Good Money After Good

The news lately has been filled with stories of huge investments.  A few weeks ago we learned that Warren Buffett invested $26 billion to buy Burlington Northern Sante Fe railroad.

And then last week the parents of founder, Jeff Bezos, announced a $10 million gift to the Fred Hutchison Cancer Research Center in Seattle.

What do these stories have in common?  On the face of it not much.  Buffett bought a railroad and Bezos made a substantial charitable gift.  But if we look a bit closer there are at least two commonalities with attending lessons:

  • All Bets are On – Both Buffett and the Bezos characterized their actions as ‘investments’ and ‘bets.’  Both are convinced that these investments and bets will have long-term, positive consequences.  As Jackie Bezos said, “Our commitment is an educated bet on the next forefront in medical science and those who we feel are best positioned to capitalize on it.”

Lesson to be learned? Be worth the bet. I once had the executive director of an old, large Foundation in Atlanta tell me that their Board made funding decisions by making bets on people. Primarily they bet on organizational leaders to do what they said they would do. For them it really came down to this.

Is your organization a good bet?   Is your organization systemically (and systematically) executing on plans that make a difference in the lives of those you serve? Or, is your organization jumping from one priority, goal, or project to the next — exhibiting the attention span of child in the toy isle of Walmart. In order to make big things happen over the long term an organization-wide focus on compelling goals and the discipline to execute must be present.

  • Good Money After Good – For both Buffett and the Bezos these most recent actions are not the first with these organizations.  Before he bought Burlington Northern outright, Buffett already owned 22% of the company.  Similarly, the Bezos gave $500,000 to the Center in 2007.

Lesson to be learned? The best opportunity for a large gift comes from those who have already made large gifts to your organization.  Also, recognize that smart, generous, long-term donors have a habit of making “initial gifts,” before making larger gifts.  They want to see how their investment will perform before they go “all-in” as Buffett and the Bezos did.

Today’s major gift is an opportunity to prove yourself as a good bet.  If you do, tomorrow’s major gift will be even larger.


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