Don’t Chase Fundraising Unicorns


[Please enjoy this guest post by Viki Hayden Ward, my fundraising friend from across the pond in London.]

What is a major donor?

For every organisation, the definition of a major donor is different. For example, in a small non-profit, with an annual turnover of less than £50,000 a year, a major donor could be someone that has given £1,000.  However, in a large national charity, with a turnover of £100m, a major donor might be someone giving over £1m per year.  The differences in terms of wealth and figures are huge.  [Chad here — in the U.S. I’ve seen major gifts range from $500 to $100,000 — also a huge difference]

What is not different is the way these donors should be treated by the organisation they are supporting.  A major donor to your organisation is giving at a level that is significant to them. Whether it be a £1,000 or £1m donation. Both donors should feel appreciated, trust the organisation and be passionate about what they help happen.

What makes a major donor?

No matter where your organisation falls in the financial scale, a major donor is hard to obtain and takes time, effort and patience to acquire. Unfortunately for us as fundraisers, people rarely wake up one day and decide ‘You know what? Today I think I’m going to give back!’ It doesn’t happen. Major donors come from creating exceptional relationships and putting in the effort.

Creating a relationship with a potential major donor is vital. People do not give to a cold organisation that sends them a mass produced mailing once a quarter. People give to people. By creating a relationship, involving the donor, demonstrating your integrity as a charity, showing the impact of their support and increasing their interest, you will be on the path of developing a major donor.

Avoid the unicorn!

Major donors rarely come out of the blue. They are usually connected in some way to the work you do; either as a direct beneficiary, family member, previous employee or via an introduction from someone they know and trust. This is why, as wonderful a dream it may be, it is unlikely you are going to get Beyoncé to support your cause out of the blue. She is a fundraising unicorn; beautiful and unattainable! Beautiful in that her support would, without a doubt, lift your organisation’s status, income and reach, but unattainable as it would take an incredible stroke of luck to be able to reach her with no prior involvement or interest in your charity or mission.

Therefore, it would be a better use of organisation resources to avoid the unicorn. Don’t spend valuable time chasing a dream that will likely not come true! Instead, cultivate your current donors, find out how they might be able to help you and develop their passion and interest in your work. This way, no matter the size of your organisation, or where you fall on the financial scale, you will be creating your own support network, filled with people dedicated to fulfilling your mission!

This is a guest post by Viki Hayden Ward (@vikihayden).  Viki started fundraising in 2011 immediately after graduating from the University of Kent and is currently based at a children’s disability charity in London. She has recently ventured into the world of fundraising blogging and set up in February of 2016. Working as an individual giving fundraiser, Viki loves connecting with donors and specialises in developing donor relationships.