Online Fundraising Resources Center



Copyright 2000 by Adam Corson-Finnerty

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Whenever I talk blue-sky-Internet-fundraising-talk to a group of battle-hardened development officers, I can see the response in their eyes: "Show me the money."

Okay. Just last week I received a $50,000 gift through the Internet. $50,000, and that's not the largest e-fundraising gift my institution has received. How does $200,000 sound? How does $1,000,000 sound?

Here is how the $50,000 gift came about. I am sitting in my office and the phone rings. At the other end is an alumna of my university. She says, "I have been looking at your Web site and I really like what you are doing. I am the trustee of a family foundation and we would like to make a gift to your library. Do you have anything that involves the kind of digital publishing that I have seen on your site?"

We discussed several projects, and she asked us to send the foundation three options. We did, and are now signing the paperwork for a two-year grant which will total $50,000. The entire amount will be spent to mount a major scholarly Web site on one of America's foremost writers.

Three years ago, when Fundraising and Friend-Raising on the Web was written (with co-author Laura Blanchard), we contended that:

"One day a very significant amount of money will be donated to non-profit institutions through direct transfer via the Internet. But that day may be quite a few years off. At present, we believe that the Web is currently most useful in soliciting and acknowledging major gifts."

We still believe that. Yes, e-commerce has taken off. Yes, John McCain got over $3 million in online gifts when the "Big Mo" was working in his favor. Yes, the Red Cross has received several millions for Balkan Relief through their Web site. But that doesn't mean that "" can put a Give Now button on its homepage and watch the money roll in.

Just the opposite. Most organizations that have put a "donate now" mechanism on their site have been deeply disappointed. And this includes colleges and large non-profits, along with the little guys.

Laura and I contend that if your non-profit organization has a major gifts program, then your Web-building should focus on this program first and foremost. Why? Because "that’s where the money is" and that’s where your Internet investment will begin to pay off.

Three Cups

Allow me to share an image. There are three cups, each turned upside down. Under one cup is nothing. Under the second cup is a small green pea. Under the third cup is a large gold nugget. For five years now, believe it or not, I have been saying that Development programs should be using the Internet to get the gold nuggets. Instead, everyone keeps looking for the pea. As a result, most online fundraising programs have been finding the empty cup. In fact, if we factored in staff costs, most online giving sites have probably lost money—so under their cup we might find a growing hole.

Honestly, I have very little idea why this is still happening. But that won't keep me from guessing. First of all, most people think of e-fundraising as the taking of credit card gifts online. Second, most people look to e-commerce, where credit card purchasing is the name of the game. Third, the people who should be thinking about using the Internet for major gift fundraising are--surprise--major gift fundraisers! And they have not been doing that.

Internet Fundraising for Major Gifts

Let’s talk turkey about major gifts. We will call anything above $25,000 a major gift. For most large institutions, major gifts are the lifeblood of the development effort. In general, major gifts account for 80% or more of what is raised on an annual basis. And this 80% may come from only 5% of your donors.

One of the biggest mistakes that fundraisers make is to spend too much time on small gifts. This is particularly true for people who are new to fundraising, and for non-profits that are launching a fundraising program. The same thing is happening on the Internet.

Which means that a lot of people are wasting a lot of time and money. Consider these two tales:

Tale the First: At the Penn Library, we conducted a mini-campaign to raise $300,000 to create a Music Study Center. We decided to take advantage of a generous offer by the Philadelphia Orchestra to use their annual Martin Luther King Concert as a benefit. The idea was simple: the Orchestra would make seats available to us at a discount, and we would sell them at regular price. We could sell as many tickets as we could handle.

Knowing that this would be an attractive idea on campus, we organized a significant benefit effort. We enlisted the aid of numerous student and fraternal organizations. We involved alumni groups. We reached out to local organizations. We printed fliers and special invitations, and got advance stories in the campus media. We set up a patron’s level ticket which included a pre-concert dinner at a downtown restaurant. We got a local jazz club to host a jazz party after the concert, and all ticket-buyers were admitted free.

