Big Gifts Take Time

I was interested to read the story in Crain’s Chicago Business this week about the $30 million contribution given to DePaul University by Chicago businessman and philanthropist, Richard Driehaus. One sentence in the article particularly caught my attention. “DePaul’s president broached the possibility of the large gift with Mr. Driehaus in June.” If that sentence is accurate, it suggests that this very significant contribution followed a path similar to many other transformational gifts over the years. It reinforces something that those of us in the major gift business have known for awhile…that large gifts and commitments often take considerable time.

In reality, Mr. Driehaus moved pretty quickly by major gift standards. Over the years, we have witnessed a number of multi-year decision-making processes by major gift donors. Recently, a client of ours finally closed a major gift from a family that they initially solicited over 4-years ago. Perseverance and patience are necessary in this business!

As major gift officers and as consultants, we sometimes find it difficult to explain this phenomenon to inexperienced CEOs or (especially, it seems) business officers.  “What,” we are asked, “are those people waiting for?” As if we could rush prospective donors into making their decision more rapidly. In fact, thoughtful, perhaps even deliberate giving is something that we as fundraisers should encourage.

Transformational gifts of this nature should be carefully discussed amongst family members, details should be thoroughly reviewed and naming opportunities should be acceptable and agreed to in advance. Our job is to insure that any and all questions that might arise during the decision-making phase are answered in a timely and accurate manner. In fact, any information needed by a prospect must be made available as quickly as possible—it’s our responsibility to see to it.

In the case of DePaul University and Richard Driehaus, careful, deliberate information gathering obviously led to a positive decision. As a result, the University’s College of Commerce will be renamed “the Richard H. Driehaus College of Business.”  Congratulations to DePaul and to Mr. Driehaus. And thanks for reminding us again that gifts of this nature often take time to mature.