If you want to attract greater philanthropy to your organization, you’ll get farther if you move your attention from numbers to people, and value the donor — the person — more than the donation.
Here’s a story that shows what a difference that can make …
Barney Saunders, a Harvard alum, was vice chair of the largest privately-held company in the world. Kathy Wells and I met up with Barney in St. Paul, Minnesota, where he’d just become chair of the board of Hamline University.
The university was in the early stages of preparing for a capital campaign, and Kathy and I were there to work with them in laying the groundwork.
Kathy interviewed Barney … curious to find out what might be at the heart of his deep connection with the university’s mission and work, and what his highest hopes were for society.
Such questions are rare in the field of “fundraising,” which tends to be more focused on the programs and “needs” of an organization than on the experiences, hopes, and dreams of the individual.
After reflecting on the experience through several talks with the university’s vice president, Dan Loritz (who’s been long involved in a learning partnership with me), Barney concluded:
Harvard has asked me, they’ve asked me many times — but always for money. Neither Harvard nor any other organization has ever asked what’s important to me. Hamline will get all of my money, and Harvard will get no more.
Within a couple of weeks, I had the news from Dan that Barney had already transferred the first million dollars. He went on to make more contributions that set the pace for the largest capital campaign in the university’s history.
For many people, such valuing of the donor — genuine devotion to facilitating the donor’s hopes and dreams — is a different way of thinking about our roles and what we’re really doing.
I could say to you that it’s simply the right thing to do. And that’s reason enough to do it. I hope it’s your natural inclination, and that you may already be taking that stance.
But there’s another reason to do it: It works. It’s strategically sound. Taking the time to bring out the best in people results in greater investments.
Now, I don’t want just anybody using these ideas — because the unscrupulous could start taking this notion and using it as a “pick-pocket scheme.” (What’s the saying about sincerity? Once you can fake it, you’re on your way?)
But if you’re sincerely committed to this approach, I’m devoted to supporting you in setting the stage for an investment such as Barney’s.