As I boarded a plane a few weeks back, headed home to Los Angeles, I was going through my routine… stowing my lap top under the seat in front of me, neatly folding my jacket in the overhead bin, and most importantly, putting on my headset and dialing in my Ipod with my favorite blues artists for 4 hours music for the ride home… when suddenly I heard a familiar voice across the isle, “How are you doing Roy?”
It was Rusty, a former co-worker of mine, who had always been our top producing major gift officer. He had one of those deep voices you never forget and was nearly 6’5″ tall and nearly 300 pounds. This was a big man, who even by today’s standard could have gone toe to toe with almost anybody in the NFL.
It always blew my mind that Big Rusty could show up at a strangers door and before you know it, not only would he be invited in, but he usually left with a donation for the nonprofit organization we worked for. This big, mountain of a man, succeeded because his heart was bigger than his stature.
As we chitchatted about old friends and family, I finally asked him why he was headed to Los Angeles. Of course, the answer did not surprise me. One of his “friends” had been in an accident and broken his hip and Rusty was headed there to spend a few weeks with him to help out around the house while he recuperated. When he told me the man’s name, I knew that it was one of his assigned donors.
It struck me that Rusty did not call him “his donor” or “his prospect” or “his assignment”… It truly was his friend. When Rusty told me the man’s name, I recognized it immediately. He had already donated to the ministry a 7-figure gift and I knew that Rusty had helped him many years ago with his planned giving too.
Knowing Rusty and the donor, it did NOT strike me odd at all that instead of calling family or hiring a convalescent nurse, this donor simply called his friend Rusty. He trusted Rusty. He was a man who began their relationship as his “donation advisor”. Rusty was the man’s eyes and ears inside the ministry. When he made a gift, regardless of the amount, Rusty reported how every penny was spent. This dear man not only trusted Rusty with his money, now he truly trusted him with his life.
Rusty is a living example of lessons we had both learned the hard way over many years… if you want to receive large sums of money from people for your charity, your relationships should NOT be based upon the money. It sounds counter-intuitive, but if you want to raise large sums of money, your donor has to believe that your friendship is not about the money. It is just that simple.
As Rusty and I reminisced about his old friend it brought back so many memories and the types of things we would do to help our friends supporting the ministry. I remember meeting with donors and simply asking the question, “what are your plans today?” The next thing I knew I was taking Mrs. Smith to the grocery store or taking Mr. Johnson to the bank. I remember on two or three occasions my co-workers (fellow major gift officers) telling me they had even fixed a door hinge and rehung shutters. (Of course, with my mechanical and carpentry skills, this would not work for me. You have to know your limitations.)
Another story that always touched my heart was from another co-worker of mine and Rusty’s. When we called the major gift officer to check on how his visit went with the donor, a dear older lady answered the phone. She said that “her friend was helping her paint the front porch right now and could he call me back in an our our so?”
True major gift work is not about techniques and closing ratios. It is not just about how many people you talk to and how much you should ask for. Major gift development is about ministering to other people. It is the truest form of stewardship.
I met with the executive director of a charity in North Carolina a few weeks ago, who may have said it best: “I spend a third of my day loving on those our charity serves, the homeless. I spend a third of my day loving on our staff and volunteers. And I spend a third of my day loving on our donors…”
Who are you “loving on” today… make sure you spend time loving and caring for your donors. It is at the heart of every successful major gift fundraiser.