What I've Learned During 50 Years of Fundraising
On this episode of Bloomerang TV, Jerold Panas, Founding Partner of Jerold Panas Linzy & Partners, join us to discuss what he’s learning in his 50-year fundraising career.
Steven: Hey there. Welcome to this week’s episode of Bloomerang TV. This a special Saturday morning edition but I am really happy to have our guest. It’s not very often that I have been able to interview someone of today’s caliber. So I am really pleased to be joined today by Jerold Panas. Jerry, he is the founding partner of Jerold Panas, Linzy & Partners. Jerry, you’re a legend. I just cannot thank you enough for taking a half hour out of your day to be here with me, so it’s a real joy. Thanks for being here.
Jerold: Steven, I am delighted and the business about being a legend, it’s just that I’ve been around a long time.
Steven: Well, it’s more than that. I mean, you’ve been around a long time. You are working on your 17th book which you described to me earlier. One of your books asking, you said the best-selling book in the fundraising sector ever can you talk about those books you’ve written briefly and maybe tell us a little bit about your newest book that you’re working.
Jerold: Oh sure. “Asking” has been a great success. My favorite book really is “Born to Raise” because that talks about what makes a great fundraiser. And that’s been a fun book for me. This latest one is a fascinating.
Hundred years ago when I was the vice president at Westminster Choir College in Princeton, I had a call from the president of the University and he said, “Would like to join our development staff? Our consultant is going to be here at lunchtime and he’s going to talk to us.” Oh, I’m so excited, so I went to the luncheon and on the development staff were four people. That’s all they had Princeton, four development staff, and they must have close to 400 now. And the consultant was the person Si Seymour.
Si Seymour at the time was the most significant person in fundraising and the book he wrote and it was one of the very few books on fundraising at the time. Everybody was expected to read that book, and we all did. And I sat at the feet of Si Seymour during that whole luncheon and then they invited me back in and after a while I got to know Si. One day I went to his home and he said, “I think you’ll be interested in this,” and he handed me a notebook and he said, “I thought I would always write another book that I’m never going to have the time to do it. I thought you’d be interested in reading this.”
So I took that book and I put it away and that’s the problem I put it away and when we moved, the first time we moved, that was put in a storage box and they say three moves is equal to one fire, and so I have not looked in that storage book and we’ve moved four sometimes and about three months ago I had it, I was looking for something, I went into the storage box, and there was Si Seymour’s manuscript. So I’ve duplicated that manuscript and I put it in a binder that looks very much like the one that Si gave me and that’s just been published and it looks great and it’s a fascinating read. By the way, Princeton raised $58 million. That was the most ever raised for higher education at time for any institution, $58 million. Now it’s 6 and $7 billion.
Steven: Amazing, that’s great and that’s an amazing story. I’m so glad that you were able to do something with that manuscript, in addition to all the other 16 books that you’ve written, and you’ve been doing this almost 40 years.
Jerold: Actually, Steven, it’s closer to 50 but the first 10 years I didn’t learned anything because I knew everything. It was only after that that I started learning what fundraising was all about.
Steven: Can you talk about what you have learned? I mean, what has changed in these 50 years of fundraising. Are the tenants still the same things that are important, or are there new thing that you have learned?
Jerold: Yes. Let me tell you what I think I’ve learned in that time. First of all, I learned that people don’t want to give money away. They don’t wake up in the morning and say, “This is a great morning. I think I’ll give money away.” They want to give to organizations that are doing heroic, exciting, important work. And so the role of the organization is to make certain they let their donors know that the service they perform is exciting and produces results. We’re finding now that these folks who make gifts, they don’t call them donations anymore. They call them investments. And when you make an investment, you want a return and donors now want to know what is the return of my gift. What am I getting for the gift that made?
So now that’s one important thing that I learned and then the role really of the fundraiser is fairly simple. Their job is to make sure that people understand the institution and its mission and donors want to know what you do, how you do it, and why you do it. And so you have to explain that. And donors want to know why should I give to this institution, why should I give now, and why me. And you better have the answer to that.
And so the three objectives really are to explain the organization, indicate the urgency, and then finally ask for the gift. And what we know, Steven, is that your investors, your donors want to make certain that the project is relevant, that there is a sense of urgency if we don’t have the funds now and you have to indicate why the funds are absolutely necessary now. Because donors have all kinds of other things that they can give to.
Jerold: And the project has had dramatic and emotional appeal. And so the greatest of those three, relevancy, urgency, and dramatic appeal, the greatest is urgency. It’s got to be urgent. And then I think something that has caught our attention now and I talk about it everywhere I go and it’s something you folks are quite aware of and that’s attrition. And we say attrition is your enemy and when I talk to a group and there may be 80 in the group and I say how many know what their attrition is and I may get one or two hands, no more than that. The other day I got one hand. This was fascinating, and he said our attrition is about 35%. I said I don’t think so. That would be very good.
Steven: That’s really good.
Jerold: Yeah, the next day at the seminar he said, “I made a terrible mistake and we got to do something about it. It’s closer to 80%.” Eighty percent is serious. They’re in trouble. Is that correct?
