Menu

Fundraising and the “always on” culture

In Spring 2024 I took a month off work, off screens and away from “normal” life to take the trip of a life-time to Australia with my family.

I thought I’d return from my sabbatical with loads of ideas on how I can help charities and fundraisers with their major donor fundraising.

I thought I’d come back with new thinking on philanthropy.

Instead I came back having learnt a lot about myself, my family and some perspectives on our modern way of work and life.

I shared these perspectives with the Summit major donor community in an email and I got such a big response; they seemed to resonate:

  • Fundraisers struggling with workload & always “being on
  • Not enough flexibility for caring responsibilities and pressures;
  • Working from home feeling demotivated with little connection to others.
  • And above all, rushing with little time to think.

So I’ve put my perspectives below in a blog too. And while I know you may not be able to take time off like I did, I hope they might be helpful for you working in a sector that is increasingly burnt out and so very tired.

1. A digital detox

This was a difficult things for me to consider ahead of my sabbatical. But not checking work emails or scrolling social media meant I could be truly present on our trip of a lifetime. I was visiting the closest of friends that I have and will miss so much, and seeing rainforest, reef and wonders I may never see again. I’m so glad I wasn’t on my phone during it. And it’s something I will try and do more regularly, whether having a bank holiday weekend at home or during a week in Cornwall.

Image Description: Azure blue water with an island in the background with white sand, blue sky and sunshine

2. Delegating to others

I was forced to trust other people by taking so much time off and committing to not being on-line, My incredible virtual assistant did a fabulous job filling in gaps I’d anticipated might come up and managing enquiries that I hadn’t foreseen. The brilliant Andy King continued Major Donor Fundraising from Scratch by running the Storytelling from Scratch workshop. The fabulous Davinia Batley continued coaching sessions. Thank you!

In the past in my fundraising roles I didn’t have any assistant support and I never wanted to bother team members, so I tried to do everything before I went and when I came back. It was always stressful. Looking back, I’m sure I could have asked and trusted other people more with things when I was away so I could truly recharge…

Image Description: Koala asleep in a tree, it’s arms and legs hanging down, with blue sky behind.

3. Learning in a different way

We can learn so differently. We didn’t take our children out of school for a week lightly. I love to read (as you’ll see from the Summit Summer reading lists) and listen to podcasts, but travel and adventure was a huge education itself. It was a different way of learning for me and my children; away from books and the classroom. From the saltwater crocodiles recovering after being nearly hunted to extinction, the way Australia over time is valuing the history of its indigenous communities, and seeing and understanding different ways of life at a different pace; we all came back richer for all that we saw and learnt.  And I drove a campervan for the first time! A new skill!  With a lot of concentration at first as you can see below!😂

Image Description: Louise in the driving seat of a campervan holding a large steering wheel.

4. Rest is not just Netflix

There are many ways of resting. Although not for everyone, for me planning an amazing adventure up the East Coast, watching sunrise on a deserted beach, sea kayaking, snorkelling with manta rays, exploring caves with bats, crocodile spotting and exploring the beaches of Sydney with amazing friends has invigorated me. I feel more recharged than I have done for years and I think the lack of screens was a huge part of that too. Alex Soojung-Kim Pang’s book, Rest, is  fascinating about different ways of resting for anyone interested and is one of my past Summit reading recommendations.

Image Description: Louise standing wearing shorts and t-shirt and a rucksack looking out over rocks and trees with azure sea and blue sky.

5. Family and friends v saving the world

Those we love and who love us are the most important things in life.

Having worked in and with the third sector for nearly two decades and seeing the dedication and determination to improve things is inspirational. But it can lead to fundraisers and leaders putting themselves and their families and friends second to the mission.

Our trip brought us closer together as a family of 4 with my eldest 12 year old son and I interacting differently now we’re back having had so many shared experiences. And it gave my husband and I some time to reflect on the important stuff at just the right time, after a stressful year or so juggling jobs and lives.

Image Description: A man and two boys with their backs to the camera, standing on a beach looking out the sea and sunrise in the sky.

I’ve known the friend we visited for 25 years, since we were rolling up our uniform skirts in our GCSE years! We have hung out with her husband and family for the past 10 years without thinking how lucky we are to have them in our lives. I’ve missed her so much since she moved to Australia. Although saying goodbye was incredibly teary, we made the most amazing memories. Life can be short and without them moving away we never would have had our Australian adventures!

Image Description: Louise and her friend Emily smiling at night time with the Sydney harbour bridge in the background and the lights of the city twinkling behind them.

It felt great to focus on the most important people in my life, including myself.

I hope you find a way to fully recharge, however that may be. Fundraising and charity leadership is tough, and you deserve it.

Louise Morris is the Founder of Summit Fundraising. She is a major donor fundraising specialist and has worked with over 200 charities helping them raise large gifts.

4 Tips for a Successful Major Donor Event.

Working to plan a major donor event can take LOT’s of time, effort, resource and energy.  So read on to get  4  approaches to help you make the most of your major donor events. 

I worked with a Director and a CEO a few years ago who were incredibly excited because they’d been given the opportunity to have an event at Buckingham Palace, in the year of a big birthday for the charity.

Now whether you’re a Royalist or not, I do understand that Buckingham Palace can hold a certain appeal and I did not want to be negative in the face of their excitement. However, it  was clear that this event was going to have to achieve a lot.

Through conversations with them I worked out that it would have to be:

  • For front-line staff and the people they supported to experience the Palace
  • A “press opportunity” to generate coverage
  • A way of thanking community supporters
  • Past trustees  would need to be included
  • And of course existing and potential major donors should be invited.

I asked: “What’s the aim of the event?”

No one knew beyond “to celebrate the charity’s birthday”, a rather vague answer, and I spent a long time internally trying to pin this down.

❔ What did they want to achieve by having the event?

❔ How would success be viewed?

At a time when you may feel busier than ever, being strategic about major donor events is vital.

Asking yourself what you’re trying to get from a major donor event is key because it influences pretty much everything about it:  The location, the venue and format, the number of people you invite and who you invite, whether you’re raising money on the night or having a softer ask.

Are you trying to have that first Curiosity Conversation with a small number of lapsed high-net-worth supporters?  A drinks reception with 200 people makes this much harder – you’d be lucky, even with name badges, to find these key donors, never mind discover more about them to engage them further.

However, a sit down dinner with a small number of philanthropists and specialist from your charity means you have the time and space to be truly curious and find out about that person, and then about the charity.

When I started a role heading up a major gift fundraising team, it became clear to me that they were spending a lot of time on events, leaving little time and effort to individually reach out to donors and potential donors. Meeting a fundraiser in the team I said it seemed like this to me, but what did they think?

 It feels like we’re on an events bandwagon; as soon as we’ve finished one we’re on to planning the next and I’m not sure we make the most of them.

Have you ever had that?

It was music to my ears when one of the fundraisers who’d been on the Summit Major Donor Fundraising from Scratch programme, tactfully turned down an opportunity for an event at a prestigious gallery. The location, format, style and the challenge of filling the space with 200 people felt like a lot of work, but work that would take them away from what they needed to do for their major donor programme.

They did of course keep the option open with their contact for the future but saying no meant she could actually do more major donor fundraising:

  • She focused on offering tours to the service in a tried and tested format that she knew engaged people!
  • She spent time on arranging one to one meetings between the donor and the right person at the charity, including the CEO.
  • And she spent time and effort picking up the phone. (If you find this tricky some tips here).
  • She reengaged tens of major donors, and received some first time large gifts for the cause, all without an event.

Another organisation I worked with on their major donor strategy, was given an opportunity to host something at their Patron’s stately home. Many charities I know would have just said yes. I was so pleased that they thought about how it fitted with their priorities for major donor fundraising over the next 12 months, and responded with a polite “no, not now” but that they “would love to explore this generous opportunity in 12 month’s time.”

Part of being strategic with major donor events is sometimes holding less of them (or sometimes none).

It’s sometimes learning how to say no to some generous opportunities and, sometimes it’s going back to the basics of what you really want to achieve that year.

Major donor events are a huge amount of work! 

Which I’m sure you know, so why am I mentioning this?

One thing I often see is loads of preparation and planning going into an event but this happens without any input from the people that the charity desperately want to be there! It all happens behind the scenes, often at a fast pace in a rush to get those invites out.

But…

❔ What if you’re planning for your next major donor event to be virtual, and actually your major donor connections are keen to get back together and meet others in person?

❔ What if you’ve assumed that your event will be in the evening, but actually those you’re inviting would find an early event with breakfast way easier to attend?

So if you’re planning a major donor event, and you don’t do this already, trying calling a number of people you’re going to invite and ask what they think. They might have some useful feedback, or if they love the idea just as it is, you’ll already have some attendees before you’ve even sent out the invites.

I mention above about asking donors their thoughts in the run up to an event, while you’re planning it. But what should the focus be after your event?

But what does great follow up mean in practice?

For me and the hundreds of organisation’s I’ve worked with, it means getting a tailored communication to your guests, that speaks to them and only them, and that suggests a relevant next step within 24 hours.

Why?

  • When your guests leave your event they are likely be inspired, moved, and on a high. Many will be brimming with a desire to help and do more. It’s so important that tailored thank yous, including firming up any next step, go out to them fast, before this goodwill starts to fade as they go back to everyday lives and pressures.

  • A quick and tailored follow up builds trust as you’re seen as efficient and great relationship managers  –  a high-net-worth guest is far more likely to get involved again or to introduce someone to you because they realise their contact would get a similarly great experience.

  • Because you can.  I do still remember the mornings  after running a evening major donor events – I’d be exhausted! And excited! And I’d realise there was a lot to do! Careful planning and scheduling though means you can follow up within 24 hours: block out the whole day,  deprioritise other meetings, and work out in advance when you can get feedback from staff and trustees on their donor conversations. I did this with a charity Chair, trotting alongside them as they rushed to the tube after the event!  I just knew I wouldn’t be able to speak to them the next morning because of their schedule and it was vital I could tailor the thank you the next day to those guests the Chair has spoken to.

So if you haven’t thought about your major donor events in this way before, try and focus on the follow-up after your event,  as much as the event itself.

If you’re not sure where events fit into your major gifts fundraising book a chat below and we can discuss the best support.

Louise Morris is the Founder of Summit Fundraising. She is a major donor fundraising specialist and has worked with over 200 charities helping them raise large gifts.

Setting your major donor fundraising targets

Sometimes the pressure of budget setting for a fundraiser on top of everything else can be stressful. Although your charity needs to plan what might be raised next year, it can be easy to end the budgeting process having committed to a target or to phasing that you know isn’t achievable. Which can be hugely demotivating.

Despite this, I often see unrealistic hope and boldness with major donor predictions. There could be that one wealthy individual out there that you haven’t yet met, couldn’t there? They might be able to give £100,000 or more…. Let’s up the target by £100,000 then. I’ve known leadership and fundraising teams to add tens or hundreds of thousands of pounds to a major donor target in a flash.

When all the other income streams don’t add up to what your organisation needs for next year, it can seem a simple fix to add zeros to the major donor target.

A major donor fundraising target of £1.1m
The previous year’s income £85k
A charity with an 18 month old major donor fundraising programme.

This was how I started a role heading up a major gifts team over a decade ago. This was quite some growth that had been predicted -13 times more income in a year! I assumed (never assume!) or hoped there were opportunities and a pipeline behind the target. On further investigation, this wasn’t the case. Someone decided that major donor fundraising must mean millions of pounds of income.

With such an unachievable goal, the major donor fundraiser had, unsurprisingly, become demotivated. In my first few weeks on the job, with 3 months of the year to go, I had to report a significant risk to income.

We desperately want to raise more for our causes and often you will be able to through an effective major donor fundraising programme. It’s vital to identify new potential major donors (not from the Rich Lists!), and plan for some new major donors rather than just rely on the same donors giving again.

So how can we plan for this growth through exciting new opportunities but keep our feet on the ground with a healthy dose of realism?

Here are 5 top tips to having more confidence in your major donor budget:

1. Resist the temptation to just increase last year’s figure

You increase last year’s income by 50% — because you’d like to see 50% growth. This is a very quick way of setting a budget but it isn’t robust. Let your opportunities and your plans (see 2, 3, and 4 below) tell you what that growth figure should be.

2. Identify confirmed pledges

List your pledges and the value – major donor income that is 95%-100% likely to come in because of donor commitments or past giving behaviour. If you don’t have any or many pledges, consider multi-year asks to the right donors, so when you look at pledges in 12 months time, you’re not starting over again.

3. Build a pipeline of named major donor fundraising opportunities

Sound obvious? Many fundraisers use pipelines, especially for trusts and foundations. However, it’s amazing the number of organisations I work with that have major donor budgets without a pipeline behind them.

You can use your caseload/list of existing and potential major donors here but don’t just add a name of a “cold prospect”. Only include people who you know are high-net-worth and where there is some connection to your organisation. Some charities only include someone in their pipeline once they’ve met or had a conversation with them.

Estimate a gift amount for each person — this can be uncomfortable for those you know less well, but still include it. Although it may fee like a “guestimate” it’s a lot better than a top down budget figure being given to you. When you’ve added the estimated gift value, include the percentage likelihood of success. If for example, you estimated a £20k gift with a 50% likelihood, you have £10k going towards your budget.

4. Consider those major donors you don’t know

This is the trickier element – you might not want to limit your major donor fundraising programme just to those individuals already on your radar. You may have meetings coming up where you’re likely to get some introductions to new potential major donors. You might be investing in some wealth research. As your budgeting might be taking place 15 months out from the end of your next financial year, you could have time to develop some of these new relationships within the year and for some of those people to give.

However, it’s easy to let the hope and ambition edge up to unrealistic levels and you could end up adding extra zeros to your budget without basis. It’s a judgement call.

5. Educate and challenge

Some of you will have finance colleagues, your line manager or CEO who talk through your budgets & challenge you. And you may need to assertively challenge back when they propose significantly increasing your budget! Although this can feel like a negotiation or tussle, saying out loud why you’ve made certain decisions and discussing the judgements you’ve made is crucial. Particularly as the decision you make about one major donor could influence your entire target. It’s also vital for others’ understanding of major donor fundraising. The more you discuss the reality of working in your role the more you are building a culture of philanthropy E.g. by explaining the time it can take from identifying a potential donor to meeting with them, or sharing anecdotes of unpredicted major gifts coming in that didn’t bear any resemblance to the forecast! Because at the end of the day, we’re talking about humans and relationships – these can’t be accurately predicted. Although your organisation will want to budget, having others who understand the nuance of this income stream is vital.

6. Perfection isn’t possible with budgeting!

Did you smash your figure? You obviously weren’t ambitious enough! 🙄

Did you not manage to reach it? There’s a hole in income…

This may sound familiar. Don’t aim for complete accuracy, because it will never be possible.

DO aim for a budget that is looking for new opportunities, but one that you truly believe you and your team could achieve.

Louise Morris is the Founder of Summit Fundraising. She is a major donor fundraising specialist and has worked with over 200 charities helping them raise large gifts.

Phoning Major Donors

Have you ever felt nervous about phoning donors? You psych yourself up, pick up your mobile, and you call that major donor or potential major donor…

..Then it goes to voicemail 😂
Or they do pick up but they sound short, clipped, and curt 😢

You finish the call feeling demoralized and think maybe email is the better way to go. After all, who wants to be phoned out of the blue? You certainly don’t.

