As development consultants, members of the S&W team are privileged to speak with leading donors in our community as we collaborate with nonprofits to strengthen their fundraising capacity through development assessments, fundraising plans and campaign planning studies. These conversations are essential to our ability to get a 360-degree view of the organization.

Sometimes, we can interview the same donor several times on behalf of different charities with which they are involved. Such was the case when I met with a prominent business and civic leader who ran his family’s company. Bill Smith—not his real name—had proven himself to be a smart, focused and challenging interview subject with a propensity for asking the hard questions. So as I prepared to meet with him to discuss a local animal welfare organization, I steeled myself for all of the tough questions and challenging issues that he might raise.

Bill greeted me warmly and asked if his wife could join our interview. During our conversation, the couple shared stories of their beloved pets, the animals that they had rescued over the years and their friendships with the caring staff at the animal welfare organization. Bill and his wife smiled and laughed during the entire interview; it was clear that animals brought them great joy and that they were willing to invest in ensuring their care. When I asked if a new animal hospital seemed like a good idea, Bill said with enthusiasm, “They have to build this!”

Clearly this was a different Bill than the one I had met before. Of course, it was the same actual person—but one who was animated by a deep passion for this cause. I realized that as fundraisers we often see donors only through the lens of our own organizations. Just think how much more meaningful our donor relationships would be if we took the time to understand the full range of a person’s interests. Our prospects are people first, multi-dimensional and complicated, with a life history that they bring to our organizations. Understanding a donor’s passion can help us craft more personalized cultivation and offer more meaningful gift opportunities.

My interaction with Bill also reminded me that major gifts are based on both intellectual and emotional engagement. Donors often start with an emotional attachment to a cause; their analysis becomes increasingly intellectual as they evaluate the charity to see if it is deserving of a major philanthropic investment. Once the gift is made, donors often return to the emotional engagement, experiencing a deep sense of satisfaction knowing that they have made a difference for others. As development officers, we need to support donors in this journey, and provide the high-quality stewardship that will ensure that they enjoy the rewards of giving.

Schultz & Williams Senior Vice President Kathleen Watson was a featured speaker at the 2017 Compass Conference sponsored by the Greater Philadelphia Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals. Her presentation, “Story Telling: Best Practices in Major Gift Fundraising,” featured real donor stories that illustrate key principles in the cultivation and solicitation of significant gifts. This article is the fourth story in her series of eight.

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