Why GDPR is good for your major donor fundraising

As consultants in high value fundraising, we are often being asked how GDPR will affect major donor fundraising. The question is also being asked, including in a recent edition of Fundraising magazine, whether this is the end of major donor fundraising all together.

The answer is yes, it will be affected, but it most definitely is not the death knell for this most profitable area of fundraising. My reasoning is that major donor fundraising is merely a case of looking after your best supporters as well as you can. It is not about endless research, wealth screening and invading privacy – it is about having more conversations with your donors and giving them a strong reason to give.

This is my issue with the established 7 steps of major donor fundraising; it suggests that you can’t move forwards until you’ve been through an intensive research stage – that removing this stage will quash any plans you had of donor stewardship and securing large donations – this is nonsense, frankly, particularly as your best donors are already giving.

Consider, if you will, substituting the word ‘research’ for ‘segmentation’; the process of sorting and filtering your donors by largest and most recent gifts – this may seem obvious, but seems to be an anathema to many charities. Indeed, we have charity clients who refuse to do this, despite forms of segmentation existing in their direct mail programme.

The next step is to select a number of top tier supporters and contact them – simple! Coming back to the GDPR mindset, you clearly only contact opted-in supporters and you don’t ask them for cash, you ask them about them and what they think of you.

We are introduced to many high value donors by charities to conduct this type of survey and donors are very happy to oblige. We ask about how they want to be contacted, who by, how often, what about, what reporting to they expect, who would they like to meet and are they aware of the charity’s ambitions and pressing funding needs.

None of this contravenes any existing or impending legislation – it is just talking to your donors. Indeed, why wouldn’t you? If you accept the principle that the top 20% of your donors can contribute 80% of your voluntary income, why on Earth would you avoid learning more about them? This does not require secretive research or going beyond the limits of ‘what the donor expects’, it requires human interaction and picking up the phone.

My hope is that the deadline of GDPR will prompt charities to awake from their office-based, direct mail-led slumber, to have as many conversations with their donors as possible by May 2018. Remember, the more donors you can ask about how they would like to be interacted with and how they’re happy for their personal data to be used, the more donors you can keep on your database, post-#GDPREXIT. You will have also started conversations about future giving and gained their trust by tailoring your approach to meet their expectations.

GDPR is not a curse, it is a prompt; use it to start engaging your best donors with your cause. It’s DONORVATION time! You have one year – what are you waiting for?!