William Whipple was a highly regarded philanthropist in his community—so much so that others came to him seeking advice on how they should approach their philanthropy. The businessman and his wife made numerous significant contributions to their alma mater and other community institutions. Additionally, Whipple supported scores of other organizations through the community foundation, where he served as director, president, and chairman. Whipple died in 2014 at age 96.
The following excerpt from an interview with William Whipple provides insight into how donors view philanthropy and the development process.
Q: There are a lot of people who have amassed a certain amount of wealth and never feel the need to give back. What do you think it was that made it different for you?
A: Gayle and I were grateful for our experience at the college, to begin with. We were pretty conservative in our lifestyle—didn’t yearn for the biggest house or the most expensive car—and we figured that if we had extra earnings we could use, we would like to make some small mark in a town that we both love very much.
I never quite understood those people who had denied themselves the pleasure of giving and philanthropy, who build these very large homes and live on a very high scale, but don’t do anything for anybody. I think that they’re missing a great joy in living.
Q: Tell me about the occasion when you and your wife really had a very special mountaintop moment as a result of your giving.
A: The original large gift that we gave was when we funded the chair at the college. It was a stretch for us. But it was something that we always had wanted to do. And because of the size of our funds, we had to do it on kind of an installment plan. But we really felt a first-class achievement in being able to make sure that one professor was funded, and would be there because of our efforts. It gave us the greatest pleasure, I think, of the gifts that we have made to the school.
Q: What do you think it is that creates the need to give or a desire to be philanthropic?
A: Repaying is just one of the motivating factors that I had when I started out on philanthropy. That repaying is kind of selfish satisfaction. Interest in the organization and in the city are really more important motivating factors. Repaying blossomed into support for a good many things in which we have an interest. It needs a good intermediary, a good fundraiser, who can open the doors of these opportunities, and can show the possibilities of what can happen in gifting.
Q: You get solicited for a lot of gifts, both from the foundation and personally. What do you think makes a great fundraiser?
A: I think a great fundraiser is somebody who, from the impression that he gives, obviously is sincere about what he’s doing, and he exudes that confidence and that knowledge. You have a feeling that here’s a fellow that likes the project he’s working on, and he’s sincere about it, and he demands attention.
A great money raiser, I think, has to be well prepared. He ought to be in the position to be able to answer almost every important question about the project he’s trying to promote. And finally, I think that a great money raiser probably ought to be very adaptable to almost a kaleidoscopic change in situations, both as to the person that he’s talking to and maybe the situation that is involved in the project. A great money raiser will adapt quickly to those changes, whereas an average money raiser will not see that and will pass up a significant opportunity.
Q: What else makes an average fundraiser?
A: Some of the people that come to see me from time to time are what I like to call “professional money-slingers.” They start off very rapidly, giving their case. They don’t allow any time for a colloquy between themselves and the donor. You know, there’s a time when a sale is made and some people don’t know it. Some of those fellas who are so vocal go right past that period and never realize that they had a sale.
Q: So, would you say some fundraisers are so focused on the presentation that they really don’t take the time to listen or really understand your interest?
A: Oh, yes. That’s very true. So many of them just start out on their rote. I don’t know whether it’s a prepared statement or whatever it is. It’s kind of like a machine gun presentation. And there’s no colloquy at all. You don’t allow the donor to even get a word in edgewise. Terrible mistake, because when the donor asks questions, you begin to know that he has an interest. But if he has no chance to do it, that opportunity just passes by. And I’ve seen it happen.
Q: Can you talk a little about stewardship?
A: This is an amazing phenomenon, one that I just cannot understand: When we make a gift to an organization, we send along what we call an agreement of donee; it’s kind of a semi-contract between our foundation and the donee. You would not believe this, but in a great percentage of cases, I mean cases where we give thousands of dollars, all we ever get in return is a signed agreement of donee, and never a word of thanks, which to me is just incredible. And it does make a difference. It’s just a sad effect that I can’t believe, really.
Take a moment to ask yourself: Are you truly listening to your donors and opening the doors to philanthropic opportunities they would find truly meaningful? And when donors make contributions, are you creating a Return on Philanthropic Investment that inspires future contributions?