But phone conversations can be transformational for relationships! They are a vital part of successful major donor fundraising. The fundraisers I support who use the phone effectively build stronger relationships, raise more, and have more energy and pride in their roles.

Thank you for your session the other week, which helped me realise the value of phone calls over emails for building rapport.  I’m now convinced the phone is better for establishing connections (which I was hoping wasn’t the case so I could hide behind my keyboard!). Our session changed my perspective – it’s been amazing how much I’ve learnt in one call versus what would have been ignored in an email.”

A fundraiser I’ve been coaching on the Major Donor Fundraising From Scratch programme

However, it’s not always easy to do! So here are some tips and perspectives that will hopefully build your confidence to make more calls and help you to do it more.

One of the things that helped me in my fundraising roles, and that has helped many fundraisers I’ve worked with, is to call without trying to get anything back. To call for nothing more than to make a supporter feel valued. Yes, they might be wealthy, but you’re not calling asking for money, and if you take that out of the equation, it becomes a lot less pressurised, and more genuine.

✅ Call to thank and show you care: Even if they’re not giving at the major donor level! A major gift is normally the 3rd, 4th, 5th, or more time someone has given to your charity. A thank you call is a great way to start that connection.

Maybe they’ve been giving now for 5 years – thank them.

❔ Do they even realise that?

❔ How would they feel if they did?

❔ What is a short story that you could tell on the phone to highlight what their support is doing?

✅ It’s a conversation not a pitch: Be curious like you would in conversation with anyone. If they’ve been giving for 5 years, what made them first start to donate? If they mention you just caught them before heading to pick up their son, how old is their son?

Focus on giving, not taking: Giving generously to others, rather than feeling we’re taking, puts us in a positive emotional state – in essence, it’s kindness. How do you want your donor to feel at the end of the call? Valued? Pleasantly surprised? Delighted? Proud? Uplifted? Connected? Focus on that feeling rather than what you or your organization needs, and it will lead to a more genuine connection.

It’s ironic that when you take things away from the money, you’re sometimes more likely to raise it!

“Following your email I made the decision to call one of our major donors for a catch up as they were unable to make our event. I had such a lovely conversation with the person and at the end of the call they asked for our bank details! It was all done in a very relational way.”

Coachee and graduate of Major Donor Fundraising from Scratch

Let me take you back in time. I was 22, sat in my open-plan Unilever office, about to pick up the phone to my buyer at Tesco. Yes, physically pick up the handset of a phone, one of those old landline ones with the curly cable. My boys think these phones belong in museums! 😂

Anyway, I. I knew I had to make this call to check if they were taking the new Magnum product and at what price following a meeting we’d had. I’d had oodles of training, and I’d learned so much from hearing my team speak to buyers on the phone.

Yet there were so many blocks in my mind. What if I didn’t say the “right” thing? What if they refused to stock the new Magnum? What if they beat me down on price? What if everyone in the office heard me muck up?

Louise Morris is the Founder of Summit Fundraising. She is a major donor fundraising specialist and has worked with over 200 charities helping them raise large gifts.

Fortunately, I had a supportive manager. That manager could sense my procrastination and did a kind thing, which has also been a lesson for my career.

Louise, do you want to go and use that empty meeting room to call your buyer?”

Oh and if you’re feeling a bit nervous, try standing up.”

So, I went into the meeting room. The call was fine. Just fine. But it wasn’t disastrous.

Where and how you make a phone call matters. Slumped on the sofa? That’s not going to work to actively focus on a major donor call, just like sitting at my desk in a busy office wasn’t going to work for me. Changing to be in a different room, alone, where I couldn’t be overheard built my confidence in those early days; eventually I was making calls as easily as the rest of my team, in the main office.

Standing up gave me that extra space to breathe when I was nervous, it rooted me and made me feel more equal with the “scary” buyer I was super anxious about phoning.

If phoning donors is something you want to do more of, and do more effectively, you could have a think about:

Where do you make calls from? Office or at home? If you’re in a team, does it work to make donor calls when you’re in the office together so you can learn from each other? Or do you prefer to do them on home working days? Or in a co-working space where there’s background buzz?

✅ Stand up: See this brilliant Ted Talk by Amy Cuddy, one of the most watched Ted Talks ever, to understand the power of how we sit and stand physically, emotionally, and cognitively. This was first recommended to me by the brilliant fundraising trainer Rob Woods. Thanks, Rob!

✅ What do you do before? I coached a fundraiser who didn’t have confidence calling donors and so wasn’t doing it. We talked about what she did before donor meetings and she started to replicate that. She did a 10-minute walk around the block with her playlist on before her scheduled call times.

What could you do beforehand to feel the most confident you?

Even the most generous and kind-hearted of us has been there. I certainly have!

I’ve picked up a call from a number I don’t recognize. I start to think in that moment “this is probably a “sales” call.” There is a slow start, sometimes a second or two of silence, and then the caller checks my name. “Is that Mrs. Morris? Louise Morris?”

I start to think about the task on my screen that I interrupted by taking the call, or what time it is and when I need to leave to pick up my youngest from school.

Your donors are no different, and unfortunately, they may get a number of charity calls asking for “more” – another donation, or increasing that monthly gift.

So how can you counter the potential pitfalls of calling?

✅ Put yourself in your (potential) donors’ shoes: and try to understand what they might be thinking. And you do not have to have already met someone to “see” things from their perspective. If you can anticipate the objections, you can then plan to overcome them.

✅ Their history with the organisation: Assuming you’ve never met them, check the database and their history. Is this the first time they’ll have ever had a more personal call? Did they meet the CEO last year?

✅ Script your first 20-30 second opener: in a way that sounds like you, is genuine and cuts to the chase:
Why are you calling? Let them know! For example, because you want them to feel valued, as a supporter they’ve been giving for 5 years now, thank you! For example, because they might not have seen the email invitation to an exclusive evening event and you don’t want them to miss out if they want to attend.

“Your tips on having a bit of prepared script with curiosity questions and putting myself in the donor’s shoes were extremely helpful. So I’d just echo all of that to other beginners having now had a go myself.”

✅ Tell them you’re not asking for money: Include very early on in your opener above, that you’re not asking for money! If it fits your sense of humour, you can make a joke about this. This immediately puts a lot of people at ease.

There are nudges and habits that we can build into our days and teams to make phoning donors confidently a regular and successful part of our major donor fundraising. Here are some things, if you’re not doing them already, that might help:

✅ Schedule your calls: When are you most likely to make those calls? A fantastic fundraiser I was coaching recognized that she was most likely to call donors first thing before she opened her email and started the many meetings in her diary. So, she scheduled 0900-0930 in her calendar every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday morning to make 5 calls. The result? She spoke to at least one donor every day.

✅ Recognise the good stuff: I don’t know about you, but most relationships fundraisers didn’t get into the role to sit behind spreadsheets, or respond to masses of instant messages or emails. Speaking to people who care, who have different lives, is one of the most fascinating things about major donor fundraising.

When I ask fundraisers I’m supporting how a call went I will often hear “They were so lovely” or “It was really interesting, I never knew that before.” When I ask them how they felt after the call, it has nearly always given them momentum and energy.

If you can remember or write down your positive call experiences you’re encouraging your brain to want to do it more, rather than fear it and avoid it. And you can make it more enjoyable still but starting off by calling those people who you are most likely to get a very warm response from i.e. that donor who’s been supporting for years and is super enthusiastic. Use these experiences to build your confidence.

Can someone hold you to account with your habits?: Do you have a weekly priorities team meeting where you can declare your focus on calling donors? How many calls per week are you aiming for? Let your team know how you get on in the next team meeting. Can you make these calls as a team and learn from each other? Can you add calls or “meaningful engagements” as a KPI to measure, recognize, and celebrate?

I hope you’ve found this helpful.

If you want to build your confidence in 2024 and raise more, whether major donor fundraising is brand new to you or established, book a chat below and we can discuss the best support.

Louise Morris is the Founder of Summit Fundraising. She is a major donor fundraising specialist and has worked with over 200 charities helping them raise large gifts.

Major Donor Fundraising Books

I’m often asked by fundraisers and charity leaders which major donor fundraising books they should read. I haven’t (yet!) written one myself but am constantly reading and I’ve learnt just as much about major donor fundraising and philanthropy from “non-fundraising” books. Major donor fundraising links hugely to psychology, wellbeing, human decision making and relationships.

So, read on for the best major donor fundraising reads. IMHO they all manage to deliver the holy grail of being non-fiction and a great read! I’d love to know what you think!

Title: Rapport. The Four Ways to Read People
Author: Emily Alison & Laurence Alison

An image showing the cover of the book "Rapport: The Four Ways to Read People"

Why this book?

The charities that have more, effective conversations with high-net-worth individuals raise more. But once you’ve arranged one, how do you make the most of it? This book has changed my approach to almost every interaction I have: with my children, partner and philanthropists. It will make you rethink how to build that rapport and trust which is so vital for transformational giving.

Who will get the most out of this?

Anyone meeting with high-net-worth individuals.
Manager and leaders.
Everyone who’s interested in building strong relationships in their life.

In 3 words…

Essential for life.

Title: Advising Philanthropists
Author: Emma Beeston and Beth Breeze

An image of the cover of the book "Advising Philanthropists"

Why this book?

As a fundraiser you’re tasked with raising income for the one charity you work for. But how can you understand your major donor’s giving more broadly? What values and experiences motivates them? This book lifts the lid for the first time on philanthropy advising as a profession and is invaluable to fundraisers: to understand philanthropists better; to know how to respond when approach by a philanthropy advisor or if it’s of interest as a career path.

Who will get the most out of this?

Major donor fundraisers who might work with philanthropy advisors.
Those interested in philanthropy advising as a career path.
Anyone working directly with major donors.

In 3 words…

New technical insight.

Title: Four Thousand Weeks
Author: Oliver Burkeman

An image of the cover of the book "Four Thousand Weeks"

Why this book?

One of the challenges that comes up the most with the fundraisers I coach and train is lack of time. And there are plenty of tips around to be more productive, including my blog here!  But what if we stopped trying to “control” time, if we stopped striving for the “perfect” work-life balance and instead took a different approach. Named after the number of weeks the average person will have on the planet, this book will give you fresh perspective on your relationship with time and with life.

Who will get the most out of this?

Anyone in charity and beyond who feels “too busy” and is striving for more balance.

In 3 words…

Perspective, refreshing, spiritual.

Title: Philanthropy Revolution
Author: Lisa Greer and Larissa Kostoff

An image of the cover of the book "Philanthropy Revolution"

Why this book?

What experiences do philanthropists have of charities? Written by businesswoman and philanthropist Lisa Greer, this is an honest account of the third sector’s practices when it comes to working with major donors – and in many cases it’s not good! Lisa gives her perspectives “from the other side” outlining how fundraisers can build better relationships with major donors and raise more.

Who will get the most out of this?

Charity leadership
Major donor fundraisers

In 3 words…

Honest, Insightful, authentic.

And in case you need even more reading recommendations… these we’re on my list last Summer (2022).

Title: In Defence of Philanthropy
Author: Beth Breeze

Why this book?

There is a narrative that the wealthiest people are the villains in our society. This can make many of us (myself included!) uncomfortable with major donor fundraising at times. But what would the impact be on society if we didn’t have philanthropists giving major gifts? This is a hugely readable defence of why major donor fundraising remains vital, despite its imperfections and why all rich people are not Jeff Bezos.

Who will get the most out of this?

Fundraisers, charity leaders, trustees and anyone who struggles to make sense of society’s inequalities in the context of philanthropy and major donor fundraising.

In three words…

Pride in fundraising


Title: Intrinsic (A manifesto to reignite our inner drive)
Author: Sharath Jeevan

Why this book?

You and your colleagues work for a great cause, and that’s motivation enough right? Not really, and you’ll know this if you’ve ever felt demotivated and disconnected from your role. In a sector where staff retention is generally poor and burnout is not uncommon, it’s worth reading how to uncover that deeper motivation and purpose –  for yourself and your teams. There are perspectives from a variety of different sectors which are thought-provoking for charity fundraising.

Who will get the most out of this?

Managers and aspiring managers, fundraising leaders and charity leaders.

In three words…

Rediscovering your purpose.


Title: Philanthropy: from Aristotle to Zuckerberg
Author: Paul Vallely

Why this book?

Okay, so at over 800 pages long, this might be a reason not to read this book!  However, it’s here despite it’s length because it’s fascinating. There are great chapters on giving throughout history, including different faiths which takes us away from the selective, white, Christian-centric view of giving. There are interviews with philanthropists at the end of every chapter which add invaluable perspectives. Take your time and enjoy!

Who will get the most out of this?

Lovers of history and/or philanthropy, anyone working directly with major donors.

In three words…

It’s worth it!


Title: Blink
Author: Malcolm Gladwell

Why this book?

As fundraisers our instincts are vital. If your manager insists you ask that donor for a gift to hit budget, you may know it’s not the right time for that supporter. But you may not be able to explain how you know! Blink uncovers how our brains work in those moments when we have that “gut feel” and “know” something, but don’t know why.

Who will get the most out of this?

Everyone!

In three words…

Trust your instincts.


Title: The Innovation Workout
Author: Lucy Gower

Why this book?

On the one hand major donor fundraising is simple – build great relationships. But that doesn’t mean we don’t need to constantly innovate and to surprise, delight and understand our major donors. Whether it’s your next donor event, or developing a giving club, this is a workbook style guide that you can easily dip in and out of. It’s practical tips are easy to follow and there will be something you’ll be impatient to try out for your own fundraising and projects.

Who will get the most out of this?

Anyone!

In three words…

Do things differently.


Title: The Righteous Mind
Author: Jonathan Haidt

Why this book?

In some meetings we click with donors straight away; it’s easiest to do this with those who share our outlook on the world. The challenge comes when someone’s views are vastly different to our own.

This book will help you understand where a donor or potential donor might be coming from, as well as colleagues.  From there you can understand so much better how to move a relationship forward.

Who will get the most out of this?

Anyone meeting major donors.
Anyone who works in a team.

In three words…

Eye-opening, challenging, thought-provoking.


Title: Time to Think
Author: Nancy Kline

Why this book?

Large gifts don’t come quickly and we can’t afford to not take the time and space to understand our potential donors and listen to them! When we do have those valuable conversations with a potential donor, how can we make the most of the opportunity.

In three words…

Practical, Holistic, Listening

Who will get the most out of this?

If you feel lack of time is your main challenge
If you feel like you run on adrenalin and don’t have head space
If you want to learn to listen deeper and better

If you’re too busy to read this, you need it the most!


Louise Morris is the Founder of Summit Fundraising. She is a major donor fundraising specialist and has worked with over 200 charities helping them raise large gifts.

Back to Major Donor Fundraising Basics this Summer

July and August are often viewed as a “quiet” time in major donor fundraising in the UK & Europe. Many high-net-worth individuals are away at second homes, or have full social calendars, less likely to meet with you or attend your charity’s events. On top of this many of your colleagues may be taking leave and so not emailing you or asking to meet with you !

