Major Donor Fundraising: It’s For Small Charities Too!

Major donor fundraising is for everyone. As society becomes increasingly unequal, the opportunities for any charity to generate large donations from the very richest in society increases.

And the good news is that wealthy people will, and do, give. Research such as the Million Dollar Donor Report produced annually by Coutts show the level of opportunity that is out there. Of course, this is the very top of the market, but if there are more people giving over £1m every year, then there are many more who can give £5,000 to £10,000, or more.

During February’s First Friday in London, we discussed how charities of every size, from the largest in the world downwards, can benefit from major donor fundraising. Indeed, in some ways, smaller charities have an advantage, because their senior people – particularly their trustees – can devote time to building relationships with those giving relatively large amounts, in a way those running larger organisations simply can’t. A handful of donors giving £10,000 a year could transform a small charity, but would have little impact on the finances of a multi-million pound international NGO.

Many at the First Friday session found one of the key barriers was getting their Board engaged with fundraising, both so they would use their own contacts and so they would agree to build relationships with potential donors. This is absolutely crucial as wealthy people will expect to meet with those at the very top; they don’t want to talk to a fundraiser (no-one ever does!). We discussed using events as a way to engage the board and other champions, as well as potential donors. After all it is much easier to invite someone to come to a high profile event, than it is to ask them for money, and if it is a really good event, with a great host and in the right location, then the Board are going to want to come too!

Engaging the Board in fundraising is a critical area for fundraising, and will be the topic for a future First Friday session – so watch this space.

We also spent time discussing how to ask for money. Often this is the scariest part of Major donor fundraising, but it doesn’t need to be. Just by preparing and considering how you will deal with their response (for example what do you say if they say they can’t give as much as you are asking for), you can feel much more confident.

Finally, we talked about the need to say thank you properly, in a way which demonstrates the value of the donor to the organisation, but does not make it seem as if you are wasting money. Simple things like a hand written thank-you note from the Chair, and regular meetings to discuss progress can make a huge difference. The important thing to remember is that the gift isn’t the end of the process, but the start of what could be a long and profitable relationship – for both you and the donor.


IFC UK’s director, Bill King will be chairing a panel on Major Donor Cultivation at the Institute of Fundraising’s Convention in July. Other panel members will be Alison Pemberton, Head of Major Giving, NSPCC, Sarah Jane O’Neil, Major Donor Manager, Stonewall and Sarah Naismith, Head of Charities, Royal Manchester Children’s Hosptial Charity.


Image courtesy of Keattikorn at