Perspectives on Philanthropy
from Jerold Panas
Books by Jerold Panas
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How to make your case bigger than your institution
You’ve read in a professional journal or perhaps a book that the case for your project should be bigger than the institution itself. But I haven’t found anywhere an explanation of what that means.
Right now we’re raising money for the Tampa Museum of Art. The community will provide the funds to build a glorious new building downtown on the Hillsborough River.
In this new building, the Museum will be able to exhibit its full collection. It will bring out of storage beautiful pieces it doesn't now have the space to exhibit. It will finally have the room to prominently display what is considered one of the world's greatest assemblages of sculptured glass. It is estimated that in the new facility, the Museum will attract an additional 200,000 people a year.
The new building is obviously important to the future of the Museum.
SEMINARS FOR FUNDRAISERS 2014
But the case for the building is far more powerful and compelling than just a new facility. Among the additional 200,000 people expected to visit the renovated Museum will be hordes of young people. These boys and girls will grow in their understanding and appreciation of important art.
By the busloads they will come. By the thousands. Picture those grade school kids getting off the bus, lining up at the entrance. Starry-eyed. Hands-on displays. It will be glorious.
So the case is for the young people of the area.
But there’s more. The Museum is on a gorgeous site on the River. Think of some of the positive environmental issues at play. It will enhance the River Walk. There will be elaborate landscaping and garden trails leading from the museum to the water. A rather commonplace section of the Hillsborough River will be transformed into something endlessly inspirational.
But wait. The miracle isn't yet finished.
The Museum will bring thousands back into a fatigued downtown. It will be the centerpiece of a new cultural and arts area. It will help reinvigorate downtown. Anyone with a modicum of care, pride, and responsibility for the area will have to support this project, whether they’re interested in art or not.
And think of this too. The infusion of money and people for the downtown merchants. It is predicted that there will be an injection of several million dollars of new money that will be spent each month in the immediate area by museum-goers.
You see where I’m going with this. All of a sudden, the program becomes of much greater consequence than just creating a facility to house more art.
You’re not just a writer. You’re a dream maker. You gather all of the information, you do the interviewing of key players, you begin developing your strategy for the writing. You may be even thinking of a possible title.
It’s your job to put all of this into a package and develop an undeniable, irresistible, and urgent case for support.
Just keep in mind that a person doesn’t go to a hardware store to buy a drill. He goes to a hardware store to buy a drill -- because he needs a hole.
That’s what you have to keep your eyes and mind focused. It's not the drill you'll be writing about, it's the hole. Your task is to make the case more powerful, more expansive than the organization itself.
Here's how I learned that lesson.
Few of you may recall, but during his presidency, Franklin Roosevelt was frequently found on the Presidential Yacht Potomac. Especially during the period of World War II, Roosevelt used it frequently. It was his release.
Some very significant meetings took place on the Yacht, involving Churchill, Eisenhower, the Queen of England, the Prime Minister of Canada, and on a number of occasions his War Cabinet.
It would cruise up and down the Potomac River, for no more than a stretch of two or three miles. And then back again. The Newsreels regularly featured FDR on the yacht with a dignitary, or just the President fishing alone.
During the stressful and weary days of the War, the dateline of news stories and radio broadcasts regularly carried the identification: From the Presidential Yacht Potomac. You couldn’t grow up in that era without feeling the Yacht was part of your life.
I discovered that not long after the War, President Truman sold the Yacht and the name was lost forever.
The boat changed hands a few times and eventually ended up in dry dock. Then, a dozen years ago it was purchased by a nonprofit group and in a special ceremony was re-christened The Presidential Yacht Potomac.
It was in sad shape. The Yacht had to be completely renovated and made sea-worthy.
We were asked to raise the funds for the restoration. Jimmy Roosevelt, the President’s son, chaired the campaign. Lucky me, I had an opportunity to work with history.
The Case, which I had a major hand in writing, was … well, I know how immodest it sounds, but it was darn good. There were oversize drawings of each level of the ship and the architect’s rendering of what it would look like. It spoke about how the Yacht would be brought back to pristine condition.
We started calling on folks, the Case in hand. Prospects were under-whelmed.
It was Clark Clifford who gave us the clue.
“You folks don’t have this right at all," said Clifford. "It’s terrible. This program isn’t about the restoration of a not-too-pretty boat. It’s about FDR. It’s about an exalted President, but it’s really about the Office of the President. It’s about the most exciting, dynamic, and fearful period in this nation’s history. Rewrite that damn thing and come back and see me.”
I felt like a scorned Job, scraping at my scabs, penitent and pleading: "Why me, oh Lord, why me?"
Rewrite it we did. The new Case was full of photos of FDR. There were reprints of some headlines that were followed with the dateline: From the Presidential Yacht Potomac. We went into the archives of the FDR Library and found some photos of some world leaders with the President. There was only one (one!) photo of the Yacht.
We couldn’t wait to begin showing off the new Case. And sure enough. It was an immense hit. It was quite clear that donors were giving to the Office of the President.
We got it right that time, by focusing on the big picture.
“We think too small,” said the Chinese leader Mao Tse-Tung. “Like the frog at the bottom of the well. He thinks the sky is only as big as the top of the well. If he surfaced, he would have an entirely different view.”
What you want from your Case is what Stanford Business professor James Collings calls "a big, hairy, audacious idea."
And that means making your dreams bigger than the organization itself.
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