Thursday, October 2, 2008

The Hitchhikers Guide to Major Donor Fundraising

For my birthday, I got Douglas Adams’ The Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy – the full Boxed set of BBC Radio CDs. Brilliant. I last listened to it in the mid 80s so this was a bit of a nostalgic moment.

Listening to them on my iPod on the way to a major donor strategy and training session (as one does) I was intrigued to be reminded of the B Ark. It reminded me of major donor fundraisers. Now, if you are a major donor fundraisers then please don’t take offence – I mean the other major donor fundraisers, not you.

The B Ark. If you are familiar with the Douglas Adams’ masterpiece then skip the next three paragraphs.

Basically, the B-Ark was a huge space ship sent from the planet Golgafrincham. It contained about a third of the population of the planet. The story (that people on the B-Ark were told) was that the planet was about to be destroyed. Three arks would be built.

The A-Ark, would have all the great minds, leaders, ideas people and the C-Ark would have the really useful people; carpenters, farmers, plumbers, electricians and the like. The B-Ark, would have hairdressers, TV producers, insurance salesmen, personnel officers, security guards, management consultants, telephone sanitizers and the like.

The other two thirds of the population, of course, did not follow and "led full, rich and happy lives until they were all suddenly wiped out by a virulent disease contracted from a dirty telephone".

Now, major donors. I have met precisely 42 major donor fundraisers. And I must say, many I have met would earn a place on the B Ark. (Not you of course, dear major donor reader). Many major donor fundraisers circulate in this mystery zone of decent salaries and little fundraised income. They get a new job, spend 18 months prospecting for donors, researching and profiling donors, developing a case for support, complaining the board won’t ask (and – gosh – haven’t actually given themselves!) before moving on to repeat the process, on a slightly higher salary, in a new charity.

As a consultant (yes, I would have been on the B Ark too but…) I see many charities and help with their major donor fundraising. And I note the key success factor is not whether they have prospected enough, researched enough, profiled enough – not even whether they have a major donor fundraiser. It is always the same thing:

Whether they asked a rich person for a lot of money.

Assuming you really need the money, then to run a successful major donor program, you don’t need tons of research, profiles, years of relationships. All of these will help and will have a bearing on the success or the amount you raise, but ultimately the most important thing is that someone asks someone rich for a major gift.

Easy to say, but not that easy to do. In the past months my colleagues and I have conducted about half a dozen training sessions with Australian charities. Those that booked appointments and made asks within days of the training have succeeded. Those that didn’t, are ‘between fundraising successes’.

Now, I am not saying that all the great books and plans and processes by people like Neil Sloggie, Kay Sprinkel-Grace, Karen Osborne and Terry Axelrod et al are wrong.

If you followed them exactly, I am sure you would have success. They have different tactics, some take a long time and all rely on consistent staff, consistent strategy, consistent leadership and consistent follow through. These factors rarely all come together.

Ultimately, they all rely on someone asking someone rich for a lot of money.

I also recognise that for $1m donations, capital appeals etc take time, building relationships take time. But asking is the key. It won’t hurt your chances of getting $1m from rich guys Arthur or Zaphod next year if you get $50k now.

Please, just get on with asking.

Oh, by the way. I am a major donor fundraiser and proud of it.

Pareto Fundraising helps charities with getting over the initial fear of asking - with great degrees of success. See a success story here. Contact to see if we can help your charity crack on with major donors.

I originally wrote this about a year ago for the Resource Alliance's Global Connections newsletter.


Damian O'Broin said...

'precisely 42 major donor fundraisers' - brilliant!

Kim Woodham said...

A classic honest read and no this major donor hasn't taken offence. Thanks for the encouragement to keep up the BIG asks!

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