I’m not utterly convinced many fundraising and leadership roles ever truly “calm down” but if you’re hopeful that things might be a bit calmer, I’ve got some simple tips here. Some you might be doing already, but there might be one or two that help you move forwards with your major donor fundraising.

Tip 1- How easy is it for a major donor to find and contact your cause?

Fundraisers spend a lot of time trying to reach out to existing and potential major donors. But how easy it for them to find you?

Mackenzie Scott is a good reminder of how important this is. She is a UK novelist, philanthropist and Jeff Bezos’ ex-wife. She gave over $5.8 billion away in 2020 to non-profits. Her team researched causes providing support to people affected by the economic impact of COVID and addressing long-term systemic inequities: racial equality, LGBTQ+ equality, democracy, and climate change. They shortlisted the causes independently and then contacted the charities to tell them the funds they’d been awarded.

Although I can’t promise that Mackenzie Scott is going to suddenly give you a six or 7 figure gift, what I do know is that there are wealthy donors out there who proactively look at the information available on things they care about. And that donors will want to contact you at a time that’s right for them in a way that’s right for them.

So here’s a checklist to put yourself in a philanthropist’s shoes:

Internet search your cause
Not your charity name but the problem you’re there to solve e.g. homelessness in Scotland, or medical research for “x”. Where does your charity feature on the results?

How easy is it to find your charity’s leadership team on your website?
This matters. Major donors want to know your charity is well run and well led and it is an obvious thing for them to search. As I run board sessions, I will often click around a charity’s website trying to find out who the trustees are before we meet. Often I’ve used up far more time than I would have liked and many clicks later I’m still none the wiser. Don’t make your major donors have this experience as a first impression.

Can they find your latest impact report or accounts on your website?
It’s a very obvious thing for a high-net-worth to want to see, if they are interested in your cause and potentially giving. So test it:  go onto your website and see how many clicks it takes to find. Does your search box work when you type in “annual accounts”? I know from personal experience having worked with over 200 charities, that many search boxes do not bring up the information that you want!

Are you following & commenting on the socials of your major donors?
Linked In and twitter are two channels that could really help your potential donors’ awareness of you and your cause. This has a lot of benefit in advance of reaching out and means you’re learning far more about them, their work and what’s going on for them.

Can a donor easily call you and speak to you?
You email a major donor or a potential major donor. You don’t hear back. But have you given them the opportunity to call you? Check your email signature is going on every external email (including when you reply), and that it has a number on it. If your CEO is donor facing, check their signature too. And call the number that is on there – does it go through to a voicemail if it rings out? Is it just the generic switchboard with an automated voice?

Because sometimes we just want to speak to someone at an organisation and get a quick answer. Major donors are no different. If they’re time poor even more so. If you don’t make it easy for them to call, you could be missing out on some great engagement conversations, or worse missing out on valuable income.

Tip 2 – Who are your potential major donors?

Who is on your list and why?
Often names hang around because historically they were on a list at some point! Reviewing your list adding in and deleting names makes it relevant and more effective.

Do you know that those on your list are high-net-worth?
 Or should you get some wealth research done? I’ve worked with a lot of fundraisers who are focusing on building relationships with people and they don’t know if they’re high-net-worth. Just because someone’s given a £5k gift, doesn’t mean they’ve got the wealth to do it again.

✅ Have you prioritised your list to get to a “top 20”?
There are many prioritisation tools that you could use, but if you need one, or find the one you’re using over-complicated, this blog might help.

✅ Are you tagging and flagging major donors on your database?
Although this if often not the most riveting part of major donor fundraising it is so, so important. You have finite time and knowing where to invest it is crucial. As one fundraiser on Major donor fundraising from scratch said to me recently after setting up her list within her database with tags:

“ I feel so much more in control now I know who to build relationships with”

Fundraiser on the Summit programme Major Donor Fundraising from Scratch

Tip 3- “What Next?”

Working out what the next step is for a major donor relationship is something I cover a lot in my major donor training, workshops and coaching.

Because it’s one of the more challenging parts of major donor fundraising.
“What next?” for:

❔ The lapsed major donor who hasn’t responded to our last two approaches

❔ The well-connected trustee who seems reluctant to introduce their contacts

❔ The major donor who it seems impossible to pin down for a meeting

One of the reasons that  thinking “what next” is hard, is because we don’t have the space to do it when we’re rushing from meeting to meeting, putting on events or getting that report in for a deadline.

IF (and I realise it is an IF) you’re at work and it’s slower paced with colleagues away and fewer meetings….grab a drink in your favourite coffee shop or head to the park and find a lovely spot. Try and get into the shoes of two or three of these people you want to build a relationship with:

💭 What did they last receive from the charity?
💭 When did they last give and why?
💭 What might be going on in their lives right now?
💭 Who should contact them next?
💭 And with what?

If you’re still unsure, and they’ve given in the past year or so then send them a brief, “expectation-exceeding” thank you. There’s a lot more here on the power of thanking in major donor fundraising.

Because having a next step for each individual (and sometimes two steps) is one of the most important and rewarding parts of major donor fundraising.

I hope there are one or two things from these tips that you can take away and put into practice, and that you can create the time over Summer to do it to build great major donor relationships.

Louise Morris is the Founder of Summit Fundraising. She is a major donor fundraising specialist and has worked with over 200 charities helping them raise large gifts.



The importance of thanking in major donor fundraising

One thank you to that major donor is great. But surely we shouldn’t be too over the top about thanking should we?

Read on for insight that time spent thanking your existing donors is as important as time spent finding “new major donors”. And it can raise more!

I remember one card that arrived from a friend in lockdown. In it was a lovely message thanking me for the vegetable growing book I sent her for a birthday present – it was a new hobby for her during COVID.

Two weeks before we’d seen each other over Zoom; I joined a group of friends and family honking Happy Birthday to her over the internet, vaguely in sync. At the end of the singing she told me how excited she’d been to open her book that morning, and said thank you to me with a huge smile.

A month or so later she sent me a WhatsApp message with a photo of her tomatoes all settled in their new pots – again thanking me for the book.

That’s three thank yous in 6 weeks. Too much? It didn’t feel like that at all. It felt really wonderful.

Most of us know that thanking our donors is important, but there’s a difference between sending a thank you for a gift and having a thank you programme. As part of the Certificate in Philanthropic Psychology from the Institute of Sustainable Philanthropy I reviewed research from Adrian Sergeant and Jen Shang’s report on thanking donors.

Thanking people four or more times per year increases giving – people give more and give for longer.

Those organisations who are best at thanking retain more of their supporters. That probably makes complete sense to you. Yet how many of us focus our efforts on thoughtful, surprising thank yous? That’s not a “thank you and can you please give again.” Or “thank you and can you please do x, y or z.” Just a thoughtful, personal thank you.

Building true connectedness for any supporter, including major donors, takes time. We need consistency and we need ‘out of the blue, expectation exceeding thank yous’. With our high-net-worth supporters we can often take an even more personal approach through what we know of them and their lives, to really build how connected they feel, to make them feel valued and inspired.

And the great news is, it’s not too late to start. If a major donor got a brief letter for a gift they made, why not send them a handwritten note today? Leave them a voice note, or email them a short video thanking them and including a short story, demonstrating why their gift’s made such a difference.

My friend made me feel amazing for giving, she made me feel loved. What can you do today to make a donor feel that?

Louise Morris is the Founder of Summit Fundraising. She is a major donor fundraising specialist and has worked with over 200 charities helping them raise large gifts.


Adrian Sergeant and Jen Shang’s full report can be accessed here.

Who are major donors for your charity?

I’m on the Board of trustees meeting for a regional charity, I’m the Fundraising Director. We’ve got a gap to reach our income target for the year. After discussing the plan to close the gap, one trustee mentions that Antonio Banderas has recently moved into the area.

This seems to be changing the subject and I have to coax him to understand his comment.  “Well, wouldn’t Mr Banderas be able to donate a large sum to the charity because he is incredibly wealthy after all?” !!

Have you got your eye on those millionaires on the Sunday Times Rich List? It’s published annually in Spring in the UK and there are levels of wealth that are almost unimaginable. There are also a lot of fundraisers, Chief Executives and trustees for whom it becomes a huge distraction. If your charity is serious about its major donor fundraising please ignore it.

Why? Well there are three things your charity needs to bear in mind when deciding who to try and build a relationship with, to hopefully secure a major gift. We can take Antonio as an example here:

1. You need a LINK to the person

Who can introduce you to this person, persuade them to come to an event, or to have coffee with the charity Chief Executive or Chair? Some of your trustees may know high-net-worth individuals. If you identify an existing or past supporter as being high-net-worth, you may well have contact details and permission – you can then start communicating with them in a different way.
Did anyone at my charity know Mr Banderas?  Unfortunately not. We didn’t know his agent either. A letter from our Chairman, however wonderfully worded, would have wasted time and resource.

2. They must have an INTEREST in your type of cause or charity


Are you a small local community charity, but this individual seems to fund wildly different projects internationally? Or is this person passionate about climate change, and you think your environmental work could be right up her street. All causes are worthy. Put yourself in the philanthropist’s shoes; they’ll follow their passions and interests; you should too.
Mr Banderas? He hadn’t funded any similar causes and showed little interest in the local community.

3. The ABILITY to give

With the Rich List, this is the easy part. The logic goes that they are rich, so therefore they could easily give a large gift to the charity. £10,000 or £100,000 or £1million – it wouldn’t be much for them would it? In major donor fundraising we should focus on building really personal, tailored relationships with those who have got wealth. Those on the Rich List have wealth. Mr Banderas? A big tick for this one

The logic goes that they are rich, so therefore they could easily give a large gift to our charity. £10,000 or £100,000 or £1million – it wouldn’t be much for them would it?

However, without a link to them, without them having an interest, you’ll be wasting precious charity resource at a time when you and your teams are stretched! This is before taking into consideration that philanthropists are approached by hundreds of charities per year with those on the Rich List are likely approached by thousands.

Quite simply – don’t become distracted by the list. Please don’t ask your team to follow up with people on the Rich List, and if you know all of this as a fundraiser, make sure you’re not distracted and are armed with an assertive response to why you won’t be focusing on it.

So where are the wealthy donors for your cause?

This is one of the areas we cover in the Summit Major Donor Fundraising from Scratch programme.

Whatever size your organisation is, we work together to focus on how you can build relationships with those individuals who are most likely to give a large gift.

Whether you are getting some major donor gifts already but want a more proactive major donor programme, or whether you’re setting one up for the first time, this approach works!  You will raise more large gifts!

Louise Morris is the Founder of Summit Fundraising. She is a major donor fundraising specialist and has worked with over 200 charities helping them raise large gifts.

The Challenges of Management in Major Donor Fundraising!

I’ve had some difficult situations both line managing and reporting upwards in major donor fundraising. Many fundraisers I work with don’t feel supported by their manager to build and grow their major donor programmes. Their managers, especially if they haven’t worked on major donor fundraising before, can find it tough managing this income stream.

It’s something that features in nearly all of my work with charities, whether coaching 1-2-1s, consultancy projects or training sessions. So read on for some practical tips on management and major donor fundraising.  

Major donor fundraising can be a long game with it sometimes taking 12 months or more to develop a major donor relationship to get a large gift. If you’re only measuring income, and not the steps on the road to get there, there can be some “twitchiness”.

What do I mean by this?  

If your manager doesn’t know major donor fundraising they may start to wonder if what you’re doing is on the right track. Why hasn’t more money come in? This is especially true with a young major donor programme.

You may also start to doubt yourself – are you doing enough? Should you just ask for a gift anyway, even though deep down you know the relationship isn’t really in the right place?

I recommend “Curiosity Conversations” as a KPI across all of my work. Whether on the phone thanking a brand new donor, or meeting with an ultra high-net-worth individual to discuss a proposal, these conversations are vital! You are being curious, listening to them and finding out more to move the relationship forward.

Because when we focus outwards rather than inwards, more opportunities open up.

These curiosity conversations are  brilliant steps on the road to large gifts. So don’t keep these successes to yourself.

I recommend you track your curiosity conversations, celebrate them and share them with your manager and beyond.

I got continually frustrated in one fundraising role because my line manager didn’t really understand major donor fundraising. They’d often make suggestions in our 1-2-1s that weren’t going to help progress relationships with donors.  I couldn’t change the fact that they hadn’t been a major donor fundraiser. But I made the conscious decision to be more patient and starting explaining why we were taking certain approaches:

  • Why we wanted to reduce our major donor events so we could be more strategic
  • Why I wasn’t going to ask certain donors for money yet, but the plan instead
  • How a curiosity meeting, just understanding the donor more had led to a great next step, and not money, yet! But a great step nonetheless.

This takes time, and it’s something that you don’t always have. But it is worth it. Yes managers have responsibilities (keep reading for more on this) but if you can put yourself in a more giving and generous mindset with your knowledge, you might find it helps reduce those frustrations.

At a first coaching session with a fundraiser, they disclosed they’d called a major donor to ask for a Christmas gift against their judgement. The donor had given a large gift the previous year, but had received little thanks, stewardship or engagement since. “My manager said we needed to call these donors and ask” she recalled and “we were down on our Christmas target.” The fundraiser unsurprisingly got a frosty response from this particular major donor.

Imagine if that fundraiser had explained to their manager that she wasn’t going to call this donor and why. That instead she was going to:

  • Acknowledge the lack of contact and apologise to the donor
  • Try to reconnect with them, offer to meet in the New Year and explain the impact their gift had.

Trust your instinctsAnd share them with your manager.


As I’ve already mentioned, I hear from a lot of major donor fundraisers who don’t feel supported by their manager. I’ve been there as a Fundraising Director, with tight budgets and even tighter time pressures, so please know that this is not meant to “have a go” at managers.

What I do want to do is give some perspectives to help close the divide.

And if you are the fundraiser responsible for major donor fundraising this could also help you! 💪🏼

The questions below sound really obvious to ask the major gift fundraiser(s) in your team. But in a fast-paced, high-pressured role it can be easy to rush on without having had these discussions.

  • What does your major gift fundraiser need to succeed? 🤑

It could be:

  • More of the CEO’s time for meetings and call to donors
  • Someone to talk through next steps with donors; training to get more know-how or 1-2-1 support. Both of which I offer through Summit! 🤣
  • More knowledge on how to set up a new major donor programme. It’s tough starting with a blank page which is why I run Major Donor Fundraising from Scratch.

If you “don’t have” budget for training or support, this blog  is worth a read on the reality of needing to invest to grow a major donor income stream, or any area of fundraising frankly!

  • How can you together, secure more curiosity conversations with existing and potential major donors? 🤳🏼

Tracking progress and success in a major donor fundraising is so much more than tracking income. Remember the all-important “curiosity conversations” that will unlock your major donor programme.

The challenge is, securing these donor conversations takes time and perseverance;  support from others with this can look like:

  • Introductions from trustees
  • Administrative help putting on a major donor event to have these conversations (then your fundraiser’s time can be freed up to research, plan and follow up next steps!)
  • Willingness for leadership to approach donors, with support from the fundraiser 
     
  • What other objectives will you measure together? 💹

Having a conversation about what you’re working towards, together, builds trust.
This could include:

  • Tracking donor retention – keeping donors year on year is an achievement – acknowledge that! So many programmes I work with are fixated on “new donors” instead of looking after and growing those they have.
  • What feedback are you getting from donors? Ask them about their experiences and log this feedback.
  • A new major donor programme? What is realistic to have in place by the end of year 1? E.g. a prioritised list of potential major donors. The Summit Major Donor Fundraising from Scratch course covers this and much more.

