8 Tips for Approaching Major Donors – Failure to Prepare is Preparing to Fail

Most major donor prospects will have many calls on their time, but equally we know asking for a major donation isn’t something that can be rushed. How do we manage that tightrope? That’s the magic, the art, the science practiced by Major Gift fundraisers. But of course, lots of organisations aren’t in the position to employ a dedicated Major Gifts fundraising team. With a long and varied to-do list, some will rush in and waste an important opportunity, where others may unintentionally keep a prospect forever at arm’s length for fear of doing just that, while still others may never even spot the prospect in the first place.


So what can you do to develop your major donor fundraising, whether your organisation is large or small? Here are 8 quick tips that may help:


1. Use guest manners at all times. A major donor is likely to have previous knowledge of your organisation, whether as a donor, beneficiary, volunteer, or friend/relative of any of these. Make sure everyone on the front line of your organisation makes the best first impression they can, and is equipped to say a little about your charitable work and fundraising.


2. Think like Sherlock Holmes. Follow every clue:

a. Make sure everyone in the organisation takes note of conversations they have about fundraising, and records a name and phone number or email address. Even if it doesn’t lead you to a Major Donor, it might be a new marathon runner or regular donor.

b. Keep an eye on your incoming data…
i. Cheques from private banks – Coutt’s, Hoare’s, and the like
ii. Titles and Suffixes – Lord, Lady, Sir, Dame, OBE, DL…
iii. Addresses in expensive streets/areas

c. Think laterally… Unexpected Porsche in your car park? Find out why!


3. Dig a little deeper. Find out everything pertinent about your major donor prospect – where they work(ed), where they live, other interests (charitable or otherwise), who in your existing network do they know, right down to what team they support!


4. Capture it for the future. If you use a CRM system like Raiser’s Edge, make sure you’re using Actions, Notepads, Attributes, Relationships and Prospect/Proposal functionality to capture all of this information – and keep it up-to-date. Then, make sure your fundraisers have a documented process for reviewing ‘leads’, following up and developing an ‘ask strategy’.


5. Who’s the right person? Don’t just assume ‘the ask’ should come from your CEO. It could be better received from a fundraiser, a volunteer, a board member, or a friend who’s already a donor. Find out if your prospect prefers ‘executive’ or ‘coalface’. Get everyone to open their address books and diaries; who’s met them before? Did they get on well? Who knows them best?


6. When’s the right time? Get the right person to make an informal approach first. Be clear and honest that you want their support – size up their interest, and whether they’ll want a long wooing over several months, or a very direct ask up-front.


7. What’s the right approach? Decide in advance what you’ll be asking for; is it their money, their professional expertise, or their name? Most major donor prospects will be used to talking about money, so don’t feel the need to pussy-foot around the subject. Be ambitious but realistic, they might give less than you ask for, but they’re unlikely to give more! Make sure whoever’s making the ask knows their brief, and can sum up the following in a few clear sentences: What you want them to support, Why they should support it, How you want them to support it.


8. Build on your progress. If your prospect agrees to support you, then congratulations! It goes without saying that you’ll thank them, but make sure you agree with them whether their support is something you can publicise. By supporting you, this person is demonstrating their investment in your organisation. Will they now happily open their address book to you, to help you support further gifts? Are they the ‘right person’ to make a future ask for you?

I hope that gives you some food for thought. If you’d like support with your major giving programme, or any aspect of your fundraising data, drop us a line at solutions@blackbaud.co.uk.

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