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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  • No one picks ups and it goes to voicemail – the voicemail’s out of date and you wonder if anyone’s checking this number, so you don’t leave a message.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.


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 100 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 100 charities helping them raise large gifts.


Setting your major donor fundraising targets

When it’s time for budget setting on top of everything else….how can you get an ambitious target for your major donor fundraising, that’s also achievable?

Although major gifts can be transformational, they can also be a tricky customer when it comes to budgeting. If just one major gift doesn’t come in, you can easily be left with a large gap to your target.  Yet it can be easy to feel bold 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….

I’ve known leadership and fundraising teams to add 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 nearly 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 behind the target. On further investigation, this wasn’t the case. It had been decided that major donor fundraising meant 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 believe we can. It is vital to plan for new major donor fundraising opportunities, identify new potential major donors (not from the Rich Lists!) and inspire them. The charity I was at were hopeful and ambitious when they set that £1.1m target. They wanted to raise more.

So how can we keep the ambition but stay realistic when putting our major donor fundraising budgets together?

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 tell you what that growth figure should be.

2 Identify confirmed pledges

If you are not sure whether a gift will come in or not, put them in the pipeline of opportunities below. Include in pledges major donor income that is 95%-100% likely to come in. If this is zero or low, you could consider a focus on multi-year asks over the coming year. Then when you look at pledges in 12 months time, it should be far higher.

3 Build a pipeline of major donor fundraising opportunities

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 when there is some connection to your organisation. Estimate a gift amount for each of them — this can be uncomfortable for those you know less well, but still include it. Then include the percentage likelihood of success. If for example, you estimated a £20k gift with a 50% likelihood, you’d end up with £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 may have time to develop some of these new relationships within the year.

This thinking though can allow the hope and ambition to edge up to unrealistic levels. You could end up adding extra zeros to your budget without basis. It’s a judgement call.

5 Challenge your figures – don’t decide it in isolation

Some of you will have finance colleagues, your line manager or CEO who talk through your budgets & challenge you.  If you don’t, then create this process. Saying out loud why you’ve made certain decisions and discussing the judgements you’ve made is crucial, particularly when the decision you make about one major donor could influence your entire target.

6. Perfection isn’t possible for major donor fundraising targets!

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 an ambitious budget, 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 100 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 100 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.

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.

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Ignore the rich list if you want to grow your major donor fundraising

I’m in 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 & the 2021 list is imminent (or may be out by the time you read this.) There are levels of wealth that are almost unimaginable and 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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!

You can get in touch 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 100 charities helping them raise large gifts.

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.

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 100 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

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 100 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 100 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

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

5 Tips to make the most of major donor zoom meetings.

Zoom meetings are here to stay so make sure you are getting the most you can from them with these 5 tips.

Watch the video here

And click here to read the blog

Mid-Level Giving

Mid-level giving – why it’s important, how it can help your major donor fundraising, and 3 top tips for your charity.

Louise Morris is the Founder of Summit Fundraising. She is a major donor fundraising specialist and has worked with over 100 charities helping them raise large gifts.

We can do better than the 7 steps!

Are you happy with the terminology you and others in your organisation use when talking about major supporters? Louise challenges some thinking around our approach in this video.

Asking a major donor

This video is originally one of the Facebook lives in the Summit Major Donor Facebook group.

We talk about asking and the idea of the ‘right amount’. It’s a 15 minute session so take a listen and grab some tips.

A testimonial from Paul

My ears were burning and this is why! Thanks so much to Paul Davies from Manchester Camerata for this fantastic testimonial! Take a watch to see the impact I have made and get in touch if you want to know what I could do to support you.

LaLa Land and Major Donors!

This is a guest blog from Rory Traynor, Capital Campaign Manager at Ayrshire Hospice. Thank you Rory!

Recently, I found myself arriving for a meeting in the heart of Beverly Hills, LA. The forecast was 32c (92f in American) and blue skies. ‘Another Day of Sun’ from the movie La La Land was playing in my head.

Then reality hit and I was, in fact, sat at my desk at home, in a grey, drizzly and autumnal Scotland, looking at my reflection on Zoom awaiting my guest’s arrival. Shortly after I had accepted that any trips to LA were a long way off, I was joined by entrepreneur, philanthropist and author of Philanthropy Revolution, Lisa Greer (who actually was in Beverly Hills!).

With a decade of experience in fundraising, I recently started as Capital Campaign Manager at Ayrshire Hospice with the task of raising £12m to redevelop the hospice. Discovering Lisa’s book could not have been timelier.

Overnight 1%ers on a mission to save giving

Lisa and her husband Josh became ‘1%ers’ overnight in 2010 and as soon as they made their fortune, they decided to become philanthropists. However, life as a major donor isn’t always as positive as we may imagine it to be. Philanthropy Revolution is a ‘warts and all’ account of giving through the eyes and mind of a major donor.

Fake friendships, rude/inappropriate asks, repetitive gala dinners and being treated like a ‘walking cheque book’ are just a few of the problems Lisa has encountered over the years. For example,

a fundraiser once asked to speak to Lisa’s husband, Josh, to verify that Lisa’s proactive offer of a £1m gift was genuine

– outrageous, right?!

Philanthropy Revolution book cover

During our chat, I asked Lisa lots of questions about philanthropy, that is when we weren’t talking about Coronavirus, Donald Trump or the time Lisa visited Scotland with her daughter and stayed with Billy Connolly in his castle in Aberdeenshire!

But this blog would go on for pages and pages if I reeled off all the advice Lisa gave me.

So, here are the top 5 ‘nuggets’ from our chat on how we as fundraisers can encourage change:

1) Find a connection with your prospects.

Lisa believes that cold calling potential donors won’t work unless you take the time to find a connection first. A connection could be

  • Do they give to other similar causes?
  • Have they been to one of your events?
  • Are they friends with one of your other donors?

Whatever it is, there needs to be that connection. If there isn’t one, they probably are not a potential donor after all.

2) Do not make assumptions.

Lisa explains that you really need to get to know who your donor is and you should never, ever make assumptions:

You cannot assume everyone wants to talk on the phone, you can’t assume because someone gave a charity a million dollars, that they want to give you a million, and you can’t assume because someone was recognised once in a certain way that they want that again.

Simply ask questions, she suggests, such as:

  • Which other organisations do you support?
  • How much of a priority is our organisation to you?
  • How would you like to be recognised?
  • How would you like to be contacted in the future?

3) Acquire larger gifts in the right way.