If you’re recruiting for a major donor role right now, you’ll understand exactly why this is so crucial.

Major donor fundraising roles are incredibly challenging to fill, and retention in the sector is not good on average. This creates a real problem in an area of fundraising that relies on long-term relationships! 

And it costs thousands of pounds/euros/dollars to recruit major donor fundraisers – recruitment fees, damaged major donor relationships, lost income and time investment from managers.

So, finally:

How can your major donor fundraiser progress in their career without leaving?!

In fundraising, often the only route for someone to progress is to line manage. For some that will be their aim. For many in the sector though, a step up to line management is just the default and only way to get more responsibility and often a much-needed pay rise.

How can you create role(s) that give excellent relationship managers the space to shine at a more senior level, without having to get a “Head of” or management role?

As one fundraiser said to me in a one to one coaching session:

“I want to progress but I just want to focus on portfolio management and be the best major donor fundraiser I can be”.

I was surprised and delighted years ago when I discovered that UCL and other universities had senior salaried roles, focused solely on external major donor relationships. They may have been paid as much as a Head or Director of Fundraising in some organisations, but their sole focus was external, building fantastic donor relationships and inspiring them to give large gifts.

This may involve some challenging conversations with HR or leadership, but trust me, you do not want to have a vacant major donor role to fill!

And it’s a weakness of our sector that we don’t allow expertise and progression to be rewarded in a more senior post, that isn’t a management or leadership one.

Because supporting and keeping major donor fundraisers is such a critical part of success in major donor fundraising.

I hope these tips are helpful and if you need any support with your major donor fundraising, just get in touch.

Louise Morris is the Founder of Summit Fundraising. She is a major donor fundraising specialist and has worked with over 200 charities helping them raise large gifts.

6 Tips to reclaim time for your major donor fundraising

We’re often told to look after ourselves, to make sure we don’t work too late, to get the “right” balance. But it’s easy to finish a hectic week exhausted, and without having spent time developing the many major donor relationships that we wanted to! Why? Because major donor fundraising requires the most proactive approach out of all types of fundraising.

Read on for 6 tried and tested techniques that have helped over 250 fundraisers and charity leaders I’ve worked with find the time to focus externally, build better relationships with major donors and raise more. I hope one or two resonate with you and you can try them out. Whether they give you back 10 minutes a week, or a new perspective they can put you on the path to raising more large gifts so your organisation can do more of the good stuff.

Don’t just silence email and messenger notifications, close the apps completely!

Why? 

There is work in major donor fundraising that takes focus, thought and time. It might be considering how to get in touch with a potential donor, writing a compelling proposal, or creatively thanking a major donor.

If we continually interrupt a deep focus task we are switching between the part of our brain needed for this deep focus, and the part we use to scan information and deal with small multiple tasks. Switching between the two is more exhausting for us, but also means that a proposal that would have taken us an hour to write can take 2 or even 3 hours.

If not being available digitally makes you feel uncomfortable, particularly when you’re working at home, share your new approach or closing email and messenger at certain times with your team and your manager.

Focus on having 45-minute blocks with email, social and messenger closed and if it help, put your phone in another room.

For many fundraisers I coach, it’s the step change they need to find the space to properly consider the next steps for their major donors.

This technique was brilliant for me when I was in fundraising roles and I’ve seen it help many fundraisers and leaders I coach.

In a coaching session with one fundraiser, we explored how she rarely picked up the phone to donors but she wanted to do it more. She was so busy with the internal requests, reports, and emails she found it difficult to make the time.

Also, because making calls was outside her comfort zone, it was dropping to the bottom of her to-do list. Everyone works differently, your wonderful brain is unique so I’m not saying you should do this.  

But this is what ring-fencing time looked like for her and what she committed to in our coaching session:

☎️ Calling 5 donors or potential donors three mornings a week.

📩 Before she opened her inbox.

👍🏼We recognised she might only get through to 2 of those 5 donors.

🏆But she committed to doing it.

📝She then wrote down the names of the 5 people she was going to call, the night before so she was ready to go each morning.

Did it happen absolutely every one of those 3 mornings?

No, but it did on a lot of those days.  And it meant she had more conversations, built better relationships through listening and thanking, and raised more!

You know how you work best, so explore how “ring-fencing” donor time could work for you to create it as a habit.

You may be the type of person that nearly always say yes. After all, you want to be seen as helpful, a good team player and proactive right? But if you tend to try and do it all, you may find that large chunks of your major donor work never happen – because they don’t have a specific deadline and you won’t be chased on them. So some approaches below may help:

📅 Don’t immediately accept an internal meeting invite.

💭Does there need to be a meeting or could it be a brief phone discussion instead?

💭Do you need to be there?

💭Could you suggest it’s 30 or 45 minutes rather than one hour?   Those extra 15 minutes are valuable to you!

💭If it’s an internal meeting needing fundraising representation, could you and your team members each take it in turns?

⏳Track your time.

In his brilliant book, “Intrinsic” Sharath Jeevan talks about how our working roles can evolve into having little meaning and purpose for us – because we can’t focus on the things that make a difference and motivate us e.g. building great relationships with donors. If you track how you spend your time each week, you can see in black and white how much of your role is spent on the vital external part of major donor fundraising – phoning potential donors, securing meetings, having virtual and face to face coffee chats – and how much is spent internally.

The fundraisers that have more conversations and meetings raise more large gifts. Doors open when we focus outside our organisations rather than within them.

One fundraiser I coached didn’t think her manager would like her saying no to the additional requests she was receiving from colleagues – all internal work. Once she’d explained why she wanted to spend the time externally on major donor relationships, her manager supported her in saying no more so she could focus outwards.

The “hard stuff” will always slip to the bottom of the pile – whether that for you is calling donors, tackling a new prospect list of trying to get hold of a trustee. We are sneaky as humans, nearly always going for those quick and easy tasks first. So how can you put yourself in the best position to tackle the hardest bits of your role?

💪🏼 What lifts your energy?
Do it before the thing that you’re dreading/are apprehensive about. One fundraising lead I coached did a quick 10-minute walk outside before they made their calls to donors. Others I’ve worked with listen to music on the way to donor meetings, or even at home before a virtual meeting.

🐸 Eat The Frog
The brilliant fundraising trainer Rob Woods at Bright Spot taught me this early on in my career. It’s the concept of JFDI really! Getting on with the task that you are least looking forward to first thing, so you get a sense of accomplishment for the rest of the day. And, in turn, you avoid procrastinating and you save time.

😁 What makes you feel good?
I’ll always wear nice shoes when I deliver virtual workshops or interview philanthropists. When I’m on the screen no one can see my feet. So why? Because it makes me feel good and because I want to! It gives me energy for the session ahead and it’s given me huge confidence over the years when meeting major donors.

Before holidays…
“It’s so busy before I go on holiday it sometimes doesn’t feel worth it”

“I’m exhausted by the time my leave comes around”

After holidays…
“I haven’t had chance to go through all my emails because I’m straight back into meetings”

“I don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing…!”

Sound familiar?

Many of you will have techniques that work for you, but if the pressure before and after a holiday is still too much, you might want to try these tips:

💻Use the last few hours and minutes wisely!

You could be finishing off tasks until late on your last day. Or instead you could stop, and write your top three things to work on when you return (and speak to your team and manager about what needs to be picked up while you’re away.) You’d do the same for them, right?

📨Inbox Zero?

A concept that’s a bit like marmite. I’m firmly on the hate side. Don’t strive for inbox zero before your holiday if it’s not your style of working or isn’t going to help you. Time is better spent on the organising and prioritising above.

👩🏼‍💻Reduce the email on your return.

By creating auto rules (for the general newsletter and internal updates for instance) to go to a specific folder you’ll have a more organised inbox on your return.  Then you will be able to quickly prioritise and get back to donor-related emails and projects.

🗓️A meeting free return!! 

What would your first morning or day back look like without meetings? You can review your priorities, clear your inbox, and reassess which donors you’ll contact as a priority. How can you make this happen?

As a fundraiser, your work is never done. There’s always more you could be doing right?

Raise more large gifts for your great cause; give more support to team members; call and meet more donors; respond to more emails; do more “personal development”?

So, how can we ever feel like we’ve done enough? Many fundraisers don’t ever feel they do enough when they first come to me for support. And when you feel like this it’s hard to get satisfaction from your role.

Although we know that fundraising roles can be fluid and undefined, that the task list constantly grows and that our work schedules are hectic, there is one thing we can do:

✨Define what success looks like for you tomorrow with 3 things..

❔What 3 things, if you completed them tomorrow, would make the biggest difference?

Is it starting that proposal you’ve been putting off?

Calling two donors because you’re out of the groove?

Finishing the internal report that will be due end of play?

Decide these before you finish work each day.  Commit to just completing the 3 things you’ve written down.  And then tick them off as you finish them.

This approach gives you the flexibility to respond to what else crops up in the day, but most importantly you will have the rarest of things: an achievable to-do list that you can complete. Fundraising roles are often fluid, but if you can reframe when you’re “done”, you should be able to feel that you actually are doing “enough”.

Get in touch with Louise to find out about specialist major donor coaching sessions so you can:

✔️ Gain confidence

✔️ solve those challenges

✔️ and raise more.

I have loved working with Louise. She not only provided her own insight and intellect, she also made me feel more secure in the approach I already had to major donor fundraising, which was a great boost to confidence. Following coaching around making an ‘ask’, and encouraging me to make these feel more like a conversation, I am now having just that with one of our biggest donors – a natural, not-stilted conversation – hopefully leading to great things!

Fionnuala Shakespeare, Philanthropy Officer (Scotland), Christian Aid

Louise Morris is the Founder of Summit Fundraising. She is a major donor fundraising specialist and has worked with over 200 charities helping them raise large gifts.


Major donor fundraising and working with your trustees

Trustees can be critical to major donor fundraising success. But it can be easy to feel frustrated that your trustees “don’t get” major donor fundraising or aren’t more actively involved introducing potential donors. I’ve definitely been there in fundraising roles! I’ve also had fundraisers I’ve worked with exclaim to me in frustration that “the Board just don’t get it”.

Read on for my 4 top tips from having worked with over 200 charities, boards, trustees and many more fundraisers and leaders. Some of these you might be doing but there may be one or two things you can take away…….


Read on for your bitesize tips and perspectives to help you work together with your board for major donor fundraising success.

1. Identify your key trustees

When talking about “the Board” , it’s easy to forget that they are not one homogenous group, but made up of individuals with different experiences, backgrounds and motivations.

So, when I work with fundraisers and leaders I often ask them:

“Who are the two, three or four trustees who could make the biggest difference to your major donor programme?”

They nearly always know instinctively.

  • There might be a trustee who seems to know a lot of influential and potentially high-net-worth people but “they’ve never introduced anyone”.
  • They might have a trustee who is on the Board of a FTSE250 company.
  • They might have a trustee who’s given a major gift in the past, but no one really mentions it or thanks them!

If you don’t know much about your trustees, read their bios and speak to your CEO to identify those who could help your major donor programme the most.

Because you don’t need  the whole Board actively involved in major donor fundraising. And it’s not realistic to expect this. If you aim for the whole Board you’re going to be constantly disappointed.

But if you identify the key trustees for major gift fundraising, it becomes manageable and achievable all of a sudden.

2. Get to know your key trustees

Ask yourself…“How much do I know about this trustee?”

How much do you know:

  • About their world
  • About why they give their time for free to your cause
  • About their family and work life
  • About their knowledge of fundraising at your charity

I asked this to someone I was coaching who was envisaging a challenging conversation with a trustee  – the trustee had said at a Board meeting that they’d introduce someone to the charity, but nothing had come of it. And the trustee had a reputation for being “abrupt”.

The fundraiser was really surprised when she thought about that trustee, because she actually had no idea why they were involved with the charity. When she met with the trustee she opened the conversation out first, and a potentially tricky conversation became an enjoyable one.

We can’t expect trustees to feel comfortable opening their networks if they don’t have deep enough relationships with the staff who are going to be managing their contacts.

It’s their reputation on the line. And we can’t build their confidence to reach out to their networks, if we don’t have good communication with them.

💡 TIP
If your organisation doesn’t “allow” fundraisers to contact trustees directly, now is the time to explain to those shielding the trustees, that you will only increase major donor fundraising income with a whole organisational approach.

So, if you haven’t met one of the key trustees you’ve identified, or you realise you don’t know much about them, ask for a 30 minute virtual of coffee chat

As with major donors, you might be surprised how much of a springboard this is to a strong relationship.

Louise Morris is the Founder of Summit Fundraising. She is a major donor fundraising specialist and has worked with over 200 charities helping them raise large gifts.

3. Helpful Nudging

Your trustee mentions that they know a certain high-net-worth individual and/or a company leader and that they’d be happy to introduce you.

Then….nothing.

📩 You send an email chasing your trustee but you don’t hear anything.
😖 You find yourself tipping back into the mindset of “the board really aren’t doing enough”.

Your trustees, like you and your donors, have busy lives.

And what I’ve learnt through working with hundreds of boards, and supporting fundraisers to work with their trustees, is that there are a whole host of reasons these introductions don’t happen from the perspective of a trustee:

  • I feel uncomfortable speaking to my contact, I think they’ve got their own causes, and they are a friend too so it feels awkward.
  • I really don’t want to have to ask my contact for money!
  • I’ve been meaning to reach out but I’m so busy it’s at the bottom of my to do list
  • What if I get asked a load of questions that I don’t have the answer to?

How can you anticipate and solve all of these? One question can help you hugely:

What do you need from me?

Fundraisers who’ve used this technique and simply ask their trustees, have been able to move things forward in so many different ways.

You won’t know what your trustee needs until you ask.

And you may have to ask more than once to keep the momentum and make progress.

But rather than thinking about it as “chasing” how about “helpful nudging”?!

Because if you can be in a generous state to help THEM to introduce someone to your major donor fundraising programme, it doesn’t just mean you start relationships with new potential major donors.

4. Get your board “on board”

Excuse the pun 😂 but what do I mean by this?

Well major donor fundraising, more than any other income stream, is surrounded by myths like:

  • There’s no reason why your charity shouldn’t get a £€$ 100million gift this year.
  • Significant income growth should happen within the first 6 months of a major donor programme.
  • Major donor events should always be fundraisers asking for money
  • Fundraisers should crack on and it isn’t part of the board’s role

So my final tip to help you work better with your trustees, is to educate them!

Most trustees aren’t major donor fundraisers. There is no reason that they should know much about this area of fundraising! I have never done a session with a board, where trustees didn’t come away more confident, more informed and excited to help.

Because what trustees will understand through all their varied experiences, is the importance of building relationships, and by the end of a Summit session they’ll know how they can support you to do this directly or indirectly, so together you can have major donor success.

Need some support to secure work more effectively with your board and make a step-change with your major donor fundraising? Get in touch.

Louise Morris is the Founder of Summit Fundraising. She is a major donor fundraising specialist and has worked with over 200 charities helping them raise large gifts.

5 ways to kick start your major donor fundraising this year.

