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 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.