After three months of increasing intensity, the day of the concert came. We were pleased that we had sold 300 tickets at various price levels, and that we had a patrons dinner of about 20 VIPs. The concert was great; the jazz party was fun. Everyone had a wonderful time.

Total net: $6,000

Tale the Second: I am having lunch with some colleagues in New Mexico. When the coffee arrives I excuse myself to make a call "back east." I had a phone appointment with a major prospect, and I didn't want to miss the opportunity, even if I missed dessert. We talked for four minutes. I asked him for the lead gift for the Music Study Center. He said yes. I went back to the table. My coffee was still warm and dessert had just arrived.

Total net: $100,000

Every fundraiser who has been around the block a few times can tell a similar tale. Major fundraising happens when you can find major donors. Of course, major gifts are not raised in four minutes. My phone conversation was the culmination of about 18 months of cultivation. But the actual time spent on this cultivation could not have exceeded 20 hours. Contrast that with the hundreds of hours spent on the benefit concert.

The ratio of time and energy spent to results gained is usually so dramatic that one wonders why so many fundraisers spend so much of their time on special events and small-gift appeals.

The answer is (or should be) that special events and annual/membership appeals are constituency-building activities. Libraries need their Friends, Public Radio needs its Members--and not just as a pool for future fundraising, but as a base of institutional support. Our Orchestra Event made a lot of new friends for the Library. It also enhanced the image of the Library among students and staff on campus, and it added to Penn’s reputation off campus.

These factors made the event worthwhile. Nevertheless, in our successful drive to meet the Music Center Goal ($300,000) we raised only $75,000 from gifts under $25,000, and the remainder-- $225,000--came from five major donors. Moral: Major donor work pays off.

To repeat a truism of fundraising: 80% of your gifts will come from 20% of your donors. This will be particularly true if your organization is engaged in capital fundraising, that is, for large-scale renovation, building, or endowment purposes. And a related truism: development staff should be spending 80% of their time focusing on the 20% of prospects who have high gift potential.

Wired Major Gift Fundraising

I would like to use the term "wired fundraising" to talk about a particular set of development activities that involve the Internet. And here is a mantra to go with this high concept: Major gifts can be raised for your Website and through your Website.

Many non-profit organizations are beginning to deliver services via the Internet. In the case of libraries, the case is clear enough: the digital library is growing dramatically and is changing the entire framework of what libraries do, and how libraries are used.

Take two more examples: the Red Cross and Amnesty International. The Red Cross site keeps up-to-date information about disasters, both natural and human-made. This means that concerned people can quickly learn "what happened" in a disaster, or that visitors can learn what to do in advance of a disaster, as when hundreds of thousands of people clicked in to learn how to batten down before a recent hurricane. The Amnesty site provides a wealth of information on human rights abuses around the world, and both suggests and enables ways to take action.

These Websites perform an important part of the mission of their parent organization. They provide a valuable public service. Such services are fundable.

Think of whatever organization you represent, or care about most. Is it performing a needed service through its Website? Then you can raise funds for the site itself. To pick a different area of service, Oncolink provides invaluable information for people who have cancer and for their families. This site can make a compelling case for major gifts to support and extend its online programs.

At my library, we have been quite successful in raising funds for the Web. I have already mentioned the $50,000 gift for the literary site. I can add to that a $300,000 gift from an individual to develop our electronic publishing capacity, a $200,000 grant to create a Shakespeare/English Renaissance teaching site online, a $25,000 individual gift to put illustrated books online, and a $500,000 NEH Challenge Grant to endow our electronic publishing program which we will use to leverage $2,000,000 in additional gifts.

