Major Gifts: People Aren't Always Who or What They Seem
I just got back from a great Bulldog Breakfast Club, a gathering of local University of Georgia alumni, in Nashville. The speaker was Josh Bilue, a former UGA football letterman who owns several bars/music venues in Nashville.
Josh was telling the story about one of his favorite shows and how he was in the hallway with the artist who was playing his venue but was reticent to speak to him.
Josh is a larger fellow who got his start in the business as a bouncer in college, and he figured the reluctant performer just thought he was security, rather than the venue owner.
It was a great story. As I got back to the office, a colleague shared that while working in a university medical center environment, one of her largest regular donors self-identified but otherwise would have flown under the radar. He made his money by calling in response to one of those TV commercials about class-action lawsuits, won several of those due to exposure to hazardous chemicals and was very generous in giving back.
An early business mentor of mine — one who encouraged me to venture out with Lighthouse Counsel — was a major donor to a client. We would meet at Shoney's for a 6:30 breakfast and talk campaign strategy — and life strategy. You would not recognize him for his wealth — well, unless you knew that he lived in a large home once owned by a music icon. He was plain in appearance and dress. Never graduated from high school. But he built a business and sold it for tens of millions of dollars.
In "The Millionaire Next Door," Thomas Stanley and William Danko brought attention to wealthy folks who fly under the radar. Their 1998 research showed that among millionaires:
- 80 percent are first-generation affluent
- Self-employed make up less than 20 percent of Americans, but two-thirds of millionaires
- Most live well below their means
- One in five are not college graduates
- On average, they invest 20 percent of their income
There are many ways to prospect for potential major donors — wealth screening, peer screening, past giving to your organization (levels and consistency), benchmarking gifts to other organizations. But to really uncover opportunity, there is no substitute for being out in the field, meeting folks and asking great questions. Because people are not always what or who they seem to be!
Looking for Jeff? You'll find him either on the lake, laughing with good friends, or helping nonprofits develop to their full potential.
Jeff believes that successful fundraising is built on a bedrock of relevant, consistent messaging; sound practices; the nurturing of relationships; and impeccable stewardship. And that organizations that adhere to those standards serve as beacons to others that aspire to them. The Bedrocks & Beacons blog will provide strategic information to help nonprofits be both.
Jeff has more than 25 years of nonprofit leadership experience and is a member of the NonProfit PRO Editorial Advisory Board.