Three things that I suggest need to rise from the bottom of the list

How should you structure your major donor prospectus?

– by Dan Geaves, Strategy Director of Marlin Communications

A major donor prospectus is a compelling communication that can be used to inspire a new group of donors to become major supporters of your charity.

Nothing can replace the role of a relationship manager such as Chairman, CEO or even specialist fundraiser to manage a relationship with a major donor or prospective major donor. But a good prospectus can be support to any or all of them to:

  • Assist with a pitch by offering a structure to walk through;
  • Stay memorable by acting as a great leave behind, for the prospect to read or even use to discuss with their family;
  • Reach out to warm prospects with the prospectus acting as a door-opener to an actual appointment.

Like many other fundraising communications a good prospectus benefits from the following content:

  • An explanation of what the cause is;
  • A description of what you’re asking for funds for;
  • Evidence that you will succeed (your credentials)
  • Emotional case studies.

But since you are courting the support of people who enjoy success, you need to be considerate of how good they are at ignoring information.  

As the historian Paul Gleick suggests “When information is cheap, attention becomes expensive.”

To succeed you need to avoid starting with tonnes of information about yourself and instead hit home “WIIFM?” (what is in it for me?)

Here is our tip-list for how to structure the prospectus:

Section 1: Elevator pitch – the invitation 

Section 2: An emotional hook – a personal perspective on why the donor should choose to give

Section 3: The role of your supporter in making an impact

Section 4: Endorsement – donor stories/ quotes to offer social proof

Section 5: Emotional evidence – case study

Section 6: Expert-led descriptions of unmet need and competencies in relation to the role of the supporter

Section 7: FAQs

Section 8: CTA and contact details.

Of course in practise things can be mixed up a little to avoid feeling formulaic. Creativity in fundraising is always a push and pull between what is expected as a solution due to best practise and what is unexpected.

This type of structure is actually following a tried and tested approach to communications: the AIDCA model.

A is for Attention

At the start of any communication you need to get your audience’s attention. It is why headlines are bigger and bolder. It is why photography and visual devices are designed to catch people’s eyes. There are many ways of approaching this. You can lead with need, lead with solution, or even lead with the role you want the audience to play.

I is for Interest

Marlin’s advertising hero, Howard Luck Gossage suggested that ‘People read what interests them and sometimes that is an ad.’ You want your audience to spend more time on your message, so you have to think about it from their perspective, not your own, and stay focused on their needs. This is where the fundraising adage of being donor centric is relevant.

D is for Desire

Your communication needs to build people’s interest and at the same time help them recognise the opportunity you are offering them to get what they want. So think carefully about what your supporters want. Stories are a wonderful way to parcel together benefits.

C is for Conviction

People make decisions emotionally, but they sense-check their emotions with rational thought. People worry a great deal about being made a fool. You can counter their emotion of doubt, by providing supportive evidence that their decision to act is a good one. Face-to-face and tele-fundraisers would recognise this stage as ‘objection handling’. It is great to identify possible areas of concern that your audience might have, and provide informed perspectives that counter them. 

A is for Action

If you are not clear what you want people to do, fewer of them will do it. The final part of this tool is a useful reminder to be obvious about this. 

Given its versatility it is no surprise that more charities are developing a major donor prospectus. Alongside its actual use as a communication, we have found that our charity partners benefit in these additional ways:

  • With a clear prospectus in hand, Board Members and key stakeholders can feel more confident at making introductions, with the comfort of knowing what their associates and friends will be invited to give towards;
  • Through the development of a prospectus, visionaries, leaders and even past donors can all be persuaded to be interviewed and play a part in contributing the content for the prospectus. This offer a fantastic way to mobilise people to work together for the sake of fundraising and philanthropy; 
  • The definition of whether a prospectus will be geared towards tied or untied funding helps to create confidence and clarity by removing ambiguity over how an invitation to give will be framed.

If you are interested in accessing these benefits and would like help to create a digital eBook or printed prospectus then please contact the Marlin team. As well as helping to create the finished communication, our methodology is a fantastic way to collaborate with stakeholders and bring them on a journey. Contact us here or see relevant examples of our work here.