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Dispelling major donor myths

The Management Centre

 This article is based on a ‘big picture’ session delivered at the Institute of Fundraising Convention 2008, by Angela Cluff =mc Director. The aims of the session were to challenge some conventional thinking on how to succeed with major donors and provide tips and practical strategies on how to succeed in this important area.

Angela also explores why so few organisations achieve their potential from major donors and how they can do so.

5 myths and 6 truths and buts…

StatementTruth or Myth?Key PointKey Action
It takes along time to get a major giftTruth and mythYou can get a gift in a very short space of time; you may get the gift in a long time Don’t overly focus on the “perfect” process and ask
Successful capital campaigns are about securing the right lead gift early and working top downMythThe lead gift may not be a defined % of the appeal total, may not come early and may come from a surprising sourceFocus on leadership or stretch gifts from those closest to create the cascade down and leverage up
All fundraising organisations can develop major donor fundraisingTruthIf the need is powerful and the Board and senior team passionate, they’ll find the connectionsFocus on your organisation’s connections and use them relentlessly
Capital campaigns have a sequential private and public phaseMythGeneric campaigns need the public phase to create engagement and demonstrate public interest for major donorsAdapt your strategy to your course
Major donor fundraising is only as good as  your prospect reseachTruthProspect research is vital when focused on the right things: capacity, propensity, connectionDon’t let research get in the way of building real relationships
Asking is the job of the volunteerMythThe “best” asking is usually done by a volunteer – but it’s not the only routeSometimes the right thing to do is for the staff to ask
Your supporter base is the right place to look for prospectsTruthBut it’s not just your donor base – it’s your broader supporter base of local volunteers and beneficiariesStart with who you know and work rigourously and relentlessly out
A major donor led campaign is a way to transform incomeTruthMajor donor campaigns build donors, networks and fundraising skillsMake your campaign a success! failures are hard to recover from
The rich are different from you and me… yes they have more moneyTruth and mythThe quote is true, but major donors aren’t different – they want impact and demand more than lower level donorsUnderstand and respond to the needs of your major donors – however complex – they are

In =mc’s experience there are 6 reasons why organisations find it so hard to make real progress in major donor fundraising:

    1. 1. they want money for existing work, major donors want to fund more work. They want to know your vision and your business plan to achieve it, and they want a genuine say in them
    2. 2. they don’t really want the involvement donors want. Fundraisers know that an important and effective part of the solicitation process is involving donors – and that means asking their advice and views. But the reality is that too often organisations aren’t prepared tohear let alone take on board the advice they seek
    3. 3. they don’t want to ask their best prospects – those closest to the organisation – to make stretch gifts. And until they do, those key individuals don’t become true advocates, willing and able, to ask for gifts
    4. 4. there are few really experienced major donor fundraisers and even fewer organisations. And those who are really succeeding have a critical mass and sustainability – of technical skills and internal support – from having both individual talent and organisational experience
    5. 5. major donor fundraisers move on too quickly – too often major donor fundraisers spend 12-18 months creating an effective case and researching the prospects… and then making their next career move. It’s not good for organisations, donors and fundraisers themselves – because they don’t build their own bank of experience in successfully securing major gifts
    6. 6. too often Boards and senior teams think major donors is a quick fix and then lose faith. In reality it’s a 3-5 year income stream. And it is hard to make the right first steps.

There is only one answer! The theory is easy, the practice is extraordinarily hard. So stop reading the theory, go build your experience and that will show you how to apply the theory. Good luck – and call =mc if you need help.

What’s Next?

If you’ve found this article helpful and you would like more information, please call +44 (0)20 7978 1516 and speak to one of our experienced fundraising consultants.

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Clare Segal, Director

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