Do you remember John A. Paulson? He gifted Harvard University US$400M for its engineering school, two years ago. I draw attention to his gift based solely on its astronomical size. “An historic act of generosity” is the way Harvard described its largest-ever gift, at the time.
Do you remember Marilyn Beaudry-Corbett? She gifted the University of Southern California (USC) US$4M to support mature female MBA students, two months ago. Called “visionary and courageous,” her gift happened to squeak in to my media monitoring of gifts at the million-dollar mark (and above) across North America.
John and Marilyn share a couple of commonalities. Both are intelligent investors who chose philanthropy to do some good. Both John and Marilyn value education and seek to increase access to it, as their giving clearly demonstrates.
Both John and Marilyn attended Harvard’s business school. During Marilyn’s time, however, Harvard did not allow women on its campus, so she went to nearby Radcliffe College to attend the Harvard-Radcliffe School of Business Administration. (I suppose Harvard professors agreed to teach the women only if they stayed in their place.)
I guess that’s where the similarities between John Paulson and Marilyn Beaudry-Corbett end. Also, I’m guessing that you’ve never heard of Marilyn until just now, unless you meticulously monitor media for mega gifts. Her smaller donation may not have registered in the kind of way his larger one did. As gifts grow in size, are the smaller gifts – you know, the $4M ones – merely philanthropic rubble under $40M and $400M rocks? Are we increasingly desensitized to all the great big giving going on out there?
I think prospect development professionals are particularly prone to this phenomenon of “donation desensitization” since we study such giving so closely. We suffer from repeated exposure to transformational philanthropy!
Think about this: we’re trained to look for financial indicators first and foremost – the more, the better. The higher, even greater. Capacity of major gift donors and prospects is growing by extreme proportions. (Millionaires are OK, but billionaires are better.) Take a look at the #prospectresearch hashtag on Twitter, where you’ll find the latest news about sky-high luxury real estate in NYC (pun intended) or the growing number of gazillionaires on the latest Forbes list.
Are mid-level million-dollar donors – in the $1M to $10M range – even worth a prospect researcher’s attention now? This working-class prospect researcher hopes so. I’m trying not to perpetuate “donation desensitization.” For example, when a $40,000 gift comes in to my organization, I take the time to congratulate the frontline fundraiser who secured that donor’s generosity. I want to know more about who that donor is and what prompted her or his act of giving; trying hard not to take such a gift for granted.
We would likely pay more attention to women’s philanthropy if we face “donation desensitization” straight on. Women give big, but perhaps not quite at the $400M level yet. Watch power women like Mellody Hobson and Sheryl Sandberg patiently, as they are just starting to set inspirational examples on their respective philanthropic journeys.
Her giving deserves eternal accolades, too. Perhaps she initially gave more of her time and then her talent; eventually her treasure? Even if she left a gift in her will that was realized only upon her death. Or maybe her outright donation didn’t crack the mega-million dollar mark? Is her philanthropy somehow less transformational? I say she deserves acknowledgement still.
Please refer to a new kind of donor roll: [*drum roll*] Donations at the Diva Level. It’s a short summary of major gifts made by women, sometimes specifically for women’s causes, that managed to make the headlines (and their way into my media monitor).
Bookmark Donations at the Diva Level Page HERE
These women made gifts at the million-dollar+ level to organizations of their endearment in recent memory. This is my little way of celebrating their philanthropy, by sharing with you, dear readers, the positive emotional responses their gifts continue to elicit from me.
Care to comment? Tell me about a woman at your organization who has quietly gone about giving her time, talent and treasure with little fanfare. I would love to add her generosity to this list. Let’s celebrate her altruistic and courageous acts together, shall we?