The glamour of the Internet has spilled over into our buildings. We have been able to raise millions of dollars over the past five years for an "Electronic Lookup Center," for three computer labs, for an "Electronic Training Facility," for "Multi-media seminar rooms and classrooms (connected to the Internet)," and even for a complete re-figuring of our acquisitions and cataloging department (all of whose work has been transformed by the Internet.) In addition, we have renamed our endowed Book Funds, and now market them as endowed Acquisition Funds, so that we can use the income to purchase electronic resources as well as print resources.

Libraries today have taken on a new cachet because they are pioneers in the delivery of sophisticated electronic services. I have seen a remarkable change just in my seven years with the Penn Library,. We were once regarded by many potential donors as "dull," a campus utility, like heat, light, and water. Not any more. Now we are hot, cutting-edge, even glamorous. This makes my fundraising job much easier.

It helps that the Penn Library is one of the leading digital libraries in the world. That position has brought additional gifts for new projects, including a $168,000 foundation grant to put new history books online in full-text, and a $500,000 software grant from a leading company to enhance our searching capacities.

One more story. Recently, I heard from one of my colleagues at another leading research university. His Director has decided to jumpstart their digital library. As a result, this university is looking for a major gift: A Gift to Create a First-Rate Digital Library. A Naming Gift. Pricetag: $10,000,000.

Ten million dollars. Not for a building. For a Website. And I think they will get it.

Recognition as Fundraising

That should be enough to stimulate readers' imaginations with regard to fundraising for a Website. Let us now turn to fundraising through a Website.

Your development Website can be a wonderful place to recognize major donors to your institution. It can also be a wonderful way to involve major donors and major prospects with your institution in new and compelling ways. Donor recognition can lead to second-time gifts, and inspire new first-time gifts.

Take a hypothetical example: David Bookhaven collects rare books. He is a member of your Friends of the Library, and enjoys turning out for lectures and exhibition openings. You would like him to one day donate his books to the Library, and to endow a fund to purchase additional rare books and manuscripts.

Standard Library approach: your special collections director asks Mr. Bookhaven if he would be willing to loan some of his books for an exhibition. He agrees. This leads to many warm conversations as books are reviewed for the show. All of this leads to a nice opening reception where Friends and friends appear, where much fuss is made over Mr. Bookhaven, and a souvenir catalog or program is distributed.

Hopefully in the process of all this, some discussion occurs with regard to a possible gift of the collection, and the creation of a named endowed fund to support the collection. Thousands of wonderful gifts have come to libraries and museums in just this way.

The "Wired" Library approach: All of the above, plus the following. The Librarian or Development Director says to Mr. Bookhaven that the Library would like to put the exhibition on-line. They access a nearby computer or laptop to show him how other exhibitions have been placed on the net. They show how the donor is recognized. They show how memorial recognition is done on-line. Might Mr. Bookhaven like to dedicate the on-line show to the memory of his wife? Might he have a picture of the couple available that could be put up on in the dedication page?

Three months go by. The "real" exhibition has to come down. But the virtual exhibition stays on. Comments have been coming in from Internet visitors from as far away as Japan. These comments are shared with Mr. Bookhaven, who is slightly amazed that mid-western professors and Italian undergraduates have visited his site. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to enhance and augment the site? It can become a destination site for people who are interested in his field of concentration. Would Mr. Bookhaven like to help fund an expansion of the Bookhaven Digital Rare Book site?

Mr. Bookhaven is not only flattered, he is engaged. He can see that the wired Library can make his personal collection into a treasure for a world-wide audience. And that his wife’s memory is being recognized in ways that she could never have imagined. Plus his children have become enthusiastically involved. They have been telling their friends to cruise to the Bookhaven site. You have made some valuable friends in the next generation of the family.

As this story illustrates, a presence on the Web allows for interesting new ways in which to engage the prospective donor’s interest. The Web is still so visual that it can capture the attention of almost anyone. I well recall a committee meeting that included a major donor. Meanwhile, his wife was visiting another program on campus. When she returned, the meeting was still in progress, and so we showed her the new site we had created with her husband’s picture accompanying some beautiful illustrations from his collection. "Look, you’re on the Web!" she exclaimed when he came out of the meeting, and pulled him over to see the screen. These are sophisticated people. New York people. They do not usually get excited about anything. They were excited.

