A Fundraising Story for the Ages: Boozing It Up in Ski Country

Published on May 23, 2019

Brian Saber

President of Asking Matters
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As I reflect back on 35 years of fundraising there are, of course, countless stories. This one always gives me a chuckle.

Back when I was in charge of fundraising for Brandeis University in the Midwest, there was a very dear, loyal donor to the university to whom I had presented a six-figure proposal. However, the donor, who was getting on in years, had relinquished much of her philanthropic decision making to her son and told me he would make the final decision.

The challenge was geographic, as her son lived in the mountains of Colorado and wasn’t expected to visit his mother anytime soon. I could have waited for his visit, but I sensed it was important to close this gift sooner.

When I spoke with the son, he was hesitant to have me trek all the way out there just to see him, so I told him I would try to set up a series of appointments in the area. He said if I got other appointments he’d gladly see me.

After failing to get other appointments I was left in a quandary. While I was happy to make the trip just to see him, he wouldn’t be happy for him to be my only visit. So, I told a white lie. I did. I told him I had other appointments!

Fast forward to the visit. I was expected at his home at 11am after which we would set off to his club for lunch. In blizzard-like conditions I drove through the mountains to his home. Upon arrival, he offered me a Bloody Mary. Now I’m not much of a drinker, and avoided drinking on the job because I was such a lightweight. But I always acquiesced to donors, and so I accepted this drink…on an empty stomach. The buzz was immediate.

About twenty minutes into our meeting, after chatting socially, he said, “you know what, let’s just take care of our business and you can be on your way to your next appointment.”

Oh no! Of course, I had nowhere to be, though I couldn’t tell him that. And fifteen minutes later, there I was back in my car – with a bit of a buzz and a six-figure commitment – heading out into the storm.

I slowly wound my way down the mountain and found the nearest restaurant, where I sobered up over a burger and fries and chuckled, knowing this was one of those fundraising stories I’d be telling for years.


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