Beyond the Rich List

April is Sunday Times Rich List month. On a Monday in late April, there is a perceptible and triumphant spring in the step of Trustees, Development Directors and major donor fundraisers as they head to the office with the well-thumbed supplement under their arm. The prospect research team braces itself for the onslaught of new names that will require further investigation.

Without doubt, the Rich List is an effective tool for generating new prospects, but it has to be used judiciously. Development teams need to be ever vigilant about the quality and content of their prospect pools and really think through the likelihood of “usual suspects” such as Ann Gloag, Richard Branson, Lakshmi Mittal or J.K. Rowling making a transformational donation to their charity.

National Spring Cleaning Week was the 14th– 20th March this year but it is not too late to act. As fundraisers we sometimes become blind to the suspects and prospects which have been in our databases for a long time. The arrival of a resource such as the Rich List provides a pleasant diversion, it’s new and shiny and somehow it feels easier to add a bunch of new multi-millionaires and billionaires to the database than to attend to the real and long-standing names which are still awaiting qualification and cultivation strategies.

One model which we have developed at THINK is the idea of “donor types”. These are loose categories (think Acorn Consumer Classification types, “Affluent Achievers”, “Retired and Empty Nesters”) which help fundraisers achieve a balanced prospect portfolio which is rooted in reality and where there is a good chance of prospects converting to donors.

Philanthropic Highrollers: this is a small and elite group; think Bill Gates, Bono, Richard Branson, George Soros, etc. This donor type is omnipotent and equipped with transformational powers. Having such an individual supporting your charity will have significant bearing on organisational success. With an international network of friends, associates and contacts the Highroller can pick up the phone to Heads of State, world leaders to make stuff happen and get things done. When the Highroller speaks, people listen. Where the Highroller leads, people follow. There is a tendency with this donor type to work collaboratively – across-borders, across-sectors – and to encourage working in partnership to achieve maximum impact. An important point with this donor type is to ensure that you are sufficiently resourced to look after them as prospects. If they decide to engage with your organisation, it becomes almost a full-time job to look after them.

The Glamour Set: this is a large, international group comprised of people who are socially well connected. Think George and Amal Clooney or Elton John and David Furnish. This donor type likes to party and donations will often be made in a social environment such as fundraising balls, auctions, galas and dinners. Of all the donor types, the Glamour Set are probably the most flexible in their approach to philanthropy with the favoured charities of friends and close colleagues having a strong influence on their giving behaviour. Donations made by the Glamour Set are often just as much about keeping social wheels oiled as allegiance to a particular charity. As with the Philanthropic Highrollers, this type of supporter should be kept to a manageable number as these relationships typically require a lot of time.

The Social Investor: this group takes a pro-active and hands-on approach to their philanthropy and will typically want to give using a combination of financial, intellectual and practical support. This donor type is prepared to take risks with their charitable giving, but will also keep a close eye on how their donation is being used and will pull out of the investment if dissatisfied. The Social Investor group is a broad church that includes UHNWIs, hedge fund managers, financiers, and venture capitalists. There are people within the Social Investors category who are nipping at the heels of the Philanthropic Highrollers and similarly, relationships with this donor type can be high maintenance, but also likely to be the most rewarding in terms of donor engagement.

Pillars of the Community: an important group whose funding focus is on regional and national not for profit organisations. They are donors who are rooted to a particular area and giving is often just as much about the location of a charity as the work that it does. Often, this donor type is a ‘big fish in a small pond’ but feels a strong sense of connection to where they live and simply want to give something back to their community. This is such an important group, which can sometimes be overlooked, there is a strong case for investing both time and energy into developing and nurturing this group of prospects.

Outliers: with more than a passing nod to the Merriam-Webster dictionary and Malcolm Gladwell’s book of 2009, ‘Outliers are those people whose residence and place of business are at a distance’ and ‘something that is situated away from or classed differently from a main or related body’. This donor type holds a great deal of potential. These individuals do not always have the connections of the Philanthropic Highrollers or the address books of the Glamour Set, but they have risen to the top of their field and have achieved significant personal wealth as a result. Sometimes with this donor type, comes a philanthropic mindset which is both expansive but also focused on a particular geographic region. This is a particularly valuable donor type for those not for profits with a global reach and/or schools, universities and organisations with an international alumni/membership base. Donations are often made through the lens of wanting to help compatriots.

The Invisibles: this group typically (and loyally) give quietly and regularly. The Invisibles share many similarities with the Pillars of the Community donor type, only these folk are much more unobtrusive and there is a danger of overlooking them altogether. They are the retired, childless couple that has been supporting a charity every year for the last 15 years and with a steady rise of £100 extra every 2-3 years and then, at the 12 years stage a sharp rise of £5,000, and so on. This same couple is on the brink of updating their Wills and they are seriously considering leaving a chunk of their estate to your charity, but are wavering because they have never really felt the love. The Invisibles are the people who accept almost every invitation and yet they still are waiting for an introduction to the Chair of the charity who always seems to be schmoozing with that Philanthropic High Roller or that Glamour Set prospect over there… you get the picture. Ignore this group at your peril!

So for sure, buy your Sunday Times Rich List, but remember, often major donors are closer to home.

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