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Cultivation key for transformational giving

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Nathaniel H. Goetz and Josh Westerhold

If you had $10 million dollars to transform your community, where would you invest it?

Would you establish a free health clinic? Build a community center?

Would you trust your charity to invest it, or would you place restrictions son the gift?

How long would you need to decide where to spend the money?

In the evolving world of philanthropy, these are a few questions facing donors making “transformational gifts,” or those that will change the community for the better by not just meeting needs, but eliminating problems.

New wealth no longer takes lifetimes to build, and a culture that makes it big and spends it big is looking for ways to make a big impact.

Further, new philanthropists are not without options and not likely to wait for charities lagging behind in development to catch up.

As charities seek out transformational gifts, many are positioning themselves to work with donors to directly alter the course of their communities.

However, before they can do this they must relearn what it means to fundraise in a new environment.

Nowhere is this more important than with the cultivation process.

One challenge facing charities looking to cultivate transformational gifts is a staff structure that may restrict interaction with donors.

Another challenge is the struggle of how to connect a donor to an issue directly without alienating other donors.

Clearly, these challenges require the charity to focus internally upon how it may utilize its assets to move forward.

This starts with the board and president or CEO.

Do both actively participate in making “the ask”?

If not, could the board’s capacity be strengthened by measuring its progress using development-based metrics?

Metrics also play a vital role in a donor’s decision to give.

Donors are eager to invest in impact and measurable results and it is important that this be considered in cultivation strategy.

A charity’s program logic model might serve to help potential donors understand the difference their gift could make.

Charities are realizing that successful cultivation requires flexibility in allowing donors to specify the intent of their gift.

Although this can be frustrating to those with specific agendas, product-development strategy can focus upon how the gift might be packaged to bring both charity and donor together as partners in community change.

The hope of transformational giving is found in its very terminology: It’s a hope that the affluence of the generous will be harnessed into transforming the communities we love; communities where too many of our neighbors are struggling to survive, too many of our children are falling behind because of their race, wealth, or location, and too many of our families are living in poor health.


Nathaniel H. Goetz is director of research and advocacy at Triangle United Way in Morrisville, N.C., and Josh Westerhold is campaign associate at United Way of Central Alabama in Birmingham. With Agnes Chiao, Nicole Ochoa, and Katrina Ondracek, they recently co-authored the study, “Transformational Giving: More Than Meets the Eye,” for the resident fellows program at United Way of America.

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