Viewpoint: Use the power of passion to boost your income

Engaging wealthy major donors and inspiring a commitment to your cause can encourage them to involve their peers as well.

Why do we spend so much on other forms of fundraising when big gifts are so much more effective? It's a mystery to me.

Although everyone talks about major donor fundraising as the holy grail, most of us are only half as good as we could be at maximising our resources and our income.

If we diverted £10,000 a year from other, less cost-effective forms of fundraising, such as direct mail, and reinvested it cumulatively in more cost-effective major donor work, within 10 years that could net us £3m from major donor prospects. And that's a conservative figure.

To achieve this, we must train a new generation of fundraisers who understand that major donors are not simply cash machines, but friends who need nurturing and valuing as people. We need fundraisers who are comfortable in all social situations with face-to-face fundraising methods and who are not content to hide behind a faceless marketing campaign.

Everyone wants to be appreciated for what they do or give, and this is where major donor fundraising scores so highly. Arts and sports organisations - from the Royal Opera House to Chelsea Football Club - have understood for many years the power of passion: their supporters are passionate enough to pay large sums of money for tickets, and there's a natural process for getting supporters involved.

We can flatter these wealthy folk and appeal to their personal philanthropy, but it is their commitment that counts. That involvement draws others into what becomes an attractive cause by using their social aspirations to encourage and engage them.

But the fact that we don't have a theatre or a football ground to fill doesn't mean we can't find a hook to draw wealthy supporters in. Most organisations can identify their affluent supporters and bring them together in interesting and innovative projects that will inspire them to involve their peers. The chief executive of a small domestic violence group rang me last month, and within 10 minutes we had identified a rich set of donor connections.

We can also look at a completely new class of social leaders - people like the entrepreneurs from Dragons' Den or sports and media celebrities - who can inspire a whole generation of potential donors. Their influence can ensure buy-in from a certain portion of your database.

The Victorians civilised the nouveau riche by getting them involved in charity. Somewhere in between then and now, we mislaid the art of simply asking wealthy people to put something back into the community.

For 20 years, many of us have concentrated our efforts on mass marketing. Now is the time to push back the pendulum, harness social aspirations and get big individual philanthropy back on track.

5 more things...

Charities saw income from major donors rise by more than 185 per cent from the beginning to the end of the 2005/06 financial year, according to Fundratios, an annual benchmarking report commissioned by the Institute of Fundraising.

Prospect research, or the seeking out of potential major donors with a connection to your charity's cause, is fraught with legal difficulty. The Institute of Fundraising's code of practice on major donors reminds charities of their obligation to comply with the Data Protection Act 1998 and with copyright law when dealing with personal information.

Databases aren't enough. Major donor fundraisers should seek out people with connections to their causes.

Philanthropy's Greatest Achievements, a 2006 report by the Institute for Philanthropy, concluded that two advantages of major donors are that they are able to use their wealth quickly and are prepared to take risks with their cash.

The Institute for Philanthropy will begin a training programme for young inheritors later this year on effective grant-making. It hopes to attract young adults whose families have grant-making trusts.

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