Episode 54: Increasing Major Donor income, Part 2 – CONNECT! with Louise Morris

Episode Notes

Major donor income is so important to many charities looking to make up for the continuing COVID-induced shortfall in other areas.

So in this episode we are looking at a crucial element of high value fundraising, that is, ideas to help you deepen relationships with supporters.

This is the second part of my interview with the brilliant Louise Morris, Director at Summit Fundraising. Together we’ve created a new learning bundle on major donor fundraising for members of our training and inspiration membership, the Bright Spot Members Club. In fact, we’ve had such great feedback on the content that I decided to share this section with my podcast listeners too.

If you want to share this episode because you think it will help other charities, THANK YOU VERY MUCH! We are both on Linked In and on twitter, Louise is @summitfundraise and I am @woods_rob.

Further Resources

FREE E-BOOK: If you’d like more powerful strategies to help you raise funds during the pandemic, why not check out the many strategies in my free E-book: Power Through The Pandemic – Seven ways to raise money with major donors, corporates and trusts, even now. You can download it for FREE here: brightspotfundraising.co.uk/power/

WANT TO TAKE IT TO THE NEXT LEVEL? If you’d like to improve your knowledge, confidence and RESULTS in major donor or trust fundraising, our Major Gifts Mastery Programme was designed to do just that. The masterclasses, individual coaching – Louise Morris is one of our fabulous coaches – and online resources in our Members Club boost your fundraising momentum across six months and beyond. You can find out more by following this link. The next Programme begins in April 2021.

FABULOUS CONSULTANCY HELP: You can find out more about how Louise can help you with your fundraising at www.summitfundraising.co.uk

TRAINING AND INSPIRATION, 24/7. Louise is one of our coaches who run the inspiring problem-solving sessions with Rob for the Bright Spot Members Club. If you’d like to find out more about all the training and other support we provide for fundraisers through the club, go here.


‘The most successful major donor fundraisers truly believe that giving is good for people, that giving is a really wonderful thing.’

Louise Morris



Hey there folks, welcome to episode 54 of the Fundraising Bright Spots podcast. My name’s Rob Woods, and this is the show for anyone who works in fundraising and who wants ideas for how to raise more money, enjoy their job, and make a bigger difference especially during the pandemic.

If you work in major donor fundraising, I hope you’re going to find today’s episode really helpful because it’s again with the brilliant Louise Morris of Summit Fundraising. Louise is also one of our fabulous coaches on the Major Gifts Mastery Programme. A few weeks ago, Louise and I created a new learning bundle for the Bright Spot Members Club, all about how to develop better, more respectful, and deeper relationships with major donors during these troubled times. In this middle section from that full session, we explore why it’s so important to create opportunities for your supporters to feel connected, and ideas to help you do this sometimes difficult thing in practice.

Another thing I think that’s interesting is in order to fit new things in, the trouble with these podcasts and all the books, is there’s always new things to do. Well, all these new good ideas will never fit in unless you’d get of something. So I love the pragmatism of you saying maybe, for many of us who keep trying to do the things more, do them better, maybe the most important thing is to change your belief about how much time, or how well you do some other things. It’s especially internal focused ones. Again that is harder, remembering my own career, earlier in your career when you might not yet have loads of confidence about your ability to do your job, or whether your manager is happy that you’re doing a good job. I know that’s harder, we can feel under pressure internally to impress all the time.

But, one of the biggest shifts for me is interviewing a legendary fundraiser years ago, at the children’s charity where I worked. And, she honestly raised more money or as much money as anyone else as I was aware of in that organization, and it was so clear when I interviewed here about how she spent her time. She spent much more time doing external focused tasks, talking to donors, or doing the pause to reflect to think about how could I help this donor. She just set up her day, and I saw it in her schedule, she showed me her schedule, to spend more time doing that. Now, in order to still have some semblance of work life balance, it meant she had to be a bit more strict with herself and even others, on what she gave her time to internally.

