Ikhlaq Hussain: Whatever your size, don't overlook major gifts

I have never come across a major donor who considered the size of a charity a barrier to giving

Ikhlaq Hussain
Ikhlaq Hussain

There has long been a common misconception around major gifts fundraising that it "works" only for big, well-known charities with big budgets and targets.

Many small and medium-sized charities assume they are too small for it to be worth starting a major gifts programme, overlooking the fact that all the big charities were small once. It’s also worth considering whether the size of an organisation is actually a key motivating factor when major donors decide to give.

I have worked for small and medium-sized charities and I have never come across a major donor who has questioned the size of an organisation as a prerequisite for their decision to donate.

Beth Breeze and Theresa Lloyd’s 2013 study Richer Lives: Why Rich People Give, which looked at UK donors with a net wealth of £10m or more, found that rich donors give for very similar reasons to the rest of us: because they have a personal passion for or connection to a cause, and they derive immense satisfaction from doing something constructive to tackle a problem or make something better.

Adrian Sargeant and Elaine Jay have also noted that "donors will generally give to organisations that are both effective (in the sense that they do what they say they will do) and efficient (in the sense that they make the best possible use of the monies available to them)".

Major donors are looking at the impact of an organisation, not its size. Every charity has the potential to set up a successful major giving programme by showcasing their impact, reaching out to those who care for their cause and by inspiring their donors.

However, small and medium-sized charities often fail to differentiate between "having an impact" and "having the ability to collect the evidence of that impact and conveying it in an effective manner to major donors". A study carried out by the Lloyds Bank Foundation this year revealed that small charities have a distinctive impact but often struggle to assess it. Good work doesn’t get noticed itself – we need to make an effort to show it to our major donors.

Small and medium-sized charities also need to focus on demonstrating that they can handle large gifts and explaining the impact they will make. Major donors are not interested to know only how your organisation is making an impact, but also in talking about how their individual contributions will make the difference to your organisation. We need to have the right skill sets in our organisations to be able to demonstrate the individual impact to our major donors.

And for small and medium-sized charities, I believe it’s often actually easier to clearly show a strong impact made by every single major donor than it is for large organisations. For example, it’s a lot easier to demonstrate how an extra £5,000 made difference to a small charity than it is for a charity raising £100m annually.

So if you are small charity and hesitant to set up a major gifts programme, you are probably losing lots of opportunities out there. I love what Jerold Panas said in his book Mega Gifts: "There is no such thing as a shortage of major donors. There is only a shortage of great ideas to raise money. A desperate need for vision and dreams."

Ikhlaq Hussain is head of major gifts at Orphans In Need

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