There is a shocking story in Lisa’s book about a fundraiser who met with her when a $25k gift was coming to an end. During their meeting, she asked Lisa for £1m. Just like that. Because Lisa had given a gift of £1m to another charity, this fundraiser wrongly assumed that Lisa could do the same for her charity (remember, don’t make assumptions!) Lisa said, ‘No.’

What the fundraiser should have done, Lisa explains, is offer a menu of options, of varying values, and let the donor choose. Explain what your organisation’s priorities are and how the donor can choose to support them.

4) Don’t adopt a losing mentality.

Lisa adds to the point above by saying that if, in this situation, a donor doesn’t increase their gift, you haven’t lost or failed – so don’t think that you have! She has observed this mentality in fundraisers many times as they are often put under such pressure to get more and larger gifts in. Lisa believes success of a fundraiser should be defined by relationships as a whole, not purely how much cash is coming in.

5)  You don’t need a babysitter.

Lisa does not agree with the common expectation that if a donor is ready to be asked for a large gift that the ask should come from a senior staff member. You guessed it…don’t make assumptions. 

A donor might want to meet your CEO or Chair but they may also be just as happy continuing the relationship with you, the fundraiser.

Take time to ask what your donor actually wants.

Finally…

I won’t spoil any more stories; you just have to read Lisa’s book. It is full of do’s and don’ts, suggestions of how we can modernise philanthropy and connect with the next generation of donors. Lisa also suggests how donors can do more to make a difference.

If you are a fundraiser or a charity leader I highly recommend you treat yourself to a copy of Philanthropy Revolution and find out more.

Let the revolution begin!

Louise Morris is the Founder of Summit Fundraising. She is a major donor fundraising specialist and has worked with over 100 charities helping them raise large gifts.

Are your major donors ‘Zoomed out’?

Events can play a huge role in major donor fundraising: thanking, attracting new donors, building relationships. They can inspire and connect high-net-worth individuals to those your charity helps, to charity staff & leadership and to other donors. So what major donor events should you be planning over the next 6-12 months? 

Since the start of this pandemic, there have been some hugely successful exclusive virtual events from tours of medical research labs to live music. However, lots of charities and fundraisers I’ve spoken to now feel they’re stuck in limbo. We don’t know when larger face to face events will happen but it certainly doesn’t feel likely before Summer 2021. At the same time, the novelty of online events for some has rapidly faded.

I hope these 3 tips will help you decide what’s right for your charity and major donors:

1. Why are we putting this event on? 

The charities that have the most successful events as part of their major donor fundraising have a clear aim for them. Have you asked yourself, why are we putting this event on? Have you got a clear answer that you, your colleagues, your manager, the CEO agree on? 

Whether your event is virtual or in the future face to face they take resource, and an event without a clear aim can mean a lot of work for little gain.

I worked with a fundraiser at a small regional music charity who put on a fantastic live virtual music event in Spring lockdown. The aim? To inspire and connect a small number of high-net-worth supporters with their shared passion, music, so they would consider giving a larger gift in the future. He wanted to understand these donors better so it was vital it was small and had an intimate feel. Success would mean the donors agreeing to meet one on one after the event.

The fundraiser described the event as them “experiencing the music together.” The high-net-worth supporters were connected to the music, the charity, and each other as supporters. All this at a time when no live music was taking place, and little human contact. He got wonderful notes from the attendees afterwards and best of all had a full diary of video meetings with them 1:1 in the weeks after.

Your aim affects everything, including the format, the number of people, the speakers. Make sure you know what it is.

2. Can you get to your aim without an event?

This may seem a strange thing for a major donor specialist to be saying.  We know events can play a vital role in raising more large gifts.

 However, take the time to think, really think, do you need an event? Or is there another way of getting to your end result?

If you would like to get your first meeting with a potential major donor, is there a link, a trustee or another donor who could introduce you? It’s far less resource, and potentially more successful than inviting them to, what for them might be, just another virtual charity event.  If you’d like to understand someone who already supports your cause better, can you call them to check in how they are (more on how and why here!) In that conversation they’ll likely ask you how the charity has been during the pandemic. Can you ask them if they’d want to have a follow-up coffee meet so you can update them a bit more with a colleague on how their support’s made a difference? If you want to inspire them, can you send them a video clip with a moving story and thanking them?

3. Don’t assume/ask

If you’ve got an event in mind, call your donors and ask if it’s something they’d be interested in attending. Get their thoughts on the format, the length, even the title. Don’t assume. I was reminded of this recently. As part of a project setting up a Hospice’s major donor fundraising programme, I had meetings with 6 high-net-worth supporters. It seemed a good idea as part of these conversations to get their thoughts on a virtual event idea.

The feedback?  A resounding no! Why?

A range of reasons including, being Zoomed out (two had actually asked to speak to me on the phone because they didn’t want any more screen time.) One just hadn’t got to grips with on-line events at all. One mentioned not being keen on listening to speeches/talks. They all cared deeply about the Hospice and instead, we agreed the next step right for each individual including a virtual coffee chat with the CEO for one and visiting the gardens of the Hospice in Spring for another.

Over in the SUMMIT major donor Facebook group we had our first ‘live’ on this very subject, you can catch that here.

In many ways, events feel more comfortable than some of the steps above like calling donors and seeking that connection to introduce you.

However, in a new world with new fundraising pressures, we need to challenge ourselves. If you’ve been thinking of translating your face to face major donor events to virtual ones, my challenge would be, do you need an event at all? And if you think you have got a great virtual event idea that will meet a clear aim, don’t assume it’s what your major donors want – ask them!  If they love the idea, you’ll already have some attendees before you’ve even sent out the invites!

Louise Morris is the Founder of Summit Fundraising. She is a major donor fundraising specialist and has worked with over 100 charities helping them raise large gifts.

Virtual major donor events in the pandemic

Get some inspiration and tips for your virtual events:

This video was originally from the first Facebook live in the Summit Major Donor Facebook group.

Since the start of this pandemic, there have been some hugely successful exclusive virtual events. In this 20 minute session, I touch on some of these and then give you some tips for your major donor event planning.  It’s a tricky time. We’re in a world where we don’t know when larger face to face events will happen and one where the novelty of on-line events for some has rapidly faded. I hope this helps you plan what’s best for your charity, and your supporters. 

I’ve also summarised the tips in a blog here.

4 ways you could raise more large gifts & meet your target

I had the best Monday morning when I found out that a CEO I’ve been working with secured £200k of pledges! In 5 days!

