With all the economic problems facing our nation, many fundraisers have become reluctant to move forward with their campaigns and efforts. They couldn’t be more wrong.Many years ago I wrote of Sam Walton’s rules of success and how they applied to fundraising. His tenth rule is to “swim upstream;” that is, when everyone else is moving in one direction, opportunity frequently lies in the opposite direction. Don’t get me wrong. I know this is a tough time. But Sam’s advice echoes louder than the constant harping of the doom and gloomers. This may be the best fundraising opportunity in the history of our country. Most nonprofits won’t take advantage of this time, and many traditional givers see it differently, so this message is for the thoughtful and savvy fundraiser. Let’s look for opportunity while the others are running away from it.Many years ago I consulted with a theatre campaign that had “high-centered” and couldn’t move forward. Recalling Sam’s advice, I asked the group to profile our typical donor and friend. “Well,” they told me, “it is someone who enjoys the social side of the theatre, cares about the arts, wants to meet the actors and performers and likes to be around others.” Then I asked them to find the subscriber and patron who didn’t fit that description. They came up with a man who to this day still doesn’t want to be identified: he came to performances late and left early. He bought two season tickets but only used one of them. He violated every rule of a good prospect for this theatre. So why was he there? We got acquainted and learned that he and his wife had gone to the theatre together for years until she died ten years earlier. He went and kept her seat because it was still their time together. He loved the theatre but was not on anyone’s prospect list because he was not visible. But when he was presented with the theatre’s renovation needs, he gave them a half a million dollar gift. He proved that when everyone was looking in one direction, opportunity lay elsewhere.So I have asked the consultants in our firm to think and listen for opposite directional thinking. Among their many findings are several foundations that have not been negatively affected by the economy but have had a serious reduction in applications. They found people whose investments have softened, but have not been destroyed and don’t understand all the fuss. They found businesses that either have not been affected or have found new opportunity because of the recession. This is the best time in fundraising because only a few people will read this, only a few of those will believe it, and only a few of those will act on it.
Will You Be There When John Shamberg Calls?
A big part of fundraising is showing up and being available. I learned this lesson on a very memorable New Year’s Eve, a very long time ago.
As an eager young fundraiser working for Washburn University, I didn’t know that it was unusual still to be at work in the evening of December 31st. But, there I was.
Earlier that year, a graduate of Washburn University School of Law told me he was going to give a gift of land to his synagogue, a private K-12 school and Washburn. John Shamberg, who has since passed away, made millions of dollars for institutions all over the world, and he wanted to give a significant gift to organizations he valued. His 40 acres of land on the outskirts of Kansas City were valued at $450,000, and his intention was to give $150,000 each to three organizations.
He’d left the task to the last day of the year, but now he was ready to make it happen.
He called the synagogue. No answer.
He called the K-12 school. No answer.
Then, he called Washburn and got me.
“Bob,” he said, “you just won the jackpot!”
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