Ikhlaq Hussain: It's not who you know, but who knows you with major gifts fundraising

Trawl your databases and find out from your existing donors who might be in a position to offer larger donations

Ikhlaq Hussain
Ikhlaq Hussain

How often have you heard "It’s who you know" as the explanation for why some charities are more successful at major gifts fundraising than others? So many charities don’t start major gifts fundraising programmes because they think they need to know lots of ultra-rich people to get anywhere.

But a successful major gifts fundraising programme is not always about "who you know"; rather, it’s about "who knows you". Most charities don’t raise major gifts simply because they are not recognising the opportunity right in front of them. They waste time and resources looking for "rich" people instead of looking under their noses. The reality is that every charity that has some donors can start major gifts programme on a shoestring and has the potential to turn some of its existing donors, or the connections of its existing donors, into major donors.

We might know of the chief executives of Google, Apple or Virgin, but do they know you? Do they have any link to your organisation or an inclination to give to your cause? If they don’t, it doesn’t matter how much money they have, the chances of them donating to you will be very slim. I am not suggesting new prospects never donate, but it takes longer than you think to cultivate them.

The great trap about the myth of "we don’t know any rich people" is that it stops us from taking the responsibility of starting small with reaching out to people who already know us by digging deeper in our databases and by exploring the networks of our existing donors, trustees, suppliers, volunteers and senior colleagues.

Starting your major gifts fundraising with existing donors is not only easier, but also the most productive, cost-effective and fastest way to raise more support.

It is important for us to get out there, network and meet lots of new perspective donors, but it’s even more important that charities focus on finding out more about who might already know them and has the potential to make significant donations to their organisations. Who better to look to for major gifts than those who have already demonstrated a willingness to give to your cause and have the capacity to do more?

For instance, if you were a small cancer charity that supported families in the community and had a small charity shop, you might be surprised by how many potential major donors from your local area might already have heard of your organisation and donated to you in small amounts and gifts in kind.

But now it’s your job to have systems and processes in place to find out who among your existing donors has the potential to make large gifts and how you can cultivate them to donate bigger gifts in future. I was approached by the chief executive of an organisation last year because he has read about "orphans in need" through my updates on LinkedIn. The organisation donated £50,000 to us last year.

I have asked a major donor why he started off donating £30 initially few years ago and the response was that that was what was asked in the direct mail. But when we engaged with this donor and showed him the work we do, he was happy to consider a larger gift.

To be effective major gifts fundraisers, we need to first approach people who know us by digging into the data base or exploring the network of existing donors before we start finding rich donors on golf courses or newspaper rich lists.

Ikhlaq Hussain is head of major gifts at Orphans In Need

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