Developing a Major Donor Strategy

ToolsSo, you’ve decided you want to raise major gifts.  This approach fits with your objectives and your programmes are likely to appeal to prospective major donors i.e. high net worth individuals.  Now is the time to develop a major gift strategy (yep, that old planning thing again).


As with any new strategy – be it your entire fundraising programme or the implementation of a major gift strategy, you need to start off with a review of:

  • Where you are
  • Where you want to be
  • How you’re going to achieve that


Areas that you need to consider (to determine whether major donor fundraising will work for your small non-profit) are:



Major donor fundraising relies on relationships.  What existing personal connections, networks and contacts do the people in your charity, including your board, already have? 

What resources do you have available to you for research – is there a person in your charity with a tenacious appetite for research who has the time, skills and resources available to them to find potential major donors through creative means? 

Who will be responsible for your major donor fundraising?  In a small charity, that’s likely to be a combination of CEO and Board or CEO, fundraiser and board.  Between all of the people who will be involved do they have the skills needed to research, display a passion for the cause, have fantastic interpersonal skills all needed to find, engage and inspire a prospective major donor? 

If the answer to these questions is a resounding ‘no’ it’s time to reconsider whether major donor fundraising is likely to be a success for your charity.


Board – The first and most important of your resources are your board and you should start of by determining all of the personal connections of your board members.  Ask them, obviously but don’t forget to check out their LinkedIn connections (you should already be a 1st connection with them).  Find out who they are directly linked to but also who is in their networks – are any of those people in your target list?  You can also use your initial meeting with board members not only to establish their networks but to determine how comfortable they are with doing the fundraising themselves (not all will be).  You might also discover that one or two of your Board are ideal major donor fundraisers – now is the time to get them ‘on board’ with your major donor fundraising programme.

Database – Use your database to establish who you already know.  Check up on obvious names but also address/postcode information to find out who is already giving to your charity.  Stepping on from this, if you have a considerable database, it may be worth investing in wealth screening to determine whether there is anyone already giving to you at a lower level who is capable of giving far more.  Specialist organisations can, for a fee, wealth screen your database according to your parameters of major gift.  So, for example, if you want to identify a major donor capable of giving £500 or more, they could help you to identify these people.

Research – Chances are you won’t already have a huge list of connections to go to, particularly if you are small and this is your first campaign so you will need to invest in research.  Research needs to be creative – it’s not just a case of writing down everyone on the Sunday Times Rich List (that never works!).  Use the internet, newspapers – local and national, LinkedIn (as suggested above).  Who follows you on Twitter or likes you on Facebook?  Get local theatre or cultural organisation programmes – who gives to them?


A major donor prospective will have the ability to give but what is their affinity with your charity – being rich isn’t enough.  Maybe they’re from your local area or live close by?  Perhaps they’ve supported similar organisations in the past?  Maybe they’ve just given a press interview where they talk about the need for work such as that carried out by your charity?  This is where painstaking research pays off.



You may already have a contact and communications programme for donors and potential donors.  Will it necessarily be right for major donors though?  Consider who the communications come from – is it the right person for a major donor?  Frequency and method of contact need to be taken into consideration too.  Twitter and Facebook updates might be hugely effective for your initial engagement of general individual donors but they are unlikely to work so well for potential major donors (in general at least).  Generic or mass communications are not for major donors – you need to develop tailored, more personalised approaches from the right person in your charity (Hint: that’s probably your CEO or Chair – but that rule isn’t hard and fast). 

As you develop your relationship, always stay focused on the tailored approach: send a Christmas card – signed by your CEO – or a press cutting that’s relevant to an area they said they were interested in.  Never send them the usual generic mailing that goes out to everyone on your database.  It will stand out a mile!


Making the Ask

At the point where you make the ask, you will have been building your relationship with your major donor prospect for many months (and in a few cases years!).  You will know how much they are capable of giving, what is likely to interest them and who it is that should be asking them for money.  Now is the time to use all of your knowledge about that individual to develop the best approach that is tailored specifically for them.  I know people who have received a ‘major donor approach’ that has gone to them and 3 other major donors – and they always know when it’s less than tailored.  It’s not worth risking them saying no because you can’t be bothered getting it exactly right.



Getting the gift and sending the thank you letter (within 48 hours please!) isn’t the end of the relationship.  Again, you want to have a tailored stewardship programme for your major donor – invite them to key events, update them about their project, invite them in to see progress/meet with beneficiaries/meet the team.  Show them precisely the impact they’ve made.  Only by keeping in touch and, more importantly, making them feel involved, are you likely to encourage them to give again.


[frame]Major donor fundraising makes a huge difference to charities and, while it is hugely resource intensive in terms of research, cultivation and stewardship, the amounts of money and the difference that it can make are generally worth the effort. If you can’t commit to those resources though, major donor fundraising is unlikely to work. A half hearted approach will stand out a mile and make a prospective donor run in the opposite direction. So are you ready for a major donor campaign?[/frame]




Comments are closed.