Celebrating the Gift Officer Who Turns Down a Gift

Six, seven, eight figures — or more! These are the gifts that often take the spotlight. These are the gifts that have become a rite of passage in university fundraising. Even job descriptions list “a history of closing gifts at or above [enter dollar amount].” But, today, I want to shift the conversation to celebrate any gift officer and advancement office with the discipline to walk away from gifts.

Donors usually come with a unique set of motivators and intentions. Identifying these motivations, developing relationships, and connecting the donor to their campus interests is the joy of our work. But what about the potential donor whose intentions are outside acceptable standards?

According to the most recent Inside Higher Ed Survey of College and University Presidents, over a third of presidents report turning down gifts because of strings attached. Sometimes there is just too big of a divide despite the best efforts to position a gift correctly. In those moments, we must celebrate any gift officer and advancement office with the discipline to walk away from significant dollars to protect the university.

As good stewards of an institution, we all seek to leave the program better than we found it. That can mean closing a multimillion-dollar naming opportunity, but it can also mean protecting the institution’s name. Amidst the immense pressure to meet campaign goals, gift officers must understand it is OK to walk away from gifts if they conflict with legal, institutional or industry standards.

A few thoughts to help change the conversation:

  1. Looking for a quality gift officer? Ask questions about closing big gifts but then consider asking about the gift they are most proud of walking away from.
  2. Mentor young development officers. Share articles or experiences that help develop decision-making skills in young development officers.
  3. Celebrate good decisions! Gifts that were walked away from may not make the metric tallies, but it can make a team meeting — just like the big gifts!

By Kevin Bauman, Director of Philanthropic Initiatives, Capture Higher Ed