Will You Be There
When John Shamberg Calls?

Originally posted in 2010, this story has a timeless lesson for all fundraisers:

A big part of fundraising is showing up and being available. I learned this lesson on a very memorable New Year’s Eve, a very long time ago.

As an eager young fundraiser working for Washburn University, I didn’t know that it was unusual still to be at work in the evening of December 31st. But, there I was.

Earlier that year, a graduate of Washburn University School of Law told me he was going to give a gift of land to his synagogue, a private K-12 school and Washburn. John Shamberg, who has since passed away, made millions of dollars for institutions all over the world, and he wanted to give a significant gift to organizations he valued. His 40 acres of land on the outskirts of Kansas City were valued at $450,000, and his intention was to give $150,000 each to three organizations.

He’d left the task to the last day of the year, but now he was ready to make it happen.

He called the synagogue. No answer.

He called the K-12 school. No answer.

Then, he called Washburn and got me.

“Bob,” he said, “you just won the jackpot!”

I put down the phone and raced to his office. Paperwork needed to be filled out, but it was New Year’s Eve, so the Register of Deeds was closed. To make the transfer legal in the current year, we had to go physically to the property and literally claim it.

Our University Dean, Carl Monk, drove to Kansas City from Topeka and he, John and I met on the property at 119th and Blackbaud Road – a remote location at the time. We stood at the center of the land and John called out, as loudly as he could: “I declare that this property has been given by me, John Shamberg, to Washburn University School of Law and its Dean, Carl Monk.” Carl, then stepped to the same spot and announced, to no one in particular: “I, Carl Monk, Dean of the Washburn University School of Law, accept and receive this land on behalf of the School.”

We toasted with a glass of wine and went our separate ways.

Washburn held the land for many years after that, eventually selling it for $4 million.

Not a bad night’s work, as well as a priceless lesson. It was the first, but not the last time I made myself available for end-of-year gifts; a gift from a business owner who gave $47,000 in closely held stock; and Frank and Patsy’s $1 million fulfillment of a pledged gift.

So, ask yourself, if a donor phones your nonprofit on Dec. 31st will you be available to take the call?

Trust me, it will be wise and worth your while to answer!