A nice aspect of a Website is that it is portable. If your donor is "wired," then you can view the site on her machine. If not, you can load exemplary sites on your laptop and take it with you anywhere. You can place the laptop on the coffee table of a donor couple and take them on a tour. I have done it in Delaware. You can take it into the office of a busy executive and capture his full attention for 15 minutes. I have done that in southern California. You can even sit at a dinner table with five members of an extended donor family and pass the laptop around while each explores your pages and points out things to the others. I did that in western Pennsylvania.

The key concept here is "engagement." The more that an engaged, collaborative, relationship exists between you and your donor, the more likely that you will receive continued and committed support. Particularly for libraries, where colorless brass plaques can abound, and where rare materials can seem to be locked away from the public, the Web adds a whole new dimension of visibility and access. Global visibility, world-wide access! And your donor is right there in the middle of this exciting new adventure.

Electronic Plaquing

The Web allows for new forms of recognition, and new ways to honor or memorialize a special friend or benefactor. There isn’t a term for this yet, but we have been calling it Electronic Recognition, or sometimes "cyber-plaquing."

For a fascinating look at the extensive possibilities of cyber-plaquing, consider our Class of ‘43/Murphy Memorial site.

Fred Murphy entered Penn as a freshman in 1940. He should have graduated with his friends in 1943 but by then he was a medic with the Army’s 65th Infantry Division. Murphy left college in the middle of his freshman year, went home, got married, and joined the Army.

On March 18, 1945, his regiment was in the midst of a battle at the Siegfried Line in Germany--all part of the Allied push toward the Rhine. Land mines were everywhere, and a number of soldiers had been maimed or killed. Murphy, unarmed, stayed on the battlefield and tended the wounded despite being repeatedly wounded himself. While aiding others, he crawled across a mine and was killed.

Frederick C. Murphy was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his "indomitable courage and unquestionable spirit of self-sacrifice and supreme devotion to duty...." His daughter, Susan, born two months after he died, accepted the honor on his behalf.

The Class of 1943, of which Murphy would have been a part, had not realized that they had a hero in their ranks. Only recently did the Class leadership become aware of this story, and they approached the Library to see if Murphy could be honored in some way. The Class had just completed a reunion drive to build a new Circulation Area at the Library, and they asked about the placement of a memorial plaque.

Of course, we said. But in addition, what about also doing something on the Web?

Thus began a process of gathering information and images, aided by the Class President. The ‘43 site contains pictures of the Class at its 1993 Reunion, and a drawing of the space that it is dedicating. The site also contains extensive information about Murphy. In addition to his portrait, there are links to another of our pages which describes his acts of heroism, an Internet link to the Web pages of a federal building named in his honor in Massachusetts, links to a page we created on his Division (which honored him at its 50th reunion in 1994), an Internet link to a Medal of Honor information site, and links to a Library page which contains a moving personal essay by Murphy’s grandson.

Before the site was formally placed on the Library’s "Friends and Benefactors" pages, we previewed the site with the class leadership. The pages were downloaded to a laptop and linked to a projector. For many of them, it may have been the first time they had seen this material. We also printed out the pages from the site and presented it to each member in a Penn folder.

