THE “MIRACLE” GIFT – DOES IT EXIST?

by Joe Staley of member firm Staley Robeson

Has anyone noticed!  Times and expectations have changed.  The entrance to the CEO’s office of many corporations has changed from the prestigious solid oak paneled, gold name plated door to the more efficient, time-saving revolving door.  All the better to accommodate the coming – and the going — of the latest hope for  producing the twelve month miracle of corporate redemption.

Many in the financial world have little patience for the planning and painstaking execution of a long-term plan.  Produce the miracle in short order, or pick up your severance package on the way out, and “adios”.

Have you also noticed that what the corporate world regards as “how to do it” has a way of invading the not-for-profit sector?  Fund-raising consultants can recite case after case where the failure to develop a sound, realistic campaign plan has taken a back seat to “move it”, “get it done, now.”  Have you noticed how many business executives serving on not-for-profit boards will commit the institution to a plan, an action or a course that they would never adopt in their business?

Experienced fund raising consultants know that there are no “miracles” that will make up for the failure to conduct a long-term, consistent effort to produce the leadership giving that is the key to campaign success.  Example:  an Ivy League institution received an eight-figure gift from a woman whose son had been killed in an auto accident 36 years prior to the receipt of the gift.  What the newspaper reporting this “miracle” gift didn’t say was that for the entire 36 year period, several Presidents had visited the woman at least twice a year, invited her to campus for all major events, and provided transportation, if required.

The “miracle” was not the gift.  It was the consistent, long-term demonstration of concern and compassion of several Presidents, aided by a succession of Institutional Advancement leaders, that produced a gift of significant importance for the future of the institution.  How many present College Presidents, Institutional Advancement Officers, or Board Leaders would take the time and expend the effort to produce such a gift knowing that in all probability it would not be realized on their watch?

While this example may be rare, it happened!  It highlights the importance of: developing a manageable list of key prospects; reviewing it name-by-name in a regularly scheduled meeting with administrative and advancement leadership; exchanging information gained since the last meeting; specifying, with respect to each prospect, what is to be the nature of the next contact, a prospective date and who has the responsibility to carry it out; and, what must be prepared in advance of the contact, by whom and by what date.

In larger institutions, both a short-term and a long-term list may be helpful.  The key is to develop a list appropriate in size to the capability of the institution to carry it out with regularity and effectiveness.  “Miracle” gifts are always traceable to some incident, relationship, interest or motivation that ties the donor to the institution.  That tie is often hidden, because no one has taken the time to find it, assess its impact, and do what is required to make available to the donor an opportunity to meet a human need that he or she has been seeking but has not found.

Every institutional leader who seeks financial support must accept the responsibility to discover the donor’s need.  Once discovered, a thoughtful presentation of the institution’s needs creates the synergy out of which  “miracle” gifts result.

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