It was the late 1980’s. I was a guest in the home of a Fortune 500 executive in Vail, Colorado. It was a cavernous house where, on several occasions, I got lost trying to navigate my way back to the guest quarters. I had been invited to this couple’s house to brainstorm new ways they could help the organization they loved, in attracting more donors. They had come to know and trust me because of my work with the organization.
One night, after dinner, we were sitting there talking – just the three of us (the executive, his wife and me) – and he said something that I hadn’t thought of before. We were talking about why donors give. I had been sharing my views that, for the most part, donors give for a number of reasons, all of which are NOT related to money.
There was a pause in the conversation, and he turned to me and said: “Richard, I believe that every human being on the face of the earth has a calling. Now, I know that could be interpreted as a religious word – a calling – but I don’t mean it that way. Call it a voice or an inner drive or motivation. Or call it a special purpose. Whatever. There is something that draws every human being to do something for others. Not all of us hear that calling, or respond to that impulse to reach out to others, but many of us do.” He went on to say that we need to discover what that calling is in every person we meet.
That conversation was the birth of the concept that Jeff and I talk about incessantly – the concept of uncovering the passions and interests of a donor.
Today, as I reflect on that conversation, I am again impressed by some very simple but profound truths:
- Money and power do not bring fulfillment and joy. During all the years I have been helping people fulfill their passions and interests through their giving, I have been with scores of very successful and powerful people. Not once have I heard any of them say that their money or their success brought them great joy. Quite the opposite. In every case it was a deep friendship, a child who developed a caring spirit, a person helped, or some meaningful connection with others that brought joy. It was, as my executive friend said, when a person fulfilled their calling or purpose that they felt the greatest satisfaction.
- A person’s passion or interest is not readily apparent. It often has nothing to do with the work they do, the hobbies they have or how they spend their time. This is counter-intuitive because you would think that a person’s interests would be evident in how they spend their time. Sometimes it is. But Jeff and I have encountered scores of situations where a donor is excited about working with an organization because it gives them a unique and welcome opportunity to express their “calling.”
- If we could harness and direct all the passions and interests of every human on earth, we could solve every problem our planet faces. It’s a pretty bold statement, I know. But let me qualify it a little. First, in every human being there exists an unvarnished, untainted passion to help others. Second, in many humans this passion is hidden, repressed and not easily activated. And lastly, IF we could reach into the hearts of those people who haven’t activated their passions and help them do it, it would revolutionize our world. Now, is that possible? Probably not, for a number of reasons we don’t have time or space to pursue here. But it is a worthwhile objective. And that is my point. We, as major gift people, should be working on this constantly – to unleash more and more goodwill and resources from these good people to accomplish two things: (a) bring more joy and fulfillment to donors, and (b) release more resources to help others.
Spend some time today thinking about the donors on your caseload, and then plan to take the following actions:
- If you don’t know a donor’s passions and interests, find a way to uncover them. Do this by asking questions about what brings the donors joy in life and/or in their giving. You can’t just blurt this out – but you can make this a part of a natural and easy conversation with the donor.
- Spend quality time designing an organizational match to each donor’s passion and interest. This is really hard work. You will have to meet with program and finance people to come up with a workable match. We find that this one area is the tipping point in major gift fundraising. Done right, the MGO will experience success. Done wrong or not at all, the MGO will experience failure. I am working with a situation right now where the MGO is actively helping a wealthy donor fulfill his passions by giving to another organization! That’s right. The MGO is spending her time helping her donor give money to someone else! That’s crazy, you might say. But if you could hear all the details of this journey you would be convinced that this MGO is using her timely wisely. I am confident that the final result of her efforts will be a six- or seven-figure gift to her organization. This kind of behavior seems so “wrong” on the surface, doesn’t it? But when you are truly donor-centered, the path to the destination is often circuitous and counter-intuitive.
There is nothing more satisfying in this wonderful work of major gifts than to match a donor and her “calling” to a societal need. This is what it is all about. And when it happens, joy happens all around: with the donor, the person helped, the organization and the MGO.