The “friend zone” – let’s not go there if we want to have more partnerships!

An enormous almond croissant, a mug of tea and an inspirational speaker.  What better way to start the week?   On Monday morning, I listened to Alix Wooding, Assistant Director of Engagement at Anthony Nolan, speak at the Director and Heads of Fundraising Breakfast Club, hosted by Rob Woods.  I came away buzzing.  I also came away pondering some of the parallels between corporate fundraising challenges and approaches and those in major gifts fundraising.

1)The cycle.

Many major gift fundraisers I know are wedded to using ‘the 7 steps of solicitation’.  Many fewer corporate fundraisers seem to follow a process.  They likely have a prospect list but are they ‘moving’ the companies onto the next stage? Are they proposing a partnership – ‘making an ask’?

Alix took us through a recommended corporate fundraising cycle, remarkably similar to most major donor processes: prospecting, qualifying, engaging, asking & negotiating, and partnering & developing.

2)The ‘friend zone’.

As Joey declared to Ross in that episode of Friends in 1994 (how was is it that long ago?!)
“And now you’re in the ‘friend zone’”.

Although philanthropy is all about strong relationships, you don’t want to be in the ‘friend zone’.   I’ve seen it frequently: a fantastic relationship is being built with a high-net-worth individual.  She attends the charity’s exclusive events, she is sent a lovely hand-written Christmas card.  But no one makes the ask!

Alix highlighted that the ‘friend zone’ is the place you definitely don’t want to be with a company.  They come to every event, they do a bit of volunteering, they donate a prize every time you ask. But they’re not a value-added partner.  Why?  Often because you haven’t proposed to them how they could partner with your charity. There was a sea of nodding heads from fundraisers in the room as Alix was talking about this.

3) Let’s not pander to popularity.

Major gift fundraisers are often asked by senior management and trustees:
Q: Why aren’t you approaching x, y or z from the Rich List?
A: Because there are 20 high-net-worth individuals on our prospect list that we have a connection to and are passionate about our cause – and they’re not on the Rich List.

With securing new corporate partnerships, is it all about the top charity of the year schemes, the big names? No!  How refreshing to hear Alix declare that applying to charity of the year partnerships isn’t always the best use of resource.  With odds of sometimes 100-1 and numerous hoops to jump through, the assumption that these companies should always be on your prospect list was challenged by Alix and rightly so in my view.

4) Quality not quantity.

Lastly, in both corporate and major gifts fundraising, why have a prospect list of hundreds if these companies and names are just sitting on a list? Rob Woods gave a great reminder of the inability for the human mind to focus without specificity.

Ask a contact if they ‘know anyone’ who may be interested in your charity?  It’s unlikely you’ll get anywhere.
Show them a list of your top 10 target companies and ask if they have any contacts there, then you really might get somewhere….

With thanks to Alix Wooding and Rob Woods for a great session.

Louise Morris is a Major Gifts and Capital Appeal Specialist and Interim Director of Fundraising for Gingerbread.

“What’s in a name?” Maybe more than you think when it comes to major gifts.

I was recently asked to choose my own title, having started work to help a charity in the UK set up their major gifts programme.  Which got me thinking – what should go on my email footer?  And how should I be introducing myself to trustees, supporters who could give larger gifts, and internally to staff – many unfamiliar with ‘major giving.’  Our title can make an impression from the first meeting or interaction.

So what should we call our fundraising roles in this area?

 I find having major donor in the title unappealing.  Do those who give to charities (with gifts of any size) call themselves donors?  Would I call a supporter giving a generous 6 figure donation a major donor to his or her face?  It seems a cold, transactional term which often reminds me of my organ donor card in my wallet.  I may not be alone in this – the Cambridge dictionary definition for donor puts someone giving their blood or body parts first, above someone giving money to an organisation.  Unfortunately I have seen the term ‘major donor’ used face to face with supporters, and it was not received well. Whilst many organisations have moved away from this, it is still commonplace in the sector.

I’ve been called ‘Head of Relationship Fundraising’. Whilst true that relationships were at the heart of the work myself and the team were doing with companies, trusts and wealthy and influential individuals, the title didn’t always work well.  It could limit relationships from the start with those who wanted to help the charity through their connections or knowledge and skills, but not give financially – the ‘fundraising’ implied a financial gift.  I stopped giving out my cards when meeting supporters and potential supporters.

