On Thursday 18th January, the Chartered Institute of Fundraising’s Major Donor Special Interest Group hosted our first Major Donor event of 2024, ‘Inside the Donor’s Mind: A Fundraising Deep Dive’, and it was a huge success! Over 130 fundraisers, consultants, and advisors joined us to hear from our incredible panel, Isabelle Hayhoe (Senior Philanthropy Advisor, Barclays Private Bank) and John Pepin (CEO, Philanthropy Impact). The panel was hosted by Dee Brecker (Founding Director, Ginkgo Coaching and Consulting).

The conversation was wide and varied, but here are our top takeaways for any fundraiser looking to better meet their donors’ needs or work more efficiently with professional advisors:

1. Treat your donors like humans.

Spend as much time speaking to them and understanding their motivations, not just in philanthropy but in life more generally. What keeps them up at night? What are they excited about? Donors want to be heard and have meaningful relationships — like the rest of us!

2. Case support vs business case.

Are your written materials reflecting the language, data and information that high-net-worth individuals will be used to seeing? Take time to refine the language you use in your proposals and reports — and ask your donor what they want to see the most.

3. Shifting the culture on internal KPIs.

We know this isn’t possible for everyone, but if you have the power to build in more relationship-building KPIs as a measure of success, you could see better results over a longer period of time. The average major gift takes 18 months on average to come in, and the largest gift is usually a donor’s seventh. It takes a lot of patience and relationship-building to achieve that.

4. Don’t be scared of highlighting the importance of unrestricted gifts.

Many donors don’t know or understand the value of unrestricted giving. Isabelle encouraged us all to feel confident in educating our donors, as it is usually well received!

5. Know your own charity’s endowments, investments, and ESG policies.

This is something many donors are asking for. Swot up before your next donor meeting by looking at your annual accounts or internal policies.

6. Donor Advised Funds (DAFs) are booming.

These low-cost/low-admin structures may be less transparent or harder to prospect, but they are only going to increase. It may be worth exploring blended portfolios as more major donors move to formal giving vehicles.

7. No professional advisor will tell someone where to put their money.

Working with wealth advisors can help build an understanding of your charity. Fundraisers are in a great position to educate donors and advisors alike – take the opportunities when they come!

Further resources

Move Fast and Mend Things: A special philanthropy report from the Economist with focus on unrestricted giving.

When tainted money should fund public good: fundraising professional and public moral preferencesA research paper on ‘tainted money’ which discusses data about fundraising vs public opinion, and the differences in opinion on size of organisation and ethical acceptance.

Credit: CioF MD SIG


Simon Callaghan is the Director of Peridot Partners’ fundraising and marketing and communications team. He is a member of the Chartered Institute of Fundraising’s Major Donor Special Interest Group, a group of volunteers who support major donor fundraisers in a range of different ways, including providing training bursaries for external courses, running events and connecting fundraisers with mentors from outside of their organisation who can help support their professional development. Simon has been recruiting into the charity sector for over 15 years. You can connect with Simon on LinkedIn, or send him an email.