A $250M donation is a pretty big deal, especially for a small college like Centre College, in Danville, Ky. They recently made a lot of waves for this donation, but unfortunately it was for the wrong reason. Apparently the donation was contingent on a “significant capital market event”, that being $3.4 billion loan deal involving a large privately held company that provides software and services to car dealers. When the deal did not happen the gift that was promised, faded away.
The problem is, the College had made the gift public already. One lesson here is that perhaps it is better to hold off on making announcements on large gifts until they are actually in the bank. Of course we trust donors and their pledges, but often the financial markets rule, and those are things that cannot be trusted. I wonder if someone at the College lobbied to not announce it, and was overruled by a higher up?
Now if we look at this story through the lens of ‘no such thing as bad publicity’, type “$250Million dollar gift” into Google and you’ll see page after page of mentions of this situation. Perhaps some people will now hear of Centre College’s shortfall of $250M and give. On the other hand, there may be existing or potential donors that, upon hearing this story, will be aghast at the lapse in judgment, and turn away from supporting the College.
Like any good fundraiser, lets now look at this through the lens of opportunity. Centre College now has the chance to publicly admit they jumped the gun on the gift announcement and make a case for why the College is worth supporting. Admitting mistakes can deepen a relationship.
It would be interesting to follow up with the College a year from now to see if their fortunes have improved after this incident. If they have – bravo, but I certainly don’t recommend this strategy!
Trevor Zimmer, CFRE, is a senior staff member in Major Gifts at the Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation. He will be presenting the Case Study “How Humewood House Proved Their Worth with Social Return on Investment” at Congress 2013 in Toronto. Trevor teaches fundraising at George Brown College and plays a sport you may never have heard of. Feel free to ask him about it and follow him on twitter at https://twitter.com/TrevZimmer.