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Mega Gifts

Mega Gifts

Jerold Panas

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Mega Gifts
Who Gives Them, Who Gets Them, 2nd Edition

by Jerold Panas, 163 pp.

Want to know what motivates donors to give big gifts? There’s an easy way to find out. Ask them. That’s what Jerold Panas did for his book, Mega Gifts: Who Gives Them, Who Gets Them.

Rather than speculate about what prompted so and so to give $25,000, or $100,000 or $1,000,000, Panas rang them up and said, “Can I come talk with you?” Admittedly, that’s easy for Panas who knows practically everyone save Benedict XVI.

Panas winnowed his questions down to the most revealing: what prompts you to give, what about the person soliciting you is important, what do you look for in an organization, what immediately turns you off, to what extent do the board and CEO matter to you, how does an organization keep you giving, and a handful of others.

The donors are surprisingly candid, which makes Mega Gifts a bit naughty, and what they say will unquestionably alter your approach to major gifts. And don’t despair if you’re aiming to solicit the Pope. Panas recently dined with the Archbishop of Canterbury, so he’s clearly working his way up.

About the Author

The late Jerold Panas was among a small handful of the grandmasters of American fundraisers. He was considered one of the top writers in the field and a number of his books have achieved classic status. Hailed by Newsweek as "the Robert Schuller of fundraising," Jerry was a favorite speaker at conferences and workshops throughout the nation. He served as executive director of one of the premier firms in America and was the co-founder of the Institute for Charitable Giving. The very term "philanthropy" would mean less without Jerry's influence. His book, Asking, is the bestselling fundraising book of all time. Others such as Mega Gifts, The Fundraising Habits of Supremely Successful Boards, Making a Case Your Donors Will Love, and Born to Raise are classics and standards for the profession.


Table of Contents

  1. The Incredible Odyssey
  2. Why People Give
  3. When They Don’t Believe, They Won’t Give
  4. Staff Gives Inspiration and Lights the Way
  5. Tax is Little Incentive
  6. Are You Dozing Through a Changing Market?
  7. The Buck Starts with the Board
  8. Go for the Challenge
  9. Naming Opportunities are Golden Opportunities
  10. The Right Person Should Ask
  11. The Spouse Counts
  12. Material is Immaterial
  13. Seize the Magic Moment
  14. The Response is Spontaneous
  15. Find a Way to Recognize
  16. Those Who Give, Receive
  17. Pass It On
  18. What Mega Givers Expect in a Fundraiser
  19. Your Best Approach
  20. The Joy of Giving
  21. Tenets for Success


This article is excerpted from Jerold Panas’ book, Mega Gifts: Who Gives Them, Who Gets Them, 2nd Edition, ©Emerson & Church, Publishers. To obtain reprint permission, please call 508-359-0019 or email us.

What Major Donors Expect in a Fundraiser

I was talking with Malin Burnham the other day. He had recently made a transformational gift to one of the most promising research centers in the nation. It's now called The Burnham Institute (La Jolla, California).

We were discussing what prompted his gift. But more specifically, I wanted to know what qualities he admired most in a fundraiser, someone calling on him for a gift.

Believe me, he's had plenty of folks calling on him. And he's been extremely generous. When I asked the question, he didn’t hesitate for a moment.

“There needs to be a near-militant belief in its mission," he tells me. "When someone calls on me, I can tell if there’s a passion for the organization. I can actually feel it. If the fundraiser isn’t deeply committed, how can they expect me to be?”

Malin also expects a high level of energy.

Just a few days before, a solicitor had called on him. "She was absolutely charged," he says. "As she spoke about her project, there was electricity in the air. I couldn’t help but feel the glow."

I could tell Malin was warming up to the subject. “I’ll tell you a quality I don’t like. Someone calling on me who's pushy. I dig in my feet. Or someone who never stops talking. How are they ever going to know what I'm interested in?"

What he considers the most important attribute of a successful fundraiser, Malin leaves until last.

“Nothing is more important than integrity," he says. "I look for it every time someone calls on me. If it’s not there, I can spot it immediately."

I agree with Malin. I consider integrity the mightiest weapon in a fundraiser’s arsenal. More important than any other single quality. It’s power is explosive. Integrity alone won't get you a ticket to the top, but without it, you can’t even begin the journey.

There are some other attributes beyond what Malin Burnham talked to me about.

For one thing, I find the great fundraisers are much like folks who pull up the roots to see if the flowers are still growing! They are itchy by nature. They don't easily suffer standing still or treading water. Status quo is anathema to them.

I’m reminded that every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the lion or it will be eaten. Every morning a lion wakes up. It knows it must outrun the slowest gazelle or it will starve to death.

It doesn’t matter whether you're the lion or the gazelle – when the sun comes up, you’d better be running. The great fundraiser understands this.

Oh, there’s lots more. Self-confidence. Comfort in one's own skin. Genuine affection for people. Authenticity.

But let me finish with a characteristic I find in all of the great fundraisers: They love their work.

There is a willingness to pay the price – whatever the cost. Their work becomes something of an obsession. It burns like fire in their bones.

You've heard the dictum: No pain, no gain. Success is a moving target. Often, a fundraiser can feel a bit like Odysseus, the hero of Homer's Odyssey – “My life is endless trouble and chaos.”

There are the long hours, long days, some of which seem never to end. But still there is joy and exhilaration, fulfillment and an inner glow.

When you think about it, the reason is obvious. Fundraising has the power to dramatically impact society in a way no other profession can. And you're an integral part of that noble pursuit.

John R. Mott, one of the great Christian voices of the mid-1900s, was right: “Blessed are the fundraisers," he said, "in heaven they shall stand on the right hand of the martyrs.”