I remember the day we sent our first $50,000 check to one of the non-profits to which we committed ourselves. It was the biggest gift we’d ever given. I sent it off and a few days later I got a phone call from the organization’s head of development (the person in charge of fundraising).
He said, “John, I have this $50,000 check here that you sent. I would like to send it back.”
“What do you mean, you ‘want to send it back’? We want you to have that money.”
“No. Please hear me out. I’m wondering if you would be willing to make this a matching grant or “challenge” grant: if others give $50,000, then you’ll match their gifts up to $50,000.”
“But we want to give you money no matter what!”
“That’s for you to decide. I just want this money to be ‘at risk,’ so I can honestly tell people, ‘If we get $50,000 in pledges, a donor has promised to match that $50,000 dollar-for-dollar.’”
“Okay,” I said. “I’m willing for you to say that. But if you didn’t raise $50,000, we would still give you the entire amount.”
“Again,” he said, “that’s up to you. And as far as I’m concerned, I never heard you say that. The main thing, here: I cannot accept this check. The money has to be at risk. Are you willing to take it back?”
“This is too weird,” I said. “It doesn’t make sense.”
“I need your gift to be at risk,” he said. “So I can tell people, honestly: ‘If we raise this money, your gift will be matched, dollar-for-dollar, up to $50,000. . . . Are you willing to take your check back?”
“Sure. If it will be of help, then go ahead. Send it back.”
So that’s what he did. And that’s what we did. (They raised the funds, and we matched what they had raised from other people.)
That was the beginning of a new idea for Sarita and me. We had never thought of that before: that we might provide matching grants in order to challenge or encourage others to give. I’m sure we had taken advantage of such offers before that time as donors who wanted to release funds that matching grant donors had promised “if.” But making an offer to put some of our own money “at risk” like that for the sake of encouraging others to give: that was a new idea.
But with that idea in mind, from then on, whenever we have wanted to make a large gift—which, basically, from the agencies’ perspective, is all we have ever wanted do—we have talked with the development people to discuss what kind of “deal” we can make: “We want to give $____. How can we help you guys create a good matching campaign?” Or, “We’re interested in promoting _____ [some specific part of the agency’s larger portfolio of charitable services]. Would you be willing to help us put together a campaign?”
Sometimes the agencies call us: “We are planning to do a fundraiser for _____. Would you be willing to help kick things off as lead donors? . . .”
In essence, it was this kind of thinking that led to the Rice Bag project I talked about yesterday.
What a great feeling to be partners like that!
Oh. And while I’m talking about partnerships, how’s this? We made this comment to the leadership team of one of the non-profits to which we have committed: “As you know, part of the reason we have committed to you is because we are really committed to _____ (the cause). . . . As we look at what you’re doing, we think you need to [pursue a specific strategic emphasis that we believe is being neglected]. We would like to encourage you to move more in that direction. If we were to give $___, would you be willing to commit to that kind of endeavor?” [Clearly, that’s not a matching grant proposal. (Though it could become one.) . . . But I share the outline of our conversation because it demonstrates the true partnership and deep, mutually respectful relationship we share with these organizations.
And I share this to encourage you: You, too, could enjoy such relationships with one or two or three charities.
Decide to focus. then pursue the relationship.
I think you will be thrilled at what comes from your commitment.
And one last word.
I mentioned that I got that “call” when Sarita and I made our first $50,000 gift.
My sense: I don’t think you have to wait that long.
Any of the smaller non-profits (like what I have been suggesting you should consider “joining up” with) would be happy to consider overtures on your part to participate as a lead donor—or, at least, as part of a lead donor group—if you’re able to donate several thousand dollars. I can’t imagine any of them would turn down an offer of a $25,000 matching grant. They may want to put you together with several other donors to make a larger matching grant. But, depending on the size of the organization, $25,000 or even $10,000 might be enough to spark a complete fundraising campaign.
Now that I think of it, our local Public Radio station often chortles with glee when they have a $10,000 or $20,000 matching grant to encourage “listener support.”
I imagine most smaller charities would be happy to put you in a lead/matching grant pool if you were able to offer $5,000.
Don’t wait, thinking you’ll participate in such a role only when you’re able to give $100,000 or a million dollars. Start today.
As I’ve said before, faithfulness in big things comes only after you have established your capacity in small things. “He who is faithful in little things is faithful also in much” (Luke 16:10). Don’t wait till you have a lot. If you do, and if, for some reason, the “a lot” comes your way . . . you won’t be ready for faithfulness.
Remember: You must always be getting Ready2Prosper.