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How to Raise $1 Million

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A Donor Asks, “Will My Gift Make a Difference?”

By Harvey McKinnon

The question, “Will my one gift make a difference?” is a core question for virtually all donors. And a closely related question is: Will my gift make a greater difference here or should I give to another cause?

How to Raise $1 Million

This article is an excerpt from Harvey McKinnon's book, The 11 Questions Every Donor Asks and the Answers All Donors Crave


As a person of modest means who loves to give, I constantly struggle with this. And I know my wealthy friends feel it acutely.

If you want ongoing support, you must show donors that they can affect a life, save an endangered animal, protect a river. It is their umbilical cord to your organization. And there are tools you can use to achieve this.

One technique is to break down the actual cost of a program and put tangible dollar amounts next to a piece of equipment, a bag of seeds, or the cost of sending a child to summer camp.

For decades Missions Across North America has run an enormously successful campaign advertising that “$2.59 will buy a meal for a homeless person.” Of course, Union Gospel also gives you the option of feeding 10 people or even 100.

Another underused tool is “reporting back.” Say with the help of donors your hospital raises $160,000 for a new echocardiogram machine. Some organizations mail a postcard a few days after the equipment is purchased to thank those who contributed.

Other organizations take the time to call their donors. This can be powerful, especially when you’re able to tell how the donor’s contribution will be used. A phone call opens up the possibility of a rich dialogue as well.

Nonprofit websites and blogs are another tool for reporting back. For a donor logging on to Greenpeace International, there are videos, petitions, photos, podcasts, games, discussion forums – all designed to involve donors (or potential donors) and to show the tremendous impact of their gifts.

A final way to show donors how their gifts matter is to arrange for them to meet with the people they help. A number of international development agencies invite major donors (who pay their own way) to visit projects in the developing world. Major environmental groups often have guided tours to spectacular wilderness areas in need of funds to protect them. On a more local level, some women’s shelters invite donors to meet with the women their gifts help.

The best gift of all

Dick Grace is a recovering alcoholic, retired stockbroker, and celebrated wine producer who says he’s been given “the loveliest gift … a shot at making a difference.”

Dick caught the fever in 1988 while attending a wish-granting fundraiser for gravely ill children. He befriended a nine-year-old named Anthony Fraisier. Every week for six months Dick called him. And when the end came for Anthony, Dick delivered the eulogy.

Anthony’s death from cancer shook Dick Grace … but it also ignited a passion. Dick now wanted to make a difference for children. And wine would be his tool.
Since that time, Dick has raised close to $20 million for charities. And he and his wife, Ann, spend months each year visiting projects in the Himalayas where they can see firsthand the impact of their gifts.

 “If you want to learn about courage, involve yourself with a cancer kid and his family,” says Dick. “If you want to see resoluteness, get to know a poor Tibetan trying to eke out a living day after day for his family. If you want to see real happiness, give a simple gift like a hoop or crayons to a child in the Third World. Do this, and the joy you receive is unstoppable.”

Smaller donors need assurance, too

It’s not unusual for major donors to be updated on the use of their contribution. But billions of dollars come from lower-dollar donors, and many of these people would give more – often much more – if you showed how their money is invested.

One South African group, the Archdiocese of Durban Zulu Missions, recently wrote to its donors sharing the story of a small group of women who started a vegetable growing project that feeds their families and turns a profit from the surplus.

The letter explained that small mechanical hoes would make the back-breaking work much easier. For donors who responded with an additional gift, the organization placed a small plaque on the hoe they’d made possible and sent back a photograph.

Responding to another appeal, a Mr. Bond from Ireland contributed funds for a wheelchair to a home for the handicapped and chronically ill. He suggested that perhaps his wheelchair could be labeled “007.” In short order a plaque was installed that read “By Kind Donation of Mr. Bond – 007.” A picture of the wheelchair graces Mr. Bond’s office.

Donors do make a fabulous difference in the world. From breakthroughs in cancer research, to schools and universities that equip people with extraordinary skills, to the environmentally endangered areas now protected forever – donors make it possible. If we tell them exactly how, they’ll not only swell with pride (and rightly so) – they’ll give more generously too.

Harvey McKinnon is co-author of the international bestseller, The Power of Giving (Tarcher/Penguin), selected as an Amazon Best Book for 2005. His other works include, Hidden Gold, and the audio CD How Today’s Rich Give (Jossey-Bass), as well as the Tiny Essentials of Monthly Committed Giving (White Lion Press). McKinnon, who is one of North America’s leading fundraising experts, runs the Vancouver/Toronto based fundraising consultancy, Harvey McKinnon Associates (HMA) www.harveymckinnon.com.


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