What Bogey Said.

by Kerry Burke on June 8, 2011

Here's Looking at You, Donor.

The Chronicle of Philanthropy has confirmed 225 donations of $1M or more since January 1st of this year. This is up from 145 $1M donations during the same time span in 2010. Makes sense to me. The first two quarters of 2011 have performed much better than 2010, and that leads to a sense of security. Home values are back up a little, stock market is up, people are getting jobs again and this collectively leads to the proverbial sigh of relief from investors and wealthy people.

Understand that the majority of these gifts have been in the works for years.  It’s most likely not that the donors didn’t have the capacity last year and so waited until this year to pledge it; no, it’s more like they feel more secure this year and the timing is right to make that commitment. Some of these gifts were solicited in past years and the donor said “not now.”

Interestingly, these 225 donors didn’t decide on the spot to give $1M to their favorite cause. Gifts this thoughtful involve relationships with leadership, an emotional connection to a cause, and lots and lots of stewardship and assurance that the gift will be used in the way it is intended. Now, you may be reading this and thinking “our organization will never get a $1M gift, so this is not relevant to us.”

Not true at all. It takes the same amount of effort and involvement to get a $10,000 gift as it does to get a $1,000,000 gift. Don’t believe me? Ask the $10,000 donor what made them decide to invest in an organization. Ask the same of the $1M donor. Their answers will be remarkably similar: they believe in the cause.

This is why it is so important to call your donors and thank them. Ask them to lunch so you can listen. This is your best shot at engaging that donor in a more remarkable way. Ask questions, and really hear how the donor answers, what they say.

I met a donor couple that gave a small amount to my organization. I asked them to lunch, they accepted. We got together and I listened. I learned that they had a grandson with shaken baby syndrome who was severely cognitively impaired, and he absolutely loved a particular program on our station. Now, would that have come to light in a letter? In a phone call? At a gala event? No. It comes from breaking bread with someone and being in their presence, seeing their face and asking questions.

I said that I believe that children with special needs teach compassion and that their other grandchildren are very fortunate to have such a profound teacher. They heartily agreed. We all sat silent for a moment, reflecting on this idea.

The next week, I received a check from them, 5 times the amount they normally give. The accompanying note said “we want to support this program for all the other ‘teachers’ out there. The world needs more compassion.”

The moral of the story? It couldn’t be simpler. Meet your donors. As Humphrey Bogart said, it could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

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