Can $50million ever be a bad thing?

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Much has been made of a recent philanthropic gift of $50m to an Australian university to set up a scholarship fund. Quite right, you might say.

The donation secured Graham and Louise Tuckwell the honour of having made the largest philanthropic donation to an Australian university by individuals.

The couple funded 25 scholarships of $20,000 each per annum for up to 5 years.

An interesting question is whether the University would have set up the scholarships without this impressive and very generous donation – ie was the scholarship a strategic or donor driven decision? Many organisations struggle with these questions. Should we accept a large gift which we otherwise would not receive unless we tie the gift to the donor’s specific requirements? It is not suggested that in this case the university in question had this dilemma – but is there ever a time when $50m is a bad thing?

Most not-for-profit organisations can cite examples of where trying to deliver on a donor request in order to secure a large gift has cost them more than if they hadn’t accepted the funds in the first place.

When a business (and non profit or otherwise we are all businesses) tries to deliver solely what is of interest to the donor, time and resources are taken away from other strategic priorities. Staff can become disheartened when they see their core needs being unmet while other ‘less urgent’ projects taking priority.

How do we avoid these situations and put ourselves in the best possible position to accept a generous gift AND improve our capacity to deliver on our core values and deliverables? I would suggest 3 things:

1. Be willing to have a transparent and honest discussion with the potential donor about what will really help your organisation deliver on its mission. What do you really need to move the organisation forward and meet the supporter’s philanthropic objectives?

2. Have a plan around your vision – if you can’t share your strategic vision with potential supporters how can they fund your highest priorities? If you don’t know, neither will they. Create a strategic plan with room for growth – show how you would put their funds to the best possible use.

3. Be willing to say no. Or to be more positive, be willing to say ‘yes’ to the gifts that will push you and your organisation along on its journey. Yes, you must always be flexible and you should know where the line is.

I wish all organisations the very best of luck and good fortune in their fundraising and hope their planning is going well for the next financial year. May another multi-million donation be just around the corner. Make sure you’re ready to say ‘Yes’ to it.

Read more about the donation here at the excellent Fundraising & Philanthropy Magazine http://www.fpmagazine.com.au/50-million-donation-for-australian-national-university-316794/