Major Donor fundraising is not as tricky as you might think and it is the one way of fundraising that works regardless of your organisation’s size or cause area and it can be set up on a shoestring budget – as long as it done well. There is no charity that can afford to not consider this area of fundraising.

There are three key elements to successful major donor fundraising:


You should always start with people you already know and then work outwards. If you have not checked your database for people with the potential to give larger sums then start here. If you have not got a database then start with the people who already support you and ask them to help you reach others.

You can commission research into as-yet-unknown people who could be interested in your cause and who are believed to have a capacity to give at a significant level. As you are a stranger to these people just remember that you really do need to play the long game here.

Potential major donors cannot be treated as cash cows – they will be your partners in delivering your organisation’s work through their donations, their connection and their expertise and guidance. These partnerships are forged in the fires of genuine relationships. Think of your major donor relationships like marriages – there is mutual respect and mutual support and they will take time to grow to this status.


You need to take an honest and hard look at your organisation – vision, mission, business plan, short, medium and long-term ambitions.

Can you present a tangible aspect of your work that is enticing to a major donor? Can you deliver the detail behind the plan in financial and non-financial terms? Do you have the organisational credibility to pull this plan off?

Generally, major donors prefer to invest in specific areas of activity – restricted projects in fundraiser jargon – and as they consider their donation to be an investment they will approach their decision-making using similar criteria: what is the probability of success, what is the return on investment, is there a reputational risk?


All fundraising requires the right systems and processes set up behind-the-scenes to ensure that the donor-facing activity is the focus of the fundraiser’s time. Think database, data security, access to files, remote working, capturing information, policies and guidance.

Major donor fundraising will also take staff time from across the organisation – heads of services, the Chief Executive, Finance Manager could all be called upon to meet with a potential donor. No donor wants to feel that they are speaking to the fundraiser, the “sales person” and major donors will need to feel that they are speaking with decision-makers and experts. This is a team effort and time will need to be found for this to happen well.

Time will also need to be invested in developing strong relationships. Think 12 months plus – so not this year’s income target and possibly not next year’s either. This is long-term thinking for fundraising targets and without a commitment to continuity of investment over at least three years it is probable that a fledgling major donor programme will crumble just as it is starting.

What Now?

Use our scorecard to assess each of the key areas. Send the link to your senior management and perhaps even trustees and ask them to do the same – without comparing notes with each other. Use the findings and the differences to start the conversation about where you really are with major donor fundraising today.

Assess your major donor programme, or readiness to start one now