(Bonus rewrite of Chapter 27 in "Learn From My
I have always been fond of the saying “Patience
is not simply the ability to wait, it’s how
behave while we’re waiting.” Oh, so true! It is often an accurate
truism among nonprofits that unrealistically feel that their
development director has an uncanny ability to wave a magic wand
and raise major gifts without having first developed or cultivated
relationships with his/her donors or prospects.
live in an age of instant gratification. We absorb news in sound
bites. We need our instant coffee, now.
We buy express tickets to avoid lines at Disney, we pay for TSA
pre-check shortcuts at airports or pay more in HOV express lanes on
the highway to speed our way to the next destination. We can’t
arrive fast enough to suit ourselves. Sometimes I think we go
through life in three phases: fast, faster and faster than
you feel the breezy air brush past your face? Some view major gift
fundraising in the same way.
once saw an ad by a nonprofit for a director of development
position. Next to the ad it read, “Rainmaker Wanted.” Well, isn’t
that special? Wouldn’t we all like to recruit a rainmaker to raise
lots of money immediately for the nonprofit organization? I harbor
serious concerns about this hyped-up hope. Let’s examine the issue
of patience when fundraising for major gifts, shall we?
we head into the robotic age and the era of artificial
intelligence, some aspects of our lives will never be controlled by
automatons. Fundraisers will still need to interact between humans
and their fellow man and woman. I cannot foresee a robot making a
personal appeal for a major gift (see chapter called
the Year 2075 in my recent
book “Learn From My Experiences”). No, robocalls don’t
a well-known Bible character, was said to have unfathomable
When someone exhibits great endurance through all kinds of trials
and tribulations, annoyances or provocations, we say that person
has “the patience of Job.” Fundraisers every so often struggle and
face a myriad of challenges, especially when asking for major
gifts. I spoke a while ago to a colleague who was about to close on
a multi-million-dollar gift for an overseas institution of higher
learning. He told me that this donation was “five years in the
making.” The donor, in his 80s, was planning this gift as a legacy
for his children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. My
colleague let on that this ultimate gift went through many twists
and turns over the years, and it wasn’t until a recent health scare
that he decided the time was right to make the gift. My colleague
has the patience of Job.
What also was plain to me was the patience of the nonprofit. It
rode the waves with my colleague and factored in that monumental
gifts often take time to execute. Of course, in the interim, major
gifts were being secured from other philanthropically inclined
individuals. They weren’t beholden to just one donor. But not every
organization has such patience.
Many years ago, I secured a $5 million bequest for one reason
alone. I stewarded a board member who had been all but lost to my
nonprofit. This lay leader had not been solicited for advice or
counsel, and her stature was ignored for many years by the
nonprofit’s board. She once told me, “Norman, I am ready to take my
business elsewhere.” Enter a new approach. I made sure that
leadership would call her to attend meetings, they elicited her
opinion on issues of concern to the organization and she was
regularly recognized for her past contributions. It took time, a
lot of time, but we won her back, and, once again, she and her
family felt like they belonged to the family, in a well-deserved
place in the organization.
Winning over an overlooked and ignored board member did not happen
overnight. In this case, patience was indeed a virtue. But like all
things in life, the relationship took on its own twists and turns.
There were times when our neglected board member, whose
uncompromising personality often crossed swords with other volatile
board members, was ready to bolt. It required tact and diplomacy on
a par with a UN statesman to bring her back.
The moral of this story is simple. It often takes time, mental
fortitude and physical endurance to shepherd a donor through a
major gift process and to keep them in the fold. The effort must be
genuine, but is often intense. Understanding this process will
usually get you good results.
My question is this: are you willing to be patient, or are you
looking for immediate results?
that sixty to eighty percent (60-80%) of individual donor dollars
generally come from major gifts to many organizations.
major donors don’t fall out of the sky. They rarely come to
you. The tooth fairy doesn’t bring them to you. You
have to go and seek them out. And someone has to make “the ask”
Here are just some practical techniques to consider when making the
ask for a major gift.
research, research. It’s like practicing to get to Carnegie
Hall. Collect vital information about your prospect that will help
you succeed in your quest for a major gift.
patience, patience. You didn’t walk into college and walk out the
next day with your degree, did you? You had to go through a
process. So, too, with a major gift.
relationships, relationships. Few can match the tall order of
walking into a room and going up to a wealthy stranger and walking
out with a major gift. Cultivate your benefactors. Steward them.
Show them the excellence of your nonprofits work. Match their
interests with your proposal. Work the relationship to attain the
height of Mt. Everest in major gifts.
prepare, prepare. My favorite saying is “proper prior planning
prevents poor performance.” Asking for a major gift requires
organizing your approach, coordinating with the team to get it
right and setting it up for success.
ask, ask. Half the people in this country give for one reason and
one reason alone – someone asked them for a gift. You’re not in the
business to be shy. Understand the components of the asking
process, inspire your donor and go for it!
time, time. Just be patient. It takes often takes time to corral
that major gift. Patience is a virtue.
Winston Churchill once said: “We make a living by what we get. We
make a life by what we give.” This idea of a transformative gift is
what you want to instill in your major gift donor.
2022 Norman B. Gildin. All rights reserved.
About the author: Norman B.
Gildin is the author of the recently released book on nonprofit
fundraising “Learn From My Experiences.” He is the President of
Strategic Fundraising Group whose singular mission is to assist
nonprofits raise critical funds for their organization. His website
is at www.normangildin.com.