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What is major donor fundraising?

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

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

How much is a major donor gift?

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

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

How do I find major donors for my cause?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


This was posted on 1 September 2022.

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