Want to improve and develop your major donor fundraising this year? Bad news – I don’t have a magic wand or a quick fix for you to instantly raise more large gifts. So what’s the good news?

There ARE things you can focus on that will put you in the best position to raise more large gifts, and have the confidence to enjoy it.

Read on for my 5 top tips from having worked with over 200 charities and many more fundraisers and leaders. Some of these you might be doing but there may be one or two things you can take away…….

1. Set a realistic target

Ever had a fundraising target that was completely unrealistic. Did someone add 20% or even 50% growth on to last year’s figure? Major donor fundraising seems to suffer from a lack of reality more than other income streams when it comes to budgeting.

A gap in budget for the year? Let’s add it to the major donor line! 🤦🏼‍♀️ It’s a horrible feeling chasing an unrealistic target.

“I’ve worked in and with plenty of teams who are demoralised and low in confidence all because their target was set far too high and they were never going to reach it.”

Read more here about using a bottom up pipeline model to reach a target that’s ambitious but also realistic.  And about how I had to have some seriously honest conversations, when I inherited a team target thirteen times the previous year’s income!! 😱

2. Plan the resource to develop your major donor programme

One of the biggest reasons for charities struggling to develop their major donor fundraising is a lack of consistent investment. Major donor fundraising is added onto someone’s already stretched role or a manager of 5 people also has a substantial caseload of donors to develop relationships with. (that they don’t have the time for).

Building strong relationships is at the heart of successful major donor fundraising. This takes time and thought.

“If you don’t have the resource to consider, to coordinate and to consistently focus on it, major donor fundraising will continue to be an uphill battle.”

Make a case for investment this year – this blog has a number of facts and stats that you might want to incorporate.

3. A priority list of (potential) major donors

Do you have a list of existing and potential major donors, prioritised, in one place? If no, you’re not alone. I’ve worked with some large charities with established major donor programmes. But they aren’t on top of the potential of their existing supporters and networks yet and don’t have a clear list of major donors, linked to their database.

Louise Morris is the Founder of Summit Fundraising. She is a major donor fundraising specialist and has worked with over 200 charities helping them raise large gifts.

Bin off the rich lists (Find out why I feel pretty strongly about this!) and make this year the year you focus on those closest to your cause. Wealth research (within GDPR) can be a great place to start. I promise that, however small or large your organisation, there will be some potential major donors close to home. And this is the best place to spend your precious time.

4. A Board who “gets it”

“The Board don’t get major donor fundraising” or “The trustees won’t open their networks” is a common complaint from charities I work with. I’ve felt like this when I was a Director of Fundraising. It takes time to get to a place where trustees “get” major donor fundraising and feel confident and comfortable to introduce their contacts. And the good news is, you don’t need the whole Board to be doing this.

“Most charities I work with know the one, two or three trustees who would make the biggest difference to their major donor programme. Building relationships with them, as you would with major donors, can be transformational.”

Having trustees that not only “get” major donor fundraising but are helping you secure those conversations, can be transformational. If you want to make that step change with your Board this year take a look at the difference Summit trustee sessions have made to other charities.

5. Small, positive habits for this year

You might set ambitious goals for yourself and your major donor fundraising when there’s a new year: Calling 30 donors a week; getting 20 people signed up to the new giving club; not working after 5.30pm.

Yet these are incredibly hard to stick to. Fundraisers I’ve coached talk about never having done “enough”. So how about scaling it back to some positive achievable targets. One fundraiser I’ve worked with set themselves 5 donor touchpoints in a week. That might not sound very impressive. But who cares, because it worked!

“It started a positive habit of consistently prioritising those donor calls and meetings that are so, so vital to success in major donor fundraising.”

And there’s an increasing amount of science on how effective setting these “micro-habits” are.

Need some support to secure those conversations, meetings and gifts? Read about the success fundraisers I’ve coached have had here.

Here’s to a great year of major donor fundraising for you and your charity!

Recruiting to major donor fundraising roles

Struggling to recruit a major donor fundraiser or philanthropy lead? You’re not alone. It’s one of the most common challenges for charities large and small. Read on for 3 key tips that can help you fill that major donor role.

1) Look outside the sector (and within fundraising!)

I started my career at Unilever negotiating with Tesco and ASDA on the price of Magnum and Persil! I have rarely felt uncomfortable at the thought of, and then actually meeting, people in senior positions, or at having difficult conversations. Why?

I worked with Director and Vice-Presidents globally, and I received oodles of sales, negotiation and leadership training on the Unilever graduate scheme. I’ve been able to bring all that experience and training to my fundraising roles and major donor work and thank Tommy’s, the baby charity for valuing my experience and offering me my first fundraising role. One of the most talented major donor fundraisers I’ve coached was in her first fundraising role – she’d worked in account management with wealthy clients for two decades before she moved to the charity sector – she was raising some brilliant major gifts for her charity.

Yet it can feel uncomfortable not looking for someone who’s done a major donor role before. Paul Nott, recruitment and retention specialist, and I discussed this on a Summit Power Hour

“If the recruiting manager doesn’t have major donor experience they want to try and play it safe by getting someone into the role that knows everything that they don’t about major donor fundraising.”

Paul Nott

I get it.

However, there are not enough major donor fundraisers in the sector for the amount of roles being recruited to. “Knowledge” can be learnt; you can provide a new fundraiser with coaching or put them on a course. (I do both through Summit Fundraising!)  The underlying skills that make someone successful in major donor fundraising can be more difficult to teach. Recruit on these and you open your pool hugely.

2) Keep it simple – revise that job spec and your process

Read your advert and JD through and think about how you can appeal to the widest pool of potential candidates.

  • Is it clear and free of jargon like “cultivating” and “stewardship”? So that if someone was applying outside of fundraising they’d be able to spot  and evidence their transferable skills?
  • Are there unnecessary requirements in there like a degree? Can you half the requirements, then half it again?
  • How can you make the application process as simple as possible; without having to do a separate application form for example?
  • How can you make a candidates’ application experience as strong as your supporters’ experience of your charity? Are you offering the chance for someone to have an informal chat with you before they apply? Are you providing questions for interview in advance? Are you doing one stage not two stage formal interview so you don’t lose a great candidate making them wait?

Here’s recruitment and retention specialist Paul Nott and I discussing the often advertised requirement of “having asked for 6 or 7 figure gifts” in a Summit Power Hour and why it’s vital we delete requirements like this – you can see I’m passionate about this!

Recently I helped a regional charity recruit for a major donor fundraising role. We made the underlying skills that they needed clear in the job spec and highlighted that candidates might have gained these skills outside of major donor fundraising.

The CEO had informal chats with three candidates who all went on to a formal interview. Two had held major donor roles and one had been leading a challenge events team at a national charity.

Who did we offer it to? The fundraiser who hadn’t formally done a major donor role. She excelled demonstrating all the skills at interview, and I’m really excited for what she’ll achieve in her new role (and at the opportunity of coaching her).

3) What are you offering beyond salary?

Salary is important but it’s not the be all and end all. Adam at Charisma Recruitment shared a story at networking event of a major donor fundraiser who had two job offers, and accepted the lower salary because of the home-working and flexibility offered. (Thanks to Helen Denny and Lucy Gower for putting the event on.)

Achieving my first Head of Relationship Fundraising role, I thought I could persuade the hiring manager to consider me working 4 days per week.  Their response? They’d consider it but only after I’d worked full-time for 6 months. What a 6 months it was with the exhaustion unique to having a one year old!  I eventually got my 4 days, but at what cost? A less tired and wiser Louise would have turned them down and they’d have lost out.

Good luck with your recruitment!

And if you have a new or existing team member who would benefit from coaching or training to boost their knowledge and confidence get in touch.

Louise Morris is the Founder of Summit Fundraising. She is a major donor fundraising specialist and has worked with over 200 charities helping them raise large gifts.

Who are your major donors?

Who are your major donors and should you “follow the bling”?

I was in a major donor training session about 15 years ago when I first heard the phrase “Follow the bling!” We were being encouraged to discover potential major donors by considering who was driving an expensive cars, “flaunting” a lot of expensive jewellery or wearing that designer suit.

It didn’t sit well with me at the time, but what did I know? I was fresh out of my sales and marketing role at Unilever, new to the world of fundraising.

Now I look back and think “Seriously????!!!”

Of course, there can be outward signs of people’s wealth.

But I don’t ever use this phrase and really dislike it.

Why?

  • For me, it “others” wealthy people.
  •  It assumes that those with wealth flash it and it treats them as walking wallets (rather than the individuals that they are who care about specific challenges society faces).
  •  It’s also just not true!  There are high-net-worth individuals who spend a lot of money on status symbols who aren’t philanthropic and don’t tend to give much to good causes.
  •  I’ve also met countless philanthropists, and you might have too, that you could pass in a supermarket aisle and not have a clue that they were giving £200k+/year to a charity.

So below are a couple of stories that really prove how “follow the bling” is not just outdated but damaging to building relationships with our donors, alongside some practical tips that you can put into action today.

Remember, at the end of the day, high-net-worth individuals and major donors are just people! As illustrated by the brilliant philanthropist and author Lisa Greer below, in one of my free Summit Power Hours:

YouTube video

If you play this, Google may set cookies (cookie policy).


STORY 1: Wellies and Bikes!

“She volunteers at our annual cycle event as a marshall”

This was how a Hospice fundraiser started describing a major donor who donates £25k/yr.

I’ve worked in and with a number of Hospices across the UK over the past 10 years and I love that you have an opportunity in Hospices to build really wonderful connections, at the deepest level. Partly this is because so many supporters have a personal connection, through someone they love having hospice care. I ran the marathon nearly 14 years ago for the incredible Sue Ryder who cared for my Dad, and so have personally felt it. ❤

Despite the deep connection, it can still be easy to make assumptions about who your major donors could be. “The one who turns up to the ball every year and lives in the big house” can spring to mind.

This £25k donor who was being described to me? None of that.

She wanted to volunteer for the annual cycle event each year. She’d often turn up to help in her wellies and bog-standard coat when it was muddy – and they weren’t designer Hunter wellies, and the coat wasn’t tweed!

“Friendly, warm and down-to-earth” was how the fundraiser described her to me.

They then went on to say: “And you’d never know she was a major donor”

And that’s the crux of it I suppose.

Of course, there can be outward signs of people’s wealth. But if we insist on “following the bling” it’s easy to forget that your major donors are just people, like you and I.

Here’s that much younger me crossing the finish line in memory of my Dad – yes it was so long ago it was the Flora London marathon! 

No alt text provided for this image

PRACTICAL TIP 1 BACK TO THE BEGINNING

Think of one of your major donors.

Do you know how and why they first started giving to your cause?

Yes? Excellent, use that to really tailor your thanks and updates to fit with their motivation and build connection.

If you don’t know you’re not alone. I coach fundraisers who’ve been working with major donors for years but don’t know how their donor first found out about the charity. Sometimes they don’t think to ask.

So why not pick up the phone to that donor?

Thank them for their support over however many years. Tell them a brief story that really shows the difference they’ve made.

And ask the question: “How did you first find out about us as a charity by the way? And what prompted you to give for the first time?”

You will likely find out more from this conversation than you will from 10+ emails back and forth.

And that can be the first step tailoring communication to a donor that builds a deeper connection and lifelong giving.


STORY 2: A portacabin, a farmer and a vest

On my Zoom screen I saw a messy desk and a porta-cabin style backdrop with scrappy pieces of paper pinned to a board. It was a few seconds before the donor I was going to be meeting came into view. A large, tall man, with a ginger beard wearing a not-so-white vest.

This was the major donor who’d agreed to speak to me about his giving as part of a consultancy project I was doing with a local charity he supported.

 He was a farmer based in the UK.

His foundation gave over £250,000 each year to a handful of charities in the UK and internationally. He’d given over £100k each year to this local charity for 5 years.

What did I discover in that meeting?

  • That he cared deeply about the local community and wanted to continue his relationship with the local charity. 
  • That he gave overseas to a charity he felt helped those in the most need, because he was outraged and saddened by the widening gulf between the richest and the poorest in the world.  
  • That not all heroes wear capes. And not all donors wear bling…… 

…at the end of the day, major donors are individual people, just like you.

But the world of wealth can feel tricky to navigate and it’s easy to have all kinds of preconceptions about people with money that can really hamper you getting to know them.

Louise Morris is the Founder of Summit Fundraising. She is a major donor fundraising specialist and has worked with over 200 charities helping them raise large gifts.

PRACTICAL TIP 2 DONOR WORD ASSOCIATION! 

Think of all the donors you’ve met in the past year and write down one or two words that first come to mind for each of them.

  • Kind, caring?
  • Humble?
  • Generous?
  • Understated?
  • Welcoming and warm?
  • Cold, abrupt?
  • Overbearing?
  • Showy, ostentatious?
  • Rude?

Now read through the whole list and highlight all the positive words. What you’ll most likely see scanning through the list now is that the positive words are nearly the whole list! With just a few negatives in there.

This is a way of letting go of any negative donor experiences and impressions. Sometimes a few negative experiences can form stereotypes of major donors that just aren’t true. E.g. major donors are rude, major donor donors won’t want to hear from us.

It can also be a pretty uplifting exercise to remember those great relationships and that your donors do care! Enjoy!

If you want help identifying major donors for your cause, or building the skills and confidence to have more major donor conversations, arrange a chat here.

Louise Morris is the Founder of Summit Fundraising. She is a major donor fundraising specialist and has worked with over 200 charities helping them raise large gifts.

What is major donor fundraising?

There are numerous technical definitions of major donor fundraising but at it’s essence, major donor fundraising is an income stream that is based on excellent, bespoke relationship building. It’s about inspiring those with wealth to give significantly to a cause they care about to make a difference to the challenges we face in society.

Read on to find answers to some commonly asked questions. And if you’re looking to make an internal case for investment for major donor fundraising, check out my blog Why major donor fundraising?

How much is a major donor gift?

When you’re developing your major donor fundraising, you’re identifying people who could give, or have already given, a larger than average gift for your organisation. There is no right or wrong amount. I’ve worked with over 200 charities and frequently a major donation is classified as “major donor income” at £5,000 or above. However, for some large national charities they classify a major donation as £20,000 or more. For some charities starting out it makes sense to include £2,000 donors as major donors.

You should take a pragmatic approach to best look after your higher level supporters. Consider what someone’s ability to give is before including them in your major donor fundraising programme, not just what level they’ve given at in the past. A donor could donate £2,000 but have the ability to give you £200,000 in the future.

How do I find major donors for my cause?

In the Summit Major Donor Fundraising from Scratch six month programme, we go through the process of developing and prioritising a list of potential major donors for your charity. Starting off closest to home, rather than with rich lists, is crucial. [See why you should avoid the Rich lists here] Start with your existing supporters and volunteers – they already know your charity and are most likely to care.

Many attendees on the Major Donor Fundraising from Scratch programme have secured their largest gifts this way. One fundraiser secured a £42,000 gift and one CEO their first major donor of £15,000. As your programme develops you can ask existing major donors if they know anyone who might be inspired by the difference your charity is making. You can then work with them on introductions to new potential major donors.

Louise Morris is the Founder of Summit Fundraising. She is a major donor fundraising specialist and has worked with over 200 charities helping them raise large gifts.

