How Sarah did it – making Major Donor Fundraising work in a small charity


If a business wants to grow income or share of a market, a smart principle is to seek to add value to that market first. Put differently, don’t expect the fire to give you some heat unless you first put some wood on. Wise fundraisers understand this too, although applying the idea in practice can be difficult for many charities, especially where budgets are very limited.

A few months ago, one of the people on my Major Donor Fundraising Masterclass was Sarah Adwick, the Development Manager at a small charity which helps children with disabilities. Following the training she returned to her charity keen to help her organisation take more risks in terms of major donor strategy. She suggested an event whose short-term purpose was not to make money (eg through ticket sales, a raffle etc), but instead to build relationships with existing donors and potential major donors.

How she got them to turn up…

After she had secured internal agreement to this kind of event she managed to secure both an attractive venue and an impressive speaker as a draw.

Next, she encouraged her board and senior colleagues to generate an invitation list.  They did brilliantly, coming up with an impressive list of 250 people to invite.

Of the 250 names invited, 102 said ‘yes’. Even more impressively, 100 of these people showed up on the night! If you’ve ever run a free event, you know how truly impressive this turn-out was. Sarah and her colleagues earned this result by being incredibly diligent in checking in with people in the days leading up to the event to say how much they were looking forward to seeing them there.

Then what happened?

Here are three of the results from the event that Sarah told me she was especially pleased with:

  • Through the event, 18 guests scheduled visits to the charity to find out more about its mission
  • Even though Sarah and her colleagues did not ask for donations on the night, they received gifts totaling £38,000
  • Most importantly of all, members of the board and senior colleagues now believe in and are excited about this relationship-building high value strategy, and continue to suggest names of people to involve in the charity’s mission

Two fundamentals to help your Engagement Event succeed

In terms of strategies for making these kinds of engagement events work, Sarah told me there were two things in particular from my course which she had found especially powerful.

  • Story Power! The content of the speeches was almost entirely made up of real examples about the amazing progress made by the children they help. Beware, this is easier said than done. I have found that if you are not clear and persuasive about the importance of stories when you brief your senior colleagues, their speeches will probably fail to inspire because of what Chip and Dan Heath call The Curse of Knowledge.
  • Promote the next step. Sarah helped her colleagues understand the importance of inviting guests to make the next step. For many, this was a visit to the charity at a later date, because only then can trust be strengthened and a deeper level of information be exchanged. It is these follow up meetings and visits (or ‘test drives’ as we sometimes call them on the Major Gifts Mastery Programme) that form the platform for consistent growth in high value fundraising.

Want to increase major donor income?

If you’d like to find out more about how the Major Gifts Mastery Programme 2017 helps you make clear fundraising progress, (or to apply for a FREE 30 minute Major Gifts Coaching session) click here.