The Rich Man and the Tanner

The fable goes where a rich man moved into a residence next door to a tanner. He complained to the tanner about the smell and spoke to him many times about this. The tanner always made excuses, promising to move. Eventually the rich man got used to the smell and made no more objections.

A successful major gift programme needs the backing of a culture of philanthropy within the organisation. This culture means that all departments and leadership understand and happily accept their role in the programme.

The major gift programme is like the rich man moving next to the tanner, the organisation. Staff and leaders are happy to have a programme and look forward to increased income but are not so prepared for the changes that are needed. The programme will raise issues and identify areas that need more detailed attention such as thanking processes, the case for support, future planning, project costing, accurate and timely feedback to donors and leaders carving out priority time for donors.

This is time consuming but SO necessary. It isn’t easy to introduce the culture of philanthropy and although staff and leadership see the need and believe it is good, often the concrete changes are thin on the ground. One way to help this is to form an internal stakeholder group to oversee the development and success of the programme in order that leaders have ownership and a vested interest in its success and are therefore willing to make changes.

There is more on this in Book 2:  Major Gifts Unwrapped  in Principles 17 and 18. 30 different aspects of the major gift programme are listed together with the programme crossover with each department. This may take years to achieve but don’t lose heart, having plotted your own table of programme tasks and where they cross with departments, set up a plan of action to agree the tasks one step at a time overseen by the stakeholder group. More on this at:

They main point is don’t give up and certainly do keep working towards this all important culture of philanthropy. The departments and leadership may keep making excuses as change can be time consuming but don’t be like the rich man in the story and slowly accept the status quo believing that things can’t change. A major gift programme has to be fast moving and able to respond quickly to the needs of donors. Without a culture of philanthropy it can be sluggish and uncaring towards even its prize donors. Keep going, you’ll get there!

Ruth is the principal and founder of Ascent Philanthropy, author of two books and passionate about helping non-profits with their major gift programmes by offering advice for introducing a new major gift programme or enhancing the productivity of the philanthropy team

1 Comment on “The Rich Man and the Tanner

  1. Hi Ruth,
    Thank you for your e mail & blog .
    We haven’t actually met, I heard of you via your husband, when he was doing some IT refresher training with me .
    I thought the blog was very interesting.Do please include me in any future posts .
    Thank you .kind regards , Fiona .

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