CDE project 9: putting the prin­ci­ples and actions into prac­tice — part 5

Written by
The Commission on the Donor Experience
April 24, 2017

Making the relationship personal and authentic

Major donor fundraising succeeds when relationships are authentic and personal. Aspects of doing this successfully include:

  • carefully matching staff members to donors and prospects. The staff member needs to see themselves as the donor’s representative in the organisation.
  • responding to the donor’s preferred method and style of communication. For example, one donor might like meeting to talk face-to-face while another might prefer email. One donor might want require facts, while another might prefer emotive stories.
  • treating the donor as you would a friend, but always remembering that as the fundraiser you are the face of the organisation’s relationship. It is your job to build the organisational relationship and make sure there are a range of touch points and contacts because one day you will not be there.

Here are some examples of successfully making it personal at different points in the solicitation process:

Make it personal – first approach

‘We cold contacted a prospect, not with a letter from the CEO or chair, but taking into account their background and their wife's background, with a piece of personalised artwork. Lots of charities had been targeting this prospect who was quite well known but ours stood out. As a result, this donor has made a major gift himself and helped us to raise over £1m from his contacts and endeavours.’

Alison Pemberton, Head of Philanthropy, NSPCC

Make it personal – cultivation

‘As an additional thank you we often send little gifts/mementos from stage productions - a script that has been used, a signed poster etc. I once sent a pair of shoe roses worn on stage to the donor of a production, which they adored. I also arranged for the same donor to send a gift to the acting company they were supporting. They were delighted when so many of the actors approached them saying thank you.
We often find it is the least expensive or obvious experiences that major donors most appreciate. An event in a rehearsal room with a plastic cup of barely chilled wine talking to a director and actor about their day or an evening spent backstage with stage management will always trump a sophisticated canape affair.’

Anonymous Development Director, national arts organisation

Make it personal – saying thank you

‘When I was Fundraising Director at Greenpeace USA a few years ago, we had a supporter who gave a huge amount of money in memory of her son, who had died tragically. With it, we bought a RIB – one of those orange inflatable boats Greenpeace is famous for. It was sent to join the Greenpeace ship Esperanza, which was on a mission to stop Japanese whalers in the Antarctic Southern Ocean. And the RIB was named the Billy G.[38]

As it happened, Celeste Stewart, the manager of our mid-donor programme, got the chance to join the Esperanza’s mission for three months as Assistant Cook. (I know, I know, don’t even ask). Celeste knew Billy G’s mother, knew the whole story. And even knew Billy G’s birthday, which came up while she was on board. She organised the crew into the Billy G for a photo. One photo, used only once, as a gift to Billy G’s mother to mark his birthday. Wow!’[39]

Matthew Sherrington, Consultant, Inspiring Action

Again, a very simple key message, but one that taken seriously can radically improve the donor experience.


[38] Click on this link in the blog and you reach a beautiful donor-focused writeup of the story on Greenpeace International’s website 

[39] This is an extract from a longer blog published on 101fundraising

Click on the image below to view project 9 in full - PFD format

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.

Read more

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.

Read more