The Fundraiser - Practical advice and insight for the charity sector

Posted in Opinion, Trends & Research Major Donor & Philanthropy Donor Management & Behaviour

Don't fear the Rich List


Should the latest Times Rich List make you hold up your hands in horror, or rub them together in glee? It’s time to follow the money and play a professional game of Robin Hood, says John Baguley


Even in these days of obscene affluence, I found myself surprised that the criteria to join the recently published Sunday Times Rich List (TRL)  has grown from £55m in 2009 to £103m last year and to £110m this year – a mere £100m just won’t cut it these days. And whilst I absorbed that shock, I found out that London has more billionaires than any other city in the world – why should a fundraiser live anywhere else?


I also noted that the fortune of every couple on the list went up, except Sir Philip Green and his wife’s, which went down last year – Ha ha!


And therein lies our first problem and one that has bedevilled fundraising since the US robber barons set up their foundations and our Lady Bountifuls did their good works in London’s East End. We have a profound dislike of the very rich, and that holds us back from raising significant funds from them. It is so much easier if they set up a foundation, preferably at arm’s length to their company, and we can apply online by filling out a form. Actually meeting them, creating a relationship with them and asking them face-to-face for a large sum when we would rather shoot them doesn’t quite work, does it?


So, all those ‘so-called’ fundraisers who held up their hands in horror might be well advised to hand over the task of major donor fundraising to those who rubbed their hand together in glee. There are two kinds of jihad: the lesser jihad where you go to war, and the greater jihad where you engage with your own mind. Taking that on board, it is perhaps time that we worked on ourselves well before we embarked on any serious major donor fundraising.


The pitch


I have worked on many highly successful capital appeals and a few that didn’t quite reach their target. Time and again that failure was due to the inability of the team to engage with wealthy people as human beings and not as representatives of all that is wrong with society. The feeling was often that they ought to give because they were rich, with no thought about real engagement over time with their kindness and goodwill.


Crucially, this sometimes manifested itself in the act of asking, which I have seen done almost as an act of bravado to show the person asking was not afraid of the task but, unfortunately, that resulted in a slightly offensive demand lacking any humility. Sometimes they failed to pay any attention to our ask training, because they felt such a rich person was bound to give immediately they were introduced to the charity, because it was so obviously a wonderful cause. Occasionally, when pitching for a donation they didn’t even specify a sum, leaving the potential donor unsure just what they were being asked for, and that always resulted in a far smaller gift than would’ve been given if they’d been asked properly.


London’s billionaires


Talking now of billionaires, with so many of them on the doorstep, the trend is for billionaires to set up their own charitable entities, like Mark Zuckerberg, or alternatively for them to pass the family’s philanthropic activity to the family office that handles their wealth. However, if we were better at our jobs – networking, connecting, meeting and getting along with the seriously rich – then the chances are that we would be reaching these people more effectively and pulling in huge sums to transform the lives of our beneficiaries.


There is no need to look at the US to witness this. Although their development officers are remarkable for the way they interact over time with wealthy people, we need only look at our own university sector, which has specialised in big asks. In 2015-6, a survey by Ross-Case shows the sector brought in over £1bn for the first time – a remarkable 25% increase on the previous year.


This is the fruit of long-term cultivation and of research not just into their alumni, but opening out their appeals to the wealthy on an international basis. Unless you are going to be the first charity to challenge the Information Commission Office ruling (on researching current supporters without asking them first) then researching new potential supporters is the only way to go for now. Thinking about that, do please go ahead and challenge that ruling and those fines. They are outrageous and I am convinced you will win!


The origins of wealth


Second in the TRL couple’s list was Charlene de Cravalho-Heineken and her husband Michael de Caravalho. I confess to being one of those who helped them become this rich by downing rather more than one glass of Heineken. Though with their holding of £8.5bn in Heineken, even my consumption won’t have made that much of a difference.


Still talking of couples, first on the list is Ernesto and Kirsty Bertarelli who between them muster £1.5bn. This couple’s immense wealth comes from selling their biotech company, Serona, and investing in Santhera, a pharmaceutical company. Cutting-edge tech is one path to riches.


One positive trend in this great pile-up of wealth has been the increase in variety of people in the TRL this year; more women, more ethnic minorities and a greater variety of occupations such as soft toys, dating apps, children’s author etc.


Of course, the huge disparity in wealth across the UK and within companies is a cause for deep concern, and is to be both deplored and fought, but as fundraisers we should follow the money and play a professional game of Robin Hood.




So, how do you get close to these people? One of the best starting points has often been meeting them at their level. If you lack high level and influential contacts to introduce you positively, then create the kind of event that they will want to attend – with a prestigious host and in a prestigious location – and get to know them. We have found patron’s houses, 10 and 11 Downing Street and even the good old House of Lords will work for the right charity. However, if you lack the right contacts, that is exactly where you should start – by building up your board, advisory groups, patrons etc, and targeting people who know very wealthy people – you won’t need many degrees of separation to get there.


But there is a chasm to cross. In fourth place sits Francois-Henri Pinault and Salma Hayek, worth £3.4bn mainly from luxury fashion brands like Gucci, Saint Laurent, Balenciaga and Alexander McQueen. So, just how many people in your LinkedIn list wear these brands, use their fragrances and move in these circles? If this really is a foreign world to you, with inexplicable signifiers and abhorrent values, perhaps you need to start by recruiting the right brand ambassadors, board members and staff who can party at this level.


Of course, we need to think how some donors might cast a negative light on any charity to which they choose to give. This may not be fair, but when someone is in the media spotlight for wrongdoing, or even looking rather guilty, like HSBC’s CEO, Stuart Gulliver, and his Swiss bank account, then perhaps you should at least brush up on your Fundraising Acceptance Guidelines and steer clear until the media moves on.


Yes, now is the time to put your hands down, and instead start applauding the wealth on your doorstep.


John Baguley is founder and chair of Group IFC, an international fundraising consultancy with offices in 11 countries around the world. John Baguley received the Lifetime Contribution Award at the 2016 Institute of Fundraising National Fundraising Awards.


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