BLOG: Three simple tips on how small charities can attract major donors

I have worked for small charities in the past and recently helped a few to set up successful major giving programmes. Major giving has been long misunderstood and taken as one of the fancy areas of fundraising, which only works for big and well known charities. Here are top three queries I often get asked from small charities and my tried and tested responses to them, which I believe can help a charity of any size to setup a major giving programme.

1. We are too small for major donors

Major donors and philanthropists don’t donate purely based on the size of the organisation. They are looking for an impact; you can be a really big organisation with very little impact, but equally you could be a very small organisation that is really good at what you do, and that’s what philanthropists are looking for. According to Beth Breeze, the author of Richer Lives, 47 per cent of rich donors donate because of their personal experience of the cause and 31 per cent will donate to a charity that has really inspired them. Every charity, regardless of their size, has the potential to set up a successful major giving programme by inspiring the major donors and reaching out to those who care for their cause. Major giving is not about the quantity of major gifts, it’s about the quality and size of the gift. So small/medium charities need to work on the ways they can show their impact to the philanthropist, and demonstrate their ability to handle the large gifts and the impact it will make. I am not saying small charities do not have an impact, but having an impact and collecting evidence of that impact and conveying it to rich donors are two completely different things. I never came across a rich donor in my career who has said that they donate to a specific charity only because of the size of their organisation.

2. We don’t know any major donors, how do you find them?

Firstly, it’s not always about who you know, it’s also finding out who knows you. For instance, you are a small cancer charity that has some great impact in local community and because of your great work, you will be surprised by how many potential major donors from your local area might have already heard of your organisation. But now it’s your job to find ways to reach out to them and get them involved. It's like when a local MP stands for an election, we all know via leaflets and local news who will be standing for MP from our constituency, but the candidates hold public meetings and knock people's doors to let public know about their plans and manifesto and vision for the community. Small charities need to apply the same principle, I am not saying you have to literally go out and knock people’s door. But good work doesn’t sell itself, you have to find simple yet innovative and cost effective ways to reach out and show people your work.

Secondly, before you start looking out for new rich donors, look at your existing donor base. You will be surprised by how many major donors or people who could introduce you to major donors were sitting in your existing data all along. I have worked with major donors whom have started giving £10 a month and no one in the organisation knew that they could potentially donate £1,000 a month, however, once a relationship developed they donated large amounts. I asked them why they started off donating £10 initially and the response was that’s what was asked for in the ‘direct mail’ or a leaflet. Often major donors give their first gift as a ‘toe dipping’ gift - where they test the response of the charity before unlocking the full potential of their giving capacity. Take your mid-value donors on a journey and build relationship and show them how their money is making an impact and how this impact can be greater if they could upgrade their donations or they can introduce you to some other potential big donors. If you have done a good job by providing holistic donor care to your mid-value donors, who might be donating small at the moment and have the capacity to donate more, they will upgrade and reach out to their contacts. I have seen time and time again when relationships flourish between the supporter and organisation, the upgrade in the donation dramatically increases. But the key is you have to prove your worth, by providing best holistic donor care experience and have ability and capacity that you can ‘handle’ large gifts.

Every charity can work on their mid value donors and potentially can turn them into major donors. You can set up your major giving programme literally from a few donors. Talk to your more regular givers, long standing donors or people who truly take deep interest in your cause, even though they might not have donated as yet.

3. Our budget is limited or we don’t have one

We don’t have any budget to hire a major gifts fundraiser so how can we set up our major giving programme? Well, you don’t have to hire a major giving specialist, a major giving programme can initially be led by your CEO, head of fundraising or trustees. One of them can be a lead point of contact who can keep track of all the relationships. That’s exactly what happened at Orphans In Need, major giving was initially setup by the founding trustee and our CEO, after some time I was head hunted to lead major gifts. Even if a small charity does hire a major gifts fundraiser, he/she will have to heavily involve the CEO, trustees, and the senior team in the process to cultivate the relationships with potential major donors. According to Beth Breeze 69 per cent of major donors will only donate if the request is made from someone they know and respect, while less than a third respond to requests from fundraisers. But if you start with a trustee and CEO, just ensure that you pick the right trustee who has time and understanding of relationship fundraising. Also, there must be a plan in place. Once your major giving expands, it will then be ideal to recruit a fundraiser who can fully focus on major donors. There are two parts to this: (1) you need to start putting a budget a side for this as soon you see the progress in major giving, and (2) how you will make the transition and introduce your fundraiser to your major donors?

Ikhlaq Hussain is philanthropy and major giving specialist, currently head of major gifts at Orphans In Need, trustee at Mind in Harrow, co-opt board member at IOF, Mentor at IOF and Mosaic Enterprise Challenge, regular blogger on the topic of fundraising

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