The Hitchhiker's Guide to Major Donor Fundraising - Part 1

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Major Donor Fundraising, Part 1


For my birthday a few years ago, I got Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – the full Boxed set of BBC Radio CDs. Brilliant.

Listening to them on my iPod on the way to a major donor strategy and training session (as one does) I was intrigued to be reminded of the ‘B’ Ark.

It reminded me of major donor fundraisers.

Now, if you are a major donor fundraiser then please don’t take offense – I mean the other major donor fundraisers, not you.

The Golgafrinchams

Basically, the ‘B’ Ark was a huge space ship sent from the planet Golgafrincham. It contained about a third of the population of the planet.

The planet was about to be destroyed. Three arks were built.

The ‘A’ Ark would have all the great minds, leaders, ideas people.

The ‘C’ Ark would have really useful people; carpenters, farmers, plumbers, electricians and the like.

The ‘B’ Ark would have hairdressers, TV producers, insurance salesmen, personnel officers, security guards, management consultants, telephone sanitizers and more.

The ‘B’ Ark had to go first, of course. ‘When we get to salvation we want to be able to have a good hairstyle.’

Golgafrincham wasn’t actually doomed though. The As and Cs made it up to get rid of the Bs.

So the As and the Cs did not follow and “led full, rich and happy lives until they were all suddenly wiped out by a virulent disease contracted from a dirty telephone”.

Back to fundraising

Many major donor fundraisers I have met would earn a place on the ‘B’ Ark. (Not you of course).

Often it is not their fault; their job is to meet and develop relationships with donors but they are also tasked with a zillion other things. Planning, budgeting, diary maintenance, building cases for support, helping with other stuff, data entry, letter writing…

As a consultant (yes, I would have been on the ‘B’ Ark too) I see many charities and help with their major donor fundraising.

And I note the key success factor is not whether they have prospected enough, researched enough, profiled enough – not even whether they have a major donor fundraiser. It is always the same thing:

They met donors, built relationships and ultimately asked them for money.

Assuming you really need the money, then to run a successful major donor program, you don’t need tons of research, profiles, years of relationships.

All of these will help and will have a bearing on your success, but ultimately the most important thing is that someone asks someone for a large gift.

Easy to say, but not that easy to do. In the past years, my colleagues and I have conducted about half a dozen training sessions with Australian charities.

Those that booked appointments and made asks within days of the training have succeeded. Those that didn’t, are ‘between fundraising successes’.

Now, I am not saying that all the great books and plans and processes by people like Neil Sloggie, Kay Sprinkel-Grace, Karen Osborne and Terry Axelrod et al are wrong.

If you followed them exactly, I am sure you would have success.

They have different tactics, some take a long time and all rely on consistent staff, consistent strategy, consistent leadership and consistent follow through. These factors rarely come together.

Ultimately, they all rely on someone asking someone to give a lot of money.


I recognise that it takes time to get $1 million in donations. Building relationships like that don’t just happen. But asking is the key. It won’t hurt your chances of getting $1 million from rich guys like Arthur or Zaphod next year if you can get $42,000, or even $4,200 now.

Please, just get on with meeting donors, having a chat and actually asking.

Want to know more about Mid-Value Donors and avoid the ‘B’ Ark? Sean covers this important topic in the Mid-Value Donor Super Course that is available for all members of The Fundraisingology Lab.


  • Sean Triner

    Sean Triner is a Co-Founder of Moceanic and Pareto Group. With over three decades of experience in fundraising and a Bachelor of Science (Honours) in mathematics, Sean has a wealth of fundraising expertise to share with Moceanic members and blog readers. He is also a coach and available for bookings on the Coaching+ program for fundraisers to help answer your questions and work hands-on directly with you.

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2 Comments. Leave new

  • Of course we’re not wrong. Being strategic in your donor plans, inspiring your major donor to say yes to purpose first, thanking and sharing impact for past gifts brings about inspired, joyful generous giving. The point you make that I agree with, is that asking for gifts along the way to your BIG gifts is strategic and smart. Yes, ask and steward for the $4,200 and $42,000 on your way to the $1,000,000. Deepen engagement, learn more, untapped his or her passion and raise more money.

    • Thanks Karen!

      I am chuffed you are reading my blog! And you are definitely not wrong, as I point out.

      The second part of the sentence that ‘…many major donor fundraisers I have met would earn a place on the ‘B’ Ark. (Not you of course)’ definitely means not you! In fact, there are a handful of brilliant major donor fundraisers I know here in Australia who are brilliant. But only a handful.

      And I tell people to go and talk to you guys when they ask me about major donors. But the fact remains that in my time working with 100s of charities very few succeed with their mid-value or major donors simply because they never finish planning.

      At a much lower level (like the $4,200 example) I worked, through Pareto Fundraising, with lots of charities to approach current mid-major donors who had already made many gifts by mail and ask very, very fast.

      PS readers – please note that Karen, and I imagine her colleagues at the Osborne Group (, are MUCH more experienced at real major donor fundraising than me! My specialty is building on non-personal, direct marketing relationships and turning ‘transactional’ donors into major donors.

      My latest course gives you five steps to DOUBLING your mid-value donor income, and turning many of them into major donors.


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