Anatomy of a Large Gift
Every fundraising ask for a gift consists of humans playing various parts to achieve a common purpose. The ultimate purpose of fundraising is to secure large gifts if possible. It is not easy and rather complex. After obtaining a large gift, it always is wise to dissect the ask and seek ways to improve strategy and performance. The next ask always is around the corner.
At one time, I worked for a hospital system, which decided to build a hospice facility through a capital campaign. When directing a campaign for a facility, one should look at all aspects of the facility—both internally and externally. In the case of this hospice, it was critical that patients received care inside the facility but also had the opportunity to go outside to enjoy fresh air and landscaping. The campaign plan was sound and all elements were in place except for one piece.
The missing piece was the creation of a permanent endowment fund to underwrite outside landscaping and amenities. Could I find a significant donor to make this goal a reality?
Let’s examine the cast of players that turned this strategy into reality:
- Player A: The board member/wealth advisor who loved and personally used the hospital. I would help him select personal doctors and provide advice for his services. His client/prospect was wealthy and loved the outdoors. Through research, I found that the prospect’s wife was deceased, and he might be convinced to honor his wife.
- Player B: The quiet personal assistant who always attended hospital events with another board member, but always was under the radar. I created special events for her to attend. Through research, I found out she was the personal assistant to the wealthy prospect of Player A for more than 40 years. She also was a close friend of Player A.
- Player C: The prospect, who was not philanthropic and had no children. He was the personal client of Player A, and Player B was his long-time assistant. Even though he was a multimillionaire, he did not want to make a large cash-type gift. Through discussions, he might be inclined to make a planned gift. I had to determine a win-win scenario as we needed seed funds immediately. His career was in the flowers-and-landscaping business.
- Player D: The retired and former board member who I made sure attended hospital events with his “friend,” Player B. He supported the hospital system and was a personal donor. I was in constant contact with him.
Over a period of time and through several cultivation visits, I made the big ask to Player C. In his house were Player A, Player B and me. I asked him for a multimillion dollar gift to underwrite the hospice-endowment landscaping fund in honor of his wife. While he wanted to make a planned gift, I asked him if he would consider making a combination planned/current gift. The eventual gift was more than $1 million. He agreed to make a current $50,000 gift each year until he died, when the balance of the gift would arrive through his estate. He actually died after making his first current gift.
Why did this gift happen?
- Careful long-term cultivation of all players in the story
- A priority that fit each player’s interests, especially the prospect’s
- Hospital activities that constantly engaged each player
- Presentations to board members encouraging assisting the development effort
- Recognition for all players in various ways
- Creation of a culture of philanthropy
- Behind-the-scenes research and strategy that fit a campaign perfectly
- Development of a personal relationship with the players
- Doing all of the little things that nonprofit professionals must do to achieve success
Securing large gifts is not easy. It takes a great deal of time, patience and luck. You need to engage your administration, staff, board, volunteers, donors and others in the process of financially supporting your institution. You must not take anything for granted. Always provide ways to engage supporters of your institution. You never know if the quiet assistant in the shadows can affect a million-dollar gift.
Said Lucius Annaeus Seneca, a Roman Stoic philosopher: “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” Keep striving to create your own luck.
Duke has extensive experience as a nonprofit practitioner, author, lecturer and consultant. He has been a contributing author to NonProfit PRO for the last 11 years. He has been a long-standing member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals where he was previously named the AFP Indiana Chapter Fundraising Executive of the Year and has held the CFRE designation for many years.
He received his doctorate degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis in education administration, master's degree from Marshall University with an emphasis in public administration and a bachelor's degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis in marketing/management. He has also completed post graduate work at the University of Louisville.
He is currently executive director of development for The Salvation Army Indiana Division in Indianapolis, Indiana. Contact Duke at firstname.lastname@example.org or 317-224-1029.