Start With Why: Why Should They Give Us Any Money?

Christina Balotescu

March 25, 2013

Many hands together with a heart painted on them, implying generosity

This guest post comes from Richard T Vail, a fundraising consultant who has provided counsel to several top schools including the University of Colorado Foundation and Health Sciences Center, the Miller Center for Public Affairs at the University of Virginia and the University of Vermont, College of Medicine.

Several years ago while being interviewed by one of my early clients the questions was asked “Now that we have hired you, what is it you want us to do?”

I had not done my homework and the question caught me totally off guard.  Fortunately, what occurred to me was the question, “Tell me why I should give you any money”?  My three interviewers looked at each other and responded, “He is right, why should he give us any money?”

It was clear to them that they needed to address the issue of their value as an institution to the many constituencies that they served.  The leadership of the institution took ownership in identifying and describing institutional value as their first and most important step.  And it should be the first step for any enterprise, let alone an institution that depends on philanthropy.

Over the years my appreciation for the impact of this very early conversation has grown significantly.  Without a true understanding and appreciation for the value the people of the institution provide to those they serve, it is difficult to develop the enthusiasm required to get financial support that will advance the worth of the enterprise.

Experience has taught me that institutional leadership will often pass over this crucial step.  It takes time and requires the engagement of all those people that really represent the enterprise.  

The value of your institution is not a given.  There are lots of places and causes for people to support.  It is important for the leadership of an institution to differentiate their institution from others.

To help you appreciate of the importance of this essential first step, you might consider viewing a presentation by Simon Sinek where he refers to his “Golden Circle.”  The web site is

Richard T. Vail Associates is a full-service fundraising consulting firm assisting the senior management of leading educational, research and health care institutions throughout the United States. Richard can be reached via email at or at (434) 979-1038.

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