Flourish Project March 2016 Update

Individual Giving at Chiltern Open Air Museum

Major gift fundraising – the story so far… 

As part of the Flourish brief I have been working with Sue Shave and Richard Berman (COAM Museum Director and Flourish Project Coordinator) to develop a programme of fundraising from individuals. Whilst COAM has a well-established programme of fundraising from charitable trusts, foundations and institutions and receives a number of regular donations each year, major gift and regular fundraising from individuals remains largely untapped.  Although at COAM this aspect of fundraising is in its infancy, there are already two distinct strands to our individual fundraising goals and, although linked, we are applying different fundraising strategies to each.

Since December 2015, we have begun to develop a ‘major gift’ fundraising programme, identifying and approaching individuals with the aim of securing donations of at least £1,000. Running alongside this we are also creating a wider framework for individual giving across all donation levels where supporters are asked to make regular donations, usually monthly or quarterly, via direct debit. Besides the obvious benefits for financial planning, a regular giving programme will help us to build a closer relationship with our donors enabling us to communicate more effectively with them and involve them in other aspects of the museum’s work.  Importantly a robust regular giving plan will enable fundraisers to identify those supporters with both the propensity and capacity to give at higher levels. Although this summary focuses on our efforts to date in securing larger gifts much of our learning can be applied to both strands of our individual fundraising plans.

Major gift fundraising is often one of the later elements introduced as part of an organisation’s strategic fundraising plan.  Frequently seen as an obvious next step when a donor base is well established and grounded in an organisation with a culture of widespread regular individual giving. For COAM, testing the implementation of this type of fundraising without an established base of regular giving is ambitious.  An initial lesson learnt is that success under this heading relies as much upon generating interest from people not currently involved with the museum as it does in approaching existing supporters.  In these early stages asking our supporters to identify new prospective donors (or prospects) and securing referrals and introductions to key contacts is as important as securing financial support.

Setting the level of what constitutes a major gift was critical and was based upon a thorough understanding and analysis of existing supporters, the museum’s case for support that would be taken to potential donors and the resources of the fundraising team. For some organisations the minimum level of donation classed as a major gift can be four, five or even six figure amounts. For COAM a minimum gift level of £1,000 to constitute a major gift was correct. It tied in well with the daily running costs of the museum being just over that amount and enabled us to offer the naming of a day at the museum during its open season as part of our donor recognition plan.

Our approach to major gift fundraising is a methodical one following a traditional 7 step solicitation plan, as outlined below.  Cyclical in nature this approach is designed to maximise fundraising success and generate an ongoing pool of potential donors from which to secure sustainable income.Flourish-diagramIn this early stage of fundraising we moved quickly to secure meetings with prospects already at step 4. Our goal is always to secure face- to-face opportunities for making the ask and once meetings have been secured we have spent time discussing how and when to ask and, importantly, how to close and confirm a gift. Critically museum staff are well suited to this type of fundraising.

As our programme develops we are generating more and more prospects and steps 1 – 3 are crucial in qualifying who constitutes a major gift prospect, how we build our relationship with them and the level of support we should be seeking.  To ensure success and longevity in the programme our goal is to maintain a steady number of prospects at each step, and at step 7 to ensure we have the thanking and recognition mechanisms in place to steward our donors effectively enabling them to feed back into the cycle at step 3.

Finally, in these early stages clarity has been essential not only in terms of recording and reporting the status of our fundraising solicitations within the fundraising team but also in terms of maintaining a clear understanding of our fundraising goals and the tools we have with which to achieve them.  Clarity is also essential as we garner support from the wider COAM community.  The museum is extremely fortunate to have a very active and supportive volunteer base and a large and growing pool of annual pass holders. As strong advocates of the museum it is essential that we communicate our fundraising goals to these groups as their support and input is critical to the long-term success and sustainability of the individual fundraising programme.

Lucy Marshall
Prospect Point