Now, I would hate if people listened to this podcast, now go out and do a shoddy job on an internal report and then blame you and I, Louise, that would be a shame and that’s not what we mean. But, sometimes it’s just a shift of just what you said, before you start a task that is not really a high leverage one in terms of your productivity but it just has to get done, getting clarity on that and setting a timer. And maybe asking yourself the question, what would it look like if this were easy? How could I just get it done, rather than the A star version of it. Why? Not because we’re lazy, not because you don’t care, but because for this task, it will be good enough. And the massive prize, then, is more thinking time to move on these important relationships.


Absolutely. Our brains are really sneaky. Some of this stuff with major donor relationships, it’s not straightforward, it’s not simple. Or, everybody would be going and getting six-figure gifts overnight really easily. But, writing a report feels quite straightforward.

I’ve been really guilty of this. You often talk about ‘eating the frog’ and maybe doing that thinking or doing that piece of work that is tricker, that we dread a little bit more, earlier in the day so we don’t delay. Because as fundraisers, we can really fill our roles with … You have flexibility in a fundraising role, and that’s one thing I never really appreciated. You have your job descriptions, but how you spend your week, you actually have … Some meetings will be deemed essential by your managers. How you actually spend your week, you have quite a lot of control over.

It’s fascinating to hear that schedule that you spoke about, and how somebody had deliberately put time in. I think it’s also recognizing that sometimes our minds don’t want us to do this. They’d like us to spend an extra hour on the report because it’s what we’re used to. Now, that might not even be conscious, but it might be what’s going on subconsciously, and that’s really normal. I did that a lot in my career, and I work with a lot of fundraisers that do. I think if we can get out of our comfort zone with that, it helps a lot on the external piece.


Yes. Many of our listeners and viewers will have heard this before, but having the discipline to choose to do what you’re saying, which is to do these important things which add up to a bigger difference when your brain is fresher. The research shows that, for most of us, that is in the morning, for instance between 8:30 and 11:30. And all too easily, unless we’re conscious of it, that’s the point at which we lose an hour just going through some emails, when your brain is freshest, and bravest, and at its most creative, to give yourself 20 or 30 minutes thinking time to solve the difficult thing. That’s one thing I’ve observed that high achievers in this area do.

My other thing that I was taught to do years ago is before I go on the bike ride, or on the stroll around the block or whatever, to quite deliberately write down in my notebook the question I would like an answer to, the question that is stumping me. And, to ask it as if I expected for there to be an answer. That was different from before. I used to go for a walk and I would say, “Yeah, I know what the problem is.” Well, since asking it in question form, writing it out in my notebook, I found that my subconscious, my other-than-conscious brain, became so much more likely to work on what I really wanted it to work on, than if I didn’t quite deliberately, so to speak, type the right question into my neck-top computer. That’s the last tip that I have found helps me. The value of journaling, generally, is a whole other topic, which let’s not go into.

But, so far Louise, as I understand it, we’ve talked about why quite deliberately choosing certain language and a certain model to approach valuable things in the thing order, to build relationships to help a philanthropist potentially choose to give to a cause they care about. We’ve talked about that, we’ve talked about how you’ve found your five-step model does help people do these things in practice. And I think, so far, we talked about curiosity, and then pausing to calmly think things through.

I think you said that the next step was to connect. Tell me a tiny bit more about that one. And then, a couple of tactics or an example to bring it to life for what you mean.


I’ve talked a little bit earlier about Dr. Jenn Chang’s work, and I think the most successful major donor fundraisers I work with, they do truly believe that giving is good for people, that giving is a really wonderful thing. And that, actually as fundraisers we’ve got quite a privilege actually, and quite a unique role doing that. And I think if Coronavirus has shown anything, it’s really shown that people want to help. There are donor interviews done, and a lot of research done early on the in the pandemic with philanthropists wanting to help and not being asked, feeling guilty knowing that they’re in a privileged position. I think when you believe that, and you truly believe it, you can then go on to a next level, which is how are you going to connect somebody to what you’re doing.