The charity has now reached their income target with five months of the year to go, and have achieved all this:

  • without a big brand
  • when services had been hugely disrupted by Coronavirus
  • whilst a key fundraiser role was vacant
  • in a demanding CEO role, leading the charity through the pandemic.

It’s been a joy coaching Phil Kerry, the inspirational leader of New Horizon Youth Centre. I’ve hugely admired the way he’s thrown himself into raising large gifts with good humour and energy, and with a great willingness to learn. There are a few things specifically I’ve seen Phil do that could also help you to raise more large gifts.  Whether you’re a CEO like Phil, a fundraiser, a fundraising lead, or a trustee these 4 approaches are worth bearing in mind:


1. He had quality conversations with existing and potential supporters.

Phil picked up the phone and spoke to a range of major donors and corporate supporters. In these conversations, he checked in with them and found out where they were at. These conversations built a deeper relationship between him and the donor as they shared the challenges of this pandemic both professionally and personally. Supporters got huge reassurance hearing from the leader of a charity they care about, supporting young homeless people that they care about.

Crucially, in these conversations, Phil discovered how likely they were to support the charity financially, without him making an ask. One major donor in the construction industry mentioned how tricky things were for his businesses and volunteered that he wouldn’t be giving in the next few months. Rather than viewing that as a negative, Phil realised it put him in a great position to understand this donor – it meant he didn’t make an inappropriate ask, and also meant he agreed to check in again with him in a few months for another chat.
 

2. “I set myself a 5-day target of £250k”.

Phil knew the charity had supporters who cared, but he also knew that picking up the phone and getting virtual meetings with them could fall to the bottom of his growing to-do list. He was after all reconfiguring services, speaking with local authorities about funding for new projects to support young homeless people, and of course leading his charity team through a global pandemic!

He made meeting virtually with his major donors a priority and prepared by reflecting on what he already knew about these donors. For example, Phil recognised that a particular couple liked to be the first to donate to projects – so he planned he would meet with them first.  He also knew other donors were more risk averse and preferred to give to get an appeal over the finish line – so he wanted to meet them after speaking to other donors. This planning provided confidence, structure and momentum.

After one of our sessions Phil picked up the phone and got a number of these meetings in the diary with his key supporters. He then took it one step further – he set himself a target to raise £250k in the week that he had most of these meetings. This meant he was focused on those meetings, and more importantly, on asking those supporters, when it was appropriate.

3. He had an inspiring, flexible approach to asking

Before his meetings, Phil didn’t know if he’d ask some of these individuals or not. His meetings were to check in with his donors and to see how they were at a time of huge upheaval.  When he was asked about the charity in these conversations, he was clear how the pandemic is affecting young people, and he got his donors excited about the difference they could make. This was despite the charity’s services and strategy being up in the air.  From the conversations I’ve had with Phil, it’s clear that every decision the charity makes is leading towards one goal – helping more young people. This passion is infectious, and when he did ask a major donor for a gift, he wasn’t asking them just for money, he was asking them to give to transform the lives of young homeless people.

4. He believed that giving was a joyful thing for his donors

The more conversations Phil had with donors, and the more we discussed this in coaching sessions, the more Phil started to believe this.  There is countless research from Dr Jen Shang, Dr Beth Breeze, Bluefrog’s supporter research and many more that giving is good for us, and that donors want to help especially with the pandemic (you can read more of this research here). However, truly believing this is different from thinking it. I knew Phil had made that shift when he said to me:

“People really want to help, they really want to give and they want to partner with us.”

What else? Phil and his team have now reached their income target for the year. This doesn’t just mean vital services for young people can continue and grow. It’s also an incredibly positive thing for him and his team’s wellbeing at a time of huge anxiety and uncertainty. “It’s nice to come into work and not be under that financial pressure.”

“The coaching has been a space to reflect on what I’ve been doing, learn about what works and challenge myself to imagine what is possible.

I hope this is helpful to you in your major donor fundraising and that you can use some of Phil’s approaches, in your charity.

If your target seems like a mountain to climb over the next 6 months, take a look at my Summit major donor coaching here.  You might surprise yourself with what is possible too.

Louise Morris is the Founder of Summit Fundraising. She is a major donor fundraising specialist and has worked with over 100 charities helping them raise large gifts.

Major Gift Fundraising – lead through the unknown with confidence

Leadership expert Charly White and I were delighted with the feedback on our August 2020 webinar:
Major Gift Fundraising – lead through the unknown with confidence. For those of you who were on leave, or couldn’t make it check it out here.

For the first 45 minutes, Charly and I discuss the common challenges many fundraisers and leaders are having with major gift fundraising right now – with practical tips for you and examples of how charities have overcome these. The last 15 minutes we were happy to answer some brilliant questions.

Feel free to drop me an email and let me know what you found particularly useful or areas you’d like to see covered off as we might repeat this in the Autumn.

Invest in major donor fundraising, or at least don’t disinvest

Recently I’ve heard of major donor fundraising roles being made redundant because ‘philanthropists won’t want to give now’.  I’ve heard numerous cases of hard-fought investment for major gift programmes being reversed, and I’ve been asked by fundraising leaders, Managers, CEOs and fundraisers how they can make the case for major donor fundraising right now.

So I’ve collated some of the great evidence and research (with particular thanks to Rogare, Giles Pegram CBE, Mark Phillips and Bluefrog Fundraising) – I hope it helps you in these conversations. 

1. Let’s start with the basic truth: you cannot raise large gifts without investing

All organisations are having to make incredibly tough decisions. Yet why cut spend that will generate income? The charities who have retained or increased major donor fundraising resource have already had positive conversations with high-net-worth individuals. They are getting support even when they’re not direct COVID response charities. Like the fundraiser I’ve been coaching who got a meeting with a venture capitalist within 2 weeks of lockdown (they’d been trying for the previous 12 months with no success). Or the regional charity that has secured their largest-ever gift. Or the CEO who secured £200k of pledges within 5 days.

As Giles Pegram CBE has frankly stated:
“Once all this is over, however long that might be, there will be two different groups of charity. The ones that have invested in their fundraisers, who have then in turn been able to spend time and creative energy keeping engaged with their supporters: making them even more loyal than before. And those that haven’t….The first group will have a considerable advantage over the second group, and so, quite quickly, be able to raise more money and help more beneficiaries.”
(you can Giles’ full blog here)

Because how are we going to raise more without investment?! 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 in post for 6 months and then their post is cut; a donor is sent 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).

