CDE project 9: the approach

Written by
The Commission on the Donor Experience
April 30, 2017

As the Commission project outline indicates, high net worth individuals (HNWIs) are increasingly addressed by charities as a distinctly different group of donors requiring individually tailor-made cultivation and development plans.

There is some evidence that despite this approach, organisations are not always successful in delivering on major donors’ needs, interests and expectations. In June 2016, Angela Kail, one of the authors of New Philanthropy Capital’s (NPC) report ‘Giving more and better’[11], told Civil Society News that ‘many major donors feel “badly handled” by fundraisers.’[12]

The report concluded that with a new approach to philanthropy, gifts from HNWIs and ultra HNWIs could increase more than five times—from a current level of around £1.3bn per year to more than £5bn per year. 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.

It would seem too that many senior major donor fundraisers would agree that their organisations are not yet donor-centric enough to really reach the potential from major donor fundraising. In interviews and a non-representative survey (see below for more information on this), a key theme was that barriers in organisations need to be removed to ensure they can meet the needs and interests of major donors. The barriers can be summarised as failure to embrace major donors as partners in the organisation’s mission. The result? Organisations fail to engage with donors in a genuine dialogue about challenges, changes or even successes of projects and programmes they fund. This is not ‘just’ a simple communications issue, but rather a deep-seated lack of understanding of the relationship major donors desire.

The project also has wider implications—many fundraisers strongly support the idea that applying major donor fundraising principles and approaches to all donors will improve the donor experience. The question then is how to create an authentic, personal relationship and a genuine feeling of involvement at lower gift levels.

The starting point for this project has been the voice of major donors. Responding to what major donors need and want is the single most important action to becoming more major donor-centric.

I have built on the many, easily available, existing interviews with major donors to listen to and understand what they need and want from their relationships with causes and organisations. A key source of these is the case studies in the Coutts 2015 and 2016 Million Dollar Donors Reports. Specific references to the case studies used are included in Appendix 2.

The project draws conclusions from the following sources:

  • Major donor interviews – from a range of sources, particularly the Coutts 2015 and 2016 Million Dollar Donors Reports, as described above.
  • Major donor fundraiser interviews to gather best practice, together with published articles and blogs that offer best practise examples.
  • A non-representative survey among the Major Gifts Leadership Group (MGLG) – please see Appendix 3 for more information on this.
  • Various discussions on best practice, primarily through the MGLG.

Click on the image below to view project 9 in full - PDF 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.

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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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