A Conversation With David Dunlop: Part II | Sharpe Group
Posted February 1st, 1998

A Conversation With David Dunlop: Part II

In the January issue of Give & Take, we brought you Part I of a conversation between Tim Sharpe and Cornell’s Dave Dunlop. Drawing on his nearly 40 years experience in fund raising with Cornell University, Mr. Dunlop shared his thoughts on his long tenure in development and his philosophy behind fund raising for charitable organizations. In this issue, we continue with Part II of this discussion in which Sharpe asks Mr. Dunlop to comment on the human nature involved in philanthropy, the “art” and “science” of major giving, and the challenges that the future holds for fundraisers.

Sharpe: Do you find in working with people that some are taught to give and others are not? To what extent can development officers teach donors and prospects to be charitable and to what extent is this behavior developed over a lifetime?

Dunlop:I don’t know whether I would call it “teaching” someone to be generous because it isn’t intellectual, it is more psychological. I don’t think we learn intellectually about being generous. We learn this through feeling, through experience, and through example. You might call it “inspiring” rather than teaching.

We humans desperately seek to be inspired. There are so many things in our lives that are mundane. Doing good can really make life grand and worth living. When people have a glimpse of those good things, whether it is seeing what others do or seeing what transforming effects their actions can have, it really does make a difference.

Sharpe: What is the biggest change in fund development you have seen over your long career?

Dunlop:When I became a development officer for Cornell in 1959, we were generalists. We all worked on the annual fund, on campaigns, on projects for different colleges within the institution, and on some planned giving here and there. The down side of that was that we didn’t have the depth of knowledge and experience that more sharply-focused specialists have now. But we did have an overview, and we had a sense of how the various aspects of what we were doing fit into the larger scheme of things.

I feel lucky to have entered into development work at my own alma mater as somewhat of a generalist, to have grown as Cornell fund raising has grown, and to have ended up specializing in one sector. I worry that some specialists do not look at all the other aspects of the work that contribute immensely to the end result.

Sharpe: We once worked together on creating a presentation called the “Art and Science of Major Giving.” You focused on the “art” of the human relationship and my brother, Robert, dealt with the “science” of the various gift planning tools. In your mind, how do these two dimensions interact best?

Dunlop:As we speak of the “art” and “science” of fund raising, it is important to note that the “art” is focused more on building the desire to give and that the “science” is focused more on the means of giving most efficiently. As someone whose focus has been more strongly on the art side, I want to acknowledge as emphatically as I can that the art and science of fund raising have to go together. Nobody should think that the art or the science is going to do it alone. Sometimes those individuals who help nurture the desire to make a major gift are different from those who help the giver make the gift most efficiently. But even the specialists must have a focus on the larger picture.

Suzy Mink, the former director of development at the National Cathedral in Washington, tells a story of when that structure was coming near to the close of its 87-year construction. When the bishop came by to inspect the progress, he approached two stone masons who were working. The bishop asked the first stone mason, “Son, what are you doing?” He replied, “I am taking off these chunks of stone from this side because of the weakness in the back of the stone.” The bishop asked the next stone mason, “Son, what are you doing?” The second stone mason said, “I’m building a cathedral.”

While they both had similar skills, the second stone mason brought a kind of vision to his work that the first stone mason lacked, even though the first mason was obviously highly skilled. I think there’s an analogy between the stone masons and those of us who work in fund raising.

Sharpe: What would you say are the primary reasons people make very large gifts?
Dunlop:First of all, I think people simply believe in doing good and believe in the mission of an organization. And when that mission becomes close or personal with them, they believe all the more.

Secondly, how an institution treats its friends has a lot to do with how they feel about giving to it. Making the largest gift of a lifetime is a very personal decision. When the giving becomes much more personal, then our treatment of each friend has to become personal. Unless we invite our friends to exercise all of their capacities (gifts of time and talent, and gifts of social, moral, political, spiritual, and intellectual support), we end up treating people as financial prospects only, which I believe is too one-dimensional.

Sharpe: I have heard you speak of the concept of a “flexible endowment.” How does this work and what are the benefits that you have seen?

Dunlop:Back in 1982 we began calling one of the ways we could provide maximum accommodations to our givers a “flexible endowment.” The core idea of a flexible endowment is that we would allow a friend who wants to make a major endowment gift to commit to a principal sum and then postpone transferring the assets that the endowment would require until it was truly convenient for the friend to give those assets. In the meantime, the friend agrees to provide annually the amount that Cornell would have had available to spend had the friend fully endowed the gift on day one. If the friend provides us the money that we would have had to spend, and then also agrees to adjust the principal sum for inflation, he or she has truly provided us with the equivalent of the cash the institution would have had to spend if the endowment had been in place at the start.