Prior to the advent of the Web, it would have been impossible to create anything like the ‘43/Murphy site, short of producing a small book. But even a small book would not be able to contain live links to other evolving sites, which themselves contain links to other sites. (See:

Here are some other examples of what can be done:

  • The Richard III Society created a memorial page for member Judy R. Weinsoft, who despite undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer, continued to prepare, and delivered, a significant lecture at the 1993 Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Judy created a Library Endowment Fund for the Society through bequest. A moving tribute to Judy is contained on the site, along with a picture, the full text of the lecture, and an invitation to add to the fund in Judy’s memory. (

  • Northwestern University is doing a Capital Campaign with a billion-dollar goal. Such campaigns rely upon a committed group of high-level volunteers who ask others for money, and give generously themselves. Northwestern recognizes these volunteers on a special "Campaign Leadership" page that provides a picture and bio of each one. ( Northwestern also has done extensive gift recognition pages. See, for example, the recognition page for a multi-mission dollar gift to the College of Arts and Sciences by the Weinberg Family (

  • --Science Fiction writer Piers Anthony donated his manuscripts and papers to the Library at the University of South Florida Tampa Campus. A few years later he and his wife donated $200,000 to the Library’s Oral History program. A special recognition page was created, with a picture of the couple, and a tribute, and a link to extensive information about the Piers Anthony Collection. (

  • --The Starwars of "non-profit" sites is always the Olympics pages. With plenty of hardware, software, and money from IBM, they always manage to use cool technology and great design. The site for the Salt Lake Olympics 2002 is already up, and its corporate sponsors are already being recognized through a rotating "animated gif" on the front page. We are talking GM, Coco-Cola, Sports Illustrated, Visa, etc. Click on a sponsor's logo as it displays and you will be taken to their home page. (

The possibilities in electronic plaquing are only limited by one’s imagination, by the wishes of the donor and the self-imposed restraints of the institution. Would the donor like to be pictured with his favorite hunting dog? It can be done. Could a spoken message from the donor be included? Certainly. How about a video clip of the recognition dinner where the donor's extended family is present, and the donor gets up and talks about why she made the gift?

Every seasoned fundraiser knows that good stewardship is good fundraising. In fundraising parlance, "stewardship" means those activities that acknowledge and recognize a donor and that report on the use of the gift. A well-thanked and well-recognized donor is an inspiration to other prospective supporters. Furthermore, a happy donor is an excellent prospect for a second gift, and a third--as every major gift officer can attest.

Therefore, we recommend that donor recognition be one of the first things that any non-profit does with its Website, rather than something that is attempted after your "case" is fully on-line. Take it from us, you will always be adding to and amending your "case" pages. Don’t wait to be finished before doing some attractive donor recognition.

What about results? A number of people have asked us whether we can trace actual new gifts to the electronic recognition fundraising strategy. The short answer is "yes." Without violating any confidences, we can share that as we write one donor family has made a second major gift and is considering two more. Another donor has begun adding regularly to our special purchase fund. Another increased his six-figure contribution by an additional 50%. Another donor has given us an "R&D" fund, to be used solely for experimentation. Still another is contemplating a multi-million dollar gift, nurtured by personal visits as well as virtual ones. The Web was not the sole motivator in any of these cases, but it helped considerably in deepening and extending our relationships, and in enhancing our reputation as a cutting-edge institution.

Several donors have extended themselves greatly, digging up old photos, or having special ones taken. Others have spent hours combing through their site, and other sites, and sending us corrections. Many more have "told their friends" about our work, and in some cases have asked us to send notices of their URL (Web address) to mailing lists which they supply.

Tips and Ideas

This is a new area. One in which we shall each have an opportunity to be creative, and to learn from each other. Here are a few tips and a few ideas which we can add to the mix:

  • Get a "volunteer" for your first recognition page. Every NPO (non-profit organization) needs an example of a donor recognition page to show to and inspire other potential donors. An excellent "volunteer" might be an historic figure who helped found or build your institution, like the University of Virginia’s Thomas Jefferson. Or someone who made an important bequest (and whose family is in agreement). San Diego State University persuaded a faculty member who had donated an important collection to be their first Web "role model." At Penn we got started by putting up pages for a reunion class, a bequest from a much-loved dean, and a gift from a member of our board--all at about the same time.

