Jerold Panas

Recent Posts by Jerold Panas:

Evaluate Your Board Meetings

I had just started my consulting relationship with Asheville School. It’s a very special high school in Asheville, North Carolina.

The meeting ended. But something happened that I had not been warned of. I was called on to give a 15-minute critique of the Board meeting.

No More Pledges!

The word “Pledge” has a negative connotation. For many, they won’t even consider an extended payment plan.

You surely have heard this sort of a comment: “I don’t pledge (making the fatal word three syllables!). I’ll make a gift, but I don’t know how things will be in the next few years. So I’m not going to pledge.” Or, “I just don’t believe in pledging. I’m almost certain I’ll give again next year, but I won’t pledge.”

What Makes a Great Fundraiser Great? Five Key Attributes

Hand me a pen and in 30 seconds I could scribble a lengthy list of attributes important to every fundraiser. Narrowing the list to five is next to impossible for someone like me who has decades of experience working with professionals of all kinds.

So forgive me if I stop short of saying the following five are categorically the most important, but certainly these exemplify today’s successful fundraiser.

Asking and Giving: The Twin Pillars of Philanthropy

I’ve met few who relish the idea of asking for a gift. Not many queue up to solicit. It takes practice and discipline. I find, however, that once they secure their first gift and taste victory, you can’t hold solicitors back. They practically lust for the call. I’ll give an example shortly.

The Great Fundraisers

In my years of consulting, I’ve discovered that highly effective fundraisers share many qualities. Before I describe two characteristics in particular, let me briefly tell you about a pair of fundraisers I’ve worked with who are utterly different in style and approach, and yet each was powerfully effective. 

Precepts for the Supremely Successful Board


I've never really kept track.

In my years of consulting, I suppose I've worked with 30,000 volunteer and professional fundraisers. Perhaps as many as 50,000. They come in all sizes and shapes and ethnic backgrounds. Tall, short. Heavy, thin. I've seen it all.

From this wealth of experience, I've identified 15 precepts that I believe board members should use as their guide. In my book, The Fundraising Habits of Supremely Successful Boards, I spell them out in more detail.

  1. The mission of your organization is its most prized treasure—to be taken out for public display, to be cherished, and to be polished regularly to maintain its luster and value. Your mission isn't a recital of where you've been. It speaks eloquently as to where you're going.
  2. You make certain your organization has the financial resources to meet its mission. Money makes this happen. Board members cannot abdicate their responsibility for raising funds. They cannot allow a mission deficit.
  3. Trustees must be willing to give. This is what transforms vision into reality. If those closest don't give, it is a serious failure, a decaying of moral fortitude, determination, and dedication.
  4. You bring to each board meeting a probing, challenging, open mind. You ask, What are we achieving? Are we meeting our mission? What are the dreams and visions for the future?
  5. Understand that your organization doesn't have needs. The people you serve have needs. You have the answer. The response. The solution.
  6. It is an unforgiving failure if you come to a board meeting unprepared. If you're not familiar with what is happening, it sets a course for a rudderless journey in stormy waters. No compass, no direction, no bearings, no future.
  7. Policy determination is the province of the board and the board only. Policy execution is the responsibility of the staff. You are admonished not to meddle. There ought to be a "No Trespassing" sign firmly in place.
  8. You never lose sight that your organization is in the business of empowering and enriching lives.
  9. Complacency and even graduate growth are the enemies of organizational vitality. There's plenty of room at the bottom for the organization willing to limp along and live on past laurels.
  10. It is amazing, the wondrous things that can be achieved when a staff receives its proper recognition. Including salary recognition. You provide accord and acclaim for good performance.
  11. There are four levels of trustees. Those who make things happen. Those who watch things happen. Those to whom things happen. And those who don't even know what's happening. Your job is to make things happen.
  12. As a board member, you are less concerned about how things are done and greatly concerned about why things are done.
  13. The financial statement doesn't tell the story of your organization. The bottom line cannot be counted in dollars. The true net worth can only be measure in how you affect the lives of those you serve.
  14. A ho-hum board begets a ho-hum institution. Plain vanilla. No soaring hopes. No exciting aspirations. No creative solutions. It will never be able to respond to human and social needs. Your responsibility is to be continuously vigilant. To review, package, and revitalize the program.
  15. As a trustee, you are an advocate. You carry the flag. More than anyone, you're the goodwill ambassador and tell the organization's story whenever and wherever possible. Be a roaring enthusiast. Tell everyone about the amazing work your organization is doing.

As a board member, you are among the chosen few. Lives are being changed and saved because of you. You're the noble souls raising funds to provide the scholarships, heal the sick, feed the hungry, build the buildings, furnish the equipment, and find the cures.

You dream the unthinkable. Attempt the impossible. It is the magic of your involvement that leads your organization to success.

