Major Gift fundraising has long been a mythical panacea that appears to be out of reach for many smaller charities - the ‘holy grail’ only attainable for the ‘big boys’ in the sector.
But if you’re a fundraiser in one of the many thousands of smaller charities across the UK, you’re better placed than you might think to develop a successful and sustainable programme that will secure big gifts for your cause. Here are eight key ingredients to getting on the right track.
Get your case straight
Before you start looking for people to ask for major gifts, you need to know what you’re asking for, and ensure that you have a robust and compelling case for support. Does it clearly set out the who, why, what, how and how much for your cause, and does it have clear calls to action?
Without this, you simply cannot effectively progress to researching and finding prospects. Why not? Because you will be looking in the wrong places.
Do your research
Now that you’ve clearly set out who you are and what you do, you are in a strong position to research and find those people that have the highest propensity to support your work.
Start with a brief, and as part of that brief agree what constitutes a major donor for your charity. This could be someone who is able to give £100 or £10,000. Remember that it has to be appropriate to your starting point, and relative to the gift income you currently receive.
Good quality research needn’t cost a fortune. Those who can’t afford to use research companies can use existing data on supporters, work with trustees and begin to build simple profiles of people that already have a connection with your charity.
For charities both big and small, one of the most common complaints is that trustees and senior staff don’t engage with or support fundraising. Often, this is simply due to lack of understanding and knowledge of the processes involved.
Forming a development board or a fundraising group that can be driven by a trustee not only engenders strong buy-in, but communicates to prospective donors a real commitment to fundraising and future sustainability at a senior level.
While this part of the major donor programme often takes the longest, it cannot be rushed. Take time to understand your prospects, learn what motivates them, build rapport and find common ground – after all, people give to people. It’s no coincidence that I still have great friendships with people who were major supporters of causes that I was fundraising for over ten years ago.
This is arguably the biggest weapon that fundraisers based in smaller charities have in their armoury. Bring donors into the a story, and enable them to experience those inspiring and moving moments for themselves. It is these moments of feeling, touching, smelling and experiencing life-transforming work that compels people to ask: “What can I do to help?”
Empower the donor
Once people have experienced first-hand what we know to be powerful change, we need to help them understand what they can do to help. As a fundraiser, this is your opportunity to share money handles, talk about what is needed and share your hopes for the future.
It is particularly important to be aspirational, as donors are more compelled by the power to change and make things possible, rather than being driven by a sense of sympathy.
Make the ask!
One of the most common reasons for major donors not giving is quite simply that they were not asked.
As fundraisers, you would think that we should be good at asking for money. However, you would be surprised at how many times people forget this fundamental task! Very often, it may not be you who is making the ask, and therefore you need to make sure that your trustees, senior staff or other ambassadors feel comfortable and equipped to do it. Be bold, present the need and present the solution: them!
Saying ‘thank you’ is not the end of the story. And, just in case you’re wondering, saying ‘thank you’ once is not enough! Once you have secured a major gift, you will want to show the donor the difference they’ve made, and continue a sustainable relationship. It may take up time in your busy fundraising schedule but there are few other areas that deliver such an impressive return on investment.
Paul Courtney is Director at Kairos Fundraising Solutions
This article first appeared in The Fundraiser magazine, Issue 30, June 2013