CDE project 9: putting the prin­ci­ples and actions into prac­tice — part 10

Written by
The Commission on the Donor Experience
April 19, 2017

Learning from success stories

The 2015 Coutts Million Dollar Donor Report for the UK shows that £1m/+ gifts are not evenly distributed across sectors: 86 gifts worth £565m went to foundations and 68 gifts worth $485m went to higher education. The implication of this is that higher education institutions successfully meet the needs of major donors. What do they offer and what can we learn?

King’s College London's World questions | King’s answers fundraising campaign closed in spring 2016, having raised more than £600m—beating the original £500m target 18 months early. In an interview [48], Gemma Peters, Executive Director of Fundraising and Supporter Development at King’s, identifies three key success factors:

  • a shift from ‘old style’ education campaigns to build the institution to a campaign about King’s solutions to important world problems.
  • an inspirational campaign leader—John Major—who was not an alumnus, and so provided external validation of the campaign rationale.
  • a focus on the campaign story—people whose lives have been transformed—and not the money.

These points underline key ways in which major donors choose their causes. They focus on inspiring—sometimes leap of faith—solutions about how their support can make a transformational difference to an issue. They focus on impact and difference. They respond to causes according to their passion, interest and excitement, not necessarily through a rationale assessment of need. They follow their instinct and their trust in organisations and the people at the top of those organisations.

Successful major donor fundraising organisations understand and work with major donors who think, feel and act in this way. They are pragmatic and responsive, able to assess opportunities, implement plans flexibly and be responsive to external passions and interests. They are unlikely to have a completely fixed forward plan, but are capable of responding to the possibilities that major donors offer, working with them to jointly make progress towards the mission:

‘The biggest gifts are made to charities that are prepared to work alongside donors to craft exciting propositions.’ [49]

Matthew Ferguson and Gemma Peters, Directors of Principal Gifts King’s College London & King’s Health Partners

In many respects, this brings us full circle to the question of choice—successful major donor fundraising organisations are those that genuinely see major donors as partners in their mission.

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About the author: The Commission on the Donor Experience

The CDE has one simple ideal – to place donors at the heart of fundraising. The aim of the CDE is to support the transformation of fundraising, to change the culture to a truly consistent donor-based approach to raising money. It is based on evidence drawn from first hand insight of best practice. By identifying best practice and capturing examples, we will enable these to be shared and brought into common use.

Related case studies or articles

CDE project 9 summary: major donors

This project will look at what’s cutting edge in major donor development with a view to capturing these lessons and where appropriate suggesting how major donor experiences might be applied to other groups of donors too.

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CDE project 9: the approach

There is a clear implication that improving the major donor experience is important to major donors, to individual organisations and to the charitable sector as a whole. This project of the Commission aims to suggest how.

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CDE project 9: putting the principles and actions into practice - part 1

Improve the (major) donor experience by… being really clear about what a major donor to your organisation actually is. 

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CDE project 9: putting the principles and actions into practice - part 2

Deciding whether major donor fundraising is really right for your organisation.

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CDE project 9: putting the principles and actions into practice - part 4

Seeing the relationship from the donor’s point of view. 

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CDE project 9: links across the Commission projects

Links between the major donors project and all of the other projects of the Commission.

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CDE project 9: appendix 3 - methodology

As explained in the ‘Approach’ section, the project draws conclusions from the sources listed here.

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