Making the Ask: A Getting to Giving Case Study

These were exciting times at Large Elite University (ELI). The institution was in the quiet phase of a capital campaign. The goal was to raise $250 million in support of a series of several major university-wide initiatives linked to an ambitious growth strategy. Board member Carl Simon had stepped up to chair the effort, and development staff was ramping up.

One morning, senior development officer Joseph Francis received a call from Carl. The campaign chair thought that his business school classmate, Peter Smith, a successful technology entrepreneur, might be a good prospect. Carl offered to make the introduction, and a meeting at Peter’s office was set up. Development staff did its homework. Peter was a generous philanthropist with a special interest in science (as evidenced by a major gift to another university) and the resources to make a seven-figure gift. Carl added that Peter was a low-key individual, but shouldn’t be pushed or under-estimated.

The meeting began with general conversation, and moved into deeper subjects. Peter shared his passion for genetics research, his face lighting up as he described its potential and the amazing advances being made. He then grew sober as they discussed how genetics research was under siege, with federal funding cut dramatically. Eventually, the conversation turned to philanthropy. Joseph commented that he and his wife, who had established a family foundation, aspired to make a significant impact on the world, and preferred to remain anonymous in their giving.

Joseph gave some thought to opportunities that would address both ELI’s development priorities, and Peter’s goals and interests. ELI’s new Stem Cell Institute (SCI) was the ideal candidate, he thought. Carl offered to host a dinner at his home where Peter and his wife could meet one of CSI’s top researchers, Eileen Brady, and learn about the exciting work going on at the Institute. The couple was impressed, and accepted an offer to tour the facility. Meetings with additional SCI faculty followed, with Joseph quietly managing these relationships and keeping Carl in the loop.

Several months later, Joseph arranged for lunch with Peter, Carl and Eileen. Conversation turned to major new opportunities that CSI was eager to pursue. Joseph said: “I don’t know what your other philanthropic commitments are, but we would be thrilled if you would join us in this effort.” “How much do you want?” Peter asked. Joseph explained that it would require a total investment of $25 million, and added that they would be grateful for whatever Peter could contribute.

A few weeks later, Joseph received a call from Peter. He and his wife had decided to make a $10 million over a period of five years. A series of discussions about gift terms ensued. When the University formally announced the gift, it was attributed to an anonymous donor. Peter remained a regular CSI visitor, and was invited to join its advisory board. He was thrilled to see the impact his contribution was having, and remained a loyal supporter over and beyond the five-year commitment.

© Getting to Giving

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