You will forever be, to use Ernest Hemingway's salute: "The winner and undisputed champion." 

The proceding is a guest post by Jerold Panas the author of The Fundraising Habits of Supremely Successful Boards, Making a Case Your Donors Will Love, Asking, and Mega Gifts: Who Gives Them, Who Gets Them.

Statistics and Damn Lies (and Your Case Statement)

Even 19th-century British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli had something to say on the subject. "There are three kinds of lies," he said. "There are lies, damned lies, and statistics."

I'm careful about statistics. I much prefer inspiring and convincing anecdotes. Statistics have all the spontaneity and passion of drying paint.

The typical reader doesn't have the time or patience to slog his or her way through a sludge of stats. But you'll find he or she is open to anecdotes. They provide action and feeling and more dramatically reveal your organization.

I'll give you an example.

It's late. I turn off the lights in my office and begin walking to the parking lot. I'm crossing the quadrangle when I feel a hand on my arm. It's one of our students. It's obvious she wants to talk.

First, let me tell you about Helen. It's one of the most extraordinary stories we've had at the College. When Helen first came to us as a student. ...

Something like that is so much more striking than saying, "A third of our student body is on some type of financial assistance."

Think in terms of the pelican.

You could write about "the odious British Petroleum spill off the coast of Louisiana. The worst ever. Over 680 million gallons of oil." But it's impossible to comprehend that much oil. And it certainly doesn't make the heart race.

Try this instead:

On the shore you can see pelicans—thousands of them. A rescuer is feverishly working on one whose wings are stuck like glue. Solvent can't undo the damage.

When the rescuer tries to open the pelican's beautiful long beak, he finds it stuck, too. He knows he's going to lose this majestic bird. He's working against time. The death will be slow and painful. But inevitable."

That's a lot more concrete and descriptive than recording that an estimated 3,000 pelicans were killed as a result of the oil spill.

Here's another example. Let's say your student body has increased dramatically over the last 10 years, or your membership has skyrocketed 15 percent every year for the last 5, or your admissions to the emergency room have grown exponentially in the last 3 years. All of these lend themselves effectively to statistics and a graph.

If your statistics are impressive, by all means you should use them. It's what Walter Carpenter, former CEO of DuPont, referred to as "the eloquence of facts." But use them as a drunk might use a lamppost. Only for support, not illumination.

Long rows of statistics will make an actuary or accountant weep with joy. But for most, the eyes glaze over. Instead of the drudge of numbers, use graphs. They tell the story with impact and in a flash.

Here's when to consider statistics:

When showing your program is relevant. The need for your proposed program must be relevant. Donors look for that. The case you build and substantiate must be faultless and impregnable. To demonstrate relevancy, you need facts, details, and back-up information. This is where statistics lend a helping hand.

At St. Mary's, we treat patients day and night. Every day. Every hour. Every minute. Last year, 128,000 people used our emergency room.

There isn't another hospital within 60 miles. The flow through our emergency room is unending. It's impossible to calculate how many would not make it through the night if it weren't for St. Mary's.

You can't fake relevancy. That would be like what the former governor of Texas, Ann Richards, described as "putting lipstick on a pig and calling her Monique."

When demonstrating the allure of your program. The case for your program must have dramatic and emotional appeal. It has to sizzle.

Statistics won't really help in adding drama, but at times they do open the door a crack for you. The great film director Fellini said: "Sometimes if you pull a little tail, you will find an elephant at the other end."

Use statistics when you want evidence of impressive growth.

When demonstrating urgency. There's nothing more critical to the success of your program than describing the urgency for the funds. As the great German philosopher Martin Heidegger wrote, "Urgency is the source of everything."

This is one place where statistics can be a welcome friend—when substantiating urgency. The increase in the number of people served. Admissions to the emergency room. The number of homeless on the streets.

Your job is to convey the gravity of the situation—to make the situation dire:

It is February and frigid weather has struck. If we don't have the funds now, there will be 900 on our streets tonight without dinner or shelter. More than 350 of them are children.

But tread lightly. If you present a barrage, it can have all the drama of a diva in decline. Whereas used judiciously to prove a point, stats can strip the flesh bare.

Other Excerpts from This Book



Jerold Panas
© 2014, Jerold Panas. Excerpted from Making a Case Your Donors Will Love. Excerpted with permission.

Jerold Panas is author of Making a Case Your Donors Will Love, from which this article is excerpted. His other books include Asking, The Fundraising Habits of Supremely Successful Boards, and Mega Gifts.

Questions I'm Most Often Asked About Case Statements

Excerpted from Making a Case Your Donors Will Love

Making a Case: The Magic of the Word

Excerpted from Making a Case Your Donors Will Love

Board Wrinkles: The Questions I'm Most Often Asked

I wrote a book about it, but darn it not everyone in the country has read The Fundraising Habits of Supremely Successful Boards. [Editor's note: see the list on the right for excerpts from the revised edition of this book.]

