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• Featuring articles from past issues of Contributions
Hope for a Miracle
Put your faith in good stewardship
by Jerold Panas
Mike Wilcox was sound asleep when the alarm went off.
When he reached over to turn it off, he realized it was the phone that was ringing – not the alarm.
He glanced at the clock. It was an hour before he was supposed to get up. Who'd be calling at six o’clock, he wondered? To this very day, Mike says it was the most surprising call he's ever received.
I’ll get back to that call in a minute. But before I do, let me tell you a story. It’s about one of those miracles fundraisers hope for.
OF RELATED INTEREST: In Asking, Jerold Panas convincingly shows that it doesn’t take stellar sales skills to be an effective fundraiser. Nearly everyone can secure sizable gifts if they follow a few step-by-step guidelines.
Larry Ellison is the well-known founder of Oracle. He made a gift of $5 million to the Department of Orthopedic Surgery at the Medical School at the University of California – Davis.
Ellison was skiing in the Lake Tahoe area and broke his arm. He was taken to the Medical Center at Davis where his surgeon was Dr. Michael W. Chapman. Ellison was so pleased with his treatment, he asked Dr. Chapman what he might do to show his appreciation.
It so happens that Dr. Chapman is chairman of the Foundation at the Medical Center. He told Larry Ellison he could make a gift to the Foundation.
It doesn’t often happen that way. To quote the great philosopher Dr. Seuss: “There are times that remarkable things just happen to happen.”
You can hope for a miracle. But counting on miracles for your gifts is a little bit like jumping off a high cliff and building your wings on the way down. Better to put your faith and trust into a solid program of stewardship.
Now back to the phone call. Michael R. Wilcox is an extremely successful financial advisor in Toledo, Ohio. He's one of the community’s leading citizens and active in a number of organizations.
He was board chairman of the Development Committee of Peddie School when that call came early in the morning. Peddie, if you're not familiar with it, is a very special independent school in Hightstown, New Jersey.
It was the Headmaster calling. He wanted Mike to be the first to know that Walter Annenberg had just made a gift of $100 million to the endowment fund at Peddie.
Is this another instance of one of those miracles? Not if, as Paul Harvey says, you know the rest of the story.
I remember seeing a TV commercial showing a sequence of photographs in which a suited, professional looking gentleman is walking down a street. He's unaware of a skinhead racing toward him from behind.
In each scene, the skinhead – his face contorted in what looks like anger – is getting nearer the older gentleman.
The final couple of scenes show the skinhead tackling the man to the ground. The viewer is left with the impression that the gentleman is being attacked by a thug.
And then, the very last scene shows a pile of bricks toppling to the ground from scaffolding just above where the man would have been walking. The skinhead had been rushing to save the man from the deadly, falling construction debris.
The final message of the commercial was something to the effect that one has to have the complete picture to understand the full story.
Here’s the whole story about the gift to Peddie. It was a case of darn good stewardship over a period of 60 years.
When Walter Annenberg graduated from Peddie, he felt indebted to the School. In some ways, the Headmaster at that time had become his surrogate father. The School turned Walter’s young life inside out. A life changing experience. It made an indelible impact on him.
Over the years, he demonstrated his appreciation by making sizable gifts on a regular basis. The total of his largesse was over $100 million for buildings, equipment, and campus beautification.
In return, the school had over the years fully celebrated Annenberg’s gifts. Their appreciation was demonstrated in dozens of ways, wrapped in perfect packages with few strings remaining untied.
Ambassador Annenberg was getting older, his health a bit fragile. But his love for Peddie was unbounded.
The Headmaster went to see the Ambassador about a gift to the endowment fund. He spoke about a gift of $25 million.
After the visit, Annenberg sent one of his assistants to visit Lawrenceville School (a nearby rival) to find out what their endowment was. He discovered it would take $100 million to surpass Lawrenceville’s endowment. Not by much, but enough to put Peddie ahead of its rival. Good stewardship had paid off.
As gifts from Ellison, Annenberg, and countless others prove time and again, there are consistent underlying reasons why people give. Here are the primary ones to keep in mind:
1) They believe in the work of your organization and its unique qualifications to provide the program and services you project. They believe in your mission.
2) Their gift will change lives or save lives. That’s the reason people give.
One of the largest gifts made to the Texas Heart Institute in Houston was made by a donor who had a casual conversation with the Institute's janitor.
Dr. Denton Cooley is a renowned surgeon at the Texas Heat Institute. He performed the first heart transplant in this country. That was back in 1968. He and his team of surgeons have performed 97,000 open heart surgeries. He's the most celebrated heart surgeon in this nation, indeed in the world.
This donor I'm speaking of had been shadowing the doctor, wanting an opportunity to ask some questions. Dr. Cooley was scrubbed and ready to enter the operating room when he stopped and talked for 10 minutes or so with a janitor who was scrubbing the floor.
Then Dr. Cooley went into surgery.
Immediately, the donor approached the custodian and asked what he and Dr. Cooley had talked about. “We talk that way every morning," said the janitor. "You know around here we’re in the business of saving lives.” The donor made the gift.
3) Donors want to make a difference. They want to feel their investment in the organization pays huge dividends.
4) There has to be philanthropic intent. No matter what the person’s net worth, if there isn’t philanthropic intent, you likely won’t get the gift. It’s like getting the first olive out of the jar.
5) The donor has to feel a sense of joy in making the gift. There must be a sensation of towering exhilaration. A gloomy giver is a contradiction in terms.
6) They don’t want to be alone in their giving. They want to feel they're joining others in a worthy cause.
7) There has been good cultivation and effective stewardship. A general rule is: The larger the gift, the more nurturing that will be required.
8) And finally, you ask them to make an investment. People don’t like to be sold. But they love to give.
There's nothing wrong with hoping for a miracle. It happens, this sort of serendipitous giving (serendipity is God’s way of remaining anonymous). Maybe Ellison will show up at your facility too.
Enjoy it if it does happen. Just don't sit around waiting.
[There is an instrument that measures the effectiveness of the stewardship in your organization. It is the best we have ever seen. If you would like to have a copy, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.]
Jerold Panas is author, popular speaker, consultant, and considered one of the most creative men in the field of fund raising. His books include Asking, Mega Gifts, and The Fundraising Habits of Supremely Successful Boards, all of which may be ordered from Emerson & Church, Publishers. Panas is Executive Partner of one of America's leading fund raising firms.
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