by Dan Schipp
Some years ago I had the privilege of knowing a philanthropist and community leader who, on his business card, plainly and simply identified himself as a “Builder.” Indeed, he was that. He successfully developed many commercial and industrial properties, but he also helped to build institutions and organizations. Over the years he led several capital campaigns and made seven-figure gifts to a number of institutions.
One conversation with this generous builder, in particular, stands out in my memory. I recall him telling me that there were four things he considered before making a decision to make a significant investment in an organization.
The first thing he mentioned was vision. He said he wanted to be assured that the organization had a plan for its future. Had it taken the time to honestly assess its situation and environment – challenges and opportunities – and plotted a course for the road ahead? Did it have a clear sense of where it wanted to go, why it needed to go there (the impact this would have on community and society), and what it would take to get there?
The second consideration he noted was leadership. The donor said he needed to see that the organization had a solid leadership team – CEO, CFO, CDO and board – and that they worked well together. Were they united in their vision for the organization? Did they have some longevity with the institution or had there been a revolving door in the leadership offices? Were they willing to make tough decisions?
The third important factor for this philanthropist was financial stability. Although he did not expect the institutions he invested in to be rock solid financially, he was not inclined to support organizations that were continually struggling to make ends meet. He wanted to have confidence that the institution was solvent and that he would not be contributing to a “sinking Titanic.” Was the organization pursuing a plan for financial stability or was it just reacting to one fiscal challenge after another?
The fourth and final consideration mentioned by the builder/philanthropist was what he called, pride of ownership. He told me that he closely observed how the organization took care of its buildings and grounds. He did not expect to see, nor did he want to see, over-the-top facilities, but he wanted to know that the organization took pride in what it had – even to the detail of keeping the grounds free of paper litter. Was the organization doing its best to maintain what it had? Was it a good steward of its resources?
As you look at your nonprofit organization, how would it be viewed by this philanthropist? Would it pass his litmus test? Would he find such vision, leadership, financial stability and pride of ownership that he would be inclined to invest in your organization?