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Questions From Colleagues Answered


I love my colleagues and enjoy it when they call and ask for my opinion about a challenging situation or when they simply express their bewilderment over issues that have developed. We need to be able to talk about problems that arise or things that we need to understand through someone else's eyes. I particularly enjoyed the last question I was asked.


"Why would a donor ever want to make an anonymous gift?" asked my colleague who is in the middle of a campaign. She is securing the larger gifts right now and feels the pressure to be able to "report" to others about who has given.

I get her situation and here are a few reasons why people like to remain anonymous:

  • They want to protect themselves from feeling badgered by other community leaders or development officers who are aware of their gifts. This sometimes works, but for campaigns or initiatives where their past involvement raises expectations from others that they will be involved in the current efforts, this is not as effective.

  • They want to ensure the attention is on the cause and not on the donor...however, at times the donors themselves can bring that attention to the cause more effectively because they have given and present a model to motivate others.

  • Remaining anonymous fits with their religious beliefs--there is no arguing this issue, it can be so deeply felt that for me this is untouchable as an argument.

  • Perhaps they worry that it will cause public scrutiny at a time when that scrutiny is unwelcome (after a marital change, after a financial audit, when the market has fallen significantly...). While they want to give, they also want to lower their social and/or financial profile at this particular time.

Sometimes through discussion there is an opportunity to change this decision when the situation warrants, but the best thing to do is simply respect their wishes, remain donor-centric. We all have different reasons to give at different times in our lives. The bottom line is that our organizations are grateful for every gift that clearly advances the mission, anonymous or not.


A major gift specialist brought a new position to my attention and wondered about it--"What is the Chief Accessibility Officer and why are they needed?"

I just recently learned about this position through several corporations with which I am working. There are certain corporations that have embraced accessibility to create an environment where all individuals can do their job and reach their full potential. They believe that technology can bridge individual differences and bring a new group of differently abled and talented individuals into the work culture. The belief of Frances West, IBM's first Chief Accessibility Officer, is: "This is about all of us. It's a mobile world; everything should be easily accessible to everyone."


This is so important that the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) consulting group offers a suite of services that help organizations increase revenue, create an inclusive work culture, and ensure disability inclusion across mobile apps and websites. Among many other things, AFB offers testing and development services to explain how a company's digital products address the accessibility requirements for business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-government (B2G) sales and agreements; accessibility, inclusion and communications training for customer service teams as well as employment solutions from recruitment to retirement, including disability inclusion, talent placement, and employee accommodations.


In moving ahead with a Chief Accessibility Officer, the belief is that corporations can bridge individual differences, enable a diverse group of talented individuals, and improve the standard of living for everyone. We have to applaud such thinking, it will have such a beneficial impact on so many people within their own work force as well as their customer base.


I have a friend who changed jobs in the last year and is now focused on individual giving. She asked me: "How can I best secure major and transformational gifts quickly?" Wouldn't we all like to know this secret?

Except it's not a secret. There are a few general things about this that I can say from the outset. Every philanthropic opportunity has to be relationship oriented and sustainable for the future. What I will put forth below may seem simplistic, but it is a guide for your own thinking on how to reach higher, how to think bigger.

  • Make sure you are working to engage people in issues that are critically important.

  • Competition for the philanthropic dollar is fierce right now--it is important to acknowledge that women particularly are a force making significant decisions for themselves and their families. As such, they are a great target audience.

  • The work that is being done must show authenticity, credibility, transparency, social responsibility.

  • Is there a leader or a volunteer who can provide a shortcut to credibility, someone who drives deep trust and with his or her actions can spark a following? Engage them.

  • Particularly in this age of the covid epidemic, technology allows relationship building to be affordable and personal if it is used strategically. And because it is so accessible to so many, the development of relationships can actually be accelerated.

  • It is so important to review your core audiences and identify relevant connection points.

If you think about these issues and then you carefully consider the corporations or the individuals who have been supportive of your organization's mission, you can begin to construct some potential naming opportunities. Then you carefully build a strategic plan on how to move from "now" (when the donor/prospect has not been presented with any specific opportunity) to "then" when the donor/prospect might be ready for a solicitation of something significantly more. What are the steps that must be taken to bring them there? Write these steps out and begin to work towards making them a reality. Share them with your leadership so that everyone is rowing in the same direction. You will immediately begin to feel that you are making progress.


Such steps take time. There is no shortcut to building a relationship, to creating loyalty and trust, to ensuring that a donor/prospect is with you on this journey. Take your time and work carefully. Give the longer-term commitment. There is no more rewarding experience in philanthropy and development than when a donor makes a very significant gift and ensures a reverberating impact on an issue...these are things that you remember throughout your career.


A very frustrated development officer called with a question...her supervisor continued to talk about a sustainable advantage. She asked: "For heaven's sake, what is a sustainable advantage anyway? What does it even mean?"

For me ensuring a sustainable advantage is critical to all that is done in development. It means that funding brings strength to the current programs and helps to build some long term advantages simultaneously. Those advantages can lead to such stability that they become sustainable over a long period because the steps continue to be repeated many times. I can provide a great example of how one can view this within the healthcare environment--but it is also easy enough to think about it in a university setting, in an arts setting, anywhere.


Best in class health centers have benefited from a cycle of support that can be thought of as a sustainable advantage. With increased resources, the institution can attract and retain top clinical and research talent. This results in a growing positive reputation based on clinical and research success, which then draws a larger, richer patient pool.


A larger patient pool will improve enrollment in clinical trials and increase the volume of research, which will drive increased grant funding. This helps recruit, motivate and retain physicians and staff as well as key researchers. The research will help to provide an excellent patient experience and further improve the institution's reputation for leading edge therapies. An even stronger reputation will inspire an even more generous donor base. Increased philanthropy and increased clinical income will fuel continued investment in the institution's vision and reinforce the successes already achieved.


And the cycle will continue. Can you see how this can apply in your own organization?