“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity”

So runs Dicken’s famous opening line of a Tale of Two Cities. Belief followed by incredulity is often the chronology of flawed major donor programmes at aspiring, but ultimately non-committal charities.

Herewith, I tell a true tale of two hospices who increased their major donor income five-fold by not relying solely on belief. Both hospices began their major donor fundraising in earnest with existing donor income of approximately £60k in personal donations per year, each coordinated by a part-time member of staff. Both now raise over £300k per year with three dedicated members of major donor staff.

So, how did these two hospices manage this dramatic growth whilst many other hospices have stalled or failed in the efforts to reap the rewards of major donor fundraising?

The first, Saint Francis Hospice in Essex, knew they wanted to develop this are, but didn’t feel that they had all the tools to do so. They sought us out and rightly asked us a lot of tough questions on how we could help. Our role was to put in the building blocks of a major donor programme, including prospect work, a case for support and stewardship plans. This acted as a platform from which to build.

The real key to their success was not our work, however, but the hospice’s willingness to invest once these initial elements were in place; investment in staff, training and events followed, based on confidence that they were doing the right things and that positive results would be achieved – which proved to be the case.

The second success story is Julia’s House Children’s Hospice in Dorset (and now Wiltshire), under the stewardship of an ex-fundraiser CEO. The Philanthropy Team learnt by inviting in experts on specific areas and by seeking out other hospices who had achieved things they had not. Investment in talented staff, training and creating an organisational culture that respects fundraising followed.

There are many reasons why major donor programmes fail. These include:

  • A lack of organisational buy-in
  • Unclear funding needs
  • A reticence to dream big/ask big
  • Unmanaged donor stewardship
  • Insufficient prospects

There are also clear pathways to success as demonstrated by these two successful hospices. Three key elements are:

  1. Invest in expertise early on and learn from others who have been successful
  2. Invest in the programme once the basics are in place
  3. Ensure it is a team effort; there needs to be buy in throughout the charity

Give your major donor programme a health check now