Paul Summerfield has been Development Director for the Royal Society of Medicine (RSM) for the past 15 years, during which time he has helped them raise over £20 million. This followed fundraising roles at Jewish Care, the London School of Economics and Barts and The Royal London NHS Trust.
I realised much of what I had learnt elsewhere would not work at the RSM. At the time I was appointed Development Director, the RSM hadn’t done any fundraising for 20 years. They didn’t have the financial resources to establish a reasonably large, experienced fundraising team, so we decided to pursue a completely different model of fundraising. This was focused almost exclusively on approaches to wealthy individuals for disproportionately large philanthropic donations. Sponsored swims, golf tournaments and donors giving £2 a month were not going to prove effective or efficient. Time has proven that by being creative in our approach we have achieved reasonable success.
Treat every donor and major prospect as an individual. It’s very, very important to understand the direction donors are coming from. Understanding what their interests are, what their priorities are. Just because say, 50 multimillionaires all give to the RSM, they actually may have very little in common. Understanding their individuality, and their aspirations in their philanthropy is critically important. Personalising everything may be time and labour intensive but it’s been fruitful nurturing and cultivating the relationships.
Fundraising is an inexact science. There have been some periods when we have been very successful with our fundraising, and large sums of money have arrived in short periods of time. There have been other periods when it’s been leaner and tighter. So you can get financial peaks and troughs which can be challenging for colleagues managing the organisation’s finances. Time spent communicating effectively with financial colleagues – lay and professional – is important. Minimising surprises always works.
You need to be given time. The largest single gift we’d received in our history was £2 million from one family, and the contact with that individual started seven years prior to the receipt of the money. Seven years is quite a long time to wait for a gift. Fortunately, my employers are patient and appreciate prospective donors and current donors operate at different speeds.
The details matter. If a donor or a prospective donor is attending an event, it’s important to think very carefully about what table they might be seated at, who will be seated on their right, who will be seated on the left. Make sure that their place card is spelt correctly. Perhaps know in advance that they may not get on with someone else who’s also a donor and make sure they’re not seated at the same table. Knowing their dietary requirements in advance and ensuring the catering staff are fully briefed. That kind of attention to detail is critically important, particularly in terms of the longevity of the relationship.
Leadership and vision are critical. When I worked at Jewish Care, the chairman and trustees and senior management had a clear vision for the organisation. They had aspirations for the direction in which the charity would go and they had great attention to detail regarding the standards they wanted to set. There was no room for complacency.
Don’t limit yourself. Although the RSM is UK-based, what we do advances medical knowledge across the world. So we don’t need to restrict ourselves to UK donors. I am currently developing a relationship with a billionaire based in the USA, working as hard and as creatively as possible to inspire him to make a gift that could transform the scale and impact of our education.
Cause & Effect is a series from Hope, in which leading figures who have been involved in building and promoting good causes tell us what they’ve learned from their experiences. Interview by Michael Isaacs.