MegaGiftsBefore the holidays I read Mega Gifts: Who Gives Them, Who Gets Them by Jerold Panas. (I reviewed another excellent book by this author, Power Questions.)


First, two words came up repeatedly. Joy and Listen. Whatever area of fundraising you practice, keep them top of mind.

The joy your donors feel when they give.

How important as a fundraiser that it is for you to listen.

I put the book down many times to reflect on what I just read. In fact, I enjoyed it so much that I gave it as a gift to each of my colleagues. Now we will have a shared reference and reinforcement with our own experiences as individual fundraisers for our nascent team. (As Seth Godin noted: “When the team has a reference, a shared vocabulary and a new standard, you raise the bar for each other.”)

Jerry’s style is easy to read. He talks about his experiences over an amazing career of fundraising and consulting. He then interviews mega donors themselves to drill down, uncover and polish these golden nuggets. He uses specific examples of philanthropists who have changed the world or a corner of it through giving, using their own words and examples of gift commitments.

Jerry explores the psychology of these donors – the mega wealthy and those just merely wealthy – and discovers what persuades them, what motivates them, and what leads them to say, “No.” Some revelations are true for donors with gifts large or small. Some of the insights below I’m sure you have heard before from other fundraising practitioners, authors and bloggers:

  • For most people, giving is not rational.
  • Passion, rather than reason, rules.
  • People do not give for tax reasons.
  • Million dollar givers have a history with the organizations they support.
  • Giving is a habit.
  • In virtually all cases, the gift was made only after being directly asked to do so.

That rounds off chapter 2, and there is so much more wisdom and practical advice packed into this slim volume.

He discusses the roles of staff and of volunteers in the solicitation meeting and in the critical relationship building with the donor(s). In this updated version (be sure to buy the newly revised second edition, 2013) he also talks about our “new reality” in the changing markets.

Jerry dives into these questions: Do matching gift challenges work? Do naming opportunities incentivize mega donors? Who “should” make the ask and how many people “should” go on the call? What about the collateral – what should that look like? Along the way he busts some myths and eschews some “shoulds.”

If found the most striking chapter was, “What Mega Givers Expect in a Fundraiser” and I suggest you take this paragraph to heart: “Listen. Listen intently. Listen even more intently. Sell the dream, not the project. And tell how lives will be changed.”

In the next chapter, The Joy of Giving, he shares this: “For some [donors], making a gift of real consequence to an institution may be like ‘hitting the wall’ in a marathon. It is painful at first, then it begins feeling good. In the end its euphoric.”

In the long last chapter, Jerry reviews the tenets for success with the amazingly joyful and committed philanthropists, an important list to have at hand. My copy is painted with yellow highlighter.

I reached for this book because I’ve been a successful major gift fundraiser, but am now raising principal gifts for The Aga Khan University and the campaign to build a new campus in Arusha, Tanzania. With few alumni of means, we are turning to nearly all new prospects to achieve an audacious goal. This book will continue to provide inspiration and insight as we blaze new trails.

For me, being a fundraiser is a most amazing and challenging and transformative career. Wherever you might be in your career – even just hoping to start one – this is a no-brainer $25 investment in understanding all donors.

Hurry up before I buy another dozen to share with my colleagues on twitter!

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