The Coutts Million Pound Donors Report: The largest gifts prompt some key questions for those wishing to join the club

November 30, 2016

The release of the annual Coutts Million Pound Donors Report prompts a variety of emotions across the fundraising workforce in the UK and Europe. For many, pleasure for your friends and colleagues at other institutions who have played roles in transforming numerous lives because of these donations. For some, personal pride that ‘your’ gift is part of a report that celebrates the high-value philanthropy benefitting the UK. For all, a sense of pride that their profession is elevating philanthropy, and inspiration to ensure that a gift you have been involved with forms part of the study next year.

There can also be a nagging feeling that the phone will ring, or the inbox will ping, referencing the report and the inevitable question from your Trustee/Chief Executive/Vice-Chancellor/Headmaster (circle as appropriate), enquiring where ‘our’ such gifts which move the philanthropic needle are hiding.

Now, this is all part and parcel of life as a lead fundraiser, and placatory, diplomatic responses will ensue, and possibly be repeated in late November 2017, unless you subsequently add your institution to the growing list of beneficiaries highlighted by the report.

To increase the chances of doing just that, and escape this annual cycle, don’t duck the questions or ignore the reminders provided by the report and excellent case studies. These aren’t exclusively the concern of the lead fundraiser, but also of your senior colleagues and of your database staff. Below are a few things to consider:

What would your organisation do with £1 million, £5 million, or more?

Could you easily articulate the sort of impact such a gift might have on your organisation and its staff, students, or wider beneficiaries? If this doesn’t trip off your tongue, then surely your senior team will know. No? You now have a gold-plated reason to sit down with your leadership and work this through. Of course, a little reality may need to be injected at times, but take the time to work this out and, as importantly, agree why a donor should care about what you come up with and how it fits with the institution’s vision for the future. Take this opportunity to test these ideas with your closest supporters to reshape and refine your case and help identify where their support might lie in the future.

How can we engage more donors with the capacity to give at this level?

Your senior leadership, volunteers, and existing major donors may very well spend a good proportion of their time with prospective million pound donors through their professional roles, networks, and voluntary or social activities. A little coaching here can go a long way to engaging those previously out of reach or even unknown to your organisation. In his case study, Lloyd Dorfman CBE says his support for Westminster Abbey ‘may be surprising’, but it has come about through a personal relationship which has developed into an institutional relationship.

This will complement the interrogation of your alumni, donors, patients, partners, and prospects – those already known to you in some capacity. Wealth screening can be incredibly useful, but effective targeting can be challenging and time is your most precious commodity. The resource taken to run a deeper analysis on your data will be paid back many times over in the longer term by ensuring your approaches stand the greatest chance of success.

How can we sustain relationships with our biggest donors?

Almost 80% of the donors in the study have given £1 million or more previously, and it is pleasing to see 35 new donors giving £1 million and beyond in the UK. Rather than £1 million gifts being the pinnacle as they once were, they are increasingly viewed as the ‘latest’ gift of a continuing relationship. The same thinking can be applied to those major gifts that fall short of the magic seven figures. This is where effective stewardship comes into play, the variability of which is also highlighted by Lloyd Dorfman CBE: ‘it’s not rocket science… (but)… you would be surprised how often they let relationships go cold’.

Clear, timely and tailored reporting should be a given, but this isn’t always the case. Get the basics of your major donor stewardship platform set and go from there. Ensure you ask major donors what they expect from you beyond the agreed use of the gift, and take note of the consistent messages in the case studies from both this year and previous reports as to what prompted these gifts and reflect them, where possible, in your stewardship:

  • Valued relationships
  • Clear impact
  • Strong leadership
  • Commitment of both parties
  • Family decisions
  • An enjoyable experience

There are, of course, many other factors – both institution- and donor-specific – required to realise the gifts included in this report. However, the end of the year is often a good time to reflect on some of these first principles, focus minds, and ensure the start of a New Year – and the home straight of the financial year for many – gets underway with the fundraising foundations suitably reinforced.

– Andy Wood, Director, Education

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