Steven: Absolutely, big trouble.
Jerold: Yeah, so I say to my clients and everywhere I go to attrition is your enemy and it’s something that you need to measure on a monthly basis and see how you’re doing. They’re really aren’t many new things in fundraising surprisingly. We used to talk about the 80/20 rule. Eighty percent of the money comes from 20% of the gifts and now about seven or eight years ago we were seeing that it was closer to 90% comes from 10% of the donors and now in every major campaign, Steven, is closer to 95 to 96% comes from 2 to 3% of the donors. So the emphasis on major gifts is so significant and every organization needs to focus on that. The role of the fundraiser hasn’t changed.
Their job is to get the largest gift possible in the shortest amount of time to the greatest joy of the donor and they need to focus on that. And something else that we emphasize, I called the boy rule, B-O-Y, because of you, and I want organizations to be able to say, “Steven, we couldn’t do this without you. Because of you . . .” and then talk about what they’ve been able to do because of you.
Steven: I love it.
Jerold: And there isn’t enough of that that is taking place.
Steven: Why do you think that is? I mean that seems like such a simple concept. Why do so few nonprofits do that you think?
Jerold: One of the jobs we have is to get development directors, I’m not being critical but it’s an observation, one of the greatest jobs we have is to get development directors out of the office making calls and contacts. And I think if I had my choice, I wouldn’t give them any offices. What typically happens and I can see how that I can see how this happens. They get to the office, they get comfortable, they look at their emails, that could take 45 minutes, then somebody comes in and they have coffee, and then they get a call from the boss, so he runs to the boss, and pretty soon it’s lunch time and nothing has happened. And so getting people out of the office becomes really very important.
Steven: You think it’s easier or harder to be a fundraiser? Is it easier now in 2015 versus 1965, or is it harder and if so, why?
Jerold: That’s a great question. I’ve never been asked the question. I would think it’s not easier or harder. You know being a fundraiser and asking for gifts I can’t think of any profession that would be more fulfilling or rewarding. And you know that when you ask a person for a gift, it is it is like a boomerang, not only the gift not only serves the organization, it’s fulfilling for the person who is asked for the gift, but the gift also serves everybody who is under the umbrella of the organization.
I think it’s neither harder nor easier. I believe that now fundraisers are expected to do more of the asking. And in a way I think that’s kind of sad because we lose the great impact of having a volunteer or board member go with a staff member to make the call. When a board member goes with the staff member, I call that a magic partnership. You simply you can’t lose. You know that you’re going to get a gift. If you get the appointment and what I found, Steven, is getting the appointment is harder than getting the gift.
Jerold: If you get the appointment, you’re 85% on your way to getting a gift.
Steven: Yeah, I completely agree. That’s very cool. Well, Jerry, I don’t want to keep you too much longer. I got on last question for you. If you were to talk to maybe a 25-year-old fundraiser, maybe someone who thinks they know everything or maybe not, someone who is new to our mission, what is one piece of advice you would give to that person that maybe you wish someone had given you when you were getting your start as a fundraiser?
Jerold: I think when I did the book called “Born to Raise” which is all about what makes a great fundraiser, what I found is that the experience having 17 years in the business is not important because some people have 17 times the first years’ experience.
Jerold: A 25-year-old, I would say, you can be very effective. And people like a young person who has passion for the organization. And so I would say I want you to fall in love head over heels for your organization. And if you don’t have that, you’re either in the wrong profession or the wrong organization. So I would ask for passion, willingness to work hard and long hours, a hunger to win. I love young people who feel that coming in second sucks. I want to feel that want to be a winner. So I would say passion, willing to work hard, willing to grow and to learn, and also to understand we’re in the business of relationships.
Steven, it’s really more of an art than a science. And learning the art and relationships and most of all and what we found is the greatest talent is listening. And I talk about listing and gift and that you should listen 75% of the time and talk 25% of the time. You will be successful.
Steven: That’s great. That’s amazing advice. Jerry, this was maybe my favorite episode ever. Thanks so much for being here. Before I let you go, tell people where they can find out more about your consultancy and obviously you’re still active.
Jerold: Oh, thank you. Sure. And this has been the greatest interview I’ve had, Steven. It’s been good. If you’re interested in any of the books, especially this new one by Si Seymour, call 800-234-7777. We are going to put it up on Amazon also but that’s going to take little while, 800-234-7777. And the name of the firm’s Jerold Panas, Linzy & Partners. And we’re a medium to large consultancy. We certainly aren’t the largest. We never wanted to be the largest. We just wanted to be the best and we’re in Chicago and we work all over the country.
Steven: Very cool. Check him out, definitely work with these guys. They know their stuff. Jerry, this is so much fun. Thanks again for being here. Have a great rest of your day. Thanks for hanging out in our Saturday morning with us.
Jerold: Oh yeah, it was great being with you. Thanks, Steven.
Steven: And thanks all of you for watching. Tune in next week. We’ll have another great guest and we will see you then, so have a great rest of your day. Bye now.