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7 key considerations before you embark on major donor fundraising

7 key considerations before you embark on major donor fundraising

What an inspiring day! Today here at The Management Centre (=mc) some of the brightest minds in fundraising met to reimagine how fundraising might be in five years time, and to stop dwelling on restrictive regulation and public confidence in fundraising.

While there were differences in overall levels of optimism about the future of fundraising and possible growth trajectories, one clear area of consensus emerged.

Our sample of fundraising directors – representing organisations raising almost £1 billion of net voluntary income now – are expecting major donor fundraising to grow strongly and become a more significant share of overall income. Part of me is elated that major donor fundraising may finally have its day, part of me (a bigger part of me) is worried. So many organisations have tried this route – and frankly failed to hit ambitious income expectations.

Over the years, I’ve reviewed underperforming major donor programmes, revitalised stalling capital campaigns and set organisations on the right road. If you want to succeed in major donor fundraising, here are 7 fundamentals that you cannot ignore:

1. It’s not a quick fix

A major donor programme will take 18 months to 2 years to begin to deliver results that can be sustained. You need to commit and hold your nerve and invest for the long term.

2. You can’t do it without competent, experienced and committed staff.

If you can’t attract and retain talent, you can’t do it. Without the right people, your ambition to attract and build long term relationships with major donors will run into the sand.

3. Major donors respond to a big idea

Major donors (especially very major donors) don’t usually want to fund this year’s operating budget to keep your current work running, however important that work is to you and your beneficiaries. Major donors respond most strongly to a ‘big idea’. They are inspired by a bold approach to make a significant difference to a well articulated problem.

4. Demonstrating impact is key

But major donors don’t want to talk about the impact of your programme; they’re really interested in talking about the impact their gift will make.

5. You don’t need a lot of donors to get started

It’s a myth you need a big donor base to build a successful major donor programme. To build momentum you need to identify a relatively small number of the right prospects – people with the wealth and interest to make a significant gift, and who someone (ideally senior) in your organisation can reach personally and talk to. Too many prospects can actually make it harder – but that’s the subject of a different blog…

6. It’s not just the work of fundraisers

Major donor fundraising is not just the job of staff in fundraising, done well it’s a whole organisation activity. Major donors want to meet the people who design and deliver programmes, the CEO and members of the board who lead the organisation and those who benefit from your work. If that’s hard to achieve in your organisation, then major donor fundraising will be an uphill struggle.

7. You need a donor oriented culture

You can’t succeed without a major donor oriented culture in your organisation, one that genuinely sees major donors as partners in achieving your goals

Major donor fundraising is neither quick nor easy. But success delivers three things that I heard lots about today: high return on investment; strong connections between cause and fundraising and stronger, deeper relationships with donors.


Angela Cluff is a Director at The Management Centre, a consultancy helping to transform the performance of ethically-driven organisations worldwide. She is an expert in strategy and fundraising and leads major fundraising consultancy projects with a range of UK and international charities.

Angela’s current customers at include UNICEF International, International Committee of the Red Cross, Oxfam GB, British Red Cross, MS Society, Mind and The Humane Society of the United States.

She is also Vice Chair of CARE International UK.


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