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Sending a message to the college: Major donors roar! (part 3)

Sending a message to the college: Major donors roar! (part 3)

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Considering my experience, the amount of time and money invested in a project and the host institution brings sharper focus to financial and personal involvement in institutional activities.  Retired Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of FMC Corporation said, “The key to successful giving is the same as for successful investing.  Know the beneficiary of your educational giving as well as you know the companies in which you invest.  Satisfy yourself that the educational recipients of your contributions meet your standard educational excellence.  This best describes how the “major donor” class thinks.

Since most every school brochure you are to pick up claims “excellence” it has become obvious that serious research is necessary before making a donation.  Furthermore realize the influence, the authority you have as a donor; whether alumnus, friend, or parent.  With excellence you can’t find being prevalent and ideologies you can’t support being fostered the time may have come for you to exercise that authority.  The major donor says, “Continue along this road lacking excellence and supporting such ideologies and you lose my support.”

I am always dismayed when a donor simply walks way, not saying anything, just stopping their gifts, and losing what investment they have made.  A major degree of work for the development office is figuring out how to deal with and revitalize LYBUNTS (last year but unfortunately not this) and SYBUNTS (some year but unfortunately not this).  I used to title this work: “Operation Jump Start.”  The work is not easy, but at least these groups may remember some “joy” they had when they once gave.

The authority, and I am careful to say authority and not power, possessed by the “major donor” class is significant and if widespread among the donor base may redirect an institution's errant detour(s).  “If you know where you are going you are more likely to get there.”  If you know why you donated your money you will want to know how it is being spent.  The reason people have money is because they learned how to handle money responsibly.  There is, however, a blind spot I have discovered and it begs a question.

Why do so many give and not follow-up?  They certainly should!  Actually before they do follow up the institution should illustrate to them how each dollar is spent or how specifically their gift was used.  Bar graphs, pie charts, sliced up dollar bills, I’ve used them all to illustrate how donor money is used.  I have found a publication of the American Council of Trustees and alumni The Intelligent Donor’s Guide to College Giving very helpful. 

The book is written for the donor.  Forbes Magazine reviewed it saying, “If you don’t care if your money goes to support ‘Vampire Fiction’ or ‘Soap Opera’ studies you can probably just send a check.  But if you want to advance education in more sensible ways, attach some strings.”

My friend described earlier, in “Part Two,” the alumnus of a prestigious southern university became discouraged at how his alma mater was spending and that which they were espousing.  He stopped giving to the annual fund and focused his gifts where he knew they were used as he wished.  Intelligent!  This is fiscally responsible giving!

Major Donors should not only become involved but encouraged to become involved.  They should make college/school visits and offer to hold a local soiree for the institution with a visiting administrator, faculty member, or well-known major donor present to say a few words about his experience of giving.

Major donors may, actually should, exercise a degree of control over an institution by tying something distasteful taking place at the institution and needing to be changed to their gift and so should close friends of the major donor’s when proposing a gift.  So if you fit the major donor profile don’t just sit around and complain step up to the plate and take a swing!

Robert F. Davis has 40 years of experience providing counsel for educational and not-for-profit institutions. He previously served as vice president for Advancement at Bryan College in Tennessee and consulting vice president for Advancement and Alumni Affairs at Liberty University in Virginia.

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