There is no shortcut

No shortcuts in fundraising, that is. Resourcing a not-for-profit entity is, sadly, tough. And many great concepts to address crises never get off the ground due to the visionaries being unable to find funding. Many non-profits also close – go bankrupt – in the same way as businesses fold. Companies can’t sell their products or services, while charities are unable to secure donor funding. It’s tragic, but real. Only when realities are faced, can they be addressed – in the case of the not-for-profit sector, resourcing can (and should) take many forms. Fundraising is just one of them.

Why this negative (I’d prefer to call it realistic) post? As I spend my time between South Africa and the UK, and primarily consult to southern African organisations on raising money from UK donors, my in-box lights up in May each year – when the UK Sunday Times publishes its Sunday Times Rich List. This accessible online resource outlines the wealthiest people or families, resident in the United Kingdom, ranked by net wealth.

Each year, the requests follow the same theme: I see X has climbed three places, can you find us his email?; We’d like to ask Y to become our patron as she has so much money; And, variations on the most naïve: Do you have an email for Z?; Can you introduce us to Z?; We’d like Z to speak at our next event in London, that way I am sure he will donate to us.

My heart bleeds for the committed and caring people – paid, poorly paid or unpaid – trying to find the money to keep delivering their organisations’ (often lifesaving) services. However, it’s not as simple as merely reading (along with millions of other fundraisers in the UK and globally) of someone’s wealth status and finding a way to ask them for money. High net worth individuals (HNWI) and the ultra-high net worth people featured in the Rich List, along with the rest of us mere mortals, donate to good causes for reasons – not just because they are rich. All that differs is the amounts that the wealthy give. I was reminded of this when interviewing 15 wealthy Brits (six of whom are on this year’s Rich List) when writing my most recent book, Fundraising from UK Donors.

Why do any of us donate? Why do we select to give to some organisations and not to others? What is our link or connection with the causes we support (irrespective of the amount, which may just be a few coins in a collection tin)?

Before approaching a wealthy person for a donation or to act as an ambassador or patron of a non-profit, one must conduct research (known as prospect research). Having been a fundraiser before the advent of the internet, I recall how vital it was for us to follow the media and read as much as possible. Today, the vitally needed information on potential donors (including HNWI) is readily accessible – and more so with the rapid advances of AI.

I was once asked for my input on a letter that the CEO of a Bloemfontein afternoon care facility focusing on the arts, had drafted, asking Tiger Woods to become their patron. When I asked the obvious, ‘Why’ question, there was nothing to support the request other than the CEO being a golf fan and Tiger Woods his hero. (This was before his industrial-scale philandering was exposed.) I had to point out (gently) that Tiger Woods had no connection with South Africa, nor were the choir singing and guitar-playing learners wanna-be golfers.

Prospect research is time-consuming and requires a deep dive. I once had a major ‘win’ that added £100 000 (about R2 million at the time) to a large capital campaign that I was running for an SA university by spending the necessary time reading up on the families featured in The Sunday Times Rich List. I found that a grandson of someone listed in the top 100, had married a graduate of the university. Via an alumna in her year of graduation, I was able to reach the South African lady, who was happy to ‘open the door’ that resulted in the gift.

When researching prospective donors, these are just a few of the most basic points to consider:

Where were they born? Do they have any links/investments/family ties/property (even regular holidays) in South Africa? What do they care about? Have they lost someone to cancer/or another illness? Which events do they attend? Which causes do they support? What are their hobbies? What are their interests?

These days, prospect research is made a little easier via The Sunday Times Giving List, compiled in association with the Charities Aid Foundation (CAF). This tracks the philanthropy of 100 of the UK’s wealthiest residents and shows the main sectors supported by each person (or family) – such as climate change, education or health. But this is just a start and does not remove the need for deep and thorough research of each prospect.

In short: why is anyone, irrespective of their ability to give, likely to support a specific non-profit in South Africa – or any country? The answer is not ‘because they are rich’.


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