The Big Fundraising Point

In the past week, Dr. Dre and music producer Jimmy Iovine donated $70 million dollars to USC.  The gift, according to USC publicists, is to create the USC Iovine and Young Academy for the Arts, Technology, and the Business of Innovation.  In the May 21st issue of the Los Angeles Times, Walter M. Kimbrough, President of Dillard University, while applauding the philanthropy, had issue with where the duo chose to make their gift.  His complaint is that USC has a large endowment and a low number of students who qualify for federal Pell grants, which are awarded to students from low-income families.  The gift, according to Mr. Kimbrough, should have gone to a university with a higher level of financial need and, specifically, to a historically black college.

And, while I think Mr. Kimbrough has some good points, I think he is missing the big point.

“What,” I would ask him, “did you do to reach out to Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine?  How did you make them feel part of your institution?  In what ways did you help them develop their vision and engage them so together you could create something that matters to them?”

Fundraising, we all know, is all about relationships.  It is not, largely, about being deserving.  Yes, when a crisis hits, many people step up to the plate and support relief operations, fund an individual’s medical disasters, and respond to something that is in their face right at this moment.
But great and big gifts take time.  They are not made on the spur of the moment.  Nor are they, typically, in response to an organization’s neediness.  People give because they believe that this gift to this organization will help them meet their dreams.  That’s as true for a $75 annual gift as it is for a $70 million major gift.

That means that organization’s—through staff and volunteer leadership—need to reach out and involve individuals in what they do.  They must engage these individuals in conversation to find out what that individual is most concerned about and how your organization can help them to address that concern.  In other words, what do they want to accomplish—and how does that fit with what you do?

Fit it must, or you will be engaging in mission creep.  But if that individual has been engaged with you and is now talking about a big donation to accomplish a big idea (and make no mistake, big gifts come about to accomplish big ideas), then odds are your goals and desires mesh.

Getting to those goals and desires takes reaching out and pulling in those who might have an interest in who you are and what you do.  It’s finding connections, and building bridges, and dreaming together what that special gift could mean.  It’s being deserving because you show how you can turn your donor’s dream to reality not by waiting for that donor to reach out to you and bestow a gift because you think you deserve it.


Janet Levine works with nonprofit and educational organizations, helping them to increase their fundraising capacity, build strong boards, and connect with their prospects and donors.  Learn more at  While there, sign up for the monthly newsletter.


About janetlevineconsulting

For over 20 years, Janet Levine has worked for and with nonprofit and educational organizations, helping to grow their advancement programs. Her consulting company, Janet Levine Consulting, serves a wide range of organizations from small, all-volunteer agencies to major national organizations. She regularly teaches courses in non-profit management, fundraising and grant development, both face-to-face and online at In addition to her nonprofit work, Janet brings years of experience as a business and sales manager in the for-profit sector. She has an MBA from the Graziadio School of Business at Pepperdine University.
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