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Most charities seem fascinated by the concept of major donor fundraising, yet very few explore it thoroughly or have everything in place to run a major donor programme effectively. This is totally understandable as most charities are small, don’t have the resources and don’t know where to look for potential wealthy benefactors.

The bee in my proverbial bonnet is not that charities on the whole don’t have this high potential growth area cracked, it’s that they seem so reluctant to give it a go. I regularly meet charities who say “I don’t think that’s for us” or “it’s not the right time for us at the moment” or worse “we have a few major donors, so we’re sorted on that front.”

Now, it’s strongly my belief that major donor fundraising is for charities of all sizes and all stages. This is because it isn’t a magic formula or a whole new area of fundraising requiring great investment, like recruiting cold donors or opening a chain of furniture shops – it really only means identifying your top donors and looking after them really well – that’s it!

If you have donors you probably have some major donors, even if you don’t know who they are – you need a major donor programme. If you have some major donors you know of – you need a major donor programme. Ergo, unless you have no donors at all, you need a major donor programme – hence my frustration at this source of great potential being kicked into the long grass.

It appears to me that this is because the results take time, most likely requires the involvement of senior colleagues, there is an overriding fear factor of speaking to wealthy individuals and asking for money and that ‘we’re all too busy doing other things.’ Thinking back to the 80/20 Pareto Principle that predicts that 80% of your income will come from your top 20% of donors, this seems like a total aberration of time well spent.

To give an example of this thinking, I spoke to two charities recently; the first is a well-established regional charity raising in excess of £4m per year with increasing targets and declining income from their ‘traditional areas of income, yet they had absolutely no intention of moving away from community and events fundraising in order to focus on the top 20% of their 20,000+ donors.

The second is a relatively new, London-based, £1m+ turnover charity with just 300 donors – yet they are looking to invest in a major donor programme, with our support. No prizes for guessing whose income is going to grow over the next two years.

Fortunately this is not rocket science or informed political discussion. First easy ten steps for anyone who needs a major donor kickstart:

1) pull out your biggest givers over the last three years

2) organise by recency, frequency, value

3) pick out Coutts/CAF/Private Bank donors

4) wealth screen if you have sufficient numbers

5) research top prospects – Google is generally good enough

6) ensure you have a strong case/project that will appeal to wealthy donors

7) start to personalise your communications to top prospects and donors

8) plan how you might get to them – allocate responsibilities to key members of staff

9) regularly monitor progress and review actions

10) practice conversations with donors and asking with colleagues or very warm donors.

These easy steps will cost you nearly nothing and yield results. Unless you would rather spend time putting on yet another event that breaks even.

If you need help and advice to get you on the right track we are here to help. A small investment to give you the tools and training in this area could save you months of wasted time and energy.

Do what you need to do – get help if you need it – just please don’t say you don’t need a major donor programme!!