But we’re not very well networked or connected as a charity?

Nearly every organisation I work with has concerns about not having wealthy contacts or being “well-connected.” You don’t need your whole Board of trustees to be high-net-worth (this would make for a very ineffectual Board!) However most organisations can come up with a clear answer to the question: “If there were one or two trustees who would be most helpful in your charity’s major donor programme, who would they be?”. If you’re not sure, consider who are the trustees at the top of their industry, who work in the private sector and seem well connected?

In Major Donor Fundraising from Scratch we focus on how we can make our contacts comfortable introducing us to people in their network. Ironically, by completely taking it away from the money at first you will end up raising more in the medium term!

What size and causes of charities can do major donor fundraising?

All sizes and cause areas! If you’re thinking of diversifying into major donor fundraising for the first time or investing and expanding your major donor fundraising, you can find latest research and reasons for investing in major donor fundraising here

Think you’re a “niche” cause? Read how The Shark Trust developed their major donor fundraising and secured a gift of over £40,000.

Saying that, major donor fundraising often works well when a charity has already successfully raised funds from trusts and grants. Why? You are more likely have the financial rigour and impact reporting in place that most major donors will want to see. You are also more likely to have paid staff within the charity who can manage major donor relationships.

I’ve worked with charities of all sizes and cause areas on major donor fundraising. If you’d like to get your major donor fundraising off the ground, or improve your existing programme get in touch below.

Louise Morris is the Founder of Summit Fundraising. She is a major donor fundraising specialist and has worked with over 200 charities helping them raise large gifts.


Why Major Donor Fundraising?

You might think there’s potential in major donor fundraising but need to influence internally to get the investment and focus to succeed. Read on for 3 key points with supporting evidence, that you can use in a case to invest in major donor fundraising:

1. You cannot develop major donor fundraising without investing

This is a basic truth. Major gifts can be transformational for your cause. Return on investment for an established major donor programme can be 9:1 within 2 years and you should be able to break even or return 2:1 in the first year. However, one of the biggest reasons I see for the failure of organisations to raise large gifts from major donors is a lack of consistent investment:

  • Fundraisers are there for 12 months and then their post is cut.
  • Charities send a donor a thank you card for their £50,000 gift but the resource isn’t there to do anything else (and the donor unsurprisingly stops giving).
  • Someone is tasked with some network mapping and major donor development, fitting it around their already stretched role; and then major donor income doesn’t grow.

One of the biggest reasons I see for the failure of organisations to raise large gifts from major donors is a lack of consistent investment. Fundraisers are in post for 6 months and then their post is cut; or a donor is sent a thank you card for their £50,000 gift but the resource isn’t there to do anything else.

When I was at Unilever we wouldn’t have dreamed of planning for growth without investing in a product line.  So why do some charities think it’s possible? Is the third sector saying it will increase fundraising targets by £50,000, £100,000 or £500,000 based on hope? You can’t develop major donor fundraising and build great relationships with the same level of resource. Investment is needed to confidently raise more large gifts.

And if you want to understand more about the basics of major donor fundraising, you can read my blog “What is major donor fundraising?”

2. The wealthiest have more financial resilience and are getting richer

As the rising cost of living truly hits I’ve come across some staff and trustees who maintain that “our wealthy donors are also going to be struggling.”  Let’s look at some evidence:

  • Giving by the wealthiest is often elastic.  Research by Dr Beth Breeze, Director, Centre for Philanthropy at the University of Kent, shows that major donors often add new charities to their portfolio of giving (rather than have a ‘one in, one out’ policy and a fixed giving budget).
  • After the Global Financial Crash in 2008 major donor income held up, and some donors increased their giving.* Some major donors’ investments and industries were shaken by the global pandemic and are uncertain moving forward. This means some might not be in a position to give today, but that doesn’t mean they won’t give later when they have more certainty over their businesses and affairs. Other industries have flourished over the past few years with high-net-worth individuals feeling increasingly financially secure (see below).
  • Many of the richest are getting richer. Oxfam International’s 2022 Report “Profiting from Pain”** evidences how wealth has soared since the COVID-19 pandemic as companies in the food, pharma, energy, and tech sectors grew rapidly. We need to understand that even in a cost of living crisis, not everyone is going to be affected, and be aware that some people are going to be better off. And this wealth creation is not incompatible with major donor fundraising – I’d recommend In Defence of Philanthropy by Beth Breeze for anyone who struggles to make sense of society’s inequalities in the context of philanthropy and major donor fundraising (as I have at times).

We need to understand that even in a cost of living crisis, not everyone is going to be affected, and be aware that some people are going to be better off. The rich of the world are getting richer. There are more millionaires and billionaires than ever before.”

3. You need to start today

To succeed in major donor fundraising you need to be having conversations with your existing and potential major donors to understand their world. A CEO I’ve been working with phoned a major donor and realised how uncertain the donor’s business was. The CEO, therefore, didn’t talk about giving! However, he did ask to keep in touch and six months later the donor gave £20,000. Major donors give at a time that’s right for them.

If you’re not having conversations now though, why would a donor give to you in 6 or 12 months time? The one on one relationship building in major donor fundraising gives us a tremendous opportunity to develop these relationships for lifelong giving, at high levels.

To succeed in major donor fundraising you need to be having conversations with your existing and potential major donors today for giving 12-18 months on from now. How many conversations are you having?

I’m often asked if a charity’s cause is in the right or wrong area for major donor fundraising. There are no wrong or right causes! Make your charity’s reason for existence and impact relevant and urgent and you can raise large gifts! I do not know a charity whose beneficiaries or cause area hasn’t been affected by the pandemic or the cost of living increases. 

Your organisation is relevant.

It’s about finding the potential major donors who care about what your charity is trying to achieve. That could be climate change, the dwindling of the arts in the local community, families going hungry, or finding cures and treatments for a rare disease. Professor Jen Shang’s research, the world’s leading philanthropic psychologist, shows us that charities are in a unique position to build deep connectedness with their donors.

Philanthropy means love of humankind after all. This is more relevant than ever, with the growing problems in society becoming more and more apparentHigh-net-worth individuals are the people that could enable your cause to survive and to thrive. If we want to partner with them, we need to invest in our major donor fundraising and in the fundraisers and leaders pivotal in building these relationships.

Louise Morris is the Founder of Summit Fundraising. She is a major donor fundraising specialist and has worked with over 200 charities helping them raise large gifts.

*Tomorrow’s Philanthropist, Barclays Wealth, (July 2009) available at http://doingmorethatmatters.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/Barclays-Wealth-Tomorrows-Philanthropist_us.pdf

**Profiting from Pain, Oxfam International (May 2022) available at Profiting from pain | Oxfam International

Refocus your major donor fundraising.

Major donor fundraising isn’t about that one big gift. It’s about all the small steps along the way that build great relationships. Those small steps mean you can better understand your donors, and move you to a position where they are inspired and want to give that big gift.

But you’re busy.

And sometimes we don’t do the small actions that can make the biggest difference.

I’m going to share some simple, practical tips you can put into action within a few minutes, to improve your major donor fundraising. From updating your email signature to googling your own charity cause area, read on to find out how Small actions can make a big difference ⚡️

There are 3 parts, with 3 checklists you can work through at your own pace:

PART 1: Small action; big difference ⚡️

Imagine the situation when:

  • You get an email and you then want to have a real conversation, rather than email back.
  • You scroll down the email chain and you can’t find a phone number for the person.
  • You eventually find a number and it’s a landline.
  • No one picks ups and it goes to voicemail – the voicemail’s out of date and you wonder if anyone’s checking this number, so you don’t leave a message.
  • You go to the organisation’s webpage to find a central number.
  • That number rings out.

I am in this situation frequently. My role involves working with fundraisers and CEOs across hundreds of different organisations. I’ve found it almost impossible to get through to some on the phone, and even heard a voicemail from someone’s predecessor who left months before.

The thing that worries me is not that it might take me a while to get through to someone, it’s:

What if I was a major donor, or a potential major donor?

What if I’d received a report or an email update and I wanted to SPEAK to someone.

What if I wanted to give a gift…?

PART 1 Checklist- Small action; big difference ⚡️

⬜ Is your email signature set up to be on every external email (not just that first one of the chain) with a phone number for YOU

⬜ Call the numbers on your email signature – what are the voicemails, do they need updating?

⬜ Search for a phone number on your website and call it. Does it get answered in working hours? Is there a voicemail for out of hours?

⬜ Who is checking your charity’s central voicemails and how often? If this is another team, do they know to contact you if the person/query is major donor related?


PART 2: Small action; big difference ⚡️

One of the questions I often get asked is how to find “new” major donors that a charity can then approach. I understand why some causes focus on this.

However, many high-net-worth individuals are out there, looking at how they can make a difference to the problems they care about. Some will proactively research organisations that they could support.

  • A small international development charity I’m trustee for was contacted by a high-net-worth businesswoman; her assistant had discovered the charity’s and the impact it was making through online research. They have since met and are discussing what a gift might look like.
  • A fundraiser I was coaching was contacted by a “cold” donor, who wanted to discuss the difference a £500,000 gift from him would make.
  • Mackenzie Scott’s team did research on hundreds of organisations, many very small, front-line causes, when she gave away $4.2billion in 4 months in the pandemic.

When first working with charities, I’ll often want to read their impact report – I’ve been on a charity’s site for more than 10 minutes before, unable to find it.

How easy is it for potential donors to find your charity and the information that they quickly want to review?

Part 2 Checklist- Small action; big difference ⚡️

⬜ Google your cause area e.g. refugee support – how easy is it to find your charity in the search results?

⬜ Use the search function on your charity’s website  – how many clicks does it take to find your annual report and impact report?

⬜ How visible are your charity’s leadership team on your site? Check this by using the search function for CEO or Board.

⬜ If you do not have a diverse leadership team and Board, are you clearly stating the EDI work you’re doing to improve? You are putting so many potential donors off if you have a non-diverse Board or senior team, particularly with no explanation of if and how diversity is a priority for your charity.


Louise Morris is the Founder of Summit Fundraising. She is a major donor fundraising specialist and has worked with over 200 charities helping them raise large gifts.

PART 3: Small action; big difference ⚡️

Securing conversations with existing and potential major donors is one of the most challenging and rewarding parts of major donor fundraising. It’s essential for success –  the charities I work with that build more relationships and ultimately raise more, have more meetings.

But it’s not that straightforward.
Our donors are busy.
They might not have met us before.
They might agree to have a conversation and then it all goes quiet – actually getting a date in the diary becomes a real challenge.

Anyone who’s had a virtual chat or a coaching session with me will know I use a free tool called “Calendly” so people can arrange their sessions. I also use it when interviewing philanthropists – it saves them time and it means they can at a glance, find a time to meet with me that suits their schedule. They can also decide with it, how they want to meet e.g. Phone, Zoom, or in person.

I LOVE a lot of control over my diary!

But I haven’t had to relinquish that to make it easy for other people and to have more conversations.

I’ve set it up with specific parameters:

  • every Wednesday there are times in the afternoon and early evening for coaching sessions.
  • I keep all of Tuesday mornings and Friday’s free from these meetings.
  • And if I’m interviewing a number of philanthropists and trustees for a consultancy project, they will have access to specific dates within the project timings.

Part 3 Checklist- Small action; big difference ⚡️

⬜ Why not investigate a free tool like calendly? Set it up and book a meeting in with yourself to gain confidence in how it works!

⬜ Next time you’re sending an email to try and secure a meeting with a major donor or funder, include the link for them to book a time.

It demonstrates you’re trying to make it easy and simple for them, and most importantly it can make the difference between email ping pong with dates (that then goes quiet) and actually getting that vital conversation.

Let me know how you get on with the checklists, I’d love to hear! If you want to explore support to raise more large gifts through your major donor fundraising book a virtual catch-up here.

Louise Morris is the Founder of Summit Fundraising. She is a major donor fundraising specialist and has worked with over 200 charities helping them raise large gifts.

Major donor fundraising and the “Big Ask”

Over 15 years, I’ve found two mindsets particularly helpful for fundraisers and charity leaders to ask for large gifts and raise more.

“The really difficult part in big gift fundraising is not in getting people to give money, it is in getting people to ask…most people in Britain seem to have great difficulty in asking.”

Dr Beth Breeze, Director, Centre of Philanthropy at the University of Kent

I love a lot of Beth Breeze’s research and work but this quote is up there for me. Why?

It can feel really hard asking for money.

  • I’ve felt dread walking out of the office to meet a famous retail owner as everyone in the team shouted out “good luck” and “make sure he gives a lot of money”. Would he give and give “enough”?
  • I’ve worried the night before meeting a major donor couple that if I broach the subject of their giving it might not be the right time for them and they might get annoyed.
  • I work with many trustees who just don’t want to “make the ask”.
  • And many fundraisers who just avoid the subject of giving in conversation and instead email over that new project to a donor.

For many of us, “making that ask” can mean we feel apprehensive, stressed and negative not positive.

This is a huge topic, but read on for two simple tips that I’ve seen make the biggest difference to raising more – having coached over 150 fundraisers and leaders.

1. Offer don’t ask

When you’re “asking” for a gift, the onus is on you. The power feels like it’s with the donor – it’s their action that could mean the difference between your charity reaching its budget or not and you can feel that pressure to persuade them to give.

If we’re “offering”, we’re giving someone the chance to make a difference to something they care about deeply. The balance of power shifts. After all, our charities are in the middle, linking a high net-worth individual with being able to potentially make a huge difference that they can’t do elsewhere in their life.

‘We’re not going with a begging bowl, we’re offering someone the opportunity to make a really big difference to something they care about ’

2.  They might say no and that’s okay

The fear of rejection, someone saying no, is very real in nearly all fundraisers’ psyche whether it’s conscious or not. We often have unrealistic expectations of how those conversations with major donors will pan out.  If we aim for a 100% yes rate to our “asks” that’s just unrealistic; we put ourselves under a lot of pressure and we set ourselves up to fail.  If we’re offering the chance for someone to give, it makes sense that some people might not take us up on that offer.  No is not always a bad thing. It could be no “not now”, no, I need to go away and think about it.  No is not always the end of a relationship.

 In the pandemic, a fundraiser I was coaching gave a major donor the chance to give and got a “no, not now” response. They remained curious, asked about the donor’s situation and continued the relationship with some brilliant updates. Six months later the charity received a gift twice the size of the donor’s previous annual gifts.

‘The most successful major donor fundraisers truly believe that giving is good for people, that giving is a really wonderful thing.’



Meeting a major donor – transform your approach

Here’s one simple approach that can transform your meetings with a current or potential major donor, and increase your chances of a large gift.

So you secure a meeting with a major donor or potential donor. What do you actually say to them?!

Before philanthropy and fundraising, I was in sales at Unilever. Buyers at Tesco and Asda would often keep us waiting before a meeting for hours. (the Waitrose ones were rarely late, & were the only ones to give us biscuits!). If we had a new product to sell, we worked up a pitch in line with the supermarket buyer’s priorities. These were often increasing sales, or making a larger profit from each sale. However, sometimes it was trying to have a competitive edge over another supermarket; sometimes they wanted to be leading the way with a certain audience e.g. families.

So what’s my point?

