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Jerold Panas

Recent Posts by Jerold Panas:

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.

Getting a Donor to See You: 11 Suggestions from a Master Fundraiser

Excerpted from Asking: A 59-Minute Guide to Everything Board Members, Volunteers, and Staff Must Know to Secure the Gift, rev. ed.

You'll find that one of the most difficult steps in getting a gift is actually not the face-to-face presentation. And it's not that special moment when you actually ask for the gift.

What's most difficult is getting the visit.

I've been raising funds for a long time, and I agonize more about making the phone call for the visit than I do the actual presentation to the prospect.

But here's the good news. When you get the visit, you're 85 percent on your way to getting the gift. All of our studies indicate this.

Note I don't call this an appointment. That may seem like a small matter, but as we know in this business of asking, success is in the details. An appointment has a negative connotation. If you need to have a root canal, you call your dentist for an appointment. Or maybe a proctologist you call for an appointment, if that's your particular need!

But a visit, that's quite different, quite pleasant. And this call for a visit should be the first step in a joyful journey. You're giving your prospect an opportunity to invest in saving lives, in changing lives. What could be more ennobling, more rewarding than that?

As you pick up the phone, don't be concerned if you feel pangs of anxiety. I've found that without challenge, there's no achievement. To ease those palpitations and help ensure that you get to see the person, follow these 11 suggestions:

  1. Always send a letter in advance of calling for a visit. I've worried about this. Will the letter actually prompt some turndowns or make it impossible to get through on the phone? Does it give the prospect extra time to prepare arguments for closing off a visit? I can assure you that sending a letter is the most effective way possible of securing the visit. And on top of everything else, it does save 5 or 10 minutes in trying to explain on the phone why you want to see the person.
  2. Practice (practice, practice) your opening. Even with all my years, I still write out what I'm going to say on the phone.
  3. Even though I use a script, so to speak, I don't read it of course. It has to sound spontaneous. But writing it out means I don't miss anything. And the truth is, the script gives me confidence. Keep in mind Churchill's admonition: "I have to practice a great deal in order to make a speech sound spontaneous."
  4. Have a calendar handy. Remember, your purpose in making the call is to set the date for the visit. Get ready.
  5. This is probably the most difficult part of all. Have you ever done this? You stare at the phone. Minutes go by. You know at some point you have to punch in the numbers. But you hope someone will phone, so you won't have to make the dreaded call. But the telephone doesn't ring.
  6. Resolve that you'll fling the whole weight of your spirit into it. Okay, get ready. But wait. There's one thing I'm going to suggest that I know will help you.
  7. Stand up. If you don't believe this helps, just try it. Standing releases a flow of energy that simply doesn't exist when you're sitting. Best of all, I actually like a cell phone so I can do some pacing. You know what? When I stand I feel I can lick the world. I can make that call. I'll get that visit. I'm standing and I'm determined. You'll feel exactly the same.
  8. Smile when you talk. Your prospect will "hear" the smile in your voice. Explain that you're following up on the letter you sent and want to know when it might be convenient to meet.
  9. Keep the small talk brief. Oh certainly, be cordial and pleasant. But your focus has to be on setting the visit

    "Hi, Mary. This is Jerry Panas. I sent you a letter the other day about the new library at Middleton School. When is a good time to see you and John, next Tuesday or Thursday?"

    That may strike you as terse. Okay, do what's comfortable. But your task isn't to engage in extended conversation. Your job is to get the visit.
  10. Be upfront about the amount of time you'll need. "I'd like an hour with you. Will that be all right?"

    What happens if the prospect says she can only give you 20 minutes? "Well, I was hoping for more, but if you're tight on time, let's do it in 20 minutes. This program's so important I'm willing to take whatever time you've got." (You've probably found, as I have, that when a person tells you he can only give you 15 or 20 minutes, he ends up giving you all the time you need.)
  11. Be focused. Your job is to set the date for the visit. It's not to make the sale or discuss the case. Don't fall into the trap of trying to make the sale on the phone. It won't work.
  12. Move the conversation on and set the date. I like giving a person a choice of dates: "What's best for you, John, next Tuesday or next Thursday?" Social psychologists tell us that a person is much more apt to make a positive decision if there's a choice.

Great! You've got the date. You're well on your way to getting the gift. Follow this immediately with a letter of confirmation and appreciation. Make it brief.

I never call to confirm a date before the visit. In fact, I try to make myself virtually unreachable! I don't want to make it convenient or easy for a person to cancel at the last minute. I let my letter put all the arrangements in place.

One last tip. Call your best prospects first, those you feel are the easiest to talk with. After a few calls, you'll have the model down pat.

Jerold Panas
© 2013, Jerold Panas. Excerpted from the newly revised edition of Asking: A 59-Minute Guide to Everything Board Members, Volunteers, and Staff Must Know to Secure the Gift. Excerpted with permission of Emerson and Church, Publishers.

Jerold Panas is the executive director of one of the premier firms in America and co-founder of the Institute for Charitable Giving. His popular books include Asking (newly revised), The Fundraising Habits of Supremely Successful Boards, and Mega Gifts.

