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At the first meeting of the Kent Fundraiser’s Hub, Jack Matthews, Head of Philanthropy at Shelter gave a brilliant presentation on Major Donor Fundraising. There were a few surprises. Major donors are sometimes overlooked by small charities and yet for charities with income below £1m, this source of income produces an average of £234,000 pa.

The crazy thing is that for charities between £1m and £5m this figure barely changes… are those charities getting distracted by other channels? We all know that growing income from wealthy individuals takes time and effort but what’s not to love? An average ROI of 6:1, an opportunity to build relationships that can yield unrestricted as well as restricted income, a positive ROI within 2-3 years and the chance to have coffee with interesting and successful people – count me in!

So what does Jack think are the building blocks to ensure success?

First up – make sure your organisation is ready, here are Jack’s 6 ‘must haves’

  1. Organisational vison (what is the need? how is your charity going to address the need? with specific outcomes & costs)

  2. The ability to listen to donors and respond to their needs

  3. A leadership culture that understands and supports major gift fundraising

  4. Sound & accessible financial project information

  5. Sound donor processes (IT, data, record keeping, stewardship)

  6. Measurable outcomes (what impact will you tell your donor that their gift made?)

Then Jack talked about weaving the magic, a mixture of hard science, art and creativity. Relationship building, good manners and dogged determination. But where to start?

Jack’s 8 stage plan to finding major donors ‘isn’t rocket science’ it’s good sense…

  1. Start with supporters already known to your charity

  2. Segment by gift amount, frequency and recency

  3. Look at gift history & patterns and flag those whose giving has increased

  4. Look at any titles (Lord, Sir, Lady) and flag those

  5. Look at addresses (expensive streets, farms, manors etc.) and highlight those

  6. Look at banking (Coutts / CAF) and flag those

  7. Build a profile on each, focus on:

  • Capacity – wealth (liquid, assets)

  • Affinity - how warm are they to your organisation (have they been a beneficiary, are they a past trustee, have they attended an event, have they met with your CEO etc?)

  • Propensity – how philanthropic are they, have they given large gifts to other charities?

  • Interests & motivations – why do they, or should they, care about your organisation?

8. Build a development plan for each qualified prospect, focus on:

  • How are you going to engage with this prospect?

  • Who is going to lead the relationship development?

  • What is your aim for the prospect ?

It makes good sense to start with the people who already care about your cause. Jack works on a 6:4:3 ratio. That’s 6 cold prospects for every warm one, 4 warm prospects for every hot one and 3 hot prospects for each gift. Start with existing supporters and you can jump straight to second base; 12 prospects for each gift rather than 72 prospects if you start from cold.

Jack took the audience through some real case histories and yes we sympathised with every declined invitation. We felt the frustration as once again the Executive Assistant said that her boss couldn’t make a meeting – but persistence is a powerful tool. In the end Jack demonstrated that the effort paid off. And what nailed it? Standing in the shoes of the prospective donor – what invitation would prove to be irresistible? In the case of one donor it was an evening in the company of Grayson Perry which finally opened the door.

So, when you start planning your Major Donor strategy – don’t forget to stand in the shoes of your wealthy supporters…

If you had £100,000 to give away…

  1. What would you want to know?

  2. Who would you want to meet?

  3. What would you expect in return?

Listen carefully to your prospective donor. Crack those three questions and you’ll be well on your way.

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