Major High

by | Oct 24, 2016

Now this may be a matter of terminology, but I’m not so sure it is.

During my history as Charity Data Nerd the definition of Major Donor and High Value Donor have been pretty consistent. A Major Donor is a high net worth individual who may, or may not, have donated to the charity, but they do have the potential to donate large, significant sums, usually to fund specific projects. A High Value Donor will have a larger than usual disposable income, but not necessarily high net worth, and chooses to make larger than average donations either as cash or regular gifts.

In my mind this is a really straightforward distinction, but I often find myself having a conversation about something I think is completely different only to find out we’re talking about a Major Donor programme. In some cases, although they are very different from each other, I find out Major and High Value Donors are lumped together and treated exactly the same.

And the one that really baffles me? Having a discussion about mid-value donors when the criteria for entry into this elite group is £10,000 per year. Dear lord! How much would you have to regularly give to be classed as high value? And to spell this out in more detail, as a supporter I would have to be giving you around £800 per month to qualify; just to be classed as mid-value. Really? That’s more than my mortgage.

Whilst I know that it’s just not possible to have a sector-wide norm for these definitions the diversity in terminology and criteria (for something that is so simple) is massive. For instance a high net worth individual (and with the risk of sounding ornery, let’s call these chaps Major Donors) is going to be high net worth, regardless of the charity they are supporting. The approach made to them may be the same, but possibly for different amounts of money. It may also be a harder sell for a smaller charity as there is no kudos, to stoke the ego of a wealthy businessman, attached to a small charity as there would be for supporting a larger household name.

With High Value Donors there really can be no common criteria, but I have to wonder how supporters, who are giving at high levels, are being acknowledged if they don’t qualify for recognition until they’ve given such a high amount. For instance, if I’ve given £9,999.99 I get treated like the rank and file. What incentive would I have to continue giving at this, or any, level?

I’m writing this and not really sure where I’m going with it. It seems to me that this is an issue that pulls in many different threads: Major Donor programmes, stewardship, higher value programmes, membership or premier groups. I wonder how important it is to ringfence higher giving supporters? At what point does it become essential? Is it ever essential? What about support migration programmes: do they work?

When I talk to a client and they tell me they don’t have any way of formally recognising higher value support, I immediately jump on my high horse (which apparently travels everywhere with me) and tell them their lack of recognition of these people, who have selflessly championed the cause, are being treated shoddily. But then, doesn’t my reaction ignore the fact that these supporters have been happily giving at this level, despite not being acknowledged for it? Oopsy! I hadn’t thought that one through, that’s for sure.

The nomenclature of elite supporters is clearly never going to be resolved. However, it’s taken the writing of this blog to make me understand this is an issue much more complex than the mere assuming of a name.

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