Veteran Fundraiser Jerold Panas on the Subject of Asking

Jerold Panas has helped a diverse range of organizations raise an estimated $11 billion. He recently spoke with his publisher about asking for major gifts. GuideStar has published excerpts from Mr. Panas's books (see the links on the right), and we're pleased to be able to share his additional thoughts with you.

You've been at this for 40 years. What motivates a person to make a major gift?

I've done studies on this and the results are almost always the same. The primary reason someone gives a major gift is that he or she believes in the mission of the organization.

A second important factor is the organization's financial stability. Would-be donors have to be convinced the agency is prudently managed.

As you can imagine, people don't want to give money away. They want to contribute to bold and heroic programs. They want to make things happen. And mostly they want to change and save lives.

To be successful in asking, what factors have to be present?

As I discuss in my book, Asking, three pieces are important. The first is that the organization and the project must be relevant. The donor has to feel this is something that's significant.

Next, what you're raising money for has to have emotional appeal. I like it best when the hair on the back on the neck stands up! I want it to be exciting and have snap, crackle, and pop.

But most important, there has to be a sense of urgency. The donor must feel this can't be postponed. The project has to move forward and the decision to give must be made as soon as possible. Time is working against us. Lives are being lost. Kids aren't being served.

The single most important quality of an effective asker is what, in your opinion?

That the solicitor has passion for the cause.

You can't always achieve it, but the ideal is someone who's "burning in his bones" for the organization.

I'll also include persistence. That's because it often takes at least two visits to secure a gift. So you've got to stick with it.

And, finally, the ability to listen. I tell clients that they should talk 25 percent of the time and listen the other 75 percent.

Who's the best person to call on the would-be donor?

This will seem simplistic, but it's key: you send the person who the would-be donor will have the hardest time saying no to.

In some cases, it may be the CEO. It could be a member of the development staff. Or a faculty member who's had a great impact on the person. Or the doctor who performed open-heart surgery on the individual.

I like taking two people on the first call, if it can be arranged. For a potential major donor, I like having the chief executive officer accompany a volunteer. I call that a magic partnership.

I also believe the volunteer should testify to the gift he has made. If it's sacrificial or a stretch gift, that's powerful and compelling ammunition. Of course, you never take anyone with you who hasn't already made his own gift.

When the solicitor makes the call, what's usually going through the donor's mind?

The would-be donor wants to know, why should I give to this organization? What's so important about this cause that I should give it priority?

Next, why is this particular program important enough that I should give? Does the project have my full interest and will it make a difference?

Third, the donor wants to know why she should give now. Is it really urgent? Is it more important to give to your organization than some others I've been considering?

And finally, why me! She wants to know, why are you calling on me for this gift? Why have you singled me out?

My colleague Harvey McKinnon has a terrific book on the subject: The 11 Questions Every Donor Asks and the Answers All Donors Crave.

Many people fret about the words they intend to use when asking. They even rehearse them beforehand. Is phrasing really that important?

When I coach solicitors, I give them language I know is successful. I've learned this over the years. But I'm quick to point out they should use their own words—sing their own song. I want them to feel totally comfortable and as relaxed as possible.

I also coach our solicitors to say out loud the amount they're going to ask for. Go ahead, say it out loud—fifty thousand dollars. Say it! The more it's repeated, the easier it gets.

You say that printed materials and computer presentations aren't that important. Really? Even in this age of smartphones and tablet computers?

I put campaign brochures very low on the list of what motivates a donor. Every study I've done supports this. Those fancy line-embossed, die-cut, four-color brochures just aren't read, though the photos will be glanced at. Worse still, publications are often a turnoff, due to the perceived cost of producing them.

And as far as a computer presentation is concerned—ugh!

In my experience, there's nothing that takes the place of a one-on-one presentation, the solicitor probing and asking questions—and listening most of the time.

I do bring a few pieces to leave behind. One is usually a three-ring binder. That's because no one has ever thrown away a three-ring binder! Another is a simple question and answer folder—one that can fit in a breast pocket or purse. Think of seven or eight questions that are likely to be asked, or questions that simply must be answered. This Q & A piece will be one of the most-read pieces in your arsenal.

Reveal the secret once and for all: What makes a great fundraiser?

In every study I've done, the most important quality is integrity. If it isn't there, your donors feel it, and they're turned off.

Closely behind is the skill of listening. Prospective donors want to be heard. I call it, "listening loudly." Listen carefully enough and you'll learn everything you need to know about the donor, what they're most interested in, and how much they're willing to give.

And when I ask donors what qualities they like to see in the solicitor, they mention the three Es. It starts with energy. They want someone who is a spring ready to be sprung. They want someone who is enthusiastic about the organization. Head over heels committed. And finally, donors talk about the caller being empathetic. And you gain that by listening and caring.


© 2013, Emerson & Church, Publishers

Jerold Panas is the executive director of one of the premier firms in America and co-founder of the Institute for Charitable Giving. His popular books include Asking (newly revised), The Fundraising Habits of Supremely Successful Boards, and Mega Gifts.