Saturday, October 20, 2007

New Column Every Monday--The Fundraising Guru, October 22, 2007

Fundraising Lessons from Life
By Dr. Stephen L. Goldstein,
author of 30 Days to Successful Fundraising
host and executive producer of "Fundraising Success" on WXEL/National Public Radio & available at any time from anywhere in the world by anyone with Internet access at

This column proves that the best fundraising advice is never based upon theories, but comes from personal success stories — from life itself.

1. Ask and you shall be given. Yes, it really is as simple as that. According to a recent news article, Jessica Knighton, the student president at Boyd Anderson High School in Lauderdale Lakes, attended a meeting of the city commission and walked off with $18,000 on top of the $50,000, for which she had hoped for school improvements. Apparently, during her initial pitch, city officials “jokingly suggested that she hit up commissioners for more money.” No wallflower, that’s exactly what she did, but not in some mushy way: She, reportedly, stood at the lectern and asked them, one by one, to pledge “a generous donation” of their own money. Jessica, a 12th grader, later said, “It was a rush and my adrenaline was going.”Many seasoned fundraisers hold back. Having been rebuffed many times or thinking they “know” their potential contributors, they subconsciously torpedo their chances. It takes someone like Jessica to remind us that a fundraiser’s job is to ask, without reservation or consideration—or they’ll never be given.

2. You never know where the money’s going to come from. Some of the biggest gifts to nonprofits come from people they never knew — who never attended a gala, never wanted any kind of recognition, especially a silly plaque. According to a recent account, one such frugal mystery donor was a woman who died last year in Miami, leaving $35.6 million for medical research. Her two brothers died of complications from diabetes, and she lost part of a lung to cancer. She purposely lived below her means and wanted no publicity. Having made it her goal to build up a fortune to leave behind, she died at 101, leaving savvy fundraisers with the obvious pitch that “giving big” is the secret to longevity. But I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the real lesson to be learned from a story like this is that nonprofits and fundraisers have got to be nice to everyone. That means you should have a strong public relations strategy, so that people you don’t know think well enough of you to make contributions.

3. Donors: Dot every i. Fundraisers insist upon it. It’s every fundraiser’s nightmare: getting a major gift, then having it go sour. Florida International University received a commitment in writing of a staggering $20 million for its new College of Medicine — then lost it. It all came about because the donor and the university president squabbled over how the donation would be paid.In fairness to the university, the donor actually signed an agreement to deliver the $20 million in a lump sum 30 days after the school was named for him. It banked on receiving a single payment so it could use it to leverage a matching gift from the state. But later, the donor wanted to delay some payments because of a multi-million-dollar tax liability he discovered if he gave all the money at once. Such a situation should never have occurred. Everyone’s at fault. You have to wonder why a person smart enough to make so much money that he could give $20 million away didn’t consult with his accountants first, and why the president of the university lost his cool and said things that offended the donor. Money can always be replaced, but not the dedication of a long-term board member and major contributor, which is what FIU lost. Everyone should always dot every i and cross every t before going public with any, but especially a major, gift. When in doubt, wait.

4. Donors give because something presses their emotional buttons. A recent survey conducted by Bank of America and Indiana University’s Center on Philanthropy reveals that “entrepreneurs who earn their wealth give more than twice as much to charity than do Americans who inherited their riches.” The survey found that the biggest motivations were “helping those in need and giving back to society.” Similarly, Washington Redskins wide receiver Santana Moss has a foundation that’s published the Tana-Man Activity Book, pushing education as the key to success. The book is based upon his decision not to go into the pros until after he finished school. His manager has been quoted saying, “Moss wants kids who don’t have easy lives to know that he wasn’t always a superstar and went through what these children are going through now. . . . If [the players] tell the stories, the kids will realize they’re not alone.”

Stephen Goldstein is a consultant and author of 30 Days to Successful Fundraising and E-mail your comments and questions to him at