The interesting for me with connecting is that most major donors, when they give their large gift, it’s their third, fourth, fifth, or sixth gift to the organization. They are probably already a supporter, or already involved in some way. Sometimes we think, “Oh, they’re on our radar now,” they being a person who actually knows quite a bit about your organization. “We’ll suddenly start doing X, Y, or Z.” But, one of the things you can really start doing … They don’t have to have given a large gift, is if they’ve given before is connecting them to how they’re helping, and how they’re making a difference. I know Bright Spot, Rob, you do a lot of amazing training on this. Stories, just incredibly helpful.

I think with some philanthropists, if you’ve done your curious piece right, if you’ve really thought about what might appeal to them, you’ll have an understanding of that balance of facts and figures, and what they’re interested in. But, even if a philanthropist has spoken to you in a meeting about, “Well, it’s really about the return in investment for me, and I really want to know the social good that’s done. When I invest in businesses, I know all those facts and figures.” Even then, you still need stories because the stories are the things that they will remember.

I think sometimes I only see some of this process starting when somebody’s made a large gift. We really need to start connecting to donors earlier. So for example, a hospice I’ve been working with, we identified that a couple had been given. He was a Lord for quite a few years, and they had a lot of wealth to give a six-figure gift. They’d been hidden, which is fine, and they’d been thanked now and then. The CEO, we drafted something for her to send to ask for a meeting, and then to follow-up with a call. She didn’t even have to follow-up with a call. They came back straight away and said, “We’d love to meet with you.”

The premise of that was, “I’ve noticed you’ve been giving for the last five years. You’ve raised this much in total. This is what it’s enabled the charity to do, this is amazing. Would you like to come and have a chat? Because I’d love to thank you in person, and find out a little bit more about why you’re giving and what it means to you.” They just accepted, and got a meeting. Connecting is not just about connecting to the people that the charity’s helping, or the planet if it’s an environmental charity, or to animals if you’re an animal charity, it’s actually thinking about other ways to deepen the relationship between that donor and your organization.

There’s a lot of evidence that the more links people have, and the deeper their identity is with your organization, the more they’re going to give, the happier they’re going to be. So, how else can you connect people? Well, you can connect people to other donors, and some charities do this amazingly well through giving clubs. Some charities have a giving club in name and it doesn’t really do much in practice. But actually, having that sense of together we are a group who, with the charity, is changing the world is really powerful. It’s not just them and you as a charity, and them and this group, this in group, this group of people who are working together.

Again, there are some really good examples in general fundraising, not just in major donor relationships of this. But, I think because major donor relationships is one or more, we’ve got a really good opportunity to think quite specifically about people and what’s important to them. Are they a grandparent? Do they see themselves as an outstanding member of the community, is that what’s important to them? Do they see themselves as a philanthropist, or actually do they hate that term? This is just what I should do.

All of these different identities, if we can find out about people you can then find the ways to connect that are going to appeal to them. So, you can start introducing people to other people at events. So for example if they’re a grandparent and their grandchildren are a key reason they’re giving to a children’s charity, you can introduce them to another donor whose got a really similar motivation. You can start to be very subtle, and actually quite well thought out, about how you’re going to connect them.

And then, of course connecting them to your organization. I say this last because, if you can imagine that a charity’s in the middle of a line. And on the far one side of a line, you’ve got a philanthropist, and on a far other side of the line, you’ve got a difference they want to make, the reason they’re giving. To change the world, to find a cure for cancer, to stop global warming and create the planet for the future, whatever that is. You can pretty much take away the charity in the middle. We, as charities, are a very small part of doing that, and I think that’s not to disrespect any work charity’s doing, the third sector is wonderful. But in a philanthropist’s mind, they’re interested in the cause.

There is a fascinating book, Next Generation Impact. The more reading I’m doing on younger philanthropists, in their 20s, 30s, and 40s, a lot of them are bypassing charities all together, they’re going straight to the cause. If we want to be relevant, and really, really relevant, yes we do want good relationships with our major donors, but we have to connect them straight to that cause at the other end, and to the difference they’re making.

