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Jerold Panas

Perspectives on Philanthropy
from Jerold Panas



Books by Jerold Panas

Click on the book cover for more information



120 Days


Fundraising Habits


Making the Case


Mega Gifts


The Fundraiser’s Credo
The more things change, the more they stay the same

Richard Kimball is a good friend. We’re having dinner the other night. The story he tells me is remarkable.

Remarkable. But not surprising.

Dick is a 1950 graduate of Harvard. He’s been Class Agent for 47 years (there’s no limit to the pain he can endure!).

Every year, for nearly half a century, he’s been signing a letter asking his fellow graduates for a gift. For 45 of those years, he has received $1,000 from Bill.

Institute for Charitable Giving

Dick sends the letter, a few days later Bill sends a check. A few days after that, another check for $1,000 arrives from a Trust to match Bill’s gift.

That’s been happening like clockwork … for 45 years.

Well, two years ago Dick calls the Vice President at Harvard. He’s been meaning to do it for years.

“I think you should call on Bill rather than have me send a letter. I don’t really know him but I have a feeling there may be a larger gift there. He deserves a personal call. That Trust particularly intrigues me.”

The Vice President agrees and pays Bill a visit. And then a second visit. He asks Bill for $5 million … and receives the gift.

Several months later, Dick has occasion to lunch with Bill. They begin talking about Bill’s gift.

“How does it happen you made that wonderful gift,” asks Dick. “It’s so much more than you’ve ever made to Harvard.”

“Well,” replies Bill, “Harvard never asked me for anything that large before.”


This story got me thinking about a favorite subject – one of my books! I wrote MegaGifts 20 years ago. In its ninth printing, I’m proud to say it’s one of the all-time best-selling books on fundraising.

At the end of that book, there are 65 Tenets I developed — call them the absolute truths about fundraising and philanthropy. A catechism of sorts, unequivocal articles of faith.

What happened with Dick Kimball provoked me to check my book to see how many of the Tenets are still valid 20 years later.

Lo and behold, all of the Tenets are still important (I feel like the Latin teacher at the Senior Prom protecting the punch bowl). But of the 65, I’m going to give you about a dozen I feel are the most significant.

You must ask for the gift.

It is absolutely amazing what you don’t raise when you don’t ask! In every study we’ve conducted, the reason most often cited for why a person hasn’t made a gift is “because I’ve never been asked.”

Do not say “no” for anyone.

Be bold and daring. Go after your top prospects with persistence and passion, and all the vigor and zeal you can muster.

Underline what follows. Few commandments in fundraising are as sacrosanct as this: You will be hurt more by those who would have said “yes,” but were not asked, than by those who say “no.”

Individuals give emotionally, not cerebrally.

Your donors give to dreams and dazzling visions. Giving is visceral. The larger the amount, the more likely it’ll go from the heart directly to the checkbook.

In my study, I found virtually all donors are unmoved and uninspired by blueprints and floor plans. To be sure, they will politely view your details and specifics. But inanimate drawings won’t move mega givers to audacious action.

Husbands and wives discuss their major philanthropy.

I confess, I made the mistake for years. I always called on him. Now I know the husband and wife confer before making a final commitment for a mega gift. (If I were writing the Tenet today, I would have said, “Husbands and wives and partners….)

If you don’t talk to both, you run the risk of having them discuss the gift without your being present to respond to questions, and overcome objections. Give your dazzling presentation to both.

It’s harder to get an appointment than it is to get the gift.

Actually, more strategy, planning, and innovation are needed to get the visit than to sell the program. I know now that securing the visit means you’re 85 percent on your way to getting the gift. This means you need to use all your ingenuity and resolution, artful persistence, in getting the visit. The gift will follow.

The decision to give is spontaneous.

You’ve made a dazzling presentation. There’s almost an immediate spark of electricity. You can feel it.

The amount may still be in doubt, the timing may be a question, the manner in which the gift will finally be made may require further study – but the decision is made.

If a great deal of time is requested by the potential donor to make a decision, or, if on subsequent visits the gift seems to be stalling – odds are you’re not going to receive a mega gift.

The commitment regarding the major gift won’t likely be made on the first visit.

If you get a gift on the first visit, chances are you’re not getting as much as you should. You’re leaving money on the table.

Spend much of your time during the first call showing the drama, the power, and the excitement of the program. Sell the dream.

Don’t sell the needs of the institution.

People have needs. Institutions don’t have needs. They have answers and solutions. Sell the answers and solutions.

Your donors don’t give because you have needs. They give because you have solutions. They give to opportunities. Bold, visionary, exhilarating opportunities.

When Robert Schuller decided to expand his Church to meet a bulging membership of 8,000, every addition and renovation the architect proposed met with a dull, uninspired ho-hum by the Board of Trustees.

That’s when Schuller told the architect: “I want a totally new church, all glass. All glass!” Now that is an audacious opportunity.

Dr. Schuller inspired his congregation to make his dream theirs. What evolved is the Crystal Cathedral – a daring venture, the result of the vision of those who made it their own dream.

It’s your job to mold the needs of the potential donor to the opportunities of your proposed program. The trick is in making certain that what they want most is what you want most.

Let me close with a story. My wife and I visit a Greek Island pretty regularly. There’s no vehicular traffic on the island – only donkeys.

On a recent visit, one of the Greeks told me a story of one man seeing another beat a donkey. The first approached the second and asked why he was beating the animal. “I want him to move, but he won’t budge an inch,” said the donkey’s owner.

“You just have to reason with him,” said the other. “May I try?”

“By all means,” the donkey’s owner said.

The man picked up a stone and knocked the donkey on the head with it.

“I thought you were going to reason with him,” the owner said.

“I am,” replied the other man, “but first I had to get his attention.”

My purpose in offering you these Tenets is pretty much that – to get your attention and remind you of how fundraising works best.

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