The Path to a Very Large Gift from One Donor

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Here is a perfect example of how awareness builds into major giving. This story was sent in by a friend of ours in response to my series on “Relational Steps to Getting Meetings.” I have disguised the specifics in order to protect the identity of the university and the donor. Here is what happened:

The story played out at a prominent university in the Western US. Many years ago, the major gift team had met a man who owned one of the largest residential construction companies in that part of the country. This man had heard about the “construction management” program at the university and expressed interest in getting to know more about it.

Here’s an interesting and very relevant data point: neither this man nor his wife were alumni of the University. They were simply interested in helping students develop their potential in this area of his work.

The major gifts team listened to the donor’s interest, and they designed a visit that matched his passions and interests. They decided to ask the Dean of the School of Engineering and Technology to be the host for the meeting. They reasoned that this Dean could most closely address the donor’s interests and passions. And they were right. The Dean did a fantastic job of hosting the donor and, as a result, the donor gave $50,000 to the program.

Lucky for the university, this Dean really knew the basic, core principles of donor relations. Because after he had satisfied the donor’s interest in the construction management program and secured a $50,000 gift, the Dean asked the donor if he could show the donor and his wife around the university to become exposed to the other exciting things happening on campus.

What a great idea!! This Dean was not going to throw up a wall around the donor and try to keep him only focused on the College’s construction management program. Nope! Instead he exposed the donor to other “dreams and possibilities” around campus (doing the very thing I wrote about in my blog on “creating awareness”).

As a result of that tour, the donor became aware of a whole host of other areas he could be interested in. And that awareness led to some very interesting and exciting places.

I need to pause here because this really fascinates me on a number of levels:

  1. Rather than hoard the donor, the Dean gave him away. Not that he could have held onto the donor anyway. But it is amazing how many folks we meet will focus more on keeping the money, keeping the relationship, and staying focused on their need, rather than doing everything they can to satisfy the donor’s interests and passions. We were excited some months ago when a MGO wrote us, telling us that when she found out about the interests and passions of her donor, in addition to telling her donor about her organization and how “her” programs matched some of those interests and passions, she also told the donor about where he could give to OTHER organizations!! What?? You have to be kidding!! Has this MGO lost her mind? Nope. She knows that the donor is not hers, and that giving him away is the very best thing she can do.
  2. The Dean exposed the donor to everything that was being done. Which is exactly what he should do. Rather than introduce the donor to the one thing YOU want the donor to do, let them see all the “products in the store” so the donor can think about it, wonder about it, and become interested and enthused about more than one thing.
  3. The Dean’s behavior was generosity-based rather than fear- and control-based. Jeff constantly tells me to “give it away” because he lives his life that way, and he grew up with that kind of ethic and way of doing things. I, on the other hand, grew up in a fear-based environment where I had to scrap for things, and where I had to protect things from being taken from me. I have had to learn how to give things away. It is not easy, but Jeff shows me the way, as does my wife. My point here is this: as a MGO you have to reach goals. It is counterintuitive to share, in the way I am describing here, because if you share you run the risk of losing. But the truth is that sharing and giving away is the far better path. And it really works.

So this very wealthy man initially gave $50,000. And because a very wise Dean and major gifts team “gave the donor away” and exposed him to everything else this good University was doing, this donor, over the next decade, gave to EVERY single college at the University with cumulative gifts totaling almost 100 million dollars!! Yep, that’s right. 100 million dollars.

All because a Dean made these two wonderful friends aware of all the other “possibilities” on the campus. What can you do with your caseload donors to outrageously fulfill their interests and passions? The first thing you can do is look at how tightly you are holding onto them, and ease your grip. Believe me, good things will happen.

Richard

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2 Comments

  • Wendy Taylor says:

    LOVE this post! It is so true…

    Thank you for sharing

  • Robin Padanyi says:

    Whew! That was a surprisingly challenging post for me.

    I definitely hold too tightly to my organization’s donors. Deep down though, I really want to give them every opportunity to fulfil their passions and interests (even if it’s with another organization *gasp*).

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