Well even in the transactional world of Unilever selling marmite to Tesco, and Tesco selling marmite to its shoppers, there was nuance. Although we pitched and negotiated hard at times, we understood where our buyer was coming from and what pressure they were under. We had already met and worked with the buyer and their colleagues, often over months or years, which helped hugely when it came to pitching.

When it comes to major donor fundraising there is soooooo much nuance! The largest major donor gifts are anything but transactional yet we can feel pressure to pitch to donors and do this the first time we meet them! When we don’t understand where they’re coming from.

I get why we do it. I’ve worked with many fundraisers and charity leaders who, although they may not view it as pitching, have gone to meet with a donor and mainly talked “at” them. I’ve done it myself.

Often in that first meeting, we pitch or talk at our potential donor because:

  • The (potential) donor is  busy right? Let’s save them time.
  • They’ll want to know all about our charity….
  • THIS meeting is THE time to impress them.
  • We’re nervous and so we talk a lot (I’m very guilty of this!)

The concepts of  “An elevator pitch” and even long-running tv series like The Apprentice and Dragon’s Den seem to support this approach. Yet if we don’t know where a donor is coming from it’s a huge waste of an opportunity.

So how do we find out where a donor’s coming from?

For the past 15 years, I’ve been helping hundreds of fundraisers find the confidence and tools to hit their major donor fundraising targets and take a different approach at these meetings.

We all have a natural curiosity about people, but the pressure to think about asking for a gift, to hit our targets or to “pitch” a project can often get in the way of this.

One of the elements of my Summit work I love most is interviewing charity’s major donors:

  • Where did they first come across or hear about the charity?
  • How has the pandemic affected their business(es) and family life?
  • Which causes do they give to and why?
  • What do they get out of their giving? How does it make them feel?

The openness and honesty I get asking open questions and letting a donor talk is fascinating, heart-warming and hugely enjoyable.

And you don’t have to be a consultant to be curious and ask these questions.

You could be meeting a long-standing major donor to your charity for the first time, or you might be having that first conversation with a potential donor at an event. In these situations, open, curious questions can transform your major donor fundraising. How?

  1. Your next step with that individual will become clearer. 
    Taking this approach with a major donor at a hospice, I discovered she’d previously worked as a counsellor and was fascinated by the bereavement support the charity offered. I offered for her to meet the Hospice’s counselling lead – two months later she doubled her gift.
  2. You’ll work out if their values align with your charity’s, at an early stage.
    Sometimes relationships don’t move forward when you discover a potential donor’s priorities. And that’s okay – it’s better to know than to have them on “a list” and never get anywhere with them.  It’s better to understand if a major donor could actually be a risk to your charity rather than assume their money and association will be a positive. It’s essential to partner with donors who believe in your organisation’s values and your anti-racism work. You can read more about this in my earlier blog here


Major donor fundraisers that are curious succeed.

If salespeople can understand the nuance when selling marmite to Tesco, we can definitely find the nuance in major donor fundraising.  If we can forget about someone’s wealth and their money in the first instance, and be genuinely curious we’ll raise far more – we’ll understand our donors, be able to give them a great experience, and have conversations to ask for larger gifts.

5 Tips to make the most of virtual major donor meetings

Click the image above to see a short video of the 5 tips

Whether there are pandemic restrictions or not, virtual meetings open up a great opportunity for your charity to connect with potential donors wherever they are in the world.

They also make it more likely some donors will agree to meet – no travel and less time commitment in their busy week.

You might be moving some 2022 donors meetings from face to face to virtual, or you may already have secured a virtual meeting – either way celebrate a brilliant achievement! Meeting existing and potential donors is a key step in you understanding them better and connecting them to the difference they’re making/could make. It builds trust so they’re more likely to make a larger gift. So how do you make the most of the opportunity when you’re on Zoom/Teams yet again rather than face to face?

1.Prepare and have a pre-meet

Ever arranged to meet with your colleague right before a donor meeting at a Pret or Starbucks around the corner? Many of you will already prepare and know the value of being on the same page to make the most of a meeting. We have to work that much harder to do this though when we’re working from home and meeting virtually:

  • we don’t have those face to face conversations in the office
  • we can’t meet at the coffee shop beforehand

    One fundraiser I’ve been coaching was planning a donor meeting with her new CEO. She got a virtual pre-meet in the CEO’s busy diary so they could spend some time together and plan their approach for the donor meeting.

2. Reconfirm

One thing we know is that things can change very quickly with current events and this is true for your donors:

  • Are they having to rearrange their business travel plans?
  • Do they or a family member have Covid?

Although you want your hard-won meeting to go ahead, reconfirming a day or two before means you’ll have more chance of a productive and focused meeting. And less chance of waiting on a video meet for someone who doesn’t show.  If you don’t hear back, have they got a PA you can contact? It can be frustrating if a meeting’s postponed, but try to understand and give your donors support and flexibility when they need it.

3. Recreate some adrenalin

Many fundraisers and charity leaders I’ve worked with say meeting donors is the favourite part of their role. There will often be a mix of excitement and nervous anticipation immediately before – that feeling when you’re waiting in a company reception area. Some nervs can be a positive thing and fundraisers manage these before face to face meetings in lots of different ways so they’re at their best: one I know always listens to music walking from the tube or bus stop to a donor meeting.

But consistently working from home can take the “occasion” away from meetings. We can sometimes feel flat. How can you recreate those moments from face to face meetings that help you be at your best?

  • Keep your calendar free 30 minutes before to prevent rushing from Zoom to Zoom or quickly managing home-schooling immediately before.
  • Think about what you’d wear if you were meeting this donor face to face – a shirt and jacket?  Those heels or boots? Wear it for your virtual meeting too.
  • One fundraising leader I’m coaching is now going for a walk around the block before her donor meetings -she’s said it’s helped her to think more clearly and feel excited about the conversation she’s going to have.

4. Connect through the camera not the screen

I remember asking advice from many people at the start of the pandemic as I suddenly began delivering conference talks, training and sessions on-line. One tip that came up a lot was to look at the camera on your laptop and not at the screen.

Focussing on the camera is the only way you will appear as if you’re looking directly at someone, recreating the connection of a face to face meeting

You might find it more difficult to gauge the reaction of your supporter when you do this, over time, your peripheral vision improves – I’ve certainly found this in my virtual meetings with philanthropists over the past 18 months. Having a colleague on the Zoom meeting can also help.

So take the time to get your device’s camera at the right level and “hide self-view” on Zoom too if this helps you focus on the camera, and not the screen.

5. End on a high

Paul Nott, fundraising recruiter and coach has talked about that awkward moment at the end of virtual interviews –in person you’d try and confidently say goodbye, shake hands (pre-Coronavirus!) and maybe recap key things agreed on the way out. It’s the same with virtual donor meetings – we want to end on a high but that doesn’t always happen!  Make sure you catch up separately with a colleague afterwards, rather than discussing if you’ll stay on the zoom meet when the donor’s still there. Have your cursor ready to “End meeting” promptly to end positively.

Securing a meeting with an existing or potential major donor is a fantastic achievement and worth celebrating.  Only when we meet, can we be curious, ask questions to better understand them and know how to connect with them.  You may be doing many of these five already, but if there’s a tip or two that helps you feel more confident and make the most of your meetings, I’d love to hear – let me know!

Louise Morris is the Founder of Summit Fundraising. She is a major donor fundraising specialist and has worked with over 200 charities helping them raise large gifts.


Major donor fundraising meetings – when things don’t go to plan

I spend a lot of time giving people confidence in their major donor fundraising: confidence to have that conversation, to meet with an existing or potential donor or to give them the chance of giving a large gift.

As well as practical techniques and tools that confidence often stems from knowing that meeting the major donor “will be okay”.  

90% of the time?

It is!

I’ve had someone I’ve coached call me to say that the meeting they were dreading with a lapsed donor (read “forgotten about” with lapsed here) was fascinating and that the donor wanted to get more involved.

I’ve had a fundraising leader, fearful of meeting a “grumpy trustee” (not my words!) email me to say afterwards that he’d signed up to a direct debit and introduced her to three of his network.

Often the part of major donor fundraising that brings the most joy is meeting major donors – that human connection.

But what happens the other 10% of the time?

What happens when you get that coveted meeting and it doesn’t go to plan? And not because of your lack of preparation or your approach, but because of the major donor’s behaviour?

I was reminded of this earlier this Summer when I found myself in a virtual meeting with with a flustered, abrupt and rude individual.

  • Something had happened, he’d had a tough morning.
  • I offered to rearrange, he refused.
  • He was upset with me about the Zoom details (they had been in the calendar invite, on an email and he had a PA and I’d resent them). I apologised.
  • I acknowledged that I was particularly grateful for his time as it seemed he’d had a tough start to the day. He snapped back that it wasn’t about his time.

Things didn’t improve. He talked over me on about 5 occasions when I was trying to bring the meeting back and be positive. The final straw was a veiled threat of “I’m going to get irritated with you if…..”

I ended the meeting early. I said it clearly wasn’t the right time for him to meet and I hoped his day improved.

So, what can we do in situations like this?  It’s been a good few years since I’ve had an experience like this. I was a bit shaken up, and working alone at home, so I canvassed the world of Linked In and Twitter for some reassurance and some tips. People were hugely supportive and gave a whole range of approaches and advice.

Here are some tips for when you’re in major donor meetings that aren’t okay [and just to be clear here I’m not talking about racism, harassment or other more serious behaviour which you need to remove yourself from immediately, although I get that the two can be linked].

  1.  It’s not you.

This happens and has happened to so many of us. You could waste a lot of time and headspace thinking about what you said or did to cause the behaviour, but if someone else hasn’t treated you with respect, it’s on them, not you.

It’s easy to think it’s us. That we haven’t managed the situation and that other people have got this nailed. However, as shown by my chat with esteemed sector leader Felicia Willow, this is a challenge for us all. Oh and the T-shirt is brilliant, it’s here

2. You can end a meeting whenever you need to

However desperate your cause is for funds, however wealthy or powerful the donor, you don’t need to tolerate being made to feel small, uncomfortable or bullied. Have an exit strategy. If you haven’t terminated a meeting before it’s worth having a few phrases up your sleeve:

“Let’s reschedule this meeting for another time.”
“This doesn’t feel the best time for us to be having this conversation. I suggest we rearrange it”
“Thank you for your time and input. I’m now going to bring the meeting to a close.”

3. Empathise

Often you might not need to end the meeting.  Although empathising and offering to reschedule didn’t work in my meeting, it will be effective with some individuals. Sarah Hughes, an expert in leadership and innovation, spent many years working with successful, wealthy tech entrepreneurs and founders. Sarah’s perspective is that:

“People have bad days and can bring their worst selves to work. Hard though it is, some empathy helps to build the bridge we need to put in place and allow the rude person to step on it – and eventually cross it. One way to do this is to use words that sympathise and give them a timeout.”

Sarah Hughes

These could be:

 “I am so sorry to hear you’re disappointed in how we’ve managed your gift”

“Would it help if we shortened, re-prioritised the agenda or re-scheduled?”



4. Confront or challenge the behaviour

Sarah Jane O’Neill, who has many years major donor experience, describes how we can challenge the behaviour subtly but effectively with body language: “maintaining open, upright posture and slowing down speech and movement to show that you can match power”.

Charity trustee, Bridget Waters, fundraising manager and trustee, highlights that others need to call out bad behaviour if they’re in the room when it happens.  This is particularly incumbent on leaders and managers: “Could you please let my colleague finish what she was saying.” “We don’t tolerate our staff being spoken to like that.”

Some charities have a policy of at least two members of staff attending any donor meeting. Although this can seem resource-intensive, the benefits, particularly for those meetings that don’t go as planned, are huge. It can be incredibly difficult to think about our next step and to challenge this behaviour when we’re on our own.


5. Be clear on expectations

It’s important your organisation and your donors are clear about what is expected. Karen Robinson, a leadership expert, recommends always outlining the expectations you have from people, regardless of the seniority of who you’re meeting.  She believes that if you make this a habit, it gets easier to hold people accountable when expectations aren’t met. Anj Handa, Founder of Inspiring Women Changemakers, has done a lot of work on helping people to set boundaries:

If you do not clearly demonstrate and communicate your boundaries, how can you expect others to respect them?

Anj Handa, Founder, Inspiring Women Changemakers

One way of doing this is through a behaviour code.  Shaun Polley, now CEO of ME2 Club, told me that when he was at Missing People, they developed an ‘expected behaviours code’ for supporters, which they shared ahead of meetings or events.  

I hope you find these tips helpful. It’s easy to think that these donor behaviours are a product of wealth as we’ve become more aware of wealth inequalities and more critical of big philanthropy  – Dr Beth Breeze explores this in her fascinating book “In Defence of Philanthropy” (and I’ll be chatting to her about it on the next free Summit Power Hour)

Whilst some high-net-worth individuals may display a level of arrogance or rudeness, it’s worth remembering that these situations can and do happen at all levels of wealth in all areas of society and our community.

Charity leadership and management need to consistently remind fundraising and donor-facing staff that it’s okay to lose a powerful donor. You might lose some income in the short term, but the cost of losing great fundraising staff and the damage to organisations who tolerate bullying and disrespectful donor behaviour is far greater.

Louise Morris, Major donor fundraising specialist

And for every arrogant, disrespectful major donor, there are many more who are humble, compassionate and ready to partner with you to change the world! Enjoy meeting with them and connecting with them!

Louise Morris is the Founder of Summit Fundraising. She is a major donor fundraising specialist and has worked with over 200 charities helping them raise large gifts.

Managing Internal Expectations of Major Donor Fundraising

10 minutes to walk through 3 tips that will help you with the expectations in your organisation, make your life easier and build a team of support around you.

Watch the video here.

YouTube video

If you play this, Google may set cookies (cookie policy).

Ignore the Rich List

5 alternative ways to attract major donor fundraisers and raise more for your cause, that will hopefully stop you from reaching for this year’s rich list.

Watch the video here.

YouTube video

If you play this, Google may set cookies (cookie policy).

  • Join the Summit Fortnightly Newsletter, supporting you to raise more large gifts with confidence.
  • Your details will be stored securely on this web server and sent to MailChimp, a GDPR-compliant US company who facilitate my email list. They will not be sold on or used by anyone except me as the MailChimp account holder. You can unsubscribe at any time by contacting me or clicking the link at the bottom of each email I send. Privacy policy

Major donor fundraising; equality, white privilege & the missed opportunity

Since #Blacklivesmatter I’ve become more consciously aware of my white privilege and how it’s helped me get to where I am. Since then I’ve been reading, listening and learning, for my own anti-racism journey, and also to understand the dynamic of philanthropy where (often) white, wealthy men can wield incredible power through their giving priorities. I’ve also been trying to take action.

I know some major donor fundraisers who are becoming increasingly aware of this truth but don’t necessarily know what they can do. They are often in a white world of wealth and privilege with donors for part or all of their working week but aren’t sure what steps they can take. So here are some thoughts on what you can do. Right now. I want to use the relatively small platform I do have, to share some of what I’ve been learning from others.

Watch the video here.

YouTube video

If you play this, Google may set cookies (cookie policy).

Diversity and anti-racism in major donor fundraising

This is an uncomfortable blog for me to write. And it should be.

