Last summer I conducted a pre-campaign readiness study for a grassroots, faith-based, social service organization located in a quaint southern town where everybody knows everybody.
Because we were testing whether a $1-$1.5 million campaign would be feasible, the top gift needed for the campaign was set at $150,000.
After conducting over 40 interviews within a three-day period, only one prospect—Mr. & Mrs. John Rawlins– indicated that they had the ability to consider a gift at this level over a three-year period. And Mr. Rawlins specified that he would only consider a six-figure investment if certain criteria was met. These were about outcomes, greater ROI, market analysis with a distinctive value proposition, along with a plan that demonstrated profitability and sustainability. This would certainly be a challenge for this small grassroots organization that is volunteer led.
Surprisingly, Mr. Rawlins wasn’t from the area. In fact, at the time of the interview, he was at his Utah home, so I actually connected with him over the phone versus in-person like the other interviews. I later learned from one of the organization’s Board members that Mr. Rawlins was a C-level executive for a well-known, publicly traded company and that the home-town connection was to Mrs. Rawlins. She was from this area but no longer lived there. I also learned that this couple lived in northern SC for six months out of the year, so we’d be able to visit them in-person if we in fact launched a capital campaign.
We did launch a campaign, in October 2017, and the goal had been raised to $2,000,000–not because the organization tested at this level, but because of updated architectural plans.
At the onset, I began working with our Campaign Leadership Team to craft a compelling Leadership Proposal that met the criteria that Mr. Rawlins had shared in the pre-campaign study. However, soon after the launch, we learned that he had contracted a severe pulmonary disease. And then towards the end of 2017 he was sent home on hospice to his SC home.
At this point in the story, you may think that setting up a solicitation visit is now a lost cause. (I hear it said so often that a person struggling with their health shouldn’t be approached about their giving until after the ailment or sickness subsides. This sentiment is normally said in a way that connotes generosity as a burden and not a blessing.) But thankfully, the Board member’s wife was very good friends with Mrs. Rawlins and she was able to discreetly and compassionately keep the communication lines open.
Fast forward to late January of this year… The Board member and his wife and myself were invited to the Rawlins’ SC mountain home to share about our capital campaign. Because I’ve never conducted a solicitation at someone’s bedside, I was cautious, and sought counsel from our firm’s owner and my personal fundraising mentor Derric Bakker. Additionally, I prayed more than usual concerning this meeting.
We arrived at the couple’s home at 10:00am with our easel display renderings. Mr. Rawlins was certainly physically ill and even had trouble sitting up in his bed. However, his mind was just as sharp as five months prior during the pre-campaign study.
He had read over his Leadership Proposal prior to the meeting and I was able to also report on a tour that I had a Board Member take of a local competitor’s facility. I did this knowing that it would help the client in multiple ways….one of which was with Mr. Rawlins.
The Board member was one of the few who had taken this tour and he was able to share about some benchmarks and even core business strategies that were gleaned. We were also able to strengthen our case for Mr. Rawlins by describing the differences between this competitor and my client (my client refers to the organization that we’re representing and conducting a campaign for.)
After hearing us out, I asked the same question I always do prior to making a financial ask. “Mr. Rawlins, do you have any further questions?” I’ve delineated the rest of the dialogue below:
Mr. Rawlins: “So what’s the ask?”
Me: “Thanks for making it easy on me! Because our financial goal is $2,000,000, we need a lead investment of at least 10% of this amount. This will give us the momentum we need to leverage and inspire others to join the effort. Mr. Rawlins, would it be within the realm of possible for you to invest $250,000 over three years?”
Mr. Rawlins: “I’ve been thinking about it and I would actually like to invest $300,000 over two years. I’ll give you $100,000 this year and the remaining $200,000 next year.”
Me: “Wow, God bless you for your generosity and willingness to help us really get this campaign off the ground!”
Mr. Rawlins: turns his face toward his wife and asks, “Honey, this is ultimately your decision because this is your hometown….what do you think?”
Mrs. Rawlins: “I was thinking $200,000 over two years but $300,000 is fine by me. However, I’d like for us to give $200,000 this year and $100,000 next year.”
Mr. Rawlins: turns his face back to me and asks, “So, what does $300,000 buy me?”
Me: “Whatever you’d like. We’ve included some naming opportunities and you have first rights to them.”
Mr. Rawlins: “Well, I don’t want my name on the building because no one knows me there; however, I would like to name the garden area out by the front and would like a monument installed so that my name can be one of many listed with others who have also contributed.”
At this point, Mrs. Rawlins fills out the gift agreement and gives it back to us. This was the point where you could really tell just how blessed Mr. Rawlins was to provide the lead gift for the campaign. A peaceful and joyful look came over his face that really touched all of us.
Then after some last comments from Mr. Rawlins, we left his bedside and went out into the dining room to have lunch that Mrs. Rawlins had prepared. We left the Rawlin’s home around 1:00pm. In the driveway, the Board member, said to me, “Shawn, you mentioned to the Board and me that people are blessed when they give to a worthy cause and that we’re actually ministering to people by presenting them with the opportunity to generously invest. I saw that first-hand today with Mr. Rawlins.”
About three or four weeks after our solicitation, Mr. Rawlins went home to be with His Lord…it was the same day as Billy Graham’s passing. However, he left a Kingdom legacy before he departed his physical body and took His King by the hand.