For example, Sexton will make a phone call or send a note to a donor who has expressed interest in a certain cause, such as MSF’s new HIV/AIDS treatment program. It might sound something like, “Hey, I thought you might like to know what we’re doing in Rwanda with survivors of the genocide that occurred in 1994. A team of five psychologists helps women — many of whom were raped during the genocide and have subsequently developed AIDS — to express their anxiety and anger.”
The response has been overwhelmingly positive. One other thing Sexton has observed firsthand since the fledgling major gifts program was implemented — now that donors have her ear — is that operational costs are an issue of deep concern.
“The people we’re dealing with at this level are savvy, and very aware of the percentages,” Sexton says. “If they get too much mail, they’ll ask me, ‘Why are you spending this money?’ Nearly every solicitation call I go on I’m asked about administrative and fundraising costs.”
At the time of this interview, Sexton was still busy assessing the unprecedented sum of high-dollar donations that had been contributed to MSF for its part in the tsunami-relief effort. Many large gifts came from people who’d not previously existed on any prospect files. Some have giving histories with MSF, but only at a $100 level, for example, and well below Sexton’s radar. But then, all of a sudden, bang, they anted up $15,000.
“I’m calling people who’ve given specifically to the tsunami-relief effort and saying, ‘Thank you so much, it’s very generous of you, but I’m sorry, we cannot absorb this money as a restricted gift,’” Sexton says. “I tell them, ‘We’d like you to consider our Emergency Relief Fund, which allows us to respond quickly to emergencies like the tsunami [in South Asia].’”