The Art of the Ask
How nonprofits turn the wealthy into donors.
Whenever news of a huge donation breaks, everyone wonders: How on earth did that nonprof convince that businesswoman/doctor/tech entrepreneur to write a check for $10 million? People donâ€™t just hand money over on a whim, right? Most likely, not.
Closing the deal on a big donation takes months, if not years, of groundwork. â€śUltimately, a gift is never about you asking for the gift,â€ť says Northeastern University president Joseph Aoun, who oversaw a $60 million deal last year to rename the business school after local entrepreneurs Richard Dâ€™Amore and Alan McKim, both Northeastern grads. â€śItâ€™s about the person who is going to make the gift.â€ť
Every major institution, as well as many medium-size ones, employs a â€śdevelopmentâ€ť team tasked with finding leads for new donors. (Board members help with the hunt as well.) The process starts with trying to identify people who are capable of writing a seven-figure check, and who might be interested in the nonprofit. Typically, it starts with questions like these: Did anyone at that tech company with the planned IPO attend our university? Any chance that hedge fund manager, who grew up poor, is interested in funding scholarships?
Assuming thereâ€™s interest, the institution moves on to the long, slow dance of cultivation. A board member might invite the new prospect to a low-key event and introduce him or her to a few people. Thatâ€™s followed with a thank- you note and a proposal for an introduction to the executive director at an upcoming gala. Eventually, the discussion gets around to the targetâ€™s passions, and about his or her opinions about the nonprof itself: What do you think of our direction? What can we be doing better?
From there, the nonprofit begins to put together a few ideas for a possible giftâ€”a new museum wing, the endowment of a university department chair, an expansion to the homeless shelter. Then, says Dan Kirsch, an Amherst-based development consultant, the executive director or board chairman might tell the prospect: â€śWeâ€™ve talked about our vision and we have an opportunity that we would like to offer to you. Hereâ€™s the impact the gift would have.â€ť
After the check is signed, successful organizations continue to engage the donor. â€śYou keep them involved,â€ť says Alan Cantor, a nonprofit consultant in Concord, New Hampshire. â€śEventually, there will be a bigger campaign when you can approach them for a larger gift. You need to figure out how to form a friendship.â€ť
Developing that relationship is essential to keeping the gifts flowing. As Northeasternâ€™s Aoun puts it: â€śEvery person has a passion. If their passion and our goals intersect and we can become stewards of their passion, then that is what it takes.â€ť
Find out more about Boston’s philanthropy scene in our 2013 Power package.
Source URL: http://www.bostonmagazine.com/news/article/2013/03/26/boston-philanthropy-how-nonprofits-ask-money/