I still am asked for solutions to a host of board problems: "How do I fix this? How do I fix that?"quot; And invariably I'm cornered just as I'm rushing to make another flight.

In the brief space I'm given here, let me answer the five questions that come up most often.

  1. What's the single most important trait I should look for in prospective board members?

    By far, devotion is the most important.

    When I find men and women who are ho-hum about their organization, I gently suggest they move on to something they can give their heart to.

    You don't want directors who sit on a board. You want those who serve, who become cheerleaders for your vision and dreams.

    Months ago I was at a cocktail party. You know the scenario. We had gathered 50 or so of the college's most likely donors. For the first time, they were hearing about the bold plans for a new library.

    About midway through, I saw Peter (a director) who had cornered a would-be donor against the wall. Peter was vigorously gesturing and chatting away. I knew what he was doing. He was being a roaring advocate for the project.

    To make such advocacy easier, here's something I recommend.

    Print business cards for your board members. On one side put the name of your organization and its mission. On the other, the name of the director with all necessary information for making a contact.

    I've known directors who give these out by the dozens. It serves.

  2. How do I get board members to contribute financially?

    In today's world, it's unthinkable a board member wouldn't give.

    I work with many organizations where there's a minimum amount directors are asked to give. Yes, I know, I hear all the time that some board members are selected to ensure community representation or specific skills they can bring to the table. I understand that. These individuals may not meet the minimum of giving—but they should still be expected to give generously.

    I like what Claremont College does. Every board member is asked to give one year's tuition. That could be translated up or down for any organization. It also gives a clear picture of how the gift is used. In the case of Claremont, I particularly like it because each year the amount goes up!

    In another organization I work with, board members are expected to give a minimum of 1 percent of the organization's annual giving goal for the year.

  3. How can I get board members to make personal visits?

    This is the toughest nut, since directors don't routinely queue up to ask for gifts.

    In this short space, I can't go into the details—my book Asking lays out the strategy to use with your board.

    But one thing you want to make unmistakably clear is that no board member need venture out alone. A staff person or another director will always be at their side, if they wish.

    What is perhaps most critical is that the board member secure the appointment. Once that's done, you're 85 percent on your way to getting the gift.

  4. How do I deal with poor attendance at meetings?

    I called on the Meadows Foundation in Dallas. Kurt Meadows told me, "Your proposal is excellent. It's exactly what we fund. Now I just need a certified copy of your board attendance for the last 18 months."

    "18 months? Certified? Why?" I ask.

    "If your attendance isn't at least 75 percent, we won't consider your application," he tells me.

    At first I thought this was severe. But on reflection, I could see that if a board doesn't care enough to attend meetings, why should the foundation show interest?

    Having said that, however, please understand that it's up to the staff to make a board meeting productive.

    Shortly after a recent board meeting, I approached a director who we were pretty certain would be making a gift of $5 million.

    We chatted a bit. Then, after a few minutes, Rahib said: "Jerry, I'm going to resign from the board."

    "Why? You seem so interested in the work of the hospital."

    "I come to meetings regularly. But nothing ever happens. It's all just show and tell. It's the three Bs buildings, budgets, and baloney.

    I was deflated like a punctured balloon. I was seeing my $5 million gift sputter out.

  5. How do I get board members to speak up?

    I think back when Bill Bennett was Reagan's secretary of education. Early in his tenure, he came under severe attack. The teacher's unions were after him, the media was after him, and parents were after him.

    At one of his first Cabinet meetings, Reagan pulled out a file and started to read out loud some of the headlines. "Bennett, a dunce in the classroom." "Bennett, the traitor of the second term." "Bennett must be fired." "Bennett has to go."

    Reagan folded the last clipping and tucked it back in the file. Then he said, "Now that's Bill Bennett's first three weeks in office. What's wrong with the rest of you?"

    There are times a director has to speak his or her mind, take a position, and perhaps be all alone. That's one of the responsibilities.

    If you don't speak up, you constrict your value to the organization. There are times you just have to say, "Our baby is ugly."

Excerpts from The Fundraising Habits of Supremely Successful Boards

  • Getting a Donor to See You: 11 Suggestions from a Master Fundraiser
  • Three Fundraising Habits of Supremely Successful Boards

Jerold Panas
© 2014, Emerson and Church, Publishers

Jerold Panas is the author of Asking: A 59-Minute Guide to Everything Board Members, Volunteers, and Staff Must Know to Secure the Gift; The Fundraising Habits of Supremely Successful Boards; and Mega Gifts: Who Gives Them, Who Gets Them.