What Donors Want from a Big Donor’s Perspective

Our admiration for Ray & Nanci Murray and their daughter Terri, goes back to 2002 when Terri and her husband Ken made a $10,000 donation to our education program that enabled 1,500 kindergarteners and preschoolers to visit Big Cat Rescue for free.  We could count the number of times we got donations like that on one hand back then.  Because the gift came from Raymond James with no contact info, we didn’t know who to thank for the longest time and didn’t make the Murray family connection until many years later when my husband, Howard, and I met Ray and Nancy at a charity event.

You would be hard pressed to attend any number of fundraisers and NOT run into Ray and Nancy.  They are usually the life of the party and have done great things in the community that have mostly been anonymous but also include

The Tree of Life Award
Tampa Bay Business Hall of Fame
Golden Baton Award
Philanthropists of the Year
Tampa Bay Business in the Arts
Clearwater for Youth Humanitarians

I believe they also hold the honor of having made the largest single gift to the Community Foundation of Tampabay.  Ray was quoted by the Tampabay Business Journal in 2006 as saying, “Statistically, we don’t do well, despite a large number of millionaires,” in reference to the Tampa area’s poor showing when it comes to philanthropic giving.  He and Nancy, who are celebrating their 60th anniversary this year, seem to be intent on changing that, even if it means doing it all themselves.  As Ray said yesterday, “In the end we don’t plan on taking any of it with us.”

They joined Bank of America and other donors to fund an annual program called the Non Profit CEO Leadership Program which is now in its second year, and where I am now attending as a student.  The monthly sessions are led by George Baxter and Mary Grace Duffy. George served the Community Foundation of Tampabay as President and Director of Public Information, respectively, until 2004 when David J. Fischer became its President and CEO. Mary Grace was formerly the Director of Employment and Training for Harvard University and holds a master’s degree in communications research and a doctoral degree in organizational behavior from Boston University.  Ray Murray was the guest speaker at our January 2011 meeting and had some valuable insights from both the perspective of a donor and of one who often seeks donations for his favorite charities.

Know Thy Donor

Ray and Nancy’s philanthropic interests include ministries, kids, music and the prevention of domestic violence.  Cats aren’t on their list, so that is why sharing their insight here in the Cats section of Examiner Tampabay is not likely to have them bombarded with unwanted solicitation because Ray’s first admonition to charities was to know the donor’s interest and don’t bother them if you aren’t a good match.

Not another banquet!

Ray illustrated a box, the size of footstool and said they can fill it with all of the invitations he and Nancy get each year to attend fundraiser banquets, breakfasts and lunches.  There is just so much rubber chicken and boring speeches that anyone can stomach, and yet it is a two edged sword.  While major donors are inundated with these requests, and often don’t enjoy the event, they regularly do show up to show their support.  Ray pointed out that he has some of his best success in soliciting for his favorite charities by using the opportunity to meet face to face with those who can help.  If you are a charity, it behooves you to do the same thing and it is the repeat impressions that you are an active member of the community that builds trust.

Get out!

“It’s all about relationships,” says Ray Murray… and just about every other successful person I have ever met.  It is repeated often because it is true and yet often overlooked.  You have to get out of the office and into the community; getting face to face with your existing donors, perspective donors, community leaders and other non profits.  Email is a great tool and I deal with hundreds of emails every day, but it just can’t replace the value of face to face interaction and exchange of ideas.

The Key to Success

Ray summed it up with, “Start slow, think big and work hard.”  Donors want to give to thriving non profits who are living within their means and being fiscally and morally responsible.  Even though a donor may be capable of giving huge gifts, the non profit makes a huge mistake if they assume that the donor will give at all, even if they have given before.  The best course of action is to ask for a small gift for a specific purpose and show the donor how their gift will make a positive impact in a heartfelt way.  Once you are on the donors’ radar you can continue to show them how much they are appreciated and the good they are doing.  That is more likely to foster future funding than just sending a renewal reminder at the end of the year.

Donors are people and even though it may be a foundation set up by people who have long since passed, there is always a person who is making the decision.  Getting to know that person and finding out what is important to them will set you apart from the crowd.  Maintaining relationships, especially with the many smaller donors, is time consuming, so one way Ray suggests to ease the burden is to ask for three year commitments.

When you do ask for the following year’s gift be sure to tie the ‘ask’ back into the moment that originally touched the donor’s heart.  Remind them of the cat they helped rescue, or the cougar they helped save through emergency medical funding.  Follow up through out the year by remembering birthdays, anniversaries and holidays so that the donor hears from you in ways that matter to them more than just ways that matter to you.  Remember that people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.

Protect the Mothership

Ray has held an ownership interest in more than 30 companies from more than a dozen different fields so it isn’t too surprising that a man known to his friends as Hound Dog can go from sounding like Mark Twain to captain of the Enterprise Mothership.

Even though Ray maintains that people are your most important asset, he has some tools he uses to make sure he always has the best and brightest doing the jobs that most enhance the business.  He uses a color coded ranking system of 1-10 and if a person can’t rise above a five he says, “they need to fire themselves.”  He says the same goes for your non profit boards.  Somehow, I suspect, Ray is pretty good at letting people know that they aren’t giving their best and probably does manage to have them choose a new career path rather than fire them.   It may be tough love but the Mothership has to be protected.

Pet Peeves

These are a few of Ray’s pet peeves, but probably are shared by a lot of donors.

1. Remember my spouse.  We live together and give together, and if I die first you will be dealing with them.

2. Have a real person answer the phone.  Answering machines are a good reason to hang up and call someone else.

3. Don’t bug me.  If I told you “no” I had my reasons and don’t want to have to avoid you.

Last Words of Advice

Ray’s parting suggestions included learning about how annuities can give your donors the income they desire while funding your mission.  He suggested subscribing to the Tampabay Business Journal to find out when companies are moving to the Tampa area so that you are the first to meet and greet them.  He also suggested watching for news of businesses that fail because rather than abandon office equipment and such; they may wish to donate those items to your non-profit.  It’s pretty easy these days to scan public records online to see when high ticket real estate has sold so that you can also be the first to meet the new movers and shakers and introduce them to your cause.

So, if you didn’t get anything else out of this article, you know that if you want to break the ice with Ray and Nancy Murray you should mark up your calendar to wish them a happy anniversary in September.

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