No Vision, No Gift
I will never forget what happened to the major gifts officer (MGO) who went into the office of an owner at a very large company in California and asked for a gift. The donor said, “When you have something that has some vision and is in the million-dollar range, come back and see me. What you are proposing today does not interest me.”
I felt like saying: “I told you so.”
But the MGO did not listen.
We had had many meetings about this donor. I had pointed out that this man was the founder of a very successful and entrepreneurial company; that he was wired to make things happen; that he was a visionary; that he was not satisfied with tiny, insignificant projects; and that he wanted to make a difference.
The MGO had pointed out that the history of giving was $25,000 here and $50,000 there, and that that kind of giving did not justify a million-dollar ask.
I had countered that the information we had mined on the Internet showed this man was interested in making a mark, not only for society but also for himself.
And so the argument went. Back and forth. And I lost. And the MGO got on a plane to make his $200,000 ask.
I had dinner several weeks ago with a person whose net worth has to be in the $750-million range. As we talked, I was once again impressed with the truth that most very wealthy people really do care. They really want to make a difference. And they want to do something significant.
This gentleman was soft spoken and humble. He had achieved a lot. And the weight of his wealth and achievement seemed to have made him introspective and serious. His success had made a huge difference in his life. He was thankful, I could tell. And now he wanted to make a difference.
But here’s the thing. People like this, while they may be calm and peaceful and, in the case of this gentleman, very quiet and thoughtful—these kinds of people have a great deal of impatience for small thinking.
And this is the point I want you to go away with from this post—many donors need you to share a big vision with them!
Jeff and I see so many asks these days that lack vision, energy and inspiration. It’s no wonder that the donors are rejecting them. Why would a donor want to just do something mediocre?
Think about this.
When you do something for someone else or when you give a gift, don’t you want to know that you did something significant? Of course you do. So why would you put something in front of a donor that feels insignificant or seems like you are just asking the donor to throw some money down a black hole?
Many of these high-capacity, high-net-worth donors have been engaged in business and personal ventures where the stakes were high, the impact was significant and the outcomes they sought seemed unachievable.
Back to that California donor I started this post with. When the MGO called and told me about the donor’s redirect, I said: “Please listen to me. This donor is used to dealing with big projects. He sits in meetings every day and asks his staff for ideas that will change the world. You really do need to bump this up a bit, and get to what he wants and needs.”
Well, the MGO got together with program, came up with a bold vision, went back to the donor and secured a $1.5 million gift!
So, can this happen for you? Yes. But you have to make it happen. And there are some very basic steps you need to take:
- You need to make sure the donor has the capacity and inclination to give a large gift. Your research and conversations with the donor will give you this information.
- You need to be sure you know the donor’s interests and passions. We’ve been on this point many times. But the fact is if you are not on point at this point, you will fail.
- You need to work with program to come up with a bold vision that fits the donor’s interests and passions for what your organization is trying to do. I am not talking here about the program details—that’s next. I am talking about articulating the vision you have for society—that thing that has motivated the very creation of your nonprofit—the core reason for your being that, if you are successful, will change the world. What is that? What, on a grand scale, are you trying to do? How will it make a significant difference in our world? Believe it or not, very few charities can actually come up with this stuff, which is why the asks they make are not clothed in the proper context.
- Then come up with a program concept and details that fit the vision, and present that to the donor. Make a big and bold ask, knowing the outcome of your ask could be a “yes” to your entire proposal or something less. I don’t think it will be a “no.” I am involved in a conversation right now with another MGO where we are preparing a million-dollar ask. I think we will secure that gift, but it may be paid out in two or three installments.
Donors, just like you, want to be inspired. When you are preparing your ask for a donor, ask yourself the question: “If this were presented to me, would I be inspired? Would it fill me with energy and excitement?” If not, keep writing.
Changing our world is a big thing. And one of the core things we, as well as each of our donors, all want is to be significant players in making that change happen.
If you’re hanging with Richard it won’t be long before you’ll be laughing.
He always finds something funny in everything. But when the conversation is about people, their money and giving, you’ll find a deeply caring counselor who helps donors fulfill their passions and interests. Richard believes that successful major-gift fundraising is not fundamentally about securing revenue for good causes. Instead it is about helping donors express who they are through their giving. The Connections blog will provide practical information on how to do this successfully. Richard has more than 30 years of nonprofit leadership and fundraising experience, and is founding partner of the Veritus Group.