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; a donor is sent a thank you card for their £50,000 gift but the resource isn’t there to do anything else.

The current disinvestment we’re seeing is painfully familiar to many of us.  When I was at Unilever we would never have dreamed of cutting investment in a product line, whilst still expecting the same sales. We certainly wouldn’t have planned for growth without investing.  So why should we think it’s possible in the third sector?  Are we saying that we’re cutting investment and we’re happy to see income decrease?

To raise large gifts, you need dedicated resource. If you’re getting rid of it, or not investing in it to start with, you need to start lowering your income forecasts now.

2. The wealthiest have more financial resilience

“Our wealthy donors will also be struggling. We don’t want to be seen to be ‘capitalising’ on the situation.”Sound familiar? Well, 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 will 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, with some donors increasing giving.*** Similarly now, many major donors’ investments and industries are being shaken by this global pandemic. This means some high-net-worth individuals might not be in a position to give today, but that doesn’t mean they won’t give later in the year when they have more certainty over their businesses and affairs. If you’re not having conversations now though, why would they give to you in 6 or 12 months time?
  • Those conversations need to be happening. The wonderful thing about major donor fundraising is that we’re not sending a mailing to thousands of individuals. Instead we’re understanding each individual’s position (or we should be). A CEO I’ve been working with spoke to a major donor in the construction industry; from that conversation he realised how uncertain the donor’s business was (the CEO, therefore, didn’t make an ask). A fundraiser I’ve been coaching called a long-standing major donor two weeks into lockdown and had an incredibly positive conversation.  In it, the donor volunteered that she was worried about her investments-she declared without prompting that she wouldn’t be giving right now but would keep the charity in mind for a few month’s time, (since then both charities have raised individual gifts of between £10k and £75k from other donors and have had more positive contact from those that couldn’t give.)
  • We need to understand that, “even in a recession, not everyone is going to be affected, and we need to be aware that some people are going to be better off following the lockdown.“** This is particularly true for the wealthiest in our society.

even in a recession, not everyone is going to be affected, and we need to be aware that some people are going to be better off following the lockdown. [Mark Phillips]

3. Major donors will give IF they’re asked when it’s right for them, AND for a cause they care about

There are no wrong or right causes to be fundraising for right now with major donors (or indeed through other types of fundraising.) Your supporters cared about animals, the future of the planet, their local community, cures for diseases etc before Coronavirus.  They will care now.  “If it mattered before COVID-19, it still matters now”**.

Interviews with donors show that as life starts to return towards ‘normal’ with lockdown lifting, donors want leadership from the causes they care about.**  They want to know how they can make a difference.

“..because research shows that most people only give to charity if they’re asked to do so, charities have a duty to their beneficiaries to ask for support. A lack of action sends a message to a charities’ beneficiaries that they are not important.”*

Philanthropy means love of humankind and Dr Beth Breeze’s interviews with hundreds of philanthropists (in her book Richer Lives: Why Rich People Give) demonstrates the enrichment that high-net-worth individuals gain from giving large sums of money to make a difference; including from their relationships with charities, and from knowing they are a part of creating positive change. This is more relevant than ever, with the growing problems in society becoming more and more apparent.

Dr Jen Shang’s research, the world’s only philanthropic psychologist, shows us that charities are in a unique position to build deep connectedness with their donors. The one on one relationship building that major donor fundraising involves, when it is invested in, gives us a tremendous opportunity to develop these relationships for lifelong giving, at high levels.

The one on one relationship building that major donor fundraising involves, when it is invested in, gives us a tremendous opportunity to develop these relationships for lifelong giving, at high levels.

Charities that have invested in this area are seeing donors accept invitations for the first time to on-line events, where they’re becoming engaged and connected to the charity and seeing the difference the charity is making. There have been on-line question and answer sessions about conservation, virtual tours of medical research labs, and concerts to highlight the power of music for vulnerable people. High-net-worth individuals are engaging, and many are giving.

High-net-worth individuals are the people that could enable your cause to survive and to thrive. If we want to partner with them to make the change in society we all work day in day out to achieve, then let’s get back to the basics:

We need to invest in our major donor fundraising or accept a potentially terminal decline in income.

Louise Morris is the Founder of Summit Fundraising. She is a major donor fundraising specialist and has worked with over 100 charities helping them raise large gifts.

*Advocating for fundraising during emergencies. How to respond to arguments that fundraising is ‘inappropriate’ during the Coronavirus pandemic. Rogare the Fundraising Think Tank.(June 2020) Available at https://df618d67-1d77-4718-ac14-01d78db8f9d0.filesusr.com/ugd/8bc141_fcc30817df7a4b4dbd26c72f1df089bf.pdf Rogare report 

** The Time for Leadership, Giving in the Time of Coronavirus. Mark Phillips and BlueFrog Fundraising. (July 2020) Video available at https://queerideas.co.uk/2020/07/the-time-for-leadership-giving-in-the-time-of-coronavirus.html 

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

Major Donor Fundraising During the Crisis and Beyond

What can we learn from charities who raised large gifts over the first few months of Coronavirus?

This is a recording from a webinar I did on 1st July talking about just this. When Coronavirus hit I was working with over a dozen charities, coaching fundraisers and CEOs and setting up major donor programmes. I continued working with them through the pandemic, and there were some fantastic successes! Like the fundraiser just 4 months into post who secured the largest gift her charity had ever had of £250,000! And the CEO who secured £200k from 6 asks to major donors.

There’s 25 minutes of me presenting on the things these charities did, as well as what you can do in your organisations from now on. Then for 15 minutes there are some brilliant questions from those attending, and discussion. (please excuse the ‘jump’ at the very start)

You can find out more about my new on-line video training I mention at the end here.

Prioritise! How to use the L-I-A model

Some of the most common challenges I hear when I work on major donor fundraising with fundraisers and leaders are:

“We have a list of people we think could be major donors, but we’re just not sure where to start?”

“How do I know who could give a larger gift?”

“I’ve got a list of 200 names but they don’t seem responsive. I think we need to find some other potential major donors.”

Prioritising is crucial in major donor fundraising; prioritising who to try to build more personal relationships with. However, many charities don’t have a system to help them do this (so if that’s you, don’t worry, you’re not alone!).

Propensity, Affinity, Capacity, Proximity anyone? 

These terms are often lurking in the background of major donor programmes (and sometimes used), but many people I work with find them clunky and technical and so have just stopped using them altogether.

