How to get donors to give

08/16/2014 10:24 AM

08/18/2014 8:15 PM

Together, Henry Bloch, Bill Dunn Sr. and Jeanne Olofson have given away millions of dollars. Together, they shared insight into why they’re philanthropists and what excites them about giving.

At an event last week at Avila University, hundreds of Kansas City area nonprofit leaders and volunteer fundraisers heard why the noted donors give to civic, cultural, educational and charitable projects. They also told how solicitations go wrong. But first, they agreed, fundraisers should understand the passions and motivations of donors.

Bloch said he feels a debt to the community that launched his tax preparation business, H&R Block, and he wants to repay that by contributing to local projects that are needed and appreciated. Olofson, president of her family foundation, said when she’s passionate about a mission, she loves to go “all-in” as a volunteer and a fundraiser and not just write a check. Dunn, chairman emeritus of J.E. Dunn Construction, said he wants to help heal parts of society that are broken by giving to well-orchestrated projects.

All three agreed that their best philanthropic experiences have occurred when they felt strong personal connections to the projects or needs. Their worst experiences were when they felt the “ask” was dishonest or unethical or when their sizable donations weren’t acknowledged.

Olofson told of a time when her $1 million gift was forgotten on a list of donors. “It’s a lesson for fundraisers: Don’t overlook even a $100 gift,” she said, describing how she had to work through anger to reach an eventual good resolution.

Asked to describe fundraising mistakes, Dunn said the request will fail if it doesn’t fully explain the need for the money and “put out a good plan” to show how the money is to be used. Olofson said requests “need to be careful of timing” and not, for example, quickly follow up a big capital campaign with another solicitation. Bloch said fundraisers need to focus on long-term relationships with givers and not just on a one-time donation.

All three philanthropists said they’ve tried to pass along their giving habits to their children and grandchildren, including through foundations and donor-advised funds. They also emphasized that philanthropy isn’t solely about money. It’s also about volunteering time, research and expert resources to help nonprofits.

To reach Diane Stafford, call 816-234-4359 or send email to stafford@kcstar.com.

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