Air Hockey

By Brad Layland, CEO and Senior Consultant

Recently, I got a cold call from a major gift officer at the University of Florida. She shared that she would be visiting St. Augustine soon and wondered if I would be willing to get together. As an alumnus of the university, I was intrigued. I’ve never given any money to my alma mater. I had no intention of making a gift now, either, but I did think it would be interesting to experience a cold call from a major gift officer at a large public institution, so I took the meeting.

When she arrived at my office and realized what I did for a living, she looked a bit dumbfounded. “Oh!” She said. “So youre a fundraising consultant, and you help colleges, schools and other non-profit organizations raise money – so you know exactly why Im here.”

I said, “Sure, but I still would like to hear what you have to say.”

Clearly this young major gift officer had received some good training, because after we chatted for a bit, she asked me about my business and how I got started as an entrepreneur. I shared with her that my first business was a gumball machine business that I started when I was in college. She asked me how I got started with gumball machines. I went on to share with her that while I was at the University of Florida, a person who worked at the student center allowed me to put gumball machines in the game room. As I told my story, I found myself getting excited and feeling grateful for how the university had played a role in my learning how to start my own business.

She then looked at me and said, Would you ever consider making a gift to support the student center at the University of Florida, so that another student like you could have an experience like yours? She had me hooked!

Until that moment, I had never thought about supporting the University of Florida. It did not occur to me until she got me to tell my story. And after she asked me about making a gift, I looked at her and said, “I would love to.” How could I not?

This story gets even better. This gift officer went back to the University of Florida and contacted the student center and actually found the person I had worked with over 25 years ago. She asked them what the student center needed. The gift officer then wrote me an email, referring to my old friend by name, and said that the student center needed a new air hockey machine and asked me if Id be willing to buy it. I said yes.

After I made the gift, not only did the gift officer write me a note, but she got my friend from 25 years ago to write me a handwritten note thanking me. From start to finish, it was all really well done!

What can we learn from this experience? First, it’s important to ask people good questions and listen to their stories. Second, doing good research will help you connect your donors’ passions with your organization’s needs. This major gift officer actually didn’t know ahead of time what I did for a living, but she was able to connect with the story I shared and make an amazing ask. Third, follow-up is key and can be extremely meaningful when it’s done well.

So here’s my challenge to you this week: Ask great questions, listen to people’s stories, and thank people well. You never know where it will lead! 

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