If you’re like most of the folks I know who are responsible for raising significant money, I’ll bet you find yourself with an endless to-do list, your attention scattered among many competing priorities.
Let’s see what ignoring conventional wisdom and those lists of “to-dos” can make room for.
What happens if we pay special attention to a single donor who will make the greatest commitment in your institution’s history? (And I don’t mean ordinary “cultivation.”)
You know that the investment we make in that person will be returned many times over. (This is the same idea well-known in direct mail: the lifetime value of a contributor, with the cost of acquiring a new donor amortized over the donor’s lifetime of giving.)
Given the payback to the organization during the contributor’s lifetime, what happens if we take the first step and make an extraordinary investment to “acquire” or enroll the donor and develop the relationship?
What’s more, this kind of exemplary leadership is a powerful communication to everyone in and around your institution. They’re looking for leadership to show what’s possible.
When this kind of transformative commitment happens, heads will turn. People will understand your institution in a new way. (It’s funny how zeroes can do that for you.) They’ll grasp the wisdom of investing at a new and higher level in this cause.
Your role is every bit as important: This is an act of leadership — to define what’s important, what’s possible, and show the way to get there.
And, in the end, you’ll allow donors to reveal the depth of their convictions and their faith in the future, instead of simply raising money.
The few who can do the most. That’s what we’re talking about. Those whose leadership can change the course of your history by redefining reality through the power of their example, raising the bar for all to follow.
Your key is to facilitate someone — just one human being — making a transformative commitment. That’s first on your mind. (And the rest of your to-do list … not at all?)
Here’s a bit more about why this is so important …
In and around every organization there’s a tacit agreement about how much money is appropriate for people to contribute to it.
For some institutions, a hundred thousand dollars might be the largest they ever see. Others routinely attract multi-million-dollar investments.
Whatever the number is, it becomes the worth of the organization.
Yes, the number of zeros translates to how people hold the importance of the cause, its prestige and scope — and the capabilities and competency of its people.
Unfair as it may seem, a low number sets a ceiling. It often symbolizes a general sense of limitation and lack, which in turn restricts the possibilities that are available. It shapes what people think is possible and the belief in their capacity to realize it.
To break out of those restrictions — which I suggest are entirely arbitrary and self-imposed — you want to create a new understanding of the worth of the organization.
What does that most effectively?
Once again, the key is the largest philanthropic investment the organization has ever received. (Perhaps the largest in the history of your community or cause.) A single leadership investment that changes everything and creates a new reality.
This transformative commitment is more than a public declaration of the worth of the institution. It’s also a statement of the values of the person who makes it –who this person is and what they stand for — and how much these values are worth to them.
It’s also a tangible example of leadership, as the person steps forward and often calls on courage they didn’t know they had.
When a person has an opportunity to articulate the message to be conveyed along with the money, the investment is filled with even more meaning. It becomes an explicit, tangible declaration of what the person’s life means, as well as the power of the institution to change the world.
This kind of an act — a bold number combined with a message — influences people like nothing else.
When someone makes this kind of transformative commitment, the status quo changes. Faith in the institution’s capacity and commitment to deliver on the promise lifts. All sorts of possibilities emerge.
At once, it’s strategic leadership and moral leadership: It works. It expands the realm of what’s possible now, and long after.
It affects other people and organizations, even how the community sees itself. It’s a strong message that everyone hears, including the next generation of leaders.
The pursuit of such a transformative investment is an equity-building enterprise, with payback in many ways and for many years.
Facilitating such an investment is the clearest, most direct route to changing the fortunes of your institution and the good it can do in the world.
Because this is so fundamental to success, now is just the time to start looking at these questions. After all, the longer your institution’s greatest investment stays at the same level, the more permanent and harder to move it becomes.
What would that bold number — the transformative commitment — be for your institution? Just imagine what it could do for you if this bold goal were on your horizon right now.