Since #Blacklivesmatter I’ve become more consciously aware of my white privilege and how it’s helped me get to where I am. Since then I’ve been reading, listening and learning, for my own anti-racism journey, and also to understand the dynamic of philanthropy where (often) white, wealthy men can wield incredible power through their giving priorities. I’ve also been trying to take action.

I know some major donor fundraisers who are becoming increasingly aware of this truth but don’t necessarily know what they can do. They are often in a white world of wealth and privilege with donors for part or all of their working week, but aren’t sure what steps they can take.

So here are some thoughts on what you can do. Right now. I want to use the relatively small platform I do have, to share some of what I’ve been learning from others.

I know they are small steps.

They are not enough.

But they are a start.

“Most times, the way isn’t clear, but you want to start anyway. It is in starting with the first step that other steps become clearer.”
Martin Luther King

  1. Learn more about different philanthropy and different cultures

Una Osili is Director of Research at Indiana University’s Centre of Philanthropy. At the Pyrotalks Diversity & inclusion conference, she spoke about broadening our definitions of who a philanthropist is.  Her research shows that in the US, the % of high-net-worth households who give is equal, regardless of race. Different cultures across the world have different philanthropic traditions.

Maybe we are just focusing on white donors because, with mainly white fundraising teams, we are staying comfortable and reinforcing this lack of diversity with who we approach for major gifts?

How can we learn about different philanthropic cultures? You don’t need to look far. There’s a fantastic event coming up on Asian philanthropy: Talking Philanthropy – Asia Pacific: Supporting a Philanthropic Ecosystem

We should all ask “why don’t we have more major donors of colour at our charity”?
You can change this.

2.Take steps to get more diverse donors

At a recent webinar, David Howse talked about charities and non-profits spending time in different communities they’re not already engaged with, learning the needs of that community. Is your CEO only going to events with white leaders? What groups and communities are your charity’s community fundraiser’s engaging with? David summarised that “change happens at the speed of trust”. Be open and honest if experiences, cultures and communities are new to you.

If you’re not present, involved and caring about different communities, you are making giving to your organisation unattractive for donors of colour.

Reflect on how your charity is viewed – do you have people of colour speaking at your events? 

Even if you’re a UK based charity, there will be potential donors from all backgrounds and races, who care about the same thing that your charity does.  Don’t exclude them.

Barnardos’ (the large UK children’s charity) philanthropy team, led by Michael Winehouse and with Chris Alexander are setting up a BAME engagement committee to better understand and build relationships with different communities of colour.

3. Have those difficult conversations

Tell your major donors, your Patrons and your charity’s contacts about your anti-racism work. Go public with it. When Barnardos put out their white privilege statement in 2020 they spoke to their major donors about it.

It may not be a difficult conversation, it may be. But the conversation needs to be had with your donors nonetheless.

As a fundraiser you need to be equipped to have those conversations. Get support from your manager if you need it to challenge any negativity or debate from high-value donors. It doesn’t need to be easy – I know what it’s like to be in a room with a powerful white major donor vehemently disagreeing with me, (and I get that I’m white and middle class!)

“We need to accept and work with the fact that things are complicated, and multiple seemingly-conflicting things can be true at the same time. We can respect and appreciate donors AND push back when they’re being racist or egotistical.” Spot on Vu Le, from this blog.

Have you considered a donor code of ethics? Dr Anthony Heaven spoke about this at CASE’s 2020 Diverse Philanthropy and Leadership Conference; how it can help to hold donors to account for their behaviour, but most importantly how it can empower fundraisers if they experience racism, homophobia, or sexism.

Ask what your major donors’ businesses are doing about anti-racism and diversity? You may get some ideas to take back to your charity.

When writing proposals to your donors and funders, are you highlighting that your charity is on an anti-racism journey, and is this included in your organisation’s values? Mackenzie Scott, Jeff Bezo’s wife who gave £10billion during the pandemic to frontline covid causes, deliberately sought out charities tackling racial justice.

And one idea I love from Community Centric fundraising is to invite your major donors on your organisation’s anti-racism training.

4. Start internally

If you’re thinking to yourself, “What anti-racism and diversity work?” we hit a fundamental block.
If there isn’t any anti-racism work and efforts to create a more diverse culture in your organisation, why the heck not?

Why would donors of colour want to support you when you’ve got an all white board of trustees? Denitra Griffin, CEO, Always Giving Back Foundation spoke recently on how donors are getting more sophisticated – a diverse board is a small signal you’re taking diversity seriously

Davinia Batley at UK young people’s charity Become, has got Equality, Diversity and Inclusion in her four weekly fundraising team meetings using the community centric fundraiser framework. Following external training, they are now committed to their journey internally to create true cultural change.

And if your fundraising team is white? I’m not proud of having managed a team of 20 fundraisers in my career, 19 of who were white. I wanted it to change but didn’t do anything practical to make this happen. Take active steps in your recruitment to make your team more diverse. This guide from fundraising specialist Dana Segal gives top tips on this. Barnardos are recruiting two fundraisers of colour because it’s the right thing to do to become more inclusive, but also because it will diversify not only their team but their donors.

5. Educate ourselves, whatever level you’re at

As a white person, one small step I’ve been able to take is to follow more people of colour on social media and read more about non-white giving – I’ve got a lot more to do but it’s getting me out of my bubble. There is no one simple answer to the challenges of philanthropy, white privilege and major gifts. There are fortunately many organisations publicly discussing this, sharing their journeys, best practice and experiences in a low-cost way. I’ve been to three conferences/webinars on this in four months for less than £60 – we can all make the time, and our charities the budgets, for this.


This is a huge topic, and there is so much more. I recognise people of colour have been battling for years. This blog is one small step I can take. I hope your charity and major donor team is taking steps too, now. Check out the video on the same topic here.

I offer pro bono major donor fundraising support to POC led charities and to fundraisers from unrepresented groups. You can find out more here.

Please share your thoughts with me at louise@summitfundraising.co.uk

Louise Morris is the Founder of Summit Fundraising. She is a major donor fundraising specialist and has worked with over 200 charities helping them raise large gifts.

How to persuade major donors in writing- your case for support.

Writing a case for support can be really tough. You need to know the purpose of the document and express that. There are certain patterns that 90% of charities follow. Stand out and be different- let Louise’s tips in this video help you along the way.

Watch the video here

YouTube video

If you play this, Google may set cookies (cookie policy).

Let’s prioritise ‘the how’ over ‘the what’ with major donor fundraising

My appraisal as a 22-year-old & raising large gifts – what I’ve learnt

If you work in major donor fundraising, or you manage someone who does, you’re likely to spend less than 3 years in post.  There are many reasons for this, but from working with over 100 different fundraisers and leaders, I’ve seen a real struggle with internal challenges and frustrations. And Coronavirus has heightened the uncertainties, pressure and anxieties around raising large gifts. Being able to navigate effectively within your organisation, means you can open up more fundraising opportunities outside it, and enjoy this area of fundraising far more.

A perspective – from those working in major donor fundraising

“My senior team have completely unrealistic expectations of how much we can raise from major donors.”

“I want my trustees to share their networks but they seem really disengaged.”

“I feel like I’m having to justify every decision we make around events and activity to engage high-net-worth individuals.”

These are some of the most commons challenges I hear from my work helping over 100 organisations raise more large gifts. You or a colleague might feel stuck, frustrated or demotivated because you’re unsure how to influence internally to remove the blocks that are stopping you from raising more; to get the support and backing you need.

Many fundraisers and leaders I work with know what they and their organisations need to do to provide better engagement and experience for their current and potential major donors. Yet there can be a feeling of powerlessness to change things internally. Many people I work with are so busy and stressed they haven’t considered if or how they could try to influence internally for positive change.

A perspective from Leadership

“Why haven’t the team brought in more large gifts? Why are we under budget?”

“Why aren’t we receiving seven figure gifts like x non-profit I saw in the news?”

“I mentioned this idea to the team months ago and no one’s come back to me.”

“We’ve tried this area of fundraising before and it just didn’t work. We’re not the type of charity that philanthropists will want to give to.”

These are some of the most common queries and frustrations I hear from my consultancy work with CEOs and trustees across charities of all sizes, and from my own leadership roles in charities. There are many senior teams and Boards who are equally frustrated or demotivated with major donor fundraising in their charity.

Looking at how we are working

Roll back 16 years and I’m sitting in Unilever’s Surrey office, an eager member of the sales graduate scheme, waiting for my appraisal to begin with my manager. 

What did we spend 90 minutes discussing? My performance against sales targets? How effective my promotions in stores had been? The world of BOGOFs (buy one get one free for those without retail lingo!) versus 2 for 1s? If my Dove soap forecasts were accurate? Well some of that. But we spent most of the time discussing how I’d been working.

The how we had been going about our roles and how we had been achieving things was prioritised. It meant phrases like “Strategic Influencing” and “Passion for the Future” were incorporated into our objectives and development plans.  Although that last one still makes me cringe, they were so central, I still remember them! They were central to Unilever’s recruitment.  Unilever knew that ‘the what’ –  calculating a sales promotion, or learning their marketing ABC – could be taught; but that they needed candidates displaying ‘the how’, such as effective influencing.

When I come across the challenges listed above, I’m regularly reminded of the importance of ‘the how’, and in particular of “Strategic Influencing”.

Of the fundraisers and CEOs I’ve coached and worked on projects with, all have either cited influencing internally as the main area they want to work on, or it becomes apparent through conversation that it’s central to the challenges they are facing.

One of the dictionary definitions of influencing is “to affect or change how someone or something develops, behaves or thinks. Apply that to any of the situations those working in major donor fundraising and charity leadership regularly face and it seems a magic bullet. But whilst there’s no magic about it, influencing is a skill that can be learnt.

Practiced over time, with support, it can make a fundamental difference to how you operate, how much you enjoy your role, and the funds raised.

  • It stops us becoming static and frustrated with internal blocks and situations.
  • It forces us to put ourselves in others’ shoes and genuinely approach people as individuals.
  • It debunks the negative myths around “internal politics”.
  • It means we need to slow down and consider how we reach a goal.
  • And it teaches us that if we want something to change, we need to plan who we need to influence, directly and indirectly, and be patient.

You may know some highly effective and successful people working in major donor fundraising who are incredibly strong at influencing. I would argue they are successful in a large part because of their influencing. Of course, there will always be situations with leadership or peers that even the most skilled influencer will find hugely challenging and hit a wall. (and situations where you need to remove yourself from unsupportive or toxic cultures).

However, if influencing and focusing on the how can become as high a priority as a fundraiser’s financial targets, who knows how much more money can be raised externally with major donors…..  

If you’d like tips to influence senior stakeholders effectively, whether your manager, trustees or key donors join me, major donor specialist and Charly White, leadership expert for a FREE lunchtime session on 30th March 2021, 1 pm-2 pm GMT. You’ll get practical tips to help you feel more confident to manage those tricky internal conversations and to move your major gift fundraising forward positively. If you can’t make the time, you can still register to receive the recording.

Louise Morris is the Founder of Summit Fundraising. She is a major donor fundraising specialist and has worked with over 200 charities helping them raise large gifts.

What major donor fundraisers can learn from corporate partnership managers

Despite major donor fundraisers and corporate partnerships professionals often targeting the same people (such as CEOs of major businesses), we tend to take a completely different approach – or worse, operate in silos without learning from each other.

To cross the divide between disciplines, Andy King has shared his top three lessons that major donor fundraisers can learn from people working in corporate partnerships (and if you work across both corporate and major donor I’m sure this blog will ring true!). You can read Louise’s companion piece about what corporate partnerships professionals can learn from a major donor approach here.

1. Know where to fish:

Both corporate partnerships professionals and major donor fundraisers risk falling into the same trap – of fishing in the wrong ocean. Renée Mauborgne, in her incredible book “Blue Ocean Strategy”, explains that there are two places you can fish: the red ocean and the blue ocean.

In the red ocean, you will find the usual suspects – for major donor fundraisers, this is the Sunday Times Rich List and celebrities whereas, for corporate partnerships, this is companies like Google, Tesco and KPMG. In the blue ocean, you will find all the lesser-known people who will have smaller (but still very significant) gifts to give your charity and the medium-sized or smaller companies who might partner with you.

Renée explains that the reason the red ocean is red is simple: it is the blood of everyone else you are fighting to fish there. She explains that by focussing on the blue ocean, you will catch a much higher number of fish, and have a much more enjoyable time fishing.

So both corporate partnership professionals and major donor fundraisers should spend time working out which ocean they’re fishing in.

2. Patient persistence is key:

Both securing major gifts and securing partnerships are a marathon, rather than a sprint. Soliciting a gift from a major donor can take many months and building a strategic partnership can take anywhere from six months to two years. The key is to be both persistent and patient with your pipeline.

Though there are a number of frameworks and metrics of how to measure progress of your potential supporter, at Remarkable Partnerships we love the 7-11-4 framework. This framework was designed by Google after some research in what it takes to make a “major purchasing decision”, and the logic is as follows.

For someone to make a major purchase (such as a significant gift or to commit to a three year partnership), they need to have spent:

  • 7 hours of dwell time – with dwell time meaning having your charity at the front of their brain
  • Between 11 different touch points – with each email, meeting or phone call being a touch point
  • Across 4 different locations – with locations being a type of communication, such as an email, a phone call or a zoom meeting.

Once you have completed these three metrics, the person you are speaking to is likely going to be as “proposal ready” as they will ever be.

3. The importance of packaging:

One of our favourite quotes about sales comes from Seth Godin, a true marketing genius, who says “an unwrapped piece of jewellery is worth far less without the box”.

Whether you’re offering the chance to make a significant contribution to a project or presenting a strategic partnership pitch, we recommend presenting your opportunity as a diamond ring – and therefore making sure your diamond ring has the velvet box it needs.

For example, when Leonard Cheshire Scotland proposed their partnership with Neatebox, they put their partnership offer into a simple two page document. They started with the story of a beneficiary that they had helped, before revealing that the problem was too big to tackle alone – and for every one person they helped, there were several left behind. They re-iterated the shared purpose with Neatebox, what they were asking the company for and what the company could expect in return. It demonstrated the emotional reason, the business case and the relationship all in one. And they won the partnership.

We hope this set of three lessons has been helpful and ignited your curiosity about what else you can learn from fundraisers working in corporate partnerships. If you have any interest in talking about this topic further, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Andy is the Partnerships Manager at Remarkable Partnerships and curator of the upcoming conference Corporate Partnerships Everywhere, which has a number of sessions that would be relevant to high-value fundraisers – such as using behavioural science to nail your pitch and how colour insights can help you maximise relationships. Check out the line-up here: https://fundraisingeverywhere.com/corporate

Louise Morris is the Founder of Summit Fundraising. She is a major donor fundraising specialist and has worked with over 200 charities helping them raise large gifts.

First steps to successful major donor fundraising.

Want to know where to start? Or revisiting your strategy? Take a look at February’s video where Louise will walk you through some tried and tested steps to get you started.

Watch the video here

YouTube video

If you play this, Google may set cookies (cookie policy).

Secure major donor meetings in lockdown.

Not sure how best to connect with your existing or even potential major donors during lock down? Follow these 5 tips to secure a meeting virtually or otherwise.

Watch the Video here

YouTube video

If you play this, Google may set cookies (cookie policy).