There are so many creative ways that charities do this. I know through the Mastery program we’ve talked about this, Rob, and you’ve talked about it in other podcasts. So lovely What’s App videos straight from maybe some of the projects or the services, videos that can be sent straight across to donors. You want to bring them fulfillment, and to bring them joy that they don’t get anywhere else. They don’t necessarily get it from their work life, they don’t necessarily get it from their family life, and that’s where the uniqueness comes in.

Yeah, a big topic. I’ve rambled a little bit there, but for me, this is more than just an event invitation. This is putting some of that thought and what you know into thinking of the different ways you can connect and build relationships with your donors, not just to them and the charity, but to the people that you’re helping, and also to other donors. And, how you can create those groups that, if they’re done well, will last a lifetime.


Yes. A couple of things came across really strongly to me, when I interviewed Paul from Manchester Camerata for the podcast. His extra curiosity about finding real examples, and above all, just having the confidence to authentically share those real examples to do with the difference that the orchestra was making, to music lovers who cared about his cause. The gathering of those and proactively sharing just really added to the conversations he was having, he was enjoying those conversations more and more. So that also, in turn, helped more and more momentum to seek out more people to chat to.

Any one of these tactics we decide to get better at often has these knock on …


Yeah, it really does. That’s a fascinating example, actually. He’s doing such an amazing job, and really embraced the personal approach.

What was interesting with that event is that it wasn’t just another online event, he really understood that actually what donors were missing in lockdown was live music. They were all supporting, and some of them hadn’t given a major gift but supporting at a lower level. They were supporting this music charity, regional music charity, Manchester Camerata. And then all of a sudden, maybe they’d been seeing two concerts a week, or maybe going to see live music, they had nothing. He really understood that about them. It wasn’t even to do with their giving, and their identities, and what music meant to them. He put this amazing online event on where they got to listen to live music together.

So it’s an amazing, really quite small, but incredibly personal event for people that had been doing their own grieving in various ways, as a lot of people have been doing through Coronavirus. And then, coming together with the charity, I thought was just absolutely genius. That took some pausing and reflection, that was not in the second week of lockdown. “Oh, we’ll just do an online event, and invite them to a chat with the CEO.” Sometimes that works, but to really make the deeper connections it takes that thought to really understand them, and how you can add to those relationships.


Hey it’s Rob, and I just want to jump in really quickly, just in case you’re a corporate fundraiser, or a trusts, or a major donor fundraiser, to let you know that we’ve just launched new dates for our Mastery Programmes in major gifts and in corporate partnerships fundraising. We’ve found that these in-depth programs, which include master classes and individual coaching, and access to all of the courses and support in the Bright Spot Members Club, are proving more helpful than ever to fundraisers during the pandemic.

In fact, if you were at our virtual breakfast clubs last year, you may remember one wonderful fundraiser named Leanne who attended our Corporate Mastery Programme, share how she used things she’d learned in that program to raise four large gifts and partnerships totalling more than £90,000, as the pandemic unfolded, which made a huge difference to her small international literacy charity. If you’re curious about how the Corporate Mastery Programme, or the Major Gifts Mastery Programme would help you to improve high value fundraising results, you can find out more by visiting our website, which is brightspotfundraising.co.uk, and then clicking on the services section to find out more about either the corporate one or the Major Gifts Mastery Programme.

For now though, back to my conversation with Louise, as she explains another activity that we’ve found is so important for relationship fundraisers at the moment.


I think the other tactic, of course, when connecting is to pick up the phone. It’s not the easiest thing, but we’ve talked about this a lot, Rob. The easiest thing particularly this year, of all years, is to just send an email out. But, the charities who’ve picked up the phone have made more connections, and they’ve connected at a time of very high vulnerability for both sides, for the philanthropist. When people are being more open, … All of the fundraisers I’ve spoken to who’ve made more calls have been surprised. They’ve been speaking to me in sessions and they’ve been falling of their seats going, “Oh, they were actually really pleased to hear from me.” Or, “I was so surprised that they took my call. They haven’t been taking my call for a couple of years.”

