Nonprofit Branding: Major Gifts! More about Mary! More About Komen!

“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, But in ourselves, that we are underlings.”

Our pal Cassius, he of the “…lean and hungry look…” had an important point. (In addition to the point he stuck in Caesar’s back.) Nonprofits ARE underlings. Nearly every one. And thus, they are subject to victimization.

That realization came to me as I watched the unfolding events and crossfire of accusations during the ugly, unnecessary and destructive Komen/Planned Parenthood episode.

It does not matter who went overboard first or who threw the first punch or who was more aggressive or more deceptive or more righteous.  The blow-up in the first days of February was a symptom. There is also a disease.

I hold a contrarian view about the reason two proud and effective outfits got themselves into this mess. You may not see that viewpoint expressed elsewhere. So here it is……………………


In this brand-damaging, mission-degrading conflict, BOTH sides were victims. Both were also aggressors. Both were wrong. And both lost a great deal. The disease that caused that symptom is this: over a period of time leaders of Komen and Planned Parenthood let their mission, their brand and their role in women’s’ health become politicized.

The pivotal fact is that both outfits sold out their missions and put their brands at risk by getting sucked into the marketplace of political advocacy. They became allies, and eventual pawns, of political forces that had the power to use, abuse and discard them while pursuing their own political agendas.

In today’s predatory political climate, cultivating and/or accepting the favor of a political movement is just ten or fifteen kinds of dumb. Were they to be honest with themselves (and at this point I think the probably can’t be) the leaders of BOTH Planned Parenthood and Komen would have to acknowledge that the cause of the recent conflict was “…not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings.”

An avalanche of insightful comment has been posted about this mess. Both protagonists have been vilified. Both have been defended. I agree with much of the conversation.  And if they had been corporations, I wouldn’t give a damn.

But they are nonprofit public service organizations with iconic stature and wondrous services. So I DO care! And so must you.

Political pressure is not the only offender. The same destructive role can be played by trustees and executive directors, by large contributors, by affiliated organizations. In every case, instead of maintaining focus on its sovereignty, on protecting its brand, on fulfilling its mission, under pressure from power-brokers an organization can allow itself to be an underling – a hostage to another party.

This is a major branding risk. Its consequences can be devastating. It receives little comment in the nonprofit literature.

By aligning themselves with more powerful advocacy and political groups, the directors of Komen and Planned Parenthood undercut their own brands and let down their constituents and clients.

The fault was not in their stars. It was in themselves, in that they became underlings.

More About Mary

Within your contributor file are a few supporters whose gift level and regularity demands special attention from you. In the last post, titled “Her Name Was Mary,” I said that some of these folks will upgrade their gift and become truly major givers. But first you have to personally build a relationship with them, personally help them become more familiar with your mission and achievements and then (only then!) personally ask them for that first large gift.

That post offered two anecdotes. You’ll remember that in the first a development director blew the chance at substantial support from a small donor who loved the nonprofit. He just never asked the man, who he knew well. That small donor then gave millions in large gifts to other organizations!

The second anecdote concerned Mary, the alum who annually gave her college $2,000. After years of contributor anonymity, Mary was finally noticed, then embraced and informed. Finally, when she had become better acquainted with the administration and its aspirations and hassles, she was invited to do more for her alma mater. The result was $250,000.

She gave it because she was asked!

One thing I forgot to mention in that post: when she died a few years later, Mary – the long-overlooked supporter – left the college another $750,000.

The major gift process once intimidated me. It may intimidate you, or a colleague of yours. But, as I learned repeatedly after getting my feet wet – in every contributor file there are several Marys. In these tough times, they represent a challenge, an opportunity – and a professional obligation. You can do it.


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