with all stakeholders and nurturing relationships with them is a full-time, year-round job, but it is critical to fundraising success. Leave no stone unturned!

Determining affinity for prospective donors requires more digging. Again, a wealth screen can help prioritize the best prospects. Beyond that step, your own current donors continue to provide value. Remember Donor C, who seems to know everybody including those unknown to you? Everyone is familiar with the concept of networking. You can use similar strategies to raise awareness and grow your organization’s network.

Think outside the box.

This means look to new individuals outside your database!

Here’s a tip when using iWave to determine affinity. Within iWave, you can search across different affinity categories, such as Education, Health, or Arts and Culture, and the Humanities. Let’s say your university is fundraising for a new nursing school. You may be limiting yourself by just searching the Education category. Search for connections to Health as well, and you may uncover information about current or prospective donors you didn’t know about before.

Remember Bill Gates?

Oh yeah, that heartbreaker.

It’s easy to get caught up with details about a prospect’s wealth capacity. That said, capacity to give is a critical component of understanding your prospect. And it’s true, some donors considered to be lost causes like Bill will surprise you. But as a rule of thumb, look at affinity as the foundation of your relationship with a new donor. Establish common ground, identify opportunities, and go from there.

Propensity ratings are important. Capacity ratings are really important. But neither are more important than affinity.

By the way, don’t worry about Bill Gates! There are many more fish in the sea.

Learn how to find Capacity in our next post.

Written by Guest

Explore related resources.

Want a free demonstration of Kindsight’s Fundraising Intelligence Platform?

Request a Demo