Donors Give to the Magic of an Idea

Winston Churchill once said: “Success is the ability to go from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm.” The first time I read this quote I thought how apt he was in describing my success in asking for gifts as a young development officer. However, I am certain I had difficulty maintaining my enthusiasm!

In another one-on-one session with Jerry Panas, Brian Saber, president of Asking Matters, illuminates
Jerry’s techniques and savvy in asking for the gift. If I could acquire just one of Jerry Panas’ books in my library, it would be “Asking.” 

The contents of the book would have saved me a lot of time using the trial-and-error method I employed in my early days. And, likely would have saved more than one lost gift.

Jerry Panas summed it up this way: “Asking for a gift shouldn’t set your knees trembling. Asking isn’t selling. It isn’t razzle dazzle or persuading people to do something they don’t want to do. People want to invest in great causes, in bold and exciting dreams. They want to feel they’re helping to change lives. It’s your job to help them understand how their money can make things happen.”

With that in mind, after serving as Chief Development Officer for a university and two healthcare foundations, and chairing several capital campaigns, I understood what Jerry Panas meant. “Donors give to the magic of an idea— to save and change lives.”

You would think technique, experience, and an institution with a great mission and powerful case for support should be sufficient to secure a major gift. But, sometimes divine intervention is required.


The rest of the article from our email continues here.

I was meeting with a married couple in Dallas, Texas a number of years ago. Both were alums of a private Texas university. They were third-generation graduates. I assumed their teenage children would be attending as well.

He was a trustee. She was active in the Alumni Association. They were $10,000 annual donors. They had a successful and growing business. We met in their home. We sat in their living room around a small rectangular table with three chairs. I took the middle chair so I had the wife on my left and the husband on my right.

I was ready. The couple had received a copy of the case in advance, but I brought a copy, just in case. I also brought a brief document outlining an element of the $250 million campaign I thought to be of particular interest to the family. I was aware of their giving history, involvement, and commitment. I was ready. I hoped they were.

They were a gracious, thoughtful couple. The planned forty-five minute meeting stretched into an hour plus. I said, “You met at the university. You married and followed in your families’ footsteps. No doubt your children will follow in the future.” They nodded yes.

I added, “Given your history, loyalty, and affection for the university, have you considered what your gift will be?” They responded, “Yes, we have discussed it.” I suggested: “Would you consider $500,000 over five years?” He responded, “It is more than we can do.”

At this point the spouse spoke up. She said: “We can do more than that.”

For the next five minutes or so, they discussed it back and forth. It was like a ping pong match. I just sat back and enjoyed the discussion. Finally, she said, “We can do a million dollar gift!” He did not hesitate in knocking the figure down. Concurrently, the phone rang. He excused himself to answer the call.

When he left the room, she turned to me and said, “Put us down for the million. I assure you the university will receive it.” When he returned we quickly ended the meeting. I suggested they continue to discuss what they would consider for their commitment to an institution that meant so much to them. I told them I would call back in two days.

As I walked to my car, I offered a silent prayer secure in the knowledge that on this night, at this time, God was a Methodist after all. The university received the gift.

I learned a lot during that visit. As I re-read “Asking,” everything I needed to know was there.

For example: ask open questions; listen; talk about outcomes and results; get a commitment to something before leaving, and much, much more.

And, in the immortal works of Jerry Panas: “And if at first you do succeed, try not to show your astonishment!” Or, drop to your knees to thank a higher being for a timely phone call, until you have left the visit.

–Jerry A. Linzy 
Executive Partner,Emeritus
Jerold Panas, Linzy & Partners



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