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Sunday, January 21, 2018

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And He Would Know - Mayo Clinic fundraises
Tom Ahern

October, 2009

He gave a keynote luncheon talk to a bunch of fundraisers in MN. I pushed aside my dessert and began taking notes. Dr. Gorman said, "At least for major benefactors, to my perception, there are 10 essential elements that, taken collectively, lead to great joy from philanthropy." Great joy! If you just heard your neck hairs crackle electrically, as in Dr. Frankenstein's la-bora-tory, take heart: your hair is absolutely right. Dr. Gorman is onto something elemental. "These essential elements are," he listed...

  1. "The benefactor understands clearly where the institution is headed and supports that direction." Dr. Gorman added that fewer organizations "than you might think" actually know where there are headed. This is where your organization should engage in some pretty intensive self-analysis. If your org. does not choose to look into the future and have a vision worth selling to donors, then you, the development officer should either (1) suck it up and change things; or (2) quietly search for a new job.
  2. "The benefactor trusts the organization to fully honor her or his intent." He went on to say that trust was initially an act of faith. But trust was sustained when the organization proved that it was in fact doing good. You are providing that proof on your website and in your newsletters, right?
  3. "Deliverables have been met and timelines followed." I.e., you make promises and you keep them.
  4. "Tangible change has been achieved: a building built, a program initiated, new knowledge gained." The key word here is "tangible." Recent research amongst major donors reveals that they especially like giving to buildings. Why? Because buildings are physical: the donor can see and touch the accomplishment. Is it hard to make something non-physical like a program or research tangible? Not really. You tell little stories to demonstrate the impact of the new program or new research.
  5. "Stewardship has been excellent and personalized." The job's not over when the gift is made. Every benefactor is instantly a member of your organization's family. So you stay in touch. You keep them informed. You report on progress. You thank them repeatedly.
  6. "The benefactor feels welcome and is personally engaged regarding the activity supported." Dr. Gorman relentlessly uses the term "benefactor." You have to call those people who give you money something, after all, to designate their place in your world. Is it a better designation than "donor"? I don't know. I like it, though. It sounds highly honorable, slightly old-fashioned, and slightly deferential as well; all to the good.
  7. "Recognition has been appropriate and has included a social element..." e.g., lunch "...that conveys a genuine and unforced sense that the benefactor is cherished and that puts the benefactor in touch with the appropriate level of institutional leaders." E.g., lunch with the president. Peer-to-peer recognition is extremely important in major gifts fundraising. How do you "convey a genuine and unforced sense that the benefactor is cherished"? Well, to start: don't think of the benefactor as a bag of cash with a head attached. Cherish their trust in your organization, their willingness to help, and their commitment to your cause.
  8. "The gift is not opposed by family members who are thinking of their inheritance."
  9. "As a result of the gift, the benefactor has a heightened sense of dignity and self esteem." In other words: emotional gratification.
  10. "The benefactor has become aware that after the phase of acquisition in life..." i.e., getting rich, "...there is a second phase of disposition..." i.e., giving some of those riches away "...that is also challenging, exciting, engaging, satisfying and fun!" What might he mean by "challenging": This goal is hard to achieve, and it's not cheap. But it is extraordinarily worth the time and effort. And together with you, the benefactor, we can reach it.

Takeaway: Dr. Gorman talks about "major donors," the folks blessed with enough means to shove a big chunk of change across the desk. But almost everything he mentions is essential for "minor donors" as well.

Should you schedule a one-on-one lunch with the university president for every $25 alumni gift? Maybe not. But an annual general meeting of all donors, with the president giving a keynote and circulating among the tables? Absolutely. Oh, and don't forget that special update letter from the grateful president going to all donors, big and small.

Major, minor: We all want to feel good about our gifts. We all need proof that promises were kept. We all want to feel part of the family. We all want to rise to some challenge and help make something important happen.

Tom Ahern is just plain great! I could go on and on but - all you have to do is go to his website and see for yourself - 


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