What Is Important To Your Donors?

There is a story of an art collector who had amassed a sizeable and valuable collection of art masterpieces – paintings, sculptures, and other art pieces.  He had grown up without the privilege of formal education beyond high school and had worked to establish and build a successful business.  By the time he was 55 he was multi-millionaire who had been generous with many local and regional organizations.

Our art collector’s only son had decided to join the U.S. Army and ended up in the Middle East during the first Gulf War.  Unfortunately, as the ground forces moved in to liberate  the country of Kuwait, the young man was fatally wounded.  However, before he passed, he was able to help another soldier from a vulnerable position and into a place of safety.  The art collector was distraught at the death of his only son.

One day, the man welcomed a visitor into his home.  It was the soldier who had been saved in the Middle East by his son.  They had been friends, having met 6 months earlier.  The soldier knew that the man was an art collector from talking with the son and, soon after his rehabilitation, he used charcoal to sketch a picture of the man’s son.  He was not an accomplished artist by any stretch, but he brought the picture to give to the man as a gift.

The father was overwhelmed and had the picture framed and hung it conspicuously in his home.  He loved this picture of his son done by the amateur soldier-artist and regularly would break-down when showing the picture to friends.

Some years after his son’s passing, the father died of a sudden heart attack.  It was completely unexpected.  It was a massive attack and he was dead before his body hit the floor.  With no other children and no wife (he was divorced a number of years ago and never remarried), the man’s extensive art collection was set to be auctioned.  Art dealers, collectors, and inquisitive onlookers came from across the country to bid on the collection.

At the beginning of the auction, the auctioneer brought out the charcoal sketch of the man’s son.  The seasoned art collectors and dealers in the room knew instantly it was not worth much.  In fact, many grumbled about the need to “get on” with the “real auction.”  They wanted to see and bid on the expensive and famous works the man owned.

The auctioneer started the bidding on the sketch of the man’s son and there was silence as he attempted to get $250.  He lowered the opening bid to $150.  Then to $100.  Finally, in the back of the room, one of the man’s friends said, “He loved that picture of his son, I’ll spend $100 for it.”  And with that he bought the amateur charcoal sketch.

Now, thought everyone else in attendance, the real business can get started.  Anticipation grew to see some of the famous works owned by the man.  And then, unexpectedly, the auctioneer banged his gavel and announced that the auction was over.  The crowd was, at first, stunned and then angry.  “What?” came the cry.  “We demand to bid on the expensive pieces of art.  We have come from all parts of the country!”

The auctioneer pulled a document from the breast pocket of his suit and read from the man’s will.  He quoted, “As for my entire collection of art items, including every painting, sculpture, sketch, and other artifact, whoever shall successfully bid and purchase the charcoal sketch of my son shall receive all remaining pieces.  For whoever takes my son, can have it all.”

It’s easy for development professionals to focus on what we can “get” from our donors.  Every day we feel the pressure to produce more gift income.  So, it makes sense that we can get focused, misguidedly, on how much our donors can give to us.

But, when we focus on what is important to our donors we are more likely to receive much more than we could ever imagine.

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