If you have a system that’s working for you already which helps you prioritise, then, of course, carry on using that!  But if you don’t, then this simple model could help you build deeper connections more quickly and raise more large gifts. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a small or large charity, whether you have a list of 20 potential high-net-worth individuals or 200, whether you’ve been major donor fundraising for years or have just started.

Introducing the L-I-A Model

LINK  – INTEREST – ABILITY

I briefly explained these terms in a previous blog and here I want to help you put it into practice.

First, you need a list of who you think is (or might be) high-net-worth and could give a large gift to your charity. If you’re starting from scratch then stay close to home with those who already know your charity – these could be individuals who’ve given larger one-off donations of £250+ or £500+, or contacts who you think may have wealth or be connected to those that do. This will form your initial list.

L-I-A is a simple scoring model out of 15 for each individual on this list. So you select a number between one and 5 for LINK, INTEREST and ABILITY. I’ve put example definitions below that you can use and adapt to suit your organisation.

LINK
What is the person’s link to the charity?
This could be a contact who might able to introduce them to your organisation.

5Heavily involved and responsive
4Sporadic contact
3Lapsed or infrequent donor
2No direct contact but a link identified (i.e. no contact details or they’ve opted out of communication but your trustee may know them well)
1No direct contact and no link for an introduction

INTEREST
How interested is the individual in your organisation or your cause area?
They may have a personal connection or motivation.

5Actively involved and specific motivations & interests are understood
4Actively supporting but their specific motivations & interests are NOT understood
3Indicated an interest in your organisation – directly or to a contact
2Interested in the cause area but they don’t know your organisation
1No interest or knowledge that you’re aware of

ABILITY
Do they have the ability to give a large gift?

This shouldn’t be based on what a fundraiser or charity leader believes they can give but should be underpinned by prospect research. 

5£50k+
4£10k-£50k
3£5k – £10k
2£1k-£5k
1Under £1k

Using the model

Take your list and adapted definitions and add four columns to your list – LINK, INTEREST and ABILITY and TOTAL.  Score each person out of 5 for each category (LINK, INTEREST and ABILITY) and put the total in the TOTAL column. Input these totals into your database or records system, so you can retain the knowledge efficiently for future use.

Those who score 11-15 are high priority. Those who score 6-10 are medium priority and those who score 0-5 are low priority.

Does it feel uncomfortable putting numbers against people? It might do; we wouldn’t want our supporters to think they’re just a number or not important because they rated 1 or 2. So let me be clear – it doesn’t mean that those individuals with a lower score are not important to the charity, and if they’re existing supporters you clearly still want them to feel amazing about their giving. You are doing this scoring for very good reasons – so what are the benefits?

  1. You will give your supporters and potential supporters the best experience by doing this.
    In a number of charities, I’ve seen potential HNW supporters taken out of an individual giving program and put onto a major donor list but they then stop receiving any communication from the charity at all. They end up no longer getting their usual supporter e-newsletters and appeals, as they’ve been put on a special path to try to build a more personal relationship. However, the fundraiser or the CEO didn’t have the time to build these personal relationships with everyone on the list so they didn’t get any contact. The scoring means that you can easily put the low priority people, back into your individual giving program (or if you have one a mid-level program). This way, your list will become manageable and you will be able to understand and focus on the remaining people.

    I worked with a charity recently, who had received £10k from a couple for the previous two years. When applying the model, it became apparent that no one in the organisation understood why they gave (INTEREST). Although the CEO had met the couple and given some updates, there hadn’t been a deeper discussion to identify the couple’s connection to the cause. After realising this, we secured a virtual meeting to thank them again and find out more about them. The CEO can now build a stronger connection with them, which will likely lead to higher levels of giving.
  2. You find out who can give a larger gift.
    I’ve worked with fundraisers even in large charities with established major donor programs who aren’t sure if the people on their list are actually HNW and are able to give a larger gift. So they find it very difficult to know who to invite to an exclusive event; they lose confidence and momentum contacting individuals because they don’t know if they are the right people to be building deeper relationships with. And so they make slow progress securing large gifts.

    Scoring the ABILITY of those on your list to give a large gift shows you if you have gaps in your knowledge here. If you don’t understand who has wealth, and at what level, you can wealth screen even a small number of individuals, (subject to following GDPR),  which will return an estimated giving bracket i.e. £10k-£25k. Your list may reduce by half or more, but that is actually better if those on it are the people who can give your charity a large gift.
  3. Confidence
    Time is always the enemy of the fundraiser or CEO, and as with many areas of fundraising, major donor fundraising can often be derailed by those in the organisation keen to help, but who may not have specialist experience or knowledge. I’ve worked with a fundraiser whose Chairman was keen to ask a couple he was connected to for a £250,000 gift. They’d only ever previously given £10,000 and the fundraiser was fairly sure they didn’t have the ABILITY to give a quarter of a million. If the model had been applied then the fundraiser would have been more empowered to help their Chair with a more appropriate ask amount.

    It’s common for senior management and trustees to suggest wealthy individuals to fundraisers and CEOs. An L-I-A approach means you can go back to people and explain why you are or aren’t focusing on specific individuals. You can influence better internally, saving time to focus on the relationships externally where you know you can raise more.

What can you do today?

Spend 10 minutes scoring 5 individuals you already know with the L-I-A model.  Are they where you thought they’d be? Have you only focused on the people who you already know have the highest ABILITY to give and forgotten those with strong LINKs or INTEREST? Have you got gaps in your knowledge?

Once you are using the model I’m confident you’ll save time, gain confidence and give your existing and potential supporters an even better experience.

I’d love to hear how you get on.

Louise Morris is the Founder of Summit Fundraising. She is a major donor fundraising specialist and has worked with over 100 charities helping them raise large gifts.

Thank you, Thank you, Thank you

Am I the only one who gets excited about seeing a handwritten envelope on the doormat?

Mine yesterday was a card from a friend. In it was a lovely message thanking me for the vegetable growing book I sent her for a birthday present two weeks ago – it’s a new hobby that she’s loving in lockdown.

Two weeks before on her special day 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, I think! 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. I felt that warm and fuzzy feeling.

A few days after her birthday, she sent me a message saying she’d planted her tomatoes outside and thank you so much for the book – she really appreciated it. She sent a photo of her tomatoes all settled in their new pots.


That’s three thank yous in 2 weeks. Does that sound too much? It certainly didn’t feel like that.

