One major donor greeted me and then said, “No. That’s my answer … now, what do you want to talk about?” Another donor committed to a major gift, and as we were saying our farewells he said “Ignore what I’m about to say … That’s all I’m going to give; don’t come back!” And then, he winked and said, “I just want to be truthful, when I go home and explain what I told you!” A donor responded to my request for a gift by agreeing to make his pledge, using the “1-2-3-4 method.” I asked, what is that? He said, “it works well. For example, I give $100 the first year, $200 the next year, $300, then $400 in the last year = $1,000 total.” I’ve used that idea, when asking for gifts of all amounts.
I could share countless favorite stories because I am so fortunate to be able to encourage, develop and foster philanthropy with our alumni donors and friends for the betterment of young people. I witness every day the difference we make in young men’s lives. Seeing a budding college freshman who’s naive and unpolished, mature throughout college and then graduate as an all-star leader and student is inspiring. Then to watch his career path evolve, see him became a husband or partner and possibly a father, and help him give back to a cause that’s near and dear to his heart, is beyond incredible. I want young men to become gentlemen, devoted husbands/partners, amazing fathers, find success in their careers and become leaders in their communities. And our older alumni make my heart swell when hearing their pride and love of their fraternity and the difference it made in their lives, even many years earlier. We need all of this goodness in our world, especially now more than ever. And I believe FarmHouse, and all fraternities and sororities done right, makes it happen.
I have many. The one I use the most is one our more generous donors I met early in my career with Triangle. I had another alumnus call me up and share he wanted me to meet this fellow Illinois alumnus from the 1960s. I said sure and looked him up in our system. He was “lost” in the system since the 1970s. I flew down to Houston and was lead into his office. He came in and greeted me. First assuring me that while I had him at lost, he knew exactly where he was all the time. He then thanked me for reaching out and sharing how he had not had deep thoughts about Triangle since his graduation, but in preparation for my visit he was reflecting on his time in the chapter and as chapter president. He shared that during his career he never connected the dots on his life experiences while he was navigating life, but in reflection his ability to lead and face challenging decisions were formulated while at Triangle. He gave tremendous credit to who he was and where he got in his career and life to his undergraduate experience. I sat in awe listening to his story. The alumnus’s office was at One Shell Plaza in Houston and I was sitting in the Chairman’s office talking to Steve Miller, Chairman and CEO of Shell Oil. He has since gone on to endow our Presidents’ Academy (The Steven L. Miller Presidents’ Academy), serve on the Foundation Board and has been very supportive of all our efforts.
Meeting with a donor who had large capacity … didn’t like my $1 million ask … but after our conversation, she gave us three times that amount. I equate fundraising to golf … getting a yes is like hitting a great drive … it makes you keep coming back for more!
Sure there are the funny donor stories (i.e. the donors that ask you to try on their old suits or the ones that you can’t get out of saying “yes” to staying in their home which leads to the slew of awkward moments), but one of my most favorite donor stories was working with the parents of one of our members who passed away. Setting up a scholarship with them and working with them for more than a decade watching the scholarship grow, witnessing the impact on the recipients, keeping their son’s memory alive and seeing how their son’s pledge class remains connected because of the scholarship has been very rewarding.
In the vein of being open and present with our donors: A sister, who I had known for over 30 years passed away after a brutal battle with cancer. I went up to the funeral and 10 minutes before the service was invited to speak. Six months later I had lunch with her husband, a man of few words. At the end of lunch he asked if I wanted to go see Barb at the cemetery. I asked if HE wanted to go see Barb and he said yes. So we went and sat on the bench that he had placed there at her grave. And we sat and visited about 30 minutes. It was uncomfortable until I chose to be open and present, and I remembered that it wasn’t about me. A few months later, the husband asked if he could pay out the remaining $50,000 portion of their trust before he passed away, because he thought we could use the money sooner. And he’s given an additional $50,000 since then – above and beyond their estate gift. Their scholarship fund is our largest in the Foundation.
I keep thinking that I should put together a collection of donor stories because it’s the stories that motivate you. However, the donor story I am sharing just happened to a co-worker who met with the donor and her family over Zoom just weeks before the donor’s death, working out her planned gift so she could have the greatest impact on her beloved Delta Gamma. As she was struggling with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer, she was weak and could only talk for small bits of time, which is when she would sit and listen and nod or smile as her family talked through her wishes for the legacy gift which was being planned. Shortly after my co-worker’s last conversation with her, she passed. With great pride she endowed three $50,000 scholarships to her chapter of initiation in addition to a $100,000 gift to her chapter’s housing campaign for a total of $250,000. When the check arrived, it was a bittersweet moment for all of us on staff.
My favorite is really any time a donor thanks me … I always finding it fascinating that someone who contributed to the Zeta Beta Tau Foundation thanks us. It is a remarkable experience every time it happens.
For a specific story … favorite is in no way an easy one to come up with as I have countless stories I would consider impactful to me, the organization or both. One that stands out is Al Berg. He made a gift to the Foundation in response to special appeal (and was not someone who we were aware of at the time). As a result of that gift, we began to develop a relationship. Al ended up supporting a number of Foundation priorities including our support of combating campus anti-Semitism and hate. He made a number of major gifts to the Zeta Beta Tau Foundation.
Al was diagnosed with cancer a few years later and ultimately lost his fight. Al shared his diagnosis with me (before many family members and friends) and his hopes. Even during his difficult fight, Al worked with us to endow a fund with his name to support chapter educational programming. I attended Al’s funeral (the largest I have ever attended by far) and knew few if any in attendance. Al’s son, Jarret, at his own father’s funeral went out of his way to make sure I was comfortable, introduced to people in attendance and taken care of. It spoke so much about what type of family Al helped create and the legacy he was leaving behind.
On our invitation, Jarret (a member of Alpha Epsilon Pi) attended our International Convention on behalf of his family and spoke to those in attendance about his father and the impact ZBT had on him. Jarret helped ZBT present the first chapter programming award in his father’s name.
When I was recently surprised with the announcement of the Jenkins award and saw everyone on the Zoom call who supported my nomination … who was on the call … Jarret Berg … a non-ZBT, son of a donor who passed away and trusted me and ZBT enough to help fulfill some of his wishes. It is relationships like the one I had with Al that I so appreciate having the opportunity to experience.