The Billionaire Philanthropist Teaching Fundraisers How to Ask for Money
We devote a lot of articles around here to the art of the ask (see here, here and here) and for good reason—it's a critical part of major-gift fundraising, one with which even long-time fundraisers sometimes struggle. Most of the advice comes from folks experienced in making the ask, and it's good stuff. But who better to advise would-be askers than the man who's been on the receiving end of his fair share of asks?
That man is T. Denny Sanford, the 80-year-old businessman who has appeared in Bloomberg Businessweek's "50 Most Generous Philanthropists" list and The Chronicle of Philanthropy's "Philanthropy 50." Sanford, whose net worth is an estimated $1.4 billion, made his fortune in the banking and credit card industries, and according to Forbes, he's given away more than $1 billion already, developing a reputation for philanthropy. Now, he wants to give more than just money.
Because he’s a well-known giver with deep pockets ... and a compact charitable operation (his staff is just him, a secretary and a bookkeeper, and he writes checks from his own bank account), Sanford has been personally pitched thousands of times by people seeking funds for worthy causes. Some were passionate and well-prepared; many others, not so much.
So he partnered with National University in San Diego, Calif., in 2014 to launch the Sanford Institute of Philanthropy, with the goal of training boots-on-the-ground fundraisers to effectively ask philanthropists for money. It’s a segment of the nonprofit world that has been underserved, according to Sanford. There are plenty of solid programs aimed at nonprofit managers, leaders and administrators, he says, but there’s virtually nothing out there for the people going door-to-door.
Sanford believes that better sales training for nonprofit fundraisers will lead to more efficient organizations, which would in turn lay the groundwork for more efficient philanthropy in the future.
“I have a problem within the nonprofits I support,” Sanford told Forbes. “We can’t find people that have any [fundraising] experience. So we’re creating a whole new cadre of salespeople.”
So he developed a textbook, "Cause Selling: The Sanford Way," which, true to its name, teaches fundraisers how to sell their causes. He then introduced a series of seminars, held at Sanford Education Center at National University's School of Business and Management, helping area nonprofit leaders put the book's findings into practice. The first eight seminars were wildly successful, noted Forbes, and other schools have taken notice. The program is set to expand to Augustana University, located in Sioux Falls, S.D., and John F. Kennedy University, outside of San Francisco.
It's an interesting model—the billionaire telling fundraisers exactly how best to separate him from his money. And while it's not exactly new—the driving principle behind donor-centered fundraising is knowing what makes donors tick—it is a new perspective, a bit of inside baseball direct from, well, the inside.
Currently, the seminars are limited only to the locations listed above, but fundraisers would be wise to stay on the lookout for similar education opportunities, should they arise. At the very least, it's a reminder that there may be other major donors out there willing to offer feedback on how to get their money.
It can't hurt to ask.