  • Make sure to obtain the donor’s approval before putting her on a Website. So far, only two donors have asked to remain anonymous, but they both felt *very* strongly about it. The idea of approval should extend to "Honor Roll" lists; for example, lists of reunion donors. Even though these donors may have been given the option to remain anonymous on the printed Honor Roll, that should not be assumed to transfer to the on-line Honor Roll unless that was made explicit during the gift process.

  • Consider interviewing the donor specifically for the Website. Donor sites should be ones in which you can experiment. If you are not ready to put audio or video on your main page, why not try something with a donor page? Usually such pages are not intended primarily to provide public service, so there should be less worry if some visitors can’t access everything there due to a missing "plug-in".

  • Remember that you can print pages once you create them. Donors who do not have Web-browsing computers may still be pleased to have color prints of their Website. These pages can be bound in a custom donor book for keeping on one’s shelf or coffee table. We have found that donors treasure these books, and some have even asked for duplicate copies.

The Screensaver

In doing "wired" fundraising, I have had many surprises. But one of the oddest was when I realized that the lowly screensaver could be a powerful tool for fundraising.

It all started when we were negotiating a gift from a large bank. The gift would help create a new public service area for our business library. As we wrapped up the details, the bank president made one unusual request: "We would like to have the screensavers on all the patron terminals say that the new center was made possible through a gift from our bank. We like the idea of business students seeing our name. Perhaps it will encourage them to think of us when they are graduating and looking for jobs."

At the time, I thought it was an unusual request, but certainly do-able. When the new area opened, all 40 terminals had the gift message as their screensaver. Our staff also created simple screensavers for the other sponsored areas, so that soon any visitor would be greeted by such messages as "Welcome to the Class of '56 Computer Lab," or "You are Studying in the Moelis Electronic Reference Area."

The screensavers are easy to create. In Windows 95/98, go to Control Panel, and select Display. Then choose Screensaver and choose your wording and background color. It takes all of three minutes.

Because it is so simple, I think I ignored the effect it has on visitors. I should have cottoned on when a group of VIPs were being given a tour of the renewed Library. At one point in our tour, about six visitors had to pause and wait for the remainder of the group. We were standing outside the window of our new research training lab. The room was dark, but all sixteen computers were turned on. We stood and watched "Welcome to the Goldstein Electronic Classroom" flash by in gold letters on sixteen blue screens. I could almost hear their thoughts whirring as they watched the screens.

In another instance, I received a call from an officer of the Class of 1964. They had donated our "Electronic Lookup Center," and he wanted pictures to show the other class leaders. "Make sure to get a picture of the screensaver," he said, "I've got to show them that."

Final story. We recently received a gift from a regional alumni club. They are notorious for not wanting to make multi-year commitments, and prefer to decide each year how to allocate their funds. He asked if we had anything in their range for the coming year. We considered the idea of their funding a "study pinwheel." These pinwheels consist of four

study carrels, joined together in a pinwheel pattern, with a computer on each desk. I told him that if the club would adopt four such pinwheels-over four years-we could name the area for the club, and by the way would also put their name on the screensaver. He called back after meeting with the club. They wanted to adopt one pinwheel, and in a break with tradition, would commit for a second in the following year. They also wanted "right of first refusal" on the other two carrels in subsequent years. Not bad, from our point of view. "I realize it's not a four year commitment," he said, "but can we still get the screensavers?"

The Wired Donor

There is another way to look at "wired" fundraising, and that is to recognize that there are a slew of "wired" donors out there, and they are only getting richer.

The Internet has so taken over our imaginations that I probably do not have to explain what I mean by a "wired" donor, but I will anyway. This is a donor who has made his/her money from info-tech, uses info-tech extensively, and admires info-tech greatly. Think Bill Gates.

