Want to transform your organization? Go get a transformational gift!

Clearly, there are organizations that secure multi-million dollar gifts, but they are few and far between. Why is that? Well, when it gets right down to it, few executives are willing to do the work involved in securing such a gift.

Principles of Transformation

For those brave individuals willing to do that work, I have included a few principles to aid you in your quest.

  • Transformational donors need to know what you’ll do with a transformational gift.  If you don’t know that answer, you won’t influence transformational donors. They need to know you’ve done your homework. If most of your time is spent keeping the doors open, eventually they are likely to close. You have to think in a visionary way about the future and communicate that vision.
  • Transformational donors need to be found.  Start first with your own database.  As fundraising consultants, when we help clients in their planning for a capital campaign we encourage them to conduct a wealth screening of their database. It gives them extensive information on net worth, liquidity and giving capacity.

One client was a bit reluctant to allocate resources to do this. However, they relented and in their own files found 18 new multi-millionaires about whom they knew nothing. Of course, that doesn’t guarantee fundraising success, but it certainly tells you where to start fishing. Beyond that, online sources can also help you find high capacity prospects.

  • Transformational donors need to be informed and eventually affiliated with your organization.  Try to connect with them through someone they know who is affiliated with your organization. It might be a staff person, board member or current donor, but you will have to make a personal connection.

A recent study of people who gave $100,000 or more found the most important motivators for giving are organizational affiliation and alignment with its mission (97.2% of donors). But for new donors, having a personal relationship with someone inside the organization is an important part of getting them affiliated.

You might also invite them to volunteer. The majority of high net worth volunteers (84.3 percent) give to at least some of the organizations with which they volunteer.

However, you have to learn their values and areas of interest, and one way to do that is simply ask them. Most high net worth households (76.4%) base giving decisions on personal values.

  • Transformational donors need to know their gift makes a difference in the lives of others and it’s lasting.  The late Dr. Woody Bartlett made a transformational gift of some $40 million to the Auburn University to establish the Bartlett Scholars Program.

He said, “Auburn (helped) me get ready for the type of career I wanted. I know there are a lot of young people coming along in the future. I hope the scholarship fund will give them a chance to focus on their studies and prepare themselves to do their best as veterinarians.”

  • Finally, transformational donors usually need to be asked and you must consider timing.  I remember the first transformational gift request I made, which prompted a funny response. Early in my career I requested a multimillion-dollar gift from a donor. His response was simply, “I don’t feel very rich today. Come and see me when I feel rich.”

Lessons Learned

I learned two things from this encounter. First, I asked too early in our relationship. I needed some time to make the case without asking. Second, I learned to hang in there and be creative in how I approached donors. He eventually gave at the level I asked, but it took a while to get there.

Applying these principles is never a guarantee, but it certainly is a good place to start!