I was delighted to speak at the Institute of Fundraising London (and South East) Group recently. My mission was to offer practical advice on making major donor fundraising work in real life, not a theory lesson on the 7 steps or the psychology of donor motivations.

I offered up four myths of major donor fundraising, which I hoped to consign to the history books, with a few tips on how to embed major donor fundraising in your charity on a day to day basis. My notes are as follows:

The 4 myths:

  1. “You don’t have any major donors!”
  2. “Major donor fundraisers have to be experts in asking for money!”
  3. “You don’t need to ask!”
  4. “Events are a great way to get money from major donors!”

Myth 1 “You don’t have any major donors!”

  • On average 1-5% of your donors have the capacity to give you a gift over £1,000
  • There is a difference between having a few major donors and having a major donor programe
  • If you have donors you probably have major donors – you need a MD programme
  • If you have MDs – you need a major donor programme
  • Remember the 80/20 rule – are you really identifying and looking after your top 20% of donors?
  • Start at home for MD prospects – ensure you have a process for finding them from existing support
  • Your best potential MDs have already given to you, one way or another
  • Extract from your database 3-4 years of gifts of all types, filter over £1,000, multiple gifts over £200, total average annual value, Coutts cheques, CAF vouchers, Lords/Ladies, Castles, Kensington/Chelsea, Manor Houses, postcodes, etc
  • Prioritise by recency, frequency, value – wealth screen if over 500 donors (Prospecting for Gold/Factary)
  • Use free resources for donor research (lots of websites/Mint UK in libraries)
  • Have a ‘flagging and thanking’ sytems – speak to income/admin/donations to flag based on your criteria
  • Research flagged donations quickly to ensure the right thank you from the right person
  • Don’t say you haven’t got any until you’ve really looked hard!

Myth 2 “It’s the job of the Major donor fundraiser to make all the asks!”

  • True and false – the falsehood being it is not your job alone – some you will ask, where you have the rapport with the donor
  • Major donor fundraising is a team effort – more than any other area of fundraising
  • Put yourself in the shoes of the donor – who would you want to meet and what would you want to know?
  • Your job is to facilitate/coordinate/research/plan/steward to MD programme
  • Your job is to get the cause close to the donor, not just you – you need senior level support
  • To embed MD thinking – start to influence internally – ask to present on major donors at SMT
  • Ask to attend management meetings/Board meetings/other team meetings
  • Ask for ½ hour with each head of department, the CEO
  • Present the list of donors you have researched and ask which ones they want to have relationship with
  • Draft letters/emails/meeting requests/project visits for them to sign
  • Set tasks for key staff – schedule a monthly meeting/call to review – don’t rely on goodwill
  • Ask that MD fundraising becomes part of job descriptions for senior staff
  • Get external viewpoints to back your case if you can’t overcome barriers – e.g. reports/consultants/trainers

Myth 3 “You don’t need to ask!”

  • Yes you do! Or someone else does!
  • Who ? The right person! Put yourself in your donor’s shoes
  • What for? The right amount – find out!
  • When? When it doesn’t feel weird!! – If it feels weird you don’t have sufficient rapport with the donor
  • Right person/right time/right place/right amount/right project
  • Account management is extremely important – don’t have an ego – it might not be you
  • Role play the stewardship, phone calls, meetings, not just the asking – practice, practice!
  • Get coaching if you need to – why would you not? 80% income from 20% donors!
  • Rapport/rapport/rapport – like dating – partly about you, mostly not
  • Immerse yourself in the organisation to become as informed as possible and see potential benefits/engagement opportunities for donor – you need to have answers for difficult questions

Myth 4 “Events are a great way to get money from major donors!”

  • No they are not!
  • They are one way – if you want £1k from your best donor to take their kids to X-factor!
  • Events costs time and money – they are a lazy way to get money from MDs!
  • Pros are cultivation; good experience = rapport/stewardship, can put a face to a name
  • Goal must be face to face meetings – ideally 121 (not a fan of 2-1)
  • Cause-focused reception much more likely to attract engaged and wealthy
  • Example – Lectures/talks/films, etc – remember if you were the major donor….
  • Have a mix of large events (150+) and exclusive events (20-30 people)
  • Research properly and allocate responsibility to staff/ambassadors and follow up
  • Get the right people in the right places – have someone in introducer role
  • Write/call in advance to introduce and ask to meet
  • Give guest places – invest in the cost of stewardship


  • None of the practical side costs you anything apart from time
  • Remember the 80/20 rule and 1-5% statistic
  • Look hard within your existing pool of donors – export/filter/review/research….
  • Use free online resources to research donors asap to ensure the right thanking
  • Understand what processes you need, stick to a plan, make time
  • Spend time with senior staff/trustees, get yourself involved across teams
  • Find out what impact large gifts would really make – communicate this
  • Practice rapport and stewardship – inc. senior staff – take turns being the donor
  • Only run MD events if you have a real reason to beyond cash on the night
  • Ask – when it is the right time, place, amount, project and person asking – if it doesn’t feel weird you’re ready!

Please look at our other blogs for more free tips. Have fun and good luck!!

Give your major donor programme a health check now