Cornerstone donor

Does your organization have a cornerstone donor? Someone who gives generously, understands your culture and your financial landscape, offers good advice and encouragement, and is willing to imagine with you the next phase of the organization’s growth?

Many donors want to support your work. They ask “how much of my donation goes to mission?” But cornerstone donors are more sophisticated and visionary. They want to help you grow. Their question is “How can we increase your impact?” Ideas backed with a financial commitment are jet fuel for a non profit organization. If you have such a donor, first of all, acknowledge your good fortune. Not all organizations do. But most organizations have someone who could fill that role.

Here are some of the ways that I have seen cornerstone donors transform organizations.

By looking for long term impact. A donor to the large national organization 10 years ago wanted to encourage other donors to include the organization in their estate plans. So he established the Legacy Challenge. He offered to make a cash gift 10% of the current value of any planned gift commitment, up to $10,000. In other words, a donor who made a bequest commitment of $50,000 would prompt him to immediately send a check for $5,000. His commitment generated over $100 million in bequests and other planned gifts for the organization.

The genius in this is two-fold. First of all, most people put off creating or changing their estate plans. This gift provided a motivation to get donors out of the procrastination zone. Second, many solicitors find it awkward to talk about what happens to our money when we die. Do you think it might be easier to start a conversation about the Legacy Challenge than about bequests? Yup.

Willing to say no to a bad idea. A donor to a conservation organization supported conservation in southern Utah, because he knew how beautiful that landscape was. Every year, they sent him a proposal to advance that work. Once, they sent him a proposal to fund an economist doing a survey of locals to ask their opinions. He knew most locals were hostile to environmentalists, so he said no. But he also gave them a chance to come back that same year with a different proposal.

Willing to step out in front. A non profit with a $700,000 annual budget set a goal of $300,000 for a new initiative that would dramatically increase its impact. For a couple of months, the executive director and board members talked to all their most supportive donors. A few months later, one of those donors added $75,000 for the new initiative to her usual $25,000 annual contribution. The board meeting was just a few days after the check arrived, and it was a celebration of possibility.

After you have identified your potential cornerstone donor (or donors!) think about how to encourage them in that special role. Make them part of the inner circle. Show them the impact they have had, on the program, and on other donors. Talk to them about challenges that you are running into in implementing your shared visions. And thank them in as many ways as you can think of.

Paul JollyThe preceding is a guest post by our regular contributor Paul Jolly, founder of Jump Start Growth, Inc. ( Paul worked as a fund raising professional for over 20 years before starting the consulting firm Jump Start Growth. He began his career serving various Quaker institutions, then moved to The Wilderness Society, and then the American Civil Liberties Union. I

Topics: Fundraising Donors
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