Prepare a Values document for your Major Donor Programme

A values or philosophy document underpins your Programme.  It simply sets out your guidelines for developing relationships with Philanthropists.  This is particularly needed as the Programme weaves through every department within your organisation – finance, supporter relations, direct mail, programme departments, also senior leadership and the Trustees.

The purpose of the document is for the organisation to agree shared values of what is important.  People often have different ideas about what a Philanthropy or ‘Major Donor’ Programme is, what it entails and how it is run especially when the concept is new.  It is therefore an opportunity to educate leadership and wider staff and incite their enthusiasm.

Topics that could be included are:

Why Donors give? 

What are the key reasons that donors give to your cause?  In this section you can include some of the distinctive aspects of your work.  It is important to include the value that giving is an opportunity for a Philanthropist to express his or her values.  It is not about treating a potential donor as a cash machine, twisting their arm and persuading them to do something they don’t want to do – it is about mutual benefit to both parties.

It might include the explanation that a philanthropist is given the opportunity to do something significant, and be shown the difference their gift has made.  Also the recognition that they give only when asked, when inspired and when they trust the organisation and leadership.

How we Work with our Donors?

In this section you can include the level of entry into the programme (I suggest a minimum of £10,000 per annum because of the level of stewardship involved); the offering of excellent service; the personal plan created for each donor; the personal and imaginative thanking of each donor; the maintaining of monthly contact; the building of donor memories; keeping of promises and the agreement to maintain contact according to the donor’s preference.

The Role of the Relationship Holder

This will include how the relationship is managed.  For example listening to their interests rather than ‘talking at’ the donor; answering their questions and objections thoughtfully and showing respect to their views; demonstrating to the donor they matter; sustaining and understanding their motivation; being transparent and honest about shortcomings;  applying their gift to the agreed project; offering specific reports (some don’t like long documents, others do!) on what their gift has achieved in away that is acceptable to the donor and so on.                   

What Donor Communication is and what it is not

Perhaps in this section spell out that all communication is ‘donor driven’ rather than organisation driven; that major donors do not receive direct mail appeals but rather have personalised proposals that match their interest; that you respect if a potential donor does not want to be part of the programme; you allow a donor to decide on their level of involvement without manipulation. 

What does Success look like and how is it Measured?

That success is measured in years not just weeks or even months; that each potential donor is asked for a significant gift for a project that matches their interest at least once a year; however the Philanthropy Executive is not responsible for the result they are just the messenger (if there have been sufficient monthly touch points relationship building and a correct project match there is a an 80/90% success rate!); demonstration of courage to approach donors; the core of true success is the authenticity of the relationship and so on.

Preparing this philosophy document creates excitement and gives momentum to the Programme and brings everyone on board to agree its shared values.  I highly recommend it.  What is your experience?  ……………..


For over 30 years Ruth has worked as a major gift fundraising consultant in the UK heading up her own Consultancy and then as Business Development Director and Board Member for the UK’s Chapter One Group/Ketchum Inc Consultancy followed by Major Gift Director for the London based Domain Group. She is currently the Principal and Founder of Ascent Philanthropy. Ruth is a writer and blogger and is passionate about helping non-profits with their major gift programmes either by enhancing the work of the philanthropy team or overseeing the introduction of a new major gift programme.

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