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If you’re raising money from individual giving, then it’s natural to consider major donors. Major donors are people who are willing and able to give larger sums than most people. It could be an individual or family that gives thousands or even millions to a charity close to their heart.
But recruiting them can be tricky if you are a small or less well-known voluntary organisation. Here are some top tips that can help any size of organisation.
Decide at what level of donation someone will be a major donor for your charity. Put systems in place so that you know when and who will respond to major donations. You might decide that at £500 it will be your fundraiser or fundraising volunteer and £5000 or over it will be the Chief Executive or the Chair of Trustees.
Record, record, record- put a system in place for recoding contact with major donors and make sure you use it! This is particularly important if a number of different people in your organisation will have contact with the same donor.
Most often, it will take some preparation to find out who could be a major donor. Look at your existing supporters and see if you think any of them could step up to a higher level of giving. Also think about your wider networks, including previous supporters, trustees’ contacts, local dignitaries, celebrities etc. Pick one or two who can be your “prospects”.
Other useful sources of information to help you identify major donors can be:
Local media- local newspaper &radio
Rich lists- like the Times or Burkes Peerage or segmented lists purchased from direct marketing companies
Events-particularly if you organise an event which targets major donors
You want the donor to make a gift, but first you need to research all you can about them. Find out all you can about your prospect - their interests, hobbies, businesses, and how your cause might connect with them. You want to ensure when you do approach them you offer something that will make a lasting connection rather than be instantly forgotten.
Do consider ethics when you are doing research be open and honest about what you want your information for.
As you find out more about the donor, you will identify how you can approach them. An out-of-the-blue approach can work, but much better is to connect through a shared contact. Even a small charity has a network of friends, volunteers, family and colleagues, one of whom may be better than you to make the approach.
At this point you need to be brave about reaching out through your network and, eventually, getting through to the potential high-value donor.
You need to maintain a good relationship with all your organisation’s supporters, but once you’ve made contact with a major donor you may have to go a bit further. If they are going to part with a small fortune, they might well want to find out a lot more about your work and even see it in person.
This stage can take time, between 18-24 months, especially if the contact was ‘cold’ (had no previous contact with your organisation) It is important not to underestimate the time this can take.
Having done all that research you should have a good idea what your donor will want to support. Tell them what they will be funding, and what their contribution would mean to your organisation and the cause you work for. Remember that you should ask for a sum appropriate to that person’s capacity to donate – if you ask for too much they could be insulted, but ask for too little and that could be equally offensive!
Whether your prospect makes a gift or not, do keep in touch with them and update them on progress. If they have funded part of your work they will want to know how it is going and what difference their money is making. If they didn’t give, there may be another opportunity in future that they are more interested in.
All your communications should be geared towards building your major donor’s knowledge and understanding of your cause. With knowledge and understanding comes empathy and inspiration, and a mutually beneficial relationship.
There are lots of people out there that specialise in researching and approaching major donors, so you may be able to draw on their expertise. But don’t be afraid to have a go yourself if you think it is the right way to build up your sustainable funding.
And don’t forget to respect data protection when researching individuals. See www.ico.gov.uk for full details.
There is lots more detail about Major Donors in this NCVO factsheet
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