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. I’ve recently completed the Certificate in Philanthropic Psychology from the Institute of Sustainable Philanthropy. As part of this course we reviewed Adrian Sergeant and Jen Shang’s report on thanking donors. Their data shows that thanking people four or more times per year increases giving and that 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 thank you programmes?

Building true connectedness for any supporter, including major donors, takes a long 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 to really build how connected they feel, to make them feel valued and inspired and it’s not too late to start. If a major donor only got a thank you in an acknowledgement letter for a gift they made earlier in the year, why not send
them a handwritten note today? Or leave them a voice message, email them a short video thanking them and updating them on 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 100 charities helping them raise large gifts.


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

Much has changed but much has stayed the same

Coronavirus has changed our lives more than we could have imagined. In the conversations I’ve had with major gift fundraisers, Chief Executives, and Directors of Fundraising, the theme has been consistent.

“The last 24 hours have been awful, we have turned off every amazing event we had set up for the next 3 months and readied our site for closure today.”

“I’m not sure what to do. I can’t contact my high-net-worth supporters and think I probably need to wait until this blows over.”

“It just feels like the wrong time to be asking our high-net-worth contacts to support the charity.”

It is tough right now, there’s no disputing that. Charities are under immense pressure. Many of us are under immense pressure to raise funds and deliver. The stakes are so high; the people that our charity exists to help need us more than ever, our very charity’s existence, our jobs and livelihoods are at risk.

There are no rules to fundraising in a global pandemic! I’ve written before on the importance of picking up the phone and checking in with supporters in this crisis and although everything seems to have changed, there are some important constants. I hope my suggestions give you confidence that your charity is right to be developing major donor fundraising, and investing time and resource in it now.

1) Your charity needs funds

It did before the pandemic, and it does now. I imagine that pre-Covid, most of you had sleepless nights worrying about your charity’s cashflow, or how to hit income targets.     

Some of you will now have more demand for your charity’s services and be delivering them in different ways.

Some hospices that I’ve worked with are video-calling patients in their homes. There are also music charities now providing concerts on-line.

Whether your services are costing less to deliver than before, or more, you’ll still need funding. If you don’t need it now, you’ll need it over the next 18 months. Now isn’t the time to take your foot off the pedal with major gifts.


2) Human connection is vital for all of us 

This includes the wealthiest in our society. Charities have always been able to connect people to the joy of giving. We’ve done this through building relationships and understanding our donors. We’ve also done this through telling the amazing stories of how our charities make a difference.  Now when we can’t hug some of our loved ones, when we’re surrounded by negative headlines, we need this more than ever. You can give connection and meaning to the lives of high-net-worth individuals.


3) We know high-net-worth individuals care

They cared before Coronavirus and they care now. Some may have given to your charity already and shown this by making that commitment.  Whilst some individuals might not have given to your charity, they may have agreed to meet for coffee or attend your charity’s event – or they took your call between meetings. These are all signs that they care. If this pandemic has proven anything it’s that the outpouring of care, community spirit and love is huge.

“They were really happy to hear from us and intrigued to see how the charity was coping.”

“Our video from our Music Director went down really well, it was a good job.”

“Coronavirus has forced us to make those asks.”

“Talking to a lot of my major donors, I’ve realized how much more open they are to having conversations.”

Philanthropy means love of humankind. Charities and donors connecting gives people the chance to make a difference. You can give them meaning in a world that can sometimes feel as if it’s being turned upside down. 

You may secure some gifts in the short-term, you may not. But you will be remembered because you connected, gave them stories of hope, and were a constant.

Louise Morris is the Founder of Summit Fundraising. She is a major donor fundraising specialist and has worked with over 100 charities helping them raise large gifts.

Don’t make the same mistake as Dominic Cummings with your key donors

Dominic Cummings appears to be going to great lengths to hide the truth. His story of travelling to Barnard Castle to test his eye sight seems unlikely and ill-judged at best, insulting, patronising & contrived at worst. Any trust ratings of Cummings right now would surely be rock bottom and it’s easy to scorn his approach.

All of the bluster and spin got me thinking about the third sector  – as charities when things haven’t gone quite to plan with projects, when we’ve made mistakes, we’ve often thought how we can spin the truth with our donors. We sometimes think that a project delayed will reflect negatively on our charity and discourage future support from key individuals. We might get a sinking feeling when we read survey results from a new project – the transformation we hoped to see in our beneficiaries lives in reality is not quite as dramatic as we’d hoped. I remember managing a capital appeal and being terrified when we realised there could be a pause in the build. We became preoccupied with how we would explain this to key major donors and funders. We spent much time ‘spinning’ the challenges we were facing delivering our work.

And no wonder. Innovation and failure aren’t yet widely seen as a positive and inevitable part of progress in the non-profit sector. In his world-famous Ted Talk, Dan Pallotta talks about the inability for charities to take risks compared to the for profit sector.

Yet many of your major donors and funders will be in the world of business. They are well aware that projects don’t stay stagnant, that challenges crop up continually, that mistakes get made, that progress doesn’t get made without risk. It is how these challenges are dealt with and communicated, and what your charity learns from them that’s key. This will not be lost on your donors.

When working with CEOs and fundraising leads I often see the dread of telling bad news. So the call to update the donor is put off, the report that’s due is cobbled together with an unrealistically positive spin and emailed across (with the hope no questions will come back.)

Yet most of the time, when someone in the charity has had the difficult conversation , it’s been rewarded – with understanding, and appreciation for the learning that things not going 100% brings. A disability charity I worked with phoned a key funder when a project had to be delayed because they hadn’t raised enough from other sources. They thought that would reflect really badly on them – a failure in getting others to support the project. In reality the donor understood what a challenge it was, knew that the charity wasn’t an obvious cause to support, and offered to increase their contribution to the project.

So although it might be uncomfortable, remember to do what Dominic Cummings and the government haven’t  – have honest conversations with your donors that build trust and respect of you and your charity. Don’t try and pull the wool over their eyes – because they’ll spot it a mile off, just as those of us who watched the bank holiday Monday briefings by Cummings and Johnson did.

Louise Morris is the Founder of Summit Fundraising. She is a major donor fundraising specialist and has worked with over 100 charities helping them raise large gifts.

Are you in a post covid-19 mindset yet?

A lot of us have plans for what we’d like to be doing personally in a world post-social distancing. Friends, family, hugs, pubs all feature for me! But have you started to think about your charity’s income and fundraising plans post-COVID?

