How small to medium-sized charities can raise money in 12 months

Raising money can be simple. Go where the money is. Don’t go where it isn’t.

Sutton’s law, as explained in Wikipedia, proposes that when you are looking for an answer to a problem, look in the most obvious place first. The law is named after an infamous US bank robber, Willie Sutton, who when asked “Why do you rob banks” is said to have answered “ Because that’s where the money is”.

So where should fundraisers look for money? NCVO reports that over 50% of all charity income derives from individual donors. So are these highly motivated and aware university students? Settled families with the proverbial 2.3 children, and 1.5 dogs? People just retiring from a long life of work?  No, none of these.

Applying Sutton’s law: the most obvious place for fundraisers to look for money is among people who own or control money.

But what kind of money? That’s a good question. A person or business could earn a lot, but be indebted even more. It is only disposable income that is of interest here. But it’s worse than that. Because, as a generality, if a prospective donor were to create a list of the things they spend their money on, there is a clear hierarchy of ‘needs’ they need to satisfy.

First come the ‘must haves’ ( ie necessities ). Next, ‘nice to haves’ ( not essential, but important to that person’s concept of quality of life). Lastly, comes ‘discretionary’, what’s left over after all the ‘must have’ and ‘nice to have’ have been accounted for. We’re talking about things like coffee or drinks with friends, leisure, hobbies, gym subscription and so on.

Now, obviously, there’s fluidity here. To one person some of these discretionary items might in fact be important in their lives. But whichever way you cut it, after all these pleasures have been accounted for we are left with the last discretionary spend item on the list…….yes, that’s right, donating to charity. For the most part, after all of their necessities, ‘nice to haves’ and more important discretionary spending has been met, what’s left is available for donation. Now, obviously, for some people, donating is higher up the pecking order, but that’s not the norm.

So, looking again at the question of ‘who’s got the money,’ after all of the spending priorities have been catered for, a clearer picture emerges.

The people and organisations who have or control spare money are:

  • Grant-making bodies (who exist to give money away
  • Wealthy individuals of any age
  • ‘Comfortably off’ individuals over 60
  • Individuals of pension age with fewer family commitments and own their own home, especially, people who worked in the Public Sector ( teachers, nurses, local Government, Civil Service etc who still enjoy final salary pensions )
  • Young professionals
  • Small Business Owners of any age, either in their individual capacity or their business
  • Medium and Larger business Managers and Directors, either in their individual capacity or their business
  • People of advanced years who own their own home
  • Family of people who are recently deceased
  • Potentially people over 60 who volunteer to help charities. 65-74 year olds were the most likely age range to volunteer every month is 2020/21. 25-34 year olds were the least likely. There is a strong correlation between volunteering and giving


Now, imagine the UK adult population as a vast crowd. In amongst the crowd here and there, less than one in every 6 or 7, is someone who falls into one or more of the groups above.

That means that 83% of any communications sent to a general audience, rather than directly to a defined individual prospect, are already wasted. No amount of social media ‘trust building’, engagement or any other form of non-targeted communication is going to alter this simple fact.


Next issue:

In our following issues we will talk about

  • Where this money is
  • How to access it
  • What difference would accessing this money make to smaller charities?


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Fundraising Ideas BlogHow small-medium sized charities raise money