Maximising major gifts - applying learning to achieve success

Major Gifts Residential

Guest Bloggers | 16 November 2015

Mark Ward, Head of Fundraising at The Trussell Trust, a charity which empowers local communities to combat poverty and exclusion, looks back at what he learned and the success gained from attending the Institute of Fundraising’s inaugural Major Donor Residential training course in 2014.

As Head of Fundraising at the Trussell Trust, I decided to attend the first IoF Major Donor Residential held in February 2014, as the Trust had recently emerged from a small local charity to a charity that funding bodies were recognising as being national.

We didn't have a major donor programme, so as the need to significantly increase our income became more and more evident, I became increasingly aware that widening our potential income streams was vital. I do not come from a specialist charity fundraising background, so attended the course to allow me to understand what a head of fundraising needed to consider when starting a major donor programme. 

When we started the programme, a key element I brought back from the residential was that before we leapt to appoint a major donor manager, we needed something for them to do. So we set about a research project and invested in a part-time consultancy which gave us access to high quality potential donors. This narrowed the pool we intended to fish in but made the prospect of success significantly higher because it gave us focus. 

We also started to scrutinise gifts which came to us unexpectedly to try to find out the motivation of the donor - was this just one gift of many spread across charities or was this person showing a real interest in us? 

The impact since the course has been some significant successes and an exciting but manageable pipeline of people we are in discussions with. Because we were selective initially we have found that our contacts have helped us to attract further contacts. This was proven recently when we met someone at an event which we were a beneficiary of and because he knew one of the people who were already supporting us, we now have a new supporter who has enabled us to gain further benefit from that event. 

Two specific successes are:

A relationship with Martin Lewis, of, who has privately funded a significant sum into a pilot programme to expand the advocacy work we do with foodbank clients to help them resolve their debt problems. This came about because we were able to meet Martin face to face for a specific discussion which had been very carefully arranged using our relationships with contacts.

Another success was an investment by a new donor into our social enterprise projects (which underpins our cash flow) and which will fund expansion of those projects for the next 5 years. This has come about because we followed up an unexpected gift and it became apparent that a family was extremely interested in what we do and we were able to build on this following detailed and thorough discussion. This is worth over £350,000 initially but will leverage an on-going annual income of over £1m.

Having attended the residential, I came back with the knowledge and ability to develop a very strong "Case for Support" document which has enabled us to match potential donors to funding requirements - and thus building on the potential strengths of a relationship from the very first approach. The other really significant benefit is that the course faculty members are practitioners. I now have some people on speed dial who I would have struggled to meet without this opportunity and I have been able to use their networks and skills.

I believe the Major Donor Residential has proved to be very worthwhile training for major donor novices and also those already involved with major donor fundraising.

Mark Ward, Head of Fundraising, The Trussell Trust


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