Mozart In The Money

By: Katie MacKenzie, Project Coordinator

Recently, I’ve finished watching the second season of Amazon’s Original Series, “Mozart in the Jungle.” I’m a classical music buff, so this television show is right up my alley. The storyline follows a very eccentric young conductor who takes over the fictional “New York Symphony.” And, I must say, the portrayal of the musicians, administrators, and the Board seems eerily accurate. With many orchestras across the nation going through various lockouts and labor negotiations over the last 5 years – including our own beloved Atlanta Symphony Orchestra –  the fact that the fabled New York Symphony faces the same struggles seems all too close to home.

In addition to loving music, I find another element of the show fascinating – its portrayal of fundraising.  The President of the Symphony, Gloria, who is played by Bernadette Peters, is constantly hosting dinners, galas, and making solicitation visits in order to keep the necessary money flowing into the organization. As fundraisers, we know how that goes!

In one particular scene, Gloria meets with Juan Delgado, the richest man in Mexico, to solicit him for the naming rights to the newly proposed Symphony Hall. The meeting starts out well enough, as she thanks him for making the time for a meeting.  However, without any “warm up”, she immediately moves into the ask. Failing to read the mood of the donor, she launches into what great cross-promotional opportunities could be generated by his gift towards the Hall, creating a synergy between the two that would be beneficial to both. You can sense the awkwardness.

The potential donor pauses, looks at her obviously a little miffed, and changes the subject entirely to talk about how lovely Mexico is and how he is in the process of creating the largest mustang sanctuary in the world. He then discusses other interests he has, noting that he is a fan of the Rolling Stones – a far cry from classical music.

Luckily, there is another gentleman who has accompanied Gloria on this solicitation. He picks up on the donor’s love of the Stones and immediately they have a shared interest, forge a connection and share a few laughs. Unfortunately, however, Gloria is once again unable to read the mood and interrupts their conversation in order to aggressively come back to the ask.

Mr. Delgado, put off by her insistence, unenthusiastically says that Gloria is insinuating that the partnership between himself and the symphony is only “practical” in nature, and therefore serves both in their business interests. He could not be less excited about the proposition. Gloria has made the grave mistake of only approaching him from a business standpoint that seems practical, not a personal standpoint that seems passionate.

Anyone in fundraising should know that while the ultimate goal is to close a gift, first and foremost there should be a personal connection with the donor. What interests the donor? What appeals to the donor? What sparks his/her interest to give to your organization? What is his/her motivation for giving? Yes, of course any major gift is a large help to our organizations, but how do we balance our need with our donor’s interests?

Unfortunately for Gloria, she misses the mark with this particular meeting. However, lucky enough for her, the second gentleman who has gone with her on this solicitation, seeing that she is getting nowhere, finally takes over the situation. He sees the passion of Mr. Delgado and what appeals to him personally. And he quotes: “Wild horses need sanctuaries, but so do wild artists.” He then proceeds to appeal to the personal, passionate interests of the donor. Knowing that Mr. Delgado does in fact love music (although he seems annoyed with Gloria), he rephrases the ask by stating: “You don’t buy naming rights for some cross-promotional [business purposes]….you do it to let the music live.”  After appealing to his passionate side, he then appeals to the ego of his donor by noting that his name should take its “rightful place among the great patrons of history, Cosimo de Medici, Emperor Franz Joseph and Juan Delgado…” Needless to say, he closes the deal.

I came across an article in the Chronicle of Philanthropy written by Eden Stiffman in 2015. In it, she outlines 9 basic points to get you started when meeting with major donors to your organization:

  1. Get to know the donor
  2. Meet on the donor’s turf
  3. Listen intently and avoid talking too much
  4. Respect the donor’s time
  5. Meetings aren’t for everyone
  6. Set reasonable expectations
  7. Ask for a donation when it feels right
  8. Express your gratitude
  9. Involve the whole team

Click here to read the full article. In the example I used above with Gloria, you can mark which of these 9 she did and did not do correctly.  I would encourage you to read what Ms. Stillman has to say as you think about your meetings with major donors and how to ultimately close the gift. The information presented is something we all, as fundraisers, should know before we meet with our biggest potential donors.  However, it never hurts to have a little refresher crash course.

Remember, business and passion both meet when raising funds for our non-profit organizations, but there is an art to what we do, and it is always important to remember that both are equally important.