How To Wreck The Stewardship Of A Major Gift

By Laurence A. Pagnoni, MPA

A friend of mine who sits on a nonprofit board has been working to cultivate as a major donor a very wealthy businessman with a strong interest in the nonprofit’s cause—the environment. In fact, the businessman has financed and participated in numerous field projects that have contributed to environmental knowledge. It seemed like a match made in nonprofit heaven.

Since my friend has a journalistic background, he decided to interview the businessman about his latest environmental activities. The interview would appear in the next issue of the nonprofit’s journal and serve as the initial step in developing a relationship. Everything went smoothly. The interview yielded some late-breaking news. The businessman was quite pleased with the text, which my friend showed him as a courtesy prior to publication.

A couple of weeks later, my friend received a copy of the journal. He couldn’t believe his eyes. The interview was buried in the back pages, just ahead of the obituaries. It was chopped up to boot. My friend had intended to furnish his prospect with a complimentary copy of the issue, but was now ashamed to do so because of the off-handed way the article was treated.

“The man I interviewed could easily underwrite the entire budget of the organization for the next five years or more,” my friend said, shaking his head.

I present this story, a true story, as a parable to illustrate what Laurence Pagnoni means when he says that everyone in a nonprofit has to be a fundraiser—right down to the janitor. Every board and staff member has to understand that the lifeblood of a non-profit organization is money and act on that understanding to whatever extent he or she can. Even a janitor can make an elevator pitch describing the nonprofit’s mission, impact, and vision.

The editor of the journal in this case was thinking about the content of the issue and the aesthetics of what goes where. Fine. But although it’s an important tool in building membership and circulating information about the organization, the journal is not a self-supporting entity. It actually struggles for funding. The editor never asked himself what he could do to help sustain the organization and the periodical he publishes. He didn’t realize that featuring the interview, intact, on the first or second page could be a significant step toward a major gift.

No one told him that he too had to consider himself a member of the fundraising team. Do you now see with a little more clarity how an organization can be its own barrier to raising more money?

We welcome your comments about this post on the LAPA blog.

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