I was recently speaking with my colleague Tina Yoon about a tour of a health clinic in a poor neighborhood. The tour inspired her to start supporting the clinic. I asked her what made the tour so special, and she said, “The doctor who spoke during the tour was a pillar of the community. I felt honored that he would spend time with us.” This was many years ago, but it made a big impression on Tina.
A major DC philanthropist did a tour of a major multi-faceted social service agency, and promised $20,000 — $10,000 unrestricted, and $10,000 for whatever the man who ran the tour (director of a teen drop in center) wanted. The executive director had a conniption fit, as you might imagine, about a staff person several rungs down the chain of command being empowered to direct contributions. Nonetheless, something that man did captured the heart of the philanthropist, who wanted to empower him to do more. That’s a good thing.
Who are the people in your organization who have the power to make donors feel special?
I would guess that in your organization the fundraising equivalent of the 4 minute mile is waiting to be conquered. It could be a gift of $25,000, or $100,000, or $1,000,000 – enough to make jaws drop, hearts skip a beat, and feet to float off the ground. When that gift comes, it does several things.
• It gets the attention of other donors. Most donors are cautious, and will be more inclined to “step up” after someone else has lead the way.
• It gives confidence to the staff. For people immersed in the daily work of the organization, it gives a huge morale boost to know someone cares enough to give that much.
• It inspires board and staff leadership with visions of new possibility. It is natural to slide along in the groove of current reality. A big gift will elevate them out of the incremental doldrums.
So who are the possible “Bannister donors” on your prospect list? Make it happen. I have always found it helpful to start by envisioning the donor writing a big check, and then working backwards to figure out how to get there from here. On your mark….