Perspectives on Philanthropy
from Jerold Panas
Books by Jerold Panas
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Seize the Magic Moment
Asking when the time is ripe
It is best he remain nameless. I think he'd prefer it that way. He's the popular minister of one of the nation’s largest Methodist churches. And just the day before he had learned one of the great lessons of fundraising. The memory was still vivid.
Recently, at a small gathering of ministers, he recounted this story.
The wealthiest member of his congregation, a widow, was in the hospital – a long-term illness closing in on her. Over a period of three months, the minister made regular calls, at least two times a week and often more than that.
“Let’s be honest, gentlemen,” the minister said to the group. “I considered it my pastoral duty to visit with this faithful servant, one of the most active women in my congregation.
SEMINARS FOR FUNDRAISERS 2014
“But I was mindful, too, of her immense wealth and that we were certain to be the beneficiary of her large estate. There were no children, no relatives, only her great, abiding love for our church. She often spoke to me, even before her illness, of all she hoped to do for the church.
Those around the table hung onto the minister's every word.
“I visited her faithfully, week in and week out," he continued. "I brought her spiritual encouragement, often small gifts like stationery, and held her hand while I prayed with her. It was a ministry of love. She was one of my longtime favorites.
“Finally, after all of that suffering, the end came. She slipped quietly into the night. There would be no more pain. That was about a month ago. Yesterday, I found out from her attorney – also a member of our congregation – about the disposition of her estate. While in the hospital, she had arranged her affairs."
By now, the minister's small audience was riveted.
"Well, this gentle soul, one of the most popular women in the congregation, left her entire estate to a Midwestern university, her husband’s alma mater."
More than a few gasps were heard around the table.
"I was incredulous and I must say, more than disappointed. What happened? I asked the attorney.
“It turned out the priest who was the president of the University came by the hospital one day for a visit. He asked her for a gift. He asked her! That’s all he did. He asked. It occurred to me that in all of the time I had known this lady and in all my visits, I never asked for a gift. I took that for granted.”
The minister ended his story. It was a teachable moment.
Even to the uninitiated, the moral of this story is clear. But the rule is so often neglected and is one of the major stumbling blocks of the fundraiser. You must ask for the order!
It is absolutely amazing what you don’t get when you don’t ask!
Samuel Skaggs gave $1 million to Iliff School of Theology. Earl Wood was director of development of the school, and was responsible for getting the gift.
It was the largest contribution the seminary had ever received. It was also the largest gift Mr. Skaggs had ever given to a United Methodist cause. Later, the inevitable question was asked.
“Mr. Skaggs, you've been a loyal member of the church for years and have been devoted to our work. You've given generously to other organizations. How does it happen that this is the very first time you have given this large a gift to a Methodist cause?” Mr. Skaggs responded without hesitation, “This is the first time anyone ever asked me.”
Earl Wood asked for the order.
Sending a letter or telephoning simply won’t do. Not for the large gift. That’s stating the obvious. As Harold Seymour put it many years ago, no one ever got milk out of a cow by sending a letter. You get your stool right next to Betsy, stroke her properly, and keep working at it.
That’s how you get a large gift. Lots of stroking, lots of innovative cultivation, and the wisdom to seize the magic moment when it presents itself.
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