Desperately Seeking Big Donors?

I've been working with HLF for 2 years as my Centre on Philanthropy is evaluating the Catalyst: Endowment programme.

It's clear that many heritage organisations are pinning ever-greater hopes on philanthropy as a major source of future income. But how do you know if you’re likely to make a success of your fundraising efforts? Try answering this question: Is fundraising the ‘dirty work’ of one person in the corner (whether a colleague or consultant), or does everyone understand it’s part of their job to help identify, meet and take care of potential and current donors?

If you’re lucky enough to pick the second option then congratulations! You work for one of the minority of UK charities that have a ‘culture of philanthropy’, which has been identified as the single most significant factor in achieving fundraising success in this report. A 'culture of philanthropy' exists when:

'Most people in the organisation (across positions) act as ambassadors and engage in relationship-building. Everyone promotes philanthropy and can articulate a case for giving. Fundraising is viewed and valued as a mission-aligned programme of the organisation. Organisational systems are established to support donors. The chief executive/director is committed and personally involved in fundraising.'

Sounds familiar or sounds like a pipe dream? The bad news is it’s simply not an option to delegate fundraising to one person. However good they are, whatever their prior success and however much they charge, it is simply not possible for someone to ride in on a white fundraising horse and magic up the donors your organisation needs. The good news is that so few charities understand this point, that whatever you can convince your wider team to do will put you ahead of the crowd.

Ideally, your senior managers and board members will take the time to learn the basics of fundraising and be able to articulate your ’case for support’ (i.e. what do you need and what difference will it make if you have that money?). But chances are they’ll be resistant so it’s best to make it as easy and painless as possible. For example, anyone who can pick up a pen can help with handwritten thank you cards, which lead to more repeat gifts, and to bigger future donation. So hand out some good quality stationery to your enlarged ‘fundraising team’ (including the CEO, project leaders, managers and trustees) and email them an agreed number of names and addresses of donors (e.g. the biggest 5 each week, or anyone giving over an agreed amount) to receive a handwritten note. This is easy and is likely to get colleagues hooked on fundraising when they hear about the positive impact of their notes, and can look out for ‘their’ donors at future fundraising events. Don’t forget to share good news with the wider team, and give credit where it’s due: the buzz of fundraising success will fuel an ever-stronger culture of philanthropy in your organisation.

So if you’re pinning your hopes on philanthropic income, don’t dump all those hopes on one person with the job title of ‘fundraiser’. What easy steps can you take this week to turn your organisation from one desperately seeking donors, to one that has a culture of philanthropy?

Submitted by johnh@shropshi… (not verified) on Thu, 01/08/2015 - 16:02



I've just completed the Catalyst evaluation survey on Survey Monkey (I do hope those monkeys are well treated) so Catalyst is in my thoughts.

I think the things of which I'm most proud in our Catalyst project (developing corporate support) are: 

  • Spreading the load on managing supporter relationships throughout the organisation.  This makes each relationship manager best place to make that ask when the time comes
  • Not just chasing money, but developing strong and deep relationships with corporate supporters so they now act as our advocates to other potential supporters

As the "perosn in the corner doing the dirty work" this makes my job so much easier...

Submitted by gemma.thorpe@h… (not verified) on Thu, 01/08/2015 - 16:47


Hi John

That's great news and good advice about spreading the management of supporter relationships.

Thanks for the swift response to the survey too, it's much appreciated.