Giving The Gift

Imagine with me for a moment that you are sitting with one of your most generous donor couples.  It is a husband and wife who are now contemplating the 7-figure gift invitation you have just extended to them.  In the past they have given significantly to your institution – but not at this level.  If they accept your invitation, this will be the largest single commitment they have made.

You have spent the past year leading up to this moment.  She sits on your board.  He serves on one of your key Advisory Councils.  You have met with them multiple times to discuss the planning of a new program initiative that will impact so many in powerfully positive ways.  They participated in the strategic planning process that birthed the program concept.  In short, they were ready for today’s discussion.  And you were ready to invite them.

So, you invite them to consider the gift.  You tell them them that, should they respond affirmingly, your institution is prepared to name the program in their honor.

They don’t respond at first.  After a moment’s pause, with you on the edge of your seat, she speaks.

“I want you to know that we have already discussed what we plan to do.  We are committed to this program and to the institution.  We trust you and the other leaders.  And we are honored to start this program by making this gift.”

Your smile grows almost too wide for your face as you immediately and excitedly thank them.  “We are so grateful for. . .”  But, before you finish your statement, the husband interrupts you.

“No, no, no,” he says, “we are grateful.  Thank you for the opportunity to give generously.  We believe in you, the institution’s mission, and this program’s impact.  You have given us the gift.”

Now, you may think this vignette is made-up —  a fabricated, dramatic story to illustrate some pollyannish principle about generosity.

But this story is true.  The gift and the donor statement that, “you have given us the gift” really happened.

This story, and this couple, are a big part of how I came to view our work in advancement, development, fundraising (whatever you want to call it) differently.   This conversation happened to me 15 years ago this month.  It was then that I began to see more clearly that I wasn’t a fundraiser.  I wasn’t in the development or the advancement business.  I wasn’t really even responsible for raising money for buildings, programs, endowment, or current operations.

I was learning that my primary role was to help people explore the joys that come with giving.  I was a guide of sorts – a “generosity guide,” if you will.  In short, I was learning that my job was to offer people powerfully positive gifts, not to seek them.

In the coming years, a curious thing happened:  The more I focused my efforts on listening, teaching, inviting, encouraging, and supporting people as they experienced the joys of giving, the more donors gave.  It seemed that even my motivation to engage our donors changed once I consistently viewed myself as the gift giver.

We are now entering the most generous time of the year.  The bulk of charitable gifts that will be given in 2018 will be given during the next 31 days.  As you are working with donors to help them act with generosity, let me encourage you to re-frame your role in your own mind.  Adopt for yourself, the now famous words about fundraising from the late Hank Rosso:

“Fundraising,” he said, “is the gentle art of teaching the joy of giving.”

So go teach, go guide, go be the giver of the gift!

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