I have always been fond of the saying “Patience is not simply the ability to wait; it’s how we behave while we’re waiting.” Oh, so true! It is often an accurate truism among nonprofits that feel that their development director has an uncanny ability to wave a magic wand and raise major funds without having first developed or cultivated relationships with their donors or prospects.
We live in an age of instant gratification. We absorb news in sound bites. We need our instant coffee, now. We buy express tickets to avoid lines at Disney, at airports or in HOV lanes on the Turnpike. We can’t arrive fast enough to suit ourselves. Sometimes I think we go through life in three phases: fast, faster and faster than that. Whoosh! Can you feel the air brush past your face? Some view fundraising the same way.
I recently saw an ad by a nonprofit for a director of development position. Next to the ad it stated “Rainmaker Wanted.” Well, isn’t that special? Wouldn’t we all like to recruit a rainmaker to immediately raise lots of money for the nonprofit organization? I harbor serious concerns about this hyped-up hope. Let’s examine the issue of patience when fundraising, shall we?
As we head into the robotic age and the era of artificial intelligence, some aspects of our lives will never be controlled by automatons. Fundraisers will still need to interact between humans and their fellow man and woman. I cannot foresee a robot making a personal appeal for a major gift. No, robocalls don’t count.
Iyov, a well-known Bible character, was said to have unfathomable patience. When someone exhibits great endurance through all kinds of trials, annoyances, or provocations, we say that person has “the patience of Job.” Fundraisers every so often struggle and face a myriad of challenges, especially when soliciting major gifts. I spoke recently to a colleague who was about to close on a multi-million dollar gift for an overseas institution of higher learning. He told me that this donation was “five years in the making.” The donor, in his 80s, was planning this gift as a legacy for his children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. My colleague let on that this ultimate gift went through many twists and turns over the years, and it wasn’t until a recent health scare that the donor decided the time was right to make the gift. My colleague has the patience of Job.
What was also apparent to me was the patience of the nonprofit. It rode the waves with my colleague and factored in that monumental gifts often take time to execute. Of course, major gifts were being secured from other philanthropically inclined individuals in the interim. They weren’t beholden to just one donor. But not every organization has such patience.
Many years ago, I secured a $5 million bequest for one reason alone. I stewarded a board member who had been all but lost to my nonprofit. This lay leader had not been solicited for advice or counsel, and her stature was ignored for many years by the nonprofit’s board. She once told me, “Norman, I am ready to take my business elsewhere.” Enter a new approach. We made sure that leadership would call her to attend meetings; they elicited her opinion on issues of concern to the organization; and she was regularly recognized for her past contributions. It took time, a lot of time, but we won her back and, once again, she and her family felt like they belonged to the family, in a well-deserved place in the organization.
Winning over an overlooked and ignored board member did not happen overnight. In this case, patience was indeed a virtue. But, like all things in life, the relationship took on its own twists and turns. There were times when our neglected board member, whose uncompromising personality frequently crossed swords with other volatile board members, was ready to bolt. It required tact and diplomacy on a par with a United Nations statesman to bring her back.
The moral of this story is simple. It often takes time, mental fortitude and physical endurance to shepherd a donor through a major gift process and to keep them in the fold. The effort must be genuine but is often intense. Understanding this process will usually get you good results.
My question is this: Are you willing to be patient or are you looking for immediate results?
By Norman B. Gildin
Norman B. Gildin has fundraised for nonprofits for more than three decades and has raised upwards of $93 million in the process. He lived in Teaneck for 34 years and now resides in Boynton Beach, Florida and currently is the president of his own company, Strategic Fundraising Group. He can be reached at [email protected]