Seeking Gifts From Wealthy Donors: Tips From Philanthropy Advisers
Know the donor’s major interests. Richard Driehaus,
a Chicago investor, likes to help organizations get
started, says Sunny Fischer, who heads his founda-
tion. “At first our role may be helping find other grants
and giving advice and planning.”
Look at how the donor’s business may overlap with
a charity’s mission. Christine Taylor, who advises the
billionaire Ronald O. Perelman on his philanthropy,
notes that her boss gives to women’s health research
in part because he believes it helps the customers of
one of his companies, Revlon.
Secure an introduction from someone the donor
knows and trusts, suggests Ms. Taylor. That helps
guarantee a better hearing for a charity request.
Propose ways to collaborate and share expenses.
In tough economic times, a grant proposal will look
good if it can underscore ways to reduce duplication
of programs or administrative costs, says Margery Tabankin, who guides the philanthropy of Barbra Streisand, Steven Spielberg, and other wealthy donors. In
short, Ms. Tabankin says, “show you’re not wasting
money, and you’ll get money.”
Keep donors in the loop. Share both good and bad
news about the program the donor has supported.
“There is a power imbalance between the donor giving money and the one asking for it, but be real,”
says Ms. Tabankin. “Don’t just tell us where things
are working but when there are problems, too. In the
long run, it will make us trust the information we are
getting.” Such candor also helps cement a sense of
partnership, she says.
Take “no” for an answer. Ms. Fischer dislikes it when
charities insist on a meeting with Mr. Driehaus after she has turned them down at his request. As the
head of his foundation, it’s her job to deliver the bad
news. He probably knows the rejected grant request
well and is unlikely to reverse the decision.
Dr e Am Wor ks Pict u r es/unimeDiA/n e Wscom
Alex J. Berliner/AP imAges
Among the donors Margery Tabankin advises
are Steven Spielberg (top) and Barbra
Streisand (bottom right), who is supporting
the research of C. Noel Bairey Merz (left).
Don’t address requests for support generically. “A
lot of people send out mass ‘To Whom It May Concern,’ or ‘Dear Sir’ letters. Don’t do that,” Ms. Taylor
says. “If you can’t address a letter to Ronald by name
or to me, then I don’t think you have given enough
thought to what we do and what we are trying to do.”
Don’t copy others’ ideas. Ms. Tabankin reacts badly
when someone pitches an idea as brand new that
has already “been done in 17 cities.”
Don’t try to inflict guilt for turning down a proposal.
“People will call and say something like: ‘How can
you not be interested in these children?’” Ms. Fischer
says. Others will argue that the foundation has once
supported something quite similar to the rejected proposal. “Some just want to keep arguing,” she says.
Don’t be lazy about wooing donors. Some people will
approach Ms. Fischer at a civic or charitable event
and ask, “How do I build a relationship with you?”
Her take: “Well, you do it by doing it, and usually over
many years. You certainly don’t do it by attempting to
put the burden of making it happen on the other person.”
Don’t take rejection personally. “If I don’t think we
are going to be supporting somebody, I won’t take
a meeting,” Ms. Taylor says. “I don’t want to waste
anyone’s time.” Keep in mind that the next proposal
might be a better fit for the donor’s support.
After a Gift, Perelman’s Adviser Monitors Its Progress to Protect Donor’s ‘Brand’
ed aide because she knows the things
he cares about in an intuitive sense,”
Ms. Taylor says. She has tried to develop a similar “mind meld,” she says, with
For his part, the billionaire philanthropist says his adviser does know
his mind when it comes to charitable
causes. “After eight years of working
together, she instinctively knows what
new projects may be of interest to me
and understands what are the important measures of success with our major gifts,” Mr. Perelman wrote in an e-mail.
For her boss, Ms. Taylor says, the
bottom line is results. “When you give
away a large sum of money, it has to be
something you are enthusiastic about
and feel will generate a good outcome,”
she says. “Very successful businessmen
want a return on investment.”
Just the same, she says, he will take
a risk if the potential payoff could be
After seven years of working with
Mr. Perelman, Ms. Taylor knows that
he likes to make the critical difference,
not to be just another donor in a program that will happen with or without
“Ronald wants to know the face of
the person behind the program,” Ms.
Taylor says. He will give to an institution because of one doctor or a smart,
passionate scientist he believes in, she
says, even if success is something of a
Continued from Page 20
Over the years, for example, he has
supported the oncologist Dennis J.
Slamon’s research on breast cancer at
the University of California Los Angeles. (Because Mr. Perelman’s company owns Revlon, supporting women’s causes appeals to him, Ms. Taylor
Tending to Details
Despite the emphasis Ms. Taylor
places on personal connections, Mr.
Perelman’s giving isn’t entirely insular.
Ideas for major gifts can bloom in unexpected ways.
After Mr. Perelman saw the Nascar
driver Jeff Gordon talking on television
When contacts change at
nonprofits, “sometimes you
have to politely tell new
people that you have given
millions to the institution.”
about his foundation, which helps children facing cancer, he wanted to know
more. Ms. Taylor met with Mr. Gordon
to see what he does. She then conducted
research to see who else is tackling pediatric cancer and other serious childhood diseases. As a result, Mr. Perelman made a gift to Mr. Gordon’s foundation and is planning to work with
him on future projects, she says.
Mr. Perelman sometimes agrees to
give donations without Ms. Taylor’s ad-
vice, but she still plays a role in carry-
ing out his wishes.
She is approached so often by people
who know what she does that sometimes Ms. Taylor is herself treated as
if she were a billionaire. Sometimes approaching her pays off for those people,
as she becomes their link to her boss.
When an acquaintance asked her
if Mr. Perelman would buy a table at
a spring gala in 2009 for New York’s
Apollo Theater, she did the research,
then gave Mr. Perelman background
information on the group, including de-
tails on the theater foundation’s board
of directors. He loves music, knew the
chairman of the board, and wanted to
do more than buy a table.