Speaking to a number of charity CEOs and fundraising leads, we’ve been discussing 2021. Some are actually doing okay for income right now. Other are struggling with cashflow and have been in crisis mode. In both camps though they are concerned by some looming gaps in income in 12 months. Many UK charities need to diversify their income, or grow their existing income streams, and they need to do this urgently.

If you haven’t considered starting a major donor fundraising programme, or focusing on growing your existing one, below are 4 reasons to consider it:

Corona virus COVID-19
  1. If you’re not talking to your wealthiest, well-connected supporters, other charities will be. You may not know who these high-net-worth individuals are yet. They may be giving to your charity at a relatively low level right now. However, your charity will already have connections to some potential major donors. Coronavirus creates a huge opportunity to start a more personal conversation with them and build relationships for a future larger gift.
  1. ROI for an established major donor programme can be 9:1. It may take you 2 years to get to this level of return, but you should be able to break even or return 2:1 in the first year. Major gifts can be transformational for your cause.
  1. Although it’s tricky to compare the economic impact of COVID-19 to the Global Financial Crash, in 2008 major donor income held up, with some donors increasing giving (‘Tomorrow’s Philanthropist’, Barclays Wealth, July 2009) Thank you to Graham Darnell for this insight.
  1. This may be in part because giving from the wealthiest is often elastic.  Yes, some of the richest in society will be affected financially by the pandemic, depending on their businesses and investments. Yet research by Beth Breeze, Director, Centre for Philanthropy at the University of Kent, shows that one of the main reasons high-net-worth individuals give is because they are asked. They will often add new charities to their portfolio of giving (rather than have a ‘one in, one out’ policy and a fixed giving budget).

Every charity’s income mix is different, and economists are grappling with what the impacts of COVID-19 will be. However charity CEO and fundraising leads are right to be thinking ahead:

  • There is a predicted £4b income shortfall for UK charities (NCVO), yet only £750m promised by the government. This is just for the initial few months of the coronavirus crisis. The impact on giving and income raised will continue.
  • Giving from the general public has been incredible, most noticeably with Captain Tom Moore’s 100th birthday walk raising over £30m! Yet public giving follows the economy. The Centre for Economics & Business Research predict that households disposable income will fall on average by 17%. That means millions of the general public will have significantly less money to give directly to causes, to sponsor friends’ challenges, to attend community fundraising events, or to give to their company’s charity of the year.
  • Although there has been an outburst of emergency funding pots, these are mainly centred on charities who are delivering direct COVID-19 response. Will trust and foundation opportunities shrink in the next 12-18 months as investments fall with a tumbling stock market?

So if you’re in that place where you’re starting to think of a post-Covid world, make sure high-net -worth individuals and major donor fundraising is part of that world for your charity.

As one charity said to me recently:

“This pandemic proves why we absolutely need a major donor programme.  These are the people we would have gone to and engaged right at the beginning of this crisis.”

Six weeks into us developing their major donor programme, and they’ve secured over £30k of gifts.

What charity can afford not to focus on this as an income stream?

Louise Morris is the Founder of Summit Fundraising. She is a major donor fundraising specialist and has worked with over 100 charities helping them raise large gifts.

A call to show you care

Surely you shouldn’t call your major donors and potential major donors now of all times. They’ve got other things to think about haven’t they? Those they love, their own health, their businesses. Why would they want to hear from you?

I’ve spoken to a number of major gift fundraisers, Heads of Fundraising & CEOs over the past 2 weeks.  “To call or not to call?” is a question they’re grappling with. Many are coming down on the side of: “let’s wait until things get back to normal to call our major donors”. Some are thinking “it’s not possible to meet right now.”

It feels tough to call at the best of times. And I certainly don’t have all the answers – there are no rules to fundraising in a global pandemic! However, there are a lot of reasons why now is the time to pick up the phone to your high-net-worth supporters and potential supporters:

  1. Show you care

    I’ve written before on putting yourselves in your donors’ shoes. Now is the time to do this more than ever. Many high-net-worth individuals are older. They will be desperately missing grandchildren. They may be more worried about their own health and their partners’. They may be struggling, like many of us, to adapt to this vastly different world of limited physical contact and a suddenly empty social calendar. Check in how they are, and you will be remembered as the person who took the time to care.

  2. You may be pleasantly surprised

    With so many of us in social isolation and working remotely, it may be far easier to get a meeting. Of course not face to face! However, if you were planning to try and get someone to meet with you and your Head of Services, why not still offer this on Zoom/Skype? If you’re homeschooling, does an evening meeting work for you, and for them? You may find that with less hectic schedules they are more likely to agree.

  3. Showcase the amazing spirit of your charity

    What the sector is doing right now to keep going, help the most vulnerable people, or the planet/animals, is staggering. It is inspirational. You may be too close to everything that’s happened over the past 10 days to realise this. It has been a whirlwind. So take stock, let you donors know how tough it is, but give them hope. Let them know what incredible work is still going on and what lengths your charity has gone to. (and yes, if appropriate, mention that now would be the time that a gift from them would have the most impact).

  4. It gives you focus

    Cultivation events have been cancelled (hopefully some moved on-line but that’s another blog coming up!) Your likely working in a very different way, potentially home-schooling, 100% remote meetings. It can be tempting to think you will leave those calls and meeting targets with high-net-worth individuals until the world is back to ‘normal’. Who knows when that will be though? Our causes need funds. They need you to keep building relationships. Virtual meetings and phone touchpoints mean you will keep building those relationships rather than putting everything on hold.

Finally, know that you won’t put your foot in it. You’re hardly going to remind your donor to pay that pledge if she mentions she’s battling to keep her companies afloat.

Trust all the skills that we as major gift fundraisers have  –  a listening ear, tact, open questioning and remember, this isn’t a call to ask for money. It’s a call to show that you care.

Louise Morris is the Founder of Summit Fundraising. She is a major donor fundraising specialist and has worked with over 100 charities helping them raise large gifts.

Expert, donor, global- different views for your major gift fundraising

The Pride flag flying high, some seriously blustery weather and a beautiful lake view accompanied a great fundraising discussion with my friend, Henry Shelford, Head of Philanthropy at University of Surrey. 


I was lucky enough to get an hour of Henry’s time. Although it’s clear there are fundamental differences between Higher Education and many charities which informs their approach to major gifts, I wanted to delve a bit deeper. Henry’s worked ‘on both sides’ in his career, at two universities as well as Missing People & Sue Ryder in the charity world. I gained some fresh perspectives from Henry’s experiences:

An expert’s view

Are you calling your Director of Programmes just that when sending a meeting or event invite out? Or are you describing them as an expert and leader
in their field?