How much is in the two Gates foundations now? $21 billion? Like, twice what the next biggest foundation has, and with more to be added? And where did Gates begin his major philanthropy—with grants to help "wire" libraries and schools in poor communities. In fact, this philanthropy was so close to home (with home being Microsoft) that some critics accused Gates of promoting the company. I don't think that was what was going on. I think that when Gates made his first huge gift, *he was giving to something that he understood and valued.* That is, computers and the Internet.

About two or three years ago, there was a great to-do about how Gates was not engaging in major philanthropy. Here he was, the world's richest man, and he was not sharing the wealth like Carnegie, Ford and Rockefeller. Of course, those dudes were pretty ancient when they began giving it away, and Gates is quite young. So are a lot of the other newly-minted zillionaires.

As I said, there has been a fear that these newly-wealthy would sit on their riches until they became gray. But the opposite is happening. Michael Dell, age 34, of Dell computer, has just started a foundation with an initial gift of $114 million in stock. The foundation will focus on education and children's health. Catherine Muther, who made some millions at Cisco, has started the Three Guineas Fund, which will help women who want to pursue high-tech careers and encourage them to be philanthropic if they "make it." Nicholas Lovejoy, who has cashed in his employee options with, has started a foundation to support environmental causes. He is 38 years old.

It doesn't stop there. E-bay's founders decided to set aside stock for charity when they went public. That little pot of stock is now worth $42 million. RealNetworks committed 5% of its stock to charity. A new company called Propel, backed by Infoseek founder Steve Kirsch, has committed 1% of its valuation to charity after it goes public. (Source, Industry Standard, March 20, 2000). And "wired" UCLA alums have chipped in to create a $480,000 venture fund for the College of Letters and Science.

And recently a surreal, head-turning gift has come from 35 year old software billionaire Michael Saylor. On March 16, he announced that he was donating $100 million to create a virtual university which will provide "free education for everyone on earth, forever." (NY Times, 3/16/2000)

Saylor, whose MicroStrategy stock is worth somewhere between $11 billion and $13 billion, depending upon what hour you check the price, says he wants to engage in "twenty-first century philanthropy."

He said he will soon begin hiring people to run the charity, including a head--most likely a dean of a major university--along with curriculum experts, writers, editors, producers, marketers, hardware experts and "computer people to make it dynamic and interactive." "Mark Bisnow, a spokesman for MicroStrategy, said the bottom line is that Saylor truly believes in the power of technology. The company sells software that allows businesses to mine vast amounts of data and run more efficiently. "We're a cutting-edge company," Bisnow said. "Michael wants his philanthropy to be cutting-edge. (Washington Post, 3/15/2000)

This e-philanthropist describes his project in vague, and even naïve terms. However, he can certainly buy a lot of sophisticated advice for $100 million, and if more money is needed, he announced that he is ready to provide it.

As you might have noticed, Saylor is not shy. As a captain of e-commerce, he is convinced that great things can happen overnight. Consider this quotation from millionaire, Nicholas Lovejoy, expresses the élan of this new crowd: "I am absolutely convinced that I can do anything that other people think is impossible, because we did it regularly at Amazon." (2/11/2000)

Yet it would be a mistake to stereotype any of these new millionaires. Keep in mind that quite a few of them are drawn from the humanities. They studied English, or French, and thought they would be writers. Sometimes they got rich because they were lucky, and in the right place at the right time.

They are not all Michael Saylor, or Bill Gates. In my limited experience so far, they vary from student-types, to professorial-types, to hollywood-types, to what my kids would call "brainiacs." The one thing that they have in common is that they respect technology, perhaps to a fault.

Fundraisers who want to attract donations from this new breed of philanthropist need to know that they have two defining traits:

First, they communicate by email, and if they are even mildly interested in you, they will start the conversation by calling up your Website.

Second, they believe in the transformational power of the Internet, and if your institution doesn't have an Internet plan in place, they may dismiss you as a "dinosaur." Meaning they think you are going to eventually die—or at least make poor use of their money while you thrash around in the "old economy."