Now, that is obviously not 100%, it’s not realistic to expect that every donor would just pick up the phone to your call straight away and say, “Wonderful to hear from you.” But, there’s a youth homeless charity I’ve been working with, and some really high level major donors in the construction industry that have valued the call. It’s just been a call to check in and connect, and said, “I’m so glad you picked up the phone today, I’m so glad you spoke to me. I’ve really wanted to know what’s been going on with you.” Donors care, so I think those personal ways of connecting, phone. If you’re going to do an online event, make it personal. Just really think about who these people are, like Paul did. And, being yourself, and this goes back to what we were talking about being curious.

I’ve spoken to a CEO recently. He said, “I’m worried they’re not going to want to talk to me.” A lot of fundraisers say that as well. Lisa Greer, I’ve mentioned her book, she’s a US philanthropist. Her book Philanthropy Revolution talks about the lack of genuine conversations sometimes, in the sector. Now, it is based on America, but I think there are learnings for us as well, that not being ourselves is more damaging than actually not having any conversation at all.

I think Coronavirus, this year is a gift in terms of having those open, vulnerable conversations and connecting. It’s not too late, it’s absolutely fine to be picking up the phone to a donor and saying, “How’s the last six months been for you?” Gosh, is it eight months I think, now. “I haven’t been in contact, but I just wanted to check in and see how you were.” Or, “I see you’re up in a level three area. How is that? How has that affected your business?” Just to see how they are. It’s a gift that this pandemic has given us, to build relationships and connect more, because through those connections you will find out so much more about them, that curious. It’s all linked to being curious for the connecting.


If one was calling up to get some money, then I understand why one is especially nervous before having to make that call. Every good fiber in your body, rightly, makes you nervous because you don’t want to be the taker. But Andy, when he was on the podcast, his mindset was coming through really clearly, that that’s not why he was calling those 40 or so trusts that had supported his hospice charity through thick and thin. He was calling as one human being to another, because he cared. And then, of course sometimes the conversation developed, but when it didn’t that was fine. But, he was connecting.

So Louise, thank you so much for all your time and sharing your wisdom. If the listener is curious about finding out more of your ideas, or potentially seeking your help, where could they go to find you?


They can go to summitfundraising.co.uk. I’m also a rock climber, hence Summit Fundraising. And, I send out free hints and tips on there every fortnight, so they can go and sign up if they’d like to get those. I’m on Twitter, at @summitfundraise, and on LinkedIn as well.


Fantastic. Louise, thank you so much for all the frank discussion, really simple, clear ideas and advice, examples to bring it to life. I really appreciate you taking time to join us on the podcast. I look forward to catching up with you soon, but for now, Louise Morris, thank you and goodbye.


Thanks, Rob.


There you go. I hope you found this discussion was helpful. If you like the podcast, please remember to subscribe today so that you can get access to all the other episodes that we’ve got coming up. As usual, I’ll put a summary of the key ideas and a transcript of the interview on the blog and podcast section of brightspotfundraising.co.uk. And as Louise mentioned, her website is summitfundraising.co.uk.

As I say, today’s episode is an excerpt from the full learning bundle on major donor fundraising that Louise and I put together a few weeks ago for our Bright Spot Members Club. That mini-course is just one of 40 training films available 24/7 on a wide range of topics that fundraisers can learn from. Every single week, we do a live problem solving and coaching session for members, with brilliant fundraising teachers like Louise, which we found are making a big difference to our member’s ability to keep taking bold action to achieve fabulous results, in spite of the chaos and fear that the pandemic is creating. If you’re not yet a member but you’d like lots more in-depth help and training, you can find out more or sign up to try it even for just a month.

If you’d like to get in touch or share this episode on social media, we’d love to hear from you. We’re both on LinkedIn, and on Twitter Louise is at @summitfundraise, and I am at @woods_rob. Finally, thank you so much for listening today. And until the next time, I wish you the very best of luck with all your fundraising efforts.