I will never forget what happened to the MGO when he went to meet with the owner of a very large company in California, asked for a gift and 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 already 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 little insignificant projects and that he wanted to make a difference.
The MGO had pointed out that his history of giving was $25,000 here and $50,000 there and that giving at that level did not justify a million dollar ask.
I had countered with the fact that the wealth research and 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. That’s right, ¾ of billion dollars! As we talked I was once again impressed with the truth that very wealthy people, for the most part, 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–often 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 me up and told me about the donor’s re-direct I said, “Dan (not his real name), 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? Yep. But you have to make it happen. And there are some very basic steps you need to take:
- First, you need to make sure the donor has 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 up to speed on this point you will fail.
- You need to work with program to come up with a bold vision for what your organization is trying to do that fits the donor’s interests and passions. 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 non-profit – 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 set of details that fit the vision and present that to the donor. Make a big and bold ask knowing that 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 in which 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 was 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 each of us wants, including each one of your donors, is to be a significant player in making that change happen.