A Perfect Example

For anyone in the Boston area who is even mildly interested in philanthropy, you know that the Museum of Fine Arts’ recently concluded capital campaign exceeded any fundraising efforts by a cultural institution by three times the highest previous amount. It was a huge victory for the community in so many ways. But for development professionals everywhere, it was a lesson in why systematic fundraising models work. This was well illustrated if you read the article, “How to Raise $500 Million” by Geoff Edgars in the Boston Globe Magazine.

The article focuses on the experience of Penny Vinik and her relationship with the Museum of Fine Arts. According to the article, Penny Vinik is “the wife of Jeff Vinik, who is known to many as a former manager of the Fidelity Magellan mutual fund, she has a background in finance, international studies, and art history but dedicated herself to raising their four kids. Even her volunteer work had centered on her children, particularly their schools.” So how did the MFA turn her into a trustee and one of the major donors that helped fund the $500 million project? Step by step.

This is, from a development perspective, how it played out.

Step 1: The Invitation. She was invited to join friends at an intimate event. Then, maybe a second or a third. She expected that donations would be involved, but she didn’t plan on what she considered a major contribution. In fact, if you follow the chronology of the article, it doesn’t seem as if she was asked to make any gift. But since she continued to accept the invitations, she moved higher and higher on the development team’s radar.

Step 2: A Concrete Commitment. She was invited to become an “overseer, part of an advisory board.” When the campaign launched, she had yet to contribute to the museum. She knew that she would, at some point, be asked to give but again, she was given the opportunity to get more involved before they talked about money.

Step 3: A Step Up. She showed her passion for the museum in a variety of ways and was invited to become a trustee. ‘”They didn’t say, ‘Will you be a trustee and here’s the price tag,’ ” Penny Vinik says of her increased involvement with the MFA. “But when they asked, I understood there was a capital campaign going on and I’d be asked to contribute. I knew that was part of my responsibility.”’

Step 4: Waiting For The Donor To Be Ready. By the time she was asked, she became an “eminent benefactor” a designation that comes with a lifetime contribution between 5 and 10 million dollars.

The museum showed its strength in creating a strategy, keeping focus and exhibiting magnificent patience. Lessons that would improve any annual or capital campaign in any organization. Your donors may not have the capacity to become “eminent benefactors” at the MFA but they could become the major donors of your dreams.