I was working on a project a few years ago that sprang from an idea of one of my donors. Could we develop native plants that ranchers in South Texas could plant to improve and expand wildlife habitat? Could we get the Texas Department of Transportation to stop planting non-native grasses on roadsides and instead, plant natives?
Although not the primary focus of my major gift work at the time, many ranchers in the area had been hoping to move away from traditional cattle ranching to more native wildlife programs. But adequate plant stock and scientific knowledge focused on the concept were lacking. The time was right to move.
Knowing we needed qualified staff to launch such an initiative, I began researching and writing grant proposals aimed at staffing the new native plant project. An advisory board was formed that included ranchers and representatives of the Texas Department of Transportation. In truth, what seemed like a somewhat “radical” idea was initiated by one of the best known and respected ranching families of Texas (and the world). Members of Texas Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, a longtime trusted organization commonly called TSCRA, were also included.
We did secure a few initial grants that allowed us to move forward with hiring, and the project was launched. And additional funding research and grant writing continued as the program grew in breadth and sophistication.
A prospect that our core team of volunteers agreed would both approve of our efforts and be capable of supporting it was the Chairman and CEO of Bank of America at the time (now retired). He had a lease on a legacy ranch in South Texas, and although he did not own the property, he built a beautiful ranch home there. One of our volunteers helped make an appointment to meet with him on a Saturday. So, I traveled down to the volunteer’s neighboring ranch, stayed overnight, and on Saturday morning we got up early and headed over to explain our program and ask for support.
While I had all my documentation in hand, I mentally put the “asking” part of our meeting in the hands of the volunteer. She was smart, strong, forthright and very capable of doing the work of “asking.” I felt I should stand down, as they say. We arrived, were greeted kindly, obtained cups of coffee, and we were invited to view the bank chairman’s beautiful collection of American Western Art.
Then, the time came to get down to business. I sat down with the bank chairman in the living room, documentation in hand. We waited for the volunteer to join us. But, she was gone. She remained with the art collection somewhere down the hallway. We waited a bit longer. Suddenly it occurred to us that the call was going to be made by me.
The bank chairman had my prospectus in hand and he flipped through it methodically but fairly quickly, until he landed on the project budget page. “So, what do you want?”
I admit I was a flustered. I thought the volunteer would do the talking!
Having said that, I knew the project intimately. I had prepared the project documentation myself. I launched into the ask, not wasting time on general discussion. The volunteer still failed to show up during this time. I asked the bank chairman for a six figure donation to match an initial gift made by a well-known family foundation. This took no more than ten minutes. He agreed to my request and asked if he could pay his pledge over a couple of years. I said he could, of course, and I agreed to follow-up in writing afterward.
Then our volunteer appeared. We exchanged well wishes, and the volunteer and I thanked the bank chairman profusely for his generous pledge. And we headed out.
In the truck on the way back to her ranch, the volunteer made a call to her parents. “We got the gift!” She was so elated. I was happy to hear the joy in her voice. But in my mind, I was thinking I had actually gotten the gift – from researching and documenting to asking for it. Ha! #Teamwork
I really liked the bank chairman after that meeting. He realized I had been left to my own devices. He saw that I stood courageously on my own two feet, as they say. In fact, a few years later, he gave me another sizeable donation to a different project. Needless to say, I had no hesitation in asking the second time around.
Nonprofit fundraising professionals must be prepared when asking for donations in person. You must know the project inside and out and be prepared to go it alone. Volunteers are wonderful allies but sometimes, they get nervous just like the rest of us. Help them look their best while getting the job done.
My personal thanks and gratitude go to Hugh McColl for his support (and his patience).
To read about the progress of South Texas Natives since this “call” was made, follow the link.