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Mining for Major Gifts Through Meaningful Engagement - Part 2

By Cynthia Woolbright

Last week, you met Penelope and learned how her gift officer started to deepen her inspiration, learned about her interests and engaged her in the university’s work. Now, let’s learn what they did next.

Ask Her to Make A Gift

In due time, the dean of the St. Jude’s research in children’s cancer and the dean at your university agree that a proposal should be discussed with her. Penelope meets with them to hear “their story” and becomes quite intrigued. Unlike any other children’s cancer research center in the country, this comprehensive proposal includes a fully staffed center, research faculty, residency programs, and much more. She is shown a video that reflects the “vision” for the center and what might be accomplished. She meets families whose children have been cured as well as families who lost their child due to limited availability of services and treatment at that time.

While most interested, she agrees to consider their proposal; however, she wants to learn more about the center and its plan for leadership and management. She meets with more faculty and residents.

Yes, she wants to be very engaged – not unusual for a woman philanthropist. The advancement officer does a very good job managing the process.

After another three to four months, she agrees to make the gift for the new center and its program, including its people. The gift also establishes a foundation for an endowment.

Recognize and Thank Her

Within the year, the unveiling of the center and all its components is made. A three-day symposium is held for researchers and alumni to attend. The depth and breadth are very extraordinary. When unveiled, it is the Susan Smith Center for Research in Children’s Cancer, named after Penelope’s late sister.

Penelope is but one donor who should be engaged. Steps were missing initially in wealth screening, visits, etc. Once recognized, she had many opportunities that were a significant part of her engagement strategy that led her to established the Smith Center.

We often don’t really listen and learn about the donor’s passion, nor understand the motives of their gifts, nor really listen deeply. In this case, the donor drove much of the strategy due to her engagement with two renown institutions. Her advancement officer recognized Penelope’s passion, knew something about women’s philanthropy and was able to engage the right mix of people. And, the officer was given much leeway to develop the strategies along the way.

While we cannot undertake such a significant series of “teaching, ask and thanks” for all donors, we should be operating from a comprehensive stewardship plan so that all gift officers know and understand what levels of capacity and/or giving are established. When it comes to donors with very large capacity, demonstrated commitment and giving, the individual approach is the only way to make it work.

And, it is a “give and take” of the donor with the officer (and senior leaders). A well-honed strategy will require flexibility, listening and asking the strategic questions along the way. Being bold is helpful.

Lessons Learned

  1. Do your homework, thoroughly
  2. Ask strategic questions and listen - always
  3. Engage thoroughly in dialogue, conversation, and discussion with your donor; be willing to listen to wild and outrageous ideas from them. They may come true. They may be achievable.
  4. Think boldly, audaciously, and out of the box. You can always get back in the box with more traditional approaches.
  5. Also know the research and stay current on philanthropy related to gender, race, age and giving.

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