Best Practices

What it takes to raise a $50 million gift?

What it takes to raise a $50 million gift?




August 22, 2022

Last modified: 

August 22, 2022

Major gifts can be real game changers for any institution. We’ve heard the stories of how alumni or donors made a major gift, which led to the creation of something marvelous for the institution. However, not many recognize the effort and time it took for the team to cultivate such a generous amount.

To understand one such incredible journey, from a student to a major alumni donor, we spoke to Adam Platzer, the AVP for college advancement at Rochester Institute of Technology. Adam developed, cultivated, and closed a $50 million gift – in collaboration with university leadership – delivering the largest philanthropic donation in RIT’s history!

Advancement playbook

📖The Story Behind the $50 Million Gift

Here's some quick context before we dive into the story: RIT is one of the finest institutions in upstate New York with a focus on technology, computing, design, and art. Furthermore, it promotes entrepreneurship and innovation.

It all started when Adam's career services team introduced him to Mr. X, a young RIT alumnus, who never really focused on academics when he was in college but always had a true entrepreneurial spirit. He’d started his own tech company upon graduating.

⏩Fast forward a few years, he was visiting RIT to recruit interns for his company. After a brief introduction, the team at RIT took a two-pronged approach by tapping into his passion and supporting his professional work.

A Step-by-Step Engagement Plan

Here are multiple ways in which they meaningfully engaged Mr. X -

  1. Invited him as the keynote speaker for an entrepreneurial conference at the university.
  2. The alumni relations team invited him for Homecoming events.
  3. They held recruiting events where his company could meet students and potentially hire.
  4. Got him onboard to mentor businesses under RIT’s entrepreneurship program.
  5. His company would sponsor hackathons and he would personally travel there to work with the students as a mentor.
  6. The Engineering School at RIT offered complete assistance using their lab to test his products.
  7. The Government Community Relations team assisted him in opening an office in Rochester, which facilitated more recruitment from RIT. This eventually become one of their larger offices.
  8. The team would host exclusive luncheons for RIT alumni at this office. In order to converse with them and provide updates on what the university is doing, they would also be accompanied by the president and a faculty member.
  9. He was also appointed as a member of the Board of Trustees, where he actively participated by offering ideas and inputs.
  10. The president developed a remarkable friendship with him. Small actions like writing him a personalized email and being resourceful helped the relationship go a long way.
  11. He was invited as the commencement speaker once.

Give value before you seek value.

All this value-driven engagement, coupled with the amazing relationship the entire team built with him, eventually helped them make an ask.

When he sold his company, he was more than happy to give 10% of the value of his company — a whopping $50 Million!

This enormous amount went towards developing the Global Cybersecurity Institute and professorships at RIT, and the construction of the Students Hall for Exploration and Development (SHED).

The generous and humble person he is, Mr. X didn’t want anything named after him, but rather after his elementary school teachers who played an integral role in shaping his initial years. A dream donor indeed!

In retrospect, this wouldn’t have been possible if not for the various teams across functions - from Career services to University leadership, collaborating to engage with him meaningfully.

Key takeaways from the session💡

A major gift is a long-term game — it’s not possible to engage everyone. It’s important to focus on the top 20% of the donors and design a plan to meaningfully engage with them with the help of various departments across the advancement office.

Meaningful engagement can begin by tapping into a prospective donor’s passions and being resourceful. Help them further their career and pursue their passions in any way possible. Plan your programming around the top 20% — you could invite them as speakers, help them recruit, make them an active member of the board or do anything that would be of value to them.

“We play a small role in the donor’s lives, so it’s important to be lightning fast with your response.”

Want to become an efficient Major Gift Fundraiser?

Here’s an action plan that Adam has drafted which you can start implementing right away!

About the speaker

Adam Platzer, the AVP for college advancement at RIT **is an experienced university fundraiser who has secured transformational funding from alumni, corporations, and parents. Adam has traveled extensively throughout the country with the president, deans, and VP of Student Affairs. He specializes in developing creative engagement strategies that are matched with targeted solicitations – leading to maximum gift potential. He also started Forward Fundraisers in 2018.

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