Sharpe: Is there some kind of contract regarding this flexible endowment or is there a possibility that the assets may not come to the institution for some reason or another?

Dunlop:That is a possibility, just as it is a possibility that a friend may make a pledge to a campaign which he or she cannot fulfill because of some unforeseen development. Some people may think it is unwise to enter into something like this and run the risk of never receiving the gift. At first glance that may seem like good thinking, but at second glance it isn’t. The alternative may be to lose more than just the gift.

I’d like to suggest that having people identify themselves early as generous givers has important benefits. By making a financial commitment that they fully intend to complete, they give a public signal of their generosity and their caring about the institution. To the people in the institution, what could be a clearer signal than to have somebody make a major gift and make it five, ten, or fifteen years sooner than would otherwise be possible? It puts the organization on notice that it has a job to do.*

Sharpe: What do you believe is the biggest challenge lying ahead in the new millennium?

Dunlop:I am excited about the challenges ahead and I would suggest that technology has a lot to do with how well we can conduct our business in the future. By that I do not mean just the technology to increase mass mailings or print pledge cards faster, but technology enabling us to communicate with one another.

As charitable organizations, and the fund raising for them, become larger, we need to communicate more with one another in several sectors. One is to communicate the needs of the institution. Large charitable institutions have so many aspects of their operations that are important that it is impossible for any one representative of the institution to know all that is necessary in order to be responsive to people’s interests.

Technology offers a way for institutions to put information on-line that will be accessible to colleagues on the outside. By simply plugging in a laptop, they can have at their fingertips information about particular projects, how much they will cost, where they are, the time schedule, the procedures, the personalities involved, the good that they will do for the world, the problems they are addressing, the fund sources, and more. The sharing of information with greater facility can revolutionize the effectiveness and efficiency of our work.

Sharpe: In this world of technology, we can rush our printing, rush our mailing, rush all sorts of things. But you can’t rush someone slowly learning and caring about your organization, can you?

Dunlop:You are absolutely right. Just like Stephen Covey’s “Law of the Farm,” the work of advancing our institutions, and building the sense of commitment of our friends, has to be done in season, just like a farmer plows, plants, fertilizes, and cultivates in season. Only in the right season do we harvest.

I don’t want that to imply that I don’t believe in asking. But how we ask, and when we ask, takes into account the longer term relationship, even when we’re asking for regular gifts or special gifts. The difference is in what we view as a “right” response. Our view of what is right must now take into account what is right for both the giver and the institution.

When friends turn us down, or give less than expected, it requires a good deal of energy and effort on our part to leave those friends feeling that they are still our friends and appreciated. We want them to feel that they are still a part of our family, and just because they couldn’t make the big gift now does not separate them from the group of people who care about the mission of the institution. That takes work. Sometimes it requires more work than the acceptance of a gift we were hoping for.

Sharpe: Are there intangible factors that you believe are at work in a successful development career?

Dunlop:I do believe there are some very important intangible factors. One factor is the genuineness with which we conduct the relationships on behalf of our institution. That genuineness depends on many things, the most important of which is having a kind and forgiving nature, which I spoke of before. (See Part Iof this interview in last month’s Give & Take.)

I think another intangible is the ability to have a view of the whole, even while we attend to assigned responsibilities that are more narrowly defined. This means that we interrupt those assigned responsibilities when we see there is a leak in the dike, so to speak, when we see that we can put our finger in and stop an impending flood, even though it isn’t in our job description.

There is one more intangible. Our society, in general, is short on respect. Not just respect for the givers and the volunteers, but respect for our colleagues. If we can heighten respect for one another, both within and outside the institution, I think a good thing will happen that will help fund raising, philanthropy, and our institutions. I would like to see our charitable organizations embody the kind of respect and culture that leaves not only our givers and volunteers, but also our co-workers, eager to return to working together with each other every day.

This enlightening conversation with Dave Dunlop continues in a special edition for our Web readers only. You will also find Part I of this interview in the January 1998 Web edition of Give & Take.

* For more comprehensive information on the flexible endowment at Cornell University, please see page 19 of the April 19, 1994 issue of The Chronicle of Philanthropy. The March 1998 issue of CASE Currents will also have more information about flexible endowments.

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