A Master Class in Major Gift Fundraising - An Interview with Patrick Williams
In this episode, Andrew visits with Patrick Williams, Assistant Vice President for Academic Affairs at the Texas A&M Foundation. In the world of development and philanthropy, there are a handful of people who you know were just built to be amazing fundraisers. My guest today is without question, one of those people. From building long-lasting and meaningful relationships, to understanding the art & science of fundraising, to knowing what it takes to recruit, train and retain a passionate and effective workforce and to having the courage to ask for and secure multi-million dollar gifts, Patrick is amazing. This podcast episode is quite literally a master class in major gift fundraising and I know that you won’t walk away from this without a list of strategies for success.
Patrick is originally from small town Palestine, TX. He comes from a family of 14 kids and was a first generation college student to Texas A&M University.
In 2008/2009 he sold his financial planning business and entered the world of fundraising at the College of Agriculture as a Director of Development. He has continued to advance to Assistant Vice President for Academic Affairs who works directly with the Provost.
Texas A&M Foundation
Moving from what was thought a transactional business to what is relational. He wasn't sure if the College of Agriculture was the place for him as he didn't have a knowledge base of that field. In fact, he was the first African American male working in that position.
But what no one realized was that Patrick had an intimate connection with agriculture in that he knew about food insecurity. As one of 14 children in his family, he never knew his brother who died as an infant due to starvation. His family experienced great amounts of food insecurity in the home.
You have to have a passion and a connection to what you are asking people to invest in. The other pieces of development: Do you have the capacity to find a list or prospect a list. Do you have enough courage to find and do what you need to do to drive success?
The skill of leading conversation seems so simple but it is key in fundraising.
Listening to stories and conversation as well as sharing your own stories. You need to be able to share and connect. The prospective donor sees that you are willing to be open and vulnerable and that you are passionate about the project you're working on.
New Development Officers
What do I say as a young officer to Old Ags? How do I connect?
Alumni want to know that the experiences that they enjoyed are still making a difference. Listen. Follow-up on the topics that they bring up or questions they ask. "When someone says I'm from Muleshoe, TX. It's okay to ask where is Muleshoe and more questions about the town."
Don't get caught up in remembering all the statistics all in the first meeting. You can continue throughout the conversation as you realize what interests the donor.
You need to bring knowledge of the organization that is deeper than just the needs of the organization. What is the culture, where are the students coming from, what drives the participants to be involved, etc.
Go to the office on a Saturday and flip through the old files and enhance your knowledge of the organization.
Travel to Meet Donors
Plan to be flexible. Look 6-8 weeks out and begin planning your travel schedule. What region do you want to be in and plan anchor appointments. Someone who already has a connection to the organization. Know something about the individuals you are planning to visit. But don't know so much about them that it's scary!
Confirmations: In advance of the trip, a few days ahead call your prospects and confirm the appointment. Map out how you have the appointments set, you don't want to be 40-50 miles away from one to another in case your first appointment runs over time. Plan time in the evenings to capture your thoughts, sit down and record the important parts of conversations you had that day. Patrick used a recorder when he got in his car after a meeting. Plan time to work in addition to the meetings during the work trip.
If there was going to be a solicitation, talk it through with your colleague beforehand. "When I make this ask, say this question, we aren't going to say anything else until the donor speaks next." Make sure that you are on the same page. This is something that you might need to work on if it doesn't come naturally.
There is such an enormous marketable opportunity for fundraisers. Almost every corporation has attached a foundation which is supporting philanthropic kinds of efforts. We meander our way into the industry because there is so much opportunity. We retain members because they have a passionate connection to what the organization does. During the job search, look for the individual that has a true connection to the mission, to the work.
Bring fundraising into the core competencies of the organization. Make sure that the fundraiser is at the table of conversation and that they are seen as an advisor when making your list of needs. Being treated like a trusted partner in the organization will retain your people.
Father, Son, Spirit is community. Don't lose sight of the necessity for building community. It is innate in what we are as human beings, because we are built in the image of the Almighty who comes from community.
Diversity in the Development Community
A lot of the success is because of the individual development officer. We don't talk about philanthropy and development as a career opportunity. We need to create a professional community that talks about our work with a network that is really strong and really defined. It's conversation that must start happening in our communities. There are a lot of young African Americans who have the wherewithal and skillset to build relationships because that's what they do. If you are going to be successful in any career, you need to be able to build relationships and connection.
The church is so central and what better way to introduce development to the community.
- If you could fund-raise for any organization or cause at any time in history, what would it be?
- The UNCF, United Negro College Fund
- Martin Luther King, Jr.
- Yes. Have we found the sources and asked the right people, that's the question. None of our circumstances catch God by surprise. All the resources that we need are provided by Him we just need to ask.
- Be more diligent in your studies.
- Parents, Cheryl Ann Carol, Al Angel
- His big family and the people in it. It's the most diverse group he's ever been a part of. He is the 12th Man of his family!
If you would like to connect with Patrick, you can reach out to him at: [email protected]
Andrew's Key Take-Aways:
- If you are going to be successful in fundraising, more important than anything else is the absolute need to find a personal connection to the mission of your organization. Like Patrick’s story about losing his brother to hunger and how that gave him a deep and abiding passion for fundraising for the college of agriculture at a major university, it is critical for everyone to find their personal connection to the mission and be able to share that with donors and prospects alike.
- I loved Patrick’s line about “you don't have to unload the whole truck on the first visit. Make sure the individual will let you drive the truck to their house and unload it piece by piece.” This is a great line and a great analogy for the importance of taking your time to build meaningful bonds with your donors and not rush into the ask too quickly. I've said it before, but it is so important for you to be able to play the long game in development. People who have the patience and the foresight to do this make the best fundraisers in the world.
- What better setting and landscape for recruiting young professionals to the wonderful field of development than right there in our churches and faith communities. Virtually every faith community is supported almost exclusively through the generosity of donors, and that fact rarely occurs to anyone involved. So what better place to introduce anyone and everyone to the opportunity that a career in development offers than right in our very own churches.
These are just three of my takeaways, but like I said, this interview really is a master class in major gift fundraising. I hope that you were able to listen and absorb some of the wisdom that Patrick was sharing and that you will share this episode with someone in your life who is currently in fundraising or you think should be. If you have questions or want to connect, email Patrick, because he’s just such a great dude, or email me at [email protected].
Next time on the podcast, we will be talking with Matt Smith at the OSV Institute about the Innovation Challenge that is currently open for applications. That should be a great conversation about what they learned in their first ever Challenge and how their 2021 Challenge is going to be even better. So join us next time for that discussion. Until then, God bless you and your work.
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