The Ripple Effect

We were reflecting recently on the value and lasting affect of Jerry Panas’ years of work and counsel. Among pieces he wrote were several we would like to share with you over the next few weeks.

“The Ripple Effect.” He wrote: “When you throw a pebble into a pond, it causes a ripple effect. It causes small waves that keep expanding outward, ever expanding. It all begins with the pebble.”

“When a person makes a gift to your organization, it causes a ripple effect. It makes things happen. It touches lives, that touch other lives, that still touch others…”
Think on this at this time. Let that special gift strengthen the initial “ripple” or begin it anew for your organization.

Dr. Vartan Gregorian heads the Carnegie Corporation. He now gives away money instead of asking for it. (For many, that would be like the refrain from a popular song in My Fair Lady: “That’s my idea of heavenly heaven.”)

When I asked Gregorian about his well-known fundraising prowess, he denied it vehemently. And not out of modesty (which isn’t one of Vartan’s principal virtues).

“As president of Brown University, I raised a great deal of money. And before that as president of the New York Public Library,” he says. “But as a matter of fact, I’ve never asked anyone for a gift. Not ever.”

Dear reader, I see your quizzical face. But stay with me.

“I let them know about my dreams and vision for the future,” continues Gregorian. “I explain how important the program is and about the lives it affects.

“When I finish, it seems I never have to ask. They always come forward with what they want to do. It has become their dream and vision.”

Gregorian makes it sound simple. But this doesn’t give credit to the impact he has when describing his bold and exciting dreams. Vartan Gregorian is magic.

The late Edmund L. Keeney, M.D., who directed the Scripps Clinic (La Jolla, California) never asked for money either. Yet he was one of the most successful fundraisers in Southern California.

When Keeney visited with a prospect, he walked them through the new medical library, he rhapsodized about the advances a new cancer research center could make, he extolled the lifesaving possibilities of a new surgical suite. Before long, the prospect became part of Keeney’s exciting and provocative vision.

Keeney always talked about “something” but he never talked about money. He sold the dream, and did it with such conviction and persuasiveness it was impossible to resist.

Both Gregorian and Keeney instinctively understood mega givers. They knew that dreams and visions and possibilities were the way to their heart.

Jim Gamble, grandson to the founder of Proctor and Gamble, confirms this. “I get so tired of it,” he tells me. “People come in and talk and talk. And all they talk about is the three Bs – Buildings, Benefactors, and Baloney.”

Tell me about the dream, is what Gamble is saying.

Underline this next sentence. For your prospects, giving is about changing lives and saving lives. It’s not about the money.

“All I want to do is to save the world,” says Marianne McDonald, whose father founded Zenith Radio Corporation.

Your donors may be less global than Marianne but the intent is the same. They want their gift to make a difference. Your job is to describe how your institution can make that difference in a way uniquely its own.

And if you want to stoke the desire of donors, it had better be a pressing human need you’re trying to meet. (If it has emotional appeal and makes the hair on the back of the neck stand up, all the better.)

“I need to hear the problem is urgent,” Clement Stone told me, “something that needs to be solved immediately. And if it’s exciting and makes me tingle, the institution is well on its way to getting my gift.” And bear in mind that in his lifetime Stone gave away $200 million!

The mega donors went on to say more. They want the case for the project presented in a persuasive and dramatic way, but devoid of small details. And the actual presentation shouldn’t take too long— perhaps seven or eight minutes.

“No fluff,” is the way Marianne McDonald put it. “I want to hear a quick, sound rationale regarding the project and its validity.”

Another point these donors make is that any attempt to be pushy and heavy-handed is a turnoff. Marianne McDonald is clear about this.

“I don’t like people who tell me what I must or should do. I resist that kind of approach,” she said with some vehemence.

Every donor, every mega giver is unique. Each has idiosyncrasies. And their own dreams. Each will be stirred in different ways.

This explains why it’s critical to know your prospect before actually asking for the gift. This often requires research and perhaps several visits.

Still, if I am to boil it down to the one approach that consistently works with you donors, I admonish: Listen. Listen intently. Listen more intently. Sell the dream, not the project. And tell how lives will be changed.

Will this approach work with your donors? I leave you with the wisdom of Dr. Seuss (Oh, the Places You’ll Go!):
“And will you succeed?
Yes! Yes! You will indeed!
(98 and 1/4 percent guaranteed)”