The Hitchhikers Guide to Major Donor Fundraising

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and Major Donors Sean Triner

The Hitchhikers Guide to Major Donor Fundraising

For my birthday a few years ago, I got Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy – the full Boxed set of BBC Radio CDs. Brilliant. I last listened to it in the mid 80s so this was a bit of a nostalgic moment.

Listening to them on my iPod on the way to a major donor strategy and training session (as one does) I was intrigued to be reminded of the ‘B Ark’.

It reminded me of major donor fundraisers.

Now, if you are a major donor fundraisers then please don’t take offence – I mean the other major donor fundraisers, not you.

The Golgafrinchams


Basically, the B-Ark was a huge space ship sent from the planet Golgafrincham. It contained about a third of the population of the planet.

The story (that people on the B-Ark were told) was that the planet was about to be destroyed. Three arks would be built.

The A-Ark, would have all the great minds, leaders, ideas people.

The C-Ark would have the really useful people; carpenters, farmers, plumbers, electricians and the like.

The B-Ark, would have hairdressers, TV producers, insurance salesmen, personnel officers, security guards, management consultants, telephone sanitizers and more.

The B-Ark had to go first, of course. ‘When we get to salvation we want to be able to have a good hair style.’

Golgafrincham wasn’t actually doomed though. The As and Cs made it up to get rid of the Bs.

So the As and the Cs did not follow and “led full, rich and happy lives until they were all suddenly wiped out by a virulent disease contracted from a dirty telephone.”

Back to fundraising

Many major donor fundraisers I have met would earn a place on the B Ark. (Not you of course, dear major donor reader).

Often it is not their fault; their job is to meet and develop relationships with donors but they are also tasked with a zillion other things. Planning, budgeting, diary maintenance, building case for support, helping with other stuff, data entry, letter writing…

As a consultant (yes, I would have been on the B Ark too but…) I see many charities and help with their major donor fundraising.

And I note the key success factor is not whether they have prospected enough, researched enough, profiled enough – not even whether they have a major donor fundraiser. It is always the same thing:

They met donors, built relationships and ultimately asked them for money.

Assuming you really need the money, then to run a successful major donor program, you don’t need tons of research, profiles, years of relationships.

All of these will help and will have a bearing on the success or the amount you raise, but ultimately the most important thing is that someone asks someone for a large gift.

Easy to say, but not that easy to do. In the past years my colleagues and I have conducted about half a dozen training sessions with Australian charities.

Those that booked appointments and made asks within days of the training have succeeded. Those that didn’t, are ‘between fundraising successes’.

Now, I am not saying that all the great books and plans and processes by people like Neil Sloggie, Kay Sprinkel-Grace, Karen Osborne and Terry Axelrod et al are wrong.

If you followed them exactly, I am sure you would have success.

They have different tactics, some take a long time and all rely on consistent staff, consistent strategy, consistent leadership and consistent follow through. These factors rarely all come together.

Ultimately, they all rely on someone asking someone with the capacity to give for for a lot of money.


I recognise that for $1m donations, capital appeals etc take time, building relationships take time. But asking is the key. It won’t hurt your chances of getting $1m from rich guys Arthur or Zaphod next year if you get $42k, or even $4200 now.

Please, just get on with meeting donors, having a chat and actually asking.


If you’re interested in learning more about making the big ask – you might want to sign up for my next webinar!

Click here if you haven’t already registered for

Top Tips For The Conversation That Gets The BIG Gift From The Mid Value Donor.

Live on Thurs 27th and Fri 28th October (depending on your time zone), and the recording and slides available for all who register – even if you can’t make the date.



PPS. Learn more about the B Ark from this BBC TV extract.


PPS. I based this on one of my old blogs from ’08. Nothing is really different.

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