Recently, I participated in a strategy session within a mature Department of Development at a fine university. The meeting had been called specifically to address three failed attempts to put a proposal in front of a known donor to the institution. Although this donor expressed to the Major Gift Officer what he was interested in and the dollar amount he intended to give, none of the proposals he’d been given interested him, sending several senior Development professionals back to the drawing board. It was at this point that it grew obvious that the donor had rejected each proposal due to something lurking within the donor that he had not expressed and that the Major Gift Officer failed to understand as a result. It was this unknown factor that led one of the senior leaders in the Department to ask the Major Gift Officer, “Bill, have we ever asked him to fund our greatest need?” The answer was that they had not.
After discussions and encouragement to think bigger than the donor, the Development team agreed on a strategy of asking the donor for a project thought to be within his capacity to give with regard to size, but very different from what he had told the Major Gift Officer was his interest. Indeed, we all thought what he had been describing was not his true passion.
A beautiful proposal was developed and a well-rehearsed Major Gift Officer proceeded to seek a final appointment to share an idea with the donor. All agreed that if this proposal was not considered by the donor, the Major Gift Officer who over the years had come to know the donor exceptionally well, would create a natural hiatus to strategize further on what the man’s true (now extremely latent) passion is.
The anxious, but confident and experienced Major Gift Officer obtained the appointment and proceeded to the donor’s home. The proposal “piece” (for the amount of the gift and for the purpose stated) was beautiful and, indeed, compelling—from our perspective. Before making the presentation to the donor, the Development professional introduced the proposal in the following way, “Jerry, we have heard what you are looking for with your gift and we brought you three different proposals that we thought would resonate with you. These, of course, were based on what you had told us. Each time that you rejected our idea we learned from your reply. As a result, what I am about to show you is something I am absolutely confident you are going to love. I say this because what we have brought to you today is not something we think you want. Rather, it is what we need desperately to accomplish our goals.”
The Development officer opened the “piece” and said, “Your transformational gift will truly transform your Alma Mater. We have failed in meeting your need, but we ask you to help meet our greatest need that will not happen unless someone with your commitment and capability steps forward.” In less than a Nano second, the donor slapped the table and said, “I’ll do it!”
There are other parts to this story such as the enormous size of the gift, etc. However, what I like best about this is that we kept guessing about this man’s passion and were wrong each time. It was not until he knew that we were simply not trying to appeal to his interests, but had the courage to ask for what the institution truly needed, that he responded with passion.
Strategy sessions work. Good luck in meeting your true needs!