Oct 2, 2013 View All News

Perfecting the Pitch


Reynold Levy, who as President of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts has generated more than $1.3 billion for his institution, rallied not-for-profit executives to “pick up the pace and multiply the asks” as part of his principles for successful fundraising. His remarks were delivered at the fifth annual Summit on Philanthropy, hosted at NJPAC by the New Jersey and New York City chapters of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) on Sept. 25 for senior non-profit leaders, trustees and senior fundraising executives.

In a keynote talk peppered with humor and challenges to more than 130 attendees, Levy described potential donors as individuals of achievement who are motivated by social consciousness. In part, the cause of non-profits is to guide a giver’s path to self-realization by providing a worthy cause to support. “You are not asking them for something; you are giving them something,” he said.

“If you give a substantial gift at Lincoln Center,” he continued, “we promise you a better night’s sleep, a longer life and an unobstructed pathway to heaven. If the gift is large enough: aisle seats.”

The AFP, which has an international membership of 33,000 and 235 chapters, sets the standard for ethical, professional fundraising. Its long-standing relationship with NJPAC was fostered by Peter Hansen, NJPAC’s Vice President for Development, who is also Vice President of Membership Services for the AFP’s New Jersey Chapter.

“The summit was developed by the New Jersey and New York City chapters in response to the financial crisis,” Hansen said. “Because NJPAC is also a forum for insightful thought and conversation, we are pleased to be a co-creator and host of the AFP Summit.”

In his welcome speech, NJPAC President and CEO John Schreiber recalled encountering a visibly disgruntled Levy at their first morning meeting. “Ren said, ‘I’ve been up since 4am and I haven’t raised a dime,’” Schreiber quipped.

Levy believes the best fundraisers see everyone as a potential donor and philanthropists see giving as an act of citizenship. “Charitable gifts are colored red, white and blue – they’re quintessentially American.”

Levy, who ends his 12-year tenure with Lincoln Center when Jed Bernstein takes the helm in January, also recommended that organizations build a robust board with deeply committed members of many talents and learn to “fall in love with rejection.”

“You need resilience and you have to know that the people who say no really don’t mean it,” he elaborated. “They mean you came at the wrong time. Come back – that’s what they really mean.”

Levy noted that the culture of an organization should be one of pride and capsulized his strategy in two words: “Ask well.”

“Arrange for an already committed social or professional peer to accompany you in asking unhesitatingly for a specific sum from a well-qualified prospect. A prospect who respects the solicitor. And then wait for an answer… Just wait patiently.”

The keynote speech was followed by a panel discussion moderated by Holly Hall, Features Editor of The Chronicle of Philanthropy. Participants included Martin Edlund, founding member and CEO of Malaria No More; Laurence Jahns, Senior Vice President, Advancement, for the Robin Hood Foundation; and Louisa G. Ritter, President of Goldman Sachs Gives. Among the topics were attracting and retaining new donors, generational trends in philanthropy, and expectations for accountability by younger philanthropists.

Also taking turns at the podium during the summit were Michael J. Baker and Stephanie Thomas, Presidents, respectively, of the New Jersey and New York City chapters of AFP.

Oct. 2, 2013