Universities have some of the world’s experts, the best in their field. Regardless of their specific personal motivations or field of work, what a fascinating opportunity for a philanthropist: to meet with the leading world expert in Artificial Intelligence; or to understand what the next few years hold for immunology and diseases like Coronavirus. Philanthropists are often at the top of their fields, highly successful self-made businessmen and women. The opportunity for a meeting of minds with their ‘intellectual peers’ is one that universities capitalise on, and maybe charities could too.

Are you calling your Director of Programmes just that when sending a meeting or event invite out? Or are you describing them as an expert and leader in their field? Your charity doesn’t need to be employing the world’s number one. But you do need to position your charity and the staff your high-net-worth contacts will be meeting as experts in your charity’s field and not be modest about this.

A donor’s view

If someone is high-net-worth, used to the best food and wine, it’s unwise to arrange a meeting or event somewhere cheap and cheerful

“That’s going to be controversial isn’t it, I know charities’ budgets are tight”. However, the wise words had already been said. If someone is high-net-worth, used to the best food and wine, it’s unwise to arrange a meeting or event somewhere cheap and cheerful.  Discussing further we agreed it’s not just about spending more which can be a challenge for non-profits, it’s about understanding the individual. Offer to meet them for coffee in the kind of place your contact is going to want to be -that probably isn’t in the Costa around the corner. Many Higher Ed institutions have practiced and perfected their donor entertainment.

A global view of giving

Global thinking is embedded in many higher education institutions. Their alumni are scattered over the world, from Singapore to San Francisco, so therefore are their major donors. Yet many UK based international development and environmental charities focus on donors resident in the UK, and don’t consider opportunities to engage with individuals in the countries they’re operating in. If any part of your cause delivers internationally, or if people could have a connection to your UK work who now live abroad, make sure you see the opportunities beyond British borders.

With huge thanks to Henry Shelford for his time and the great discussion.

Louise Morris is the Founder of Summit Fundraising. She is a major donor fundraising specialist and has worked with over 100 charities helping them raise large gifts.

Putting yourself in their shoes

I had a fantastic start to the week at the 2020 Institute of Fundraising major donor conference. One question that I pondered from all I heard was “How often do we truly put ourselves in our major donor’s shoes?”

Here are 5 thoughts around this I hope are useful for those who weren’t there, and also helpful as reflections for those that were:

1 Can we stop second guessing?

Many fundraisers know the tumbleweed of a potential donor we’ve been in contact with suddenly going quiet. Yet we know we’re only one part of their lives. So let’s not assume that they won’t give or be in contact again, but try instead to adjust to their timings and priorities. When we meet someone for the first time it’s tempting to take your charity’s strategy, your business plan and more.  Instead, if we can have a meaningful conversation at that first meeting in particular, we will know what our donors are interested in, what motivates them and get closer to their identities (I have a blog coming up on this specifically if this interests you).

2 Who has the patience to play the long game?

So many boards and leadership teams are focused on the next 6, 12 or 18 months. Short-term income pressures on fundraisers can be extreme. Yet this chasing for income means we can be alienating the very people we want to build stronger relationships with. It also stops us planning for the next decade and beyond.  A longer-term view of our donors and potential donors, can result in so much more value than a single major gift: meaningful volunteering, continued life time major gifts, introductions to their families and contacts and the much prized legacy.

3 Understand the wealthy and their lives

A longer-term view of our donors and potential donors, can result in so much more value than a single major gift

High-net-worth individuals, however wealthy, can still face the barrier to giving of not feeling they have enough money. Their financial commitments will vary hugely from yours, including obligations to their family. Most of them are self-made, have worked hard for their money and are used to having control over it. Restricting their gift to a specific project will be crucial for some donors to have control over their donation. If this is a challenge for your organisation, consider whether you could offer a restriction to a broader area of work.

4 Let’s be brave and honest

It’s ok, if the asks are considered, to have nos. There can be a fear with asking though if there is even a small chance the donor might not give right then. A programme funded by a major donor might have results that show it clearly isn’t having the impact the charity planned. We could put a rosy tint on a report to our donor? Or instead have that honest conversation, early, and bring our donors with us.

5 HNWI are human

If we inherit a Development Board that really isn’t going to plan, we might dread the conversation with its members, without considering that they might feel relief that the problems are being tackled!

How do we make our interactions human, personal,  and do this in our own way? I particularly liked the anecdote of a fundraiser finding out from their donor’s PA that he loved sweets – and then sending him a load of leftover jellybeans from a charity event to his office with a hand-written thank you card!

With huge thanks to all of the speakers at the conference.

Louise Morris is the Founder of Summit Fundraising. She is a major donor fundraising specialist and has worked with over 100 charities helping them raise large gifts.

“What’s in a name?”

I was recently asked to choose my own title, having started work to help a charity in the UK set up their major gifts programme.

Which got me thinking – what should go on my email footer? And how should I be introducing myself to trustees, supporters who could give larger gifts, and internally to staff – many unfamiliar with ‘major giving.’ Our title can make an impression from the first meeting or interaction.

So what should we call our fundraising roles?

Unfortunately I have seen the term ‘major donor’ used face to face with supporters, and it was not received well.

I find having major donor in the title unappealing.  Do those who give to charities (with gifts of any size) call themselves donors? Would I call a supporter giving a generous 6 figure donation a major donor to his or her face?

It seems a cold, transactional term which often reminds me of my organ donor card in my wallet. I may not be alone in this – the Cambridge dictionary definition for donor puts someone giving their blood or body parts first, above someone giving money to an organisation. Unfortunately I have seen the term ‘major donor’ used face to face with supporters, and it was not received well. Whilst many organisations have moved away from this, it is still commonplace in the sector.

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

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

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

How about ‘Philanthropy’?

Philanthropy being included in fundraising job titles is on the rise.

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

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

Philanthropy – the desire to promote the welfare of others, expressed especially by the generous donation of money to good causes

Oxford English Dictionary

So what we call ourselves? I opted for Philanthropy Manager in a recent role, but do share your thoughts.

What job titles have you been proud to use with supporters?

What do you feel best encompasses what we do?

Louise is Founder of Summit Fundraising. She helps charities develop a confident and sustainable approach to major donor fundraising, that works, through specialist consultancyworkshopscoaching and training.

Photo by Michal Jarmoluk from Pixabay