I have seen people bypass a job title externally altogether which is certainly one option, putting ‘Development Team’ or ‘Philanthropy Team’ on email footers and business cards.

Major Gifts is used frequently but I cannot get away from my instinct that the ‘major’ in the title could sound somewhat money-grabbing when someone hasn’t yet decided what level to give at.

Philanthropy being included in fundraising job titles is on the rise.  Many of the largest UK charities (and universities) now have Philanthropy teams.  These include Cancer Research UK (Philanthropy and Campaigns), Macmillan, Breast Cancer Now, British Red Cross and UCL.   Some UK charities are currently re-naming roles and teams to include the term.

I don’t believe the term is perfect. I’ve worked with supporters who didn’t view themselves as philanthropists, and it seems more focused on money than the term ‘gift’.  But reflecting on the definition below, it may be the best way to describe this stream of fundraising:

“Philanthropy – the desire to promote the welfare of others, expressed especially by the generous donation of money to good causes”.
Oxford English Dictionary

So what should I call myself? I’m opting for Philanthropy Manager for this role but do share your thoughts.

What job titles have you been proud to use with supporters?  What do you feel best encompasses what we do?

Has your charity fallen into the trap of accidental major gift fundraising?

“We have done some major gift fundraising, but more by accident than design”.

This is a message I’ve heard from a range of charities of varying size.  They have received some larger gifts, but there has been little plan for developing relationships with these supporters, and for considering their major gifts fundraising overall.

All charities can benefit from major giving, as can the supporters themselves but only if the charity takes a deliberate, concerted approach (rather than an accidental, ad hoc one.)  Without a planned approach – which will look different for each charity – there are a range of problems and risks:

  1. Your charity misses out on income

This income could help your charity get closer to achieving its vision.  It is proven that the value of philanthropists’ giving is not fixed so if you manage your potential major donors and current major donors effectively you will raise more money, including from repeat gifts.  Committed supporters at this level can also help the charity in many other ways, not just with funds.

2. You may be damaging supporter relationships

Imagine you have donated a five figure sum of money to a charity, and you get the same formal standard thank you letter that you received when you sent in a £10 gift to a mailing appeal.  This was my experience following the loss of my father, when I decided to give some of my small inheritance to the incredible charity who cared for him, me and my sister, at the most difficult time of our lives.  I didn’t even work in fundraising back then but I remember it.  I remember it being such a personal and significant decision for me, and receiving such an impersonal response back.  Imagine if I had received a handwritten thank you card from a staff member who worked with the patients and their families? Or from the CEO? Whilst I have no means to give a bigger gift again now, they would certainly have been top of my list if my circumstances changed in the future.   Instances like this are often by accident, due to a lack of planning and process for major gifts.

3. A scattergun approach ‘chasing the money’

Some charities are chasing ‘big money’ – they will try and approach those who are wealthy, who they believe to be wealthy, or who they have seen on a Rich List. However, they haven’t considered if that person could be interested in giving to their charity, if they give to good causes, or if they know anyone involved with the charity. Don’t lose sight of the supporter themselves.  What is the supporter interested in? And remember to focus on your existing supporters and networks, rather than chasing cold cash.

4. “Not just a case for support, but a compelling case for support”

A fundraiser recently said the above to me and it rings true particularly for major giving. Many charities operate a number of programmes and different areas of work, some that could be particularly well suited to someone donating a larger gift.  But is the project presented in a way to be compelling enough for an individual to commit to a larger gift?  Is it the right project for the right individual, connecting with their passions and interests?

5. Lack of internal understanding and support for major giving

A charity needs to understand major giving, from the top of the organisation to the bottom.  A potential supporter may have an interest in the front-line work, and you can fuel their passion by them meeting a staff member who works with your beneficiaries.  All staff and volunteers need to introduce contacts who may be interested in the charity’s work and able to give at a higher level.  This doesn’t happen by accident but by promoting a culture of major giving.

So consider if your charity has fallen into the trap of accidental major gift fundraising and if you need any help to plan or improve your high value giving programme, do get in touch.
Louise Morris
Major Gifts and Capital Appeal Fundraising Specialist