The Weekend Briefing

The last two weeks we've written about the uncertainties that will impact fundraising in 2020. There was nothing about it anywhere else; not in the literature, not in social media. Then this link appeared in the Chronicle feed last Thursday:

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It was a spectacular autumn morning. The kind where you grab your sweater and coffee and walk outside. Which was exactly what Alice and her boss, Kacie, were doing.
Alice was pretty much brand new. Out of college a year and a member of the school’s advancement team for only a few months. Enough time to know what she didn’t know.
So when Kacie stopped by Alice’s workstation and said, “Hey, let’s get some fresh air,” the latter was pumped. Whenever Alice could spend a minute or two with Kacie, a respected advancement pro, Alice learned something. She was learning all the time, actually. Kacie subscribed to the theory of “management by encouraging.” Alice couldn’t believe how many opportunities she had already been given.
This morning was another one. “I’m seating you with the Enright’s at the Gala next week,” Kacie said.
Alice questioned, “But I thought you wanted me to work the registration table?”
“You bet I do, but you have to eat, right? You’ll sit next to Mrs. Enright. It’ll be a great chance to get to know them, and for them to get to know you.”
“Got it. Two dumb questions. Who are they, and how will I meet them?”
Kacie smiled. “First, there are no dumb questions. They’re generous parents of a graduate last spring who was captain of the girls’ soccer team. As for meeting them, you’re working registration, right?”
Alice nodded. Sheepishly.
At the Gala she was ready and when the Enright’s arrived Alice offered her most sincere smile and best business handshake. “Mr. and Mrs. Enright, I’m told I’ll have the pleasure of sitting with you at dinner tonight!”
Katherine Enright said kindly, “How nice, Alice, we’ll enjoy that.”
And they did.
A month later Kacie stopped by again. “Alice, if you could drop off that photo of the Enright’s from the Gala we had framed, and I want you to ask them for their annual fund gift.”
“Huh? I’ve never done that before. Are you sure?”
“Of course I’m sure. You told me they really enjoyed being with you at the Gala?”
“Yes, they did. I remembered what you said and made sure I asked questions so Katherine and George did most of the talking. I learned a lot about them!”
“Perfect. I’m glad you remembered. So now you’re ready for your first ask.”
Alice was struggling to find her footing. “Okay, if you say so. How much should I ask them for?”
“Not how much. We don’t do that for high-end annual fund donors like the Enright’s. Or really, for anyone else. We ask our donors to support something specific in the school’s budget. That’s what the annual fund is for, right? To support the budget? But who wants to give money to the budget? Or the annual fund, for that matter?
“Finance tells me the cost for the girls’ soccer team is $8,000 a year, all in. Uniforms, travel, the banquet; everything but the coaches’ stipends. When you’re with them, ask if they would consider a gift to underwrite this season of the soccer team.”
“Got it. Wow. I never thought of shaping an ask that way. But it makes complete sense.”
Alice called the Enright’s, got the visit, made the visit, and got the gift.
And this is where the story begins.
The Enright’s gift arrived in late December. Three months later, Kacie called Alice into her office and told her, “It’s time to thank the Enright’s for their year-end gift.”
“But I thought we did that already? I know the thank you letter went out. You put a little note at the bottom.”
“Yes, that’s all true. But now it’s time to thank them properly.”
This is how it happened.
Alice reached out to Katherine and George and invited them to join her at an upcoming soccer match. The girl’s team was playing their longtime rivals.
The Enright’s were delighted. “Alice, how kind of you to think of us!” George said on the phone. “We attended most all of our daughter’s games and to be honest, we miss it!”
The day came. Alice met the Enright’s at the field and they found a comfortable spot in the stands. Alice brought a stadium blanket for Katherine, to ward off the chilly April afternoon.
George said, “That’s very thoughtful of you, Alice. Thank you.”
The game commenced and the Enright’s cheered mightily. Thankfully the home team won and as her guests were about to leave Alice pointed down to the field. The coach of the team was looking up and waving to the Enright’s to join the team on the sidelines.
“Well,” Katherine said, “We didn’t expect this at all. How nice. Alice, are you coming?”
“No, you both go ahead. I know the coach wants to say hello and have you meet the team!”
So they did. The head coach greeted the Enright’s warmly and introduced the young woman who succeeded their daughter as captain. The coach then turned to the team’s equipment manager and said, “Do you have it?”
George and Katherine were puzzled. Just then they saw a soccer ball in the coach’s hands. For a moment they couldn’t make out the writing on it but soon realized, every member of the team had signed the ball.
“Mr. and Mrs. Enright,” the coach said as she presented the ball to them, “We want to thank you, so much, for supporting us this year. It meant the world to us.”
As the team cheered and clapped, Katherine Enright fought off tears. George needed a moment to compose himself and then he said, “All of you have been so much a part of our lives, of our family. It would be our fondest wish to continue to be part of this team.”
Alice was watching all of this unfold from the stands. She was beaming as she hustled down to be with her donors and take a photo or two.
“Alice,” Katherine said as she dabbed her eyes, “I think you had a hand in this, didn’t you?!”
“A little,” the fundraiser smiled. “The best part of my job is when we get to say thank you.”
There were hugs in the parking lot and as the Enright’s drove away, Alice knew their “annual fund gift” would neither be their last, nor their largest.
She was right.
Kacie was waiting for her when Alice got back to the office.
Alice asked in mild amazement, “Kacie, how did you know that would mean so much to them?”
“O, gosh, experience, I guess. Just putting ourselves in the donors’ shoes. So tell me, what did you learn from all of this?”
Alice didn’t hesitate. “Donors want to know how their gift will be used. We need to listen and pay attention to what is important to them. And we need to make our donors feel appreciated.”
Kacie nodded, this time seriously. “Alice, this is a really big moment. You’ve just learned the secret to fundraising.”
Have a good week, my friends.
Rob Cummings is a fundraising consultant. You can reach him at

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