Quite often the method for reaching these people is not getting your foot in the door, but getting your email in their queue. I have found a sea change just in my recent seven years at Penn. In the olden days I would call a secretary and ask for a meeting. She would either take down information or ask for a letter, or a fax. Now, the secretary asks for an email. In fact, the secretary would prefer that you not call her. Just send her an email. If it is worthy of the boss, she will pass it on. Sometimes secretaries simply tell me: "Oh, here is his email address, just write to him directly and he will get back to you." As a result, I have carried on "conversations" with the heads of several large Silicon Valley firms, with the head of a giant insurance firm, and with two big-name venture capitalists. Right away it is adam to john, and john to adam. And, when I have had a good match with their interest, I have gotten action.

These are people who handle highly important matters by email every day. People who would not be fazed by learning that Cisco received a $100 million order over the web, with no human ever talking to another human. I am certain that some of them have already made gifts based solely upon email exchanges. I have yet to land a major gift solely by email, but I have negotiated one gift of $150,000, and another of $500,000 primarily by this device. One of my colleagues at work put the final touches on a $10 million gift, all by email.

I said earlier that the new e-philanthropists will want to see that you have an Internet plan in place. That doesn't mean that they will expect you to have a sophisticated Website—few of us do—but they *will* expect you to have thought it through, and to have some goals for where you want to be. And don't be surprised if this is one of the first things that they want to fund!

In Summary

I would like to go back to the beginning of the Cybergifts series. I started off by saying that first-timers in e-fundraising often think that placing a "donate now" button on their website will bring in the money in buckets. They are usually greatly disappointed. I then spent seven articles tracing ideas, techniques, gimmicks, and ploys to get people to make gifts online. I still have at least two more parts for the cybergifts series, one on third-party giving and one on workplace giving.

In the past year, we have seen that a few sites have brought in millions of dollars. For most non-profits, this is fool's gold. Keep in mind that the Red Cross and the McCain campaign got flooded with money when they were flooded with millions of dollars of free publicity. Otherwise, the "pickins" have been pretty slim.

One day your donors will turn to the Web to make their regular gift to you, just as they get out an envelope today. That method will save you some postage and handling, and perhaps cut down on your mail solicitation program. Money will come in, and trees will be spared. But this is not going to be *new* money. It will be the same old money from your existing base. What you want is new donors and new money, as well as the old. The Web will help you make those new friends, and over time they will become loyal donors. But that will be a slow and gradual process.

In the meantime, if you want to raise money today…*real* money…BIG money, then stop looking for the pea under the cup. Go for the gold. Start using the power of the Web to raise major gifts. The money is out there for the right projects using the right approach. Often, the right approach is the "wired" one. So what are you waiting for?

The first drafts of my "Cybergifts" series are usually posted to an excellent forum site devoted to online giving. If you are interested in this topic, you are invited to sign up and join the ongoing discussion! It is called "Cybergifts" and can be found at

Permission is given to forward or copy this article, so long as the author's name, email address, URL, and copyright notice are included. Yes! You can print it out, copy it, hand it around, forward it as an email to someone else, put a link to it from your site, and so on. The only things I don't want readers to do are: Sell it, edit it, put your name on it, or take my name off it.

Back to Part 8 | Continue to Part 10

Adam Corson-Finnerty is Director of Development for the Library of the University of Pennsylvania. He is the co-author of Fundraising and Friend-Raising on the Web (ALA Editions, 1998).

"Cybergifts, Part 9: Major Gifts" is copyrighted by the author, March, 2000 The opinions expressed are those of the author. Adam Corson-Finnerty 215-635-4084 PERMISSION IS GRANTED TO FORWARD, COPY, AND DISTRIBUTE THIS DOCUMENT, SO LONG AS THERE IS NO CHARGE FOR SUCH DISTRIBUTION, AND THE AUTHOR'S NAME, EMAIL ADDRESS, AND COPYRIGHT ARE INCLUDED.


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