A Donor’s Tale: Dispelling A Dubious Prediction

By: Nancy E. Peterman, Partner

I had the good fortune on a recent flight Cleveland to sit next to an alternate delegate for the Republican National Convention.  We decided not to discuss the election (well, at least not for the record.)  Instead, we talked about the merits of our respective industries, particularly with regard to fundraising.  Comparing political fundraising to raising funds for higher education, he remarked that he found the former, with which he has had great success, much easier than the latter.  He further elaborated that he could promise party funders that he was “raising money to improve government,” a compelling pitch to which intelligent people responded.  We agreed that the most surprising factor for any cause was the overwhelming generosity of many individuals.

He then told me about a gift that he once made to his alma mater.   A notable businessman who gave a gift to name the business school invited him for a lunch and tour of the new classroom building.  As they toured, the benefactor (and for whom the school was now named) showed off various classrooms of differing sizes and for various disciplines and mentioned that there was an opportunity to name each of these with a donation of an amount commensurate with the size of the room.  He showed him one in particular and said that this classroom was one that he had earmarked for him.  Across the hall was an accounting classroom.  It was considerably larger.  My seatmate said that he asked his host about that room and his host was dismissive, indicating that that room would require a greater contribution than the one he had slated for him.  To which my seatmate pointed out the obvious, that he had expressed an interest in the larger classroom, well-aware that a greater donation would be necessary.

The post script to this story was even more intriguing.  He donated funds to name the larger classroom, which was the largest gift he had ever given.  He claimed that he majored marketing and had suffered through the required accounting classes necessary for a business degree.  The last accounting class he had before graduation was taught by a curmudgeon, who told him that he was doing poorly in his class and that even if he passed the class, he would never graduate from the institution.  Further, he predicted that this gentleman would never “amount to anything.”  The prediction was incorrect on all accounts, which is why he decided he wanted his name on the accounting classroom.

He told me that one of his daughter’s friends is a current development officer at his alma mater.  Part of the orientation for each new development officer is a tour, and, at the classroom which bears his name, this particular story of the solicitation and motivation for the gift is recounted.  He gave me permission to share it as well, believing that this is a lesson that all of us should heed.