Over the last ten years I’ve been fortunate to work with major donor fundraisers at a wide range of
charities doing their upmost to tackle climate change, poverty, homelessness, palliative care,
education, eye health, cancer and more.
When I look back at which charities achieved the most success there is the common theme; the
major donor fundraiser was backed by the rest of the organisation. By this I mean other teams and
departments played an active part in learning about and supporting the major donor function,
including senior management and senior volunteers.
Major donor fundraising is a team effort; it should not all be left up to the major donor fundraiser or
whomever has been tasked with this area in addition to other responsibilities. Fundraisers are
often landed with a major donor income target and told to ‘get on with it’. This can often lead to
minimal or no results and the programme (and sometimes the fundraiser) is scrapped within 18
I have always consulted with all areas of a charity when trying to encourage major donor
fundraising culture change, but there is often resistance and obfuscation. This leads to a lack of
information, leads and access to key people flowing to the major donor fundraiser, resulting in
There is an irony to this, as providing this level of information and support is the one thing that will
save the fundraiser from having to continually pass donors over to senior members of staff, who
often have less time and inclination to cultivate top donor prospects.
I fear for major donor fundraisers in small and medium-sized charities, where often there is not the
understanding internally of what makes a good major donor programme and who needs to be
involved. This is compounded by the fact that the job is often a step up for the fundraiser who does
not necessarily have the experience and status to influence those who need to be moved.
To ensure that your major donor fundraiser is not an island, I’d recommend that charities consider
1. Make your major donor fundraiser the point of contact for key trustees and ambassadors
2. Invite them to parts of senior management meetings and Board meetings
3. Ensure that communications staff provide them with compelling stories
4. Invest in their training via advanced courses and coaching
5. Give them full access to financial information, including salaries
6. Tell them about visionary, non-budgeted plans on the horizon
7. Ensure they have direct experience of the services your charity offers
8. Give them time to build a programme and bring in donations
9. Make sure they have a budget for cultivation events
10. Educate all senior managers and trustees in their role in achieving success
John Donne wrote:
No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
Think of your major donor fundraiser as the clod and your charity as Europe!
In a time of seemingly unceasing island mentality, the least we can do is look after our clods and
keep them safe against the tide.