In today’s episode, Lindsay Simonds chats with Debbie Toth and Hank Delevati on how to refine a case for support, activate best practices for capital campaign engagement, consider how to cultivate potential prospective donors, and learn about foundation giving at large.

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A working meeting on best practices for prospective donor cultivation.

“Before you hit anybody up for the ask, get to know them and what their life experiences with mom and dad are. Help them focus on the experiences they've had with the elderly and that you have some solutions to a great deal of that.” Click To Tweet

What would it be like to be a fly on the wall as a nationally recognized, 9-figure donor talks to an executive director about giving motivations and priorities? This episode does just that (with consent and some gentle guidance from yours truly, of course.) Our goal in this episode was to make it a working meeting – and to share it with you! We talked about how to refine a case for support, activate best practices for capital campaign engagement, consider how to cultivate potential prospective donors, and learn about foundation giving at large – especially during a spend-down. 

Our guests today are Debbie Toth the Executive Director of Choice in Aging and Hank Delevati the Board Member of Twanda Foundation (former board member of the Thomas J. Long Foundation – which spent down funding of over $100M to hundreds of recipients. Read more about them here.)

Key Takeaways: 

11:11 – Anticipating funder questions: How people decide where to give and how to get them to share your passions. 

21:09 – Connecting through human experience: Getting donors to understand and appreciate the least tangible parts of your programs. 

30:14 – What is Choice in Aging: Their work, community, programs, and mission serving frail elders.

34:33 – Spending more than the required 5% of a foundation: Hank’s experience spending down the foundation of the Thomas J. Long Foundation.

39:04 – Being a passionate, inspiring, and compelling leader: Debbie’s work busting ageism and the plans to replicate the Choice in Aging model.

Notes and tips from this conversation:

Some things to bear in mind for a more empathetic ask:

  • Cultivate the relationship: Warm up to the conversation through social gatherings and getting to know each other.
  • Show something tangible: Showing a drawing, a video, or a brochure can help your plans feel more tangible and motivate people to help you make that specific goal a reality. 
  • Who else is giving?: One motivator for donors is to see who else has already given to your organization. If others who they respect trust you, they probably will trust you as well.  
  • Tell them about your progress: Show people your advances and near-term plans. Some donors feel compelled to give if they feel like their money will actually push the project forward.  
  • Figure out what they are willing to give: Maybe donors are comfortable giving for some areas and not for others. Listen to them and try to match your needs with their contribution. 
  • Connect through human experience: Get people to talk about their personal experience with the issues your organization works with. Empathy will help donors understand the importance of your work and the scope of resources needed.

Debbie’s Bio

​​Debbie fell in love with the aging population in high school while working at the Motion Picture and Television Fund’s independent senior housing, The Country House. Once enrolled at the University of California Irvine, she commuted back on weekends to work there, until she graduated from college and moved to Hungary for a few years. Debbie was pursuing a career in financial services, but missed her work and love for the elderly.

Debbie joined the Choice in Aging team in 2002 and worked in various positions until she was promoted in 2012 to CEO, and then elected to the Board of Directors and became President in 2017. Debbie oversees CiA’s two adult day health care programs at Mt. Diablo Center in Pleasant Hill and The Bedford Center in Antioch, as well as advocating for seniors rights at the federal, state, and local level. Under Debbie’s leadership CiA has expanded to include the Multipurpose Senior Services Program (MSSP) for Contra Costa, Napa and Solano Counties, the California Community Transitions (CCT) project in Contra Costa, Solano and Sacramento Counties, and the Prevention and Early Access Program for Seniors (PEAS) in Solano. In 2017 Debbie realized her dream of adding intergenerational programming to CiA when Choice in Learning Montessori preschool was integrated into the Pleasant Hill Campus. Debbie has been honored with numerous awards for her work and advocacy, including Woman of the Year in 2015 in Susan Bonilla’s Assembly District 14. Debbie is the mother of three children, grandmother of three cats and a slave to two fishermen at home. She is a tireless advocate for seniors, persons with disabilities, and the underserved.

Hank’s Bio

After a 40-year career in Silicon Valley, Hank Delevati joined the Thomas J Long Foundation as a Trustee and later became Vice Chairman.  During the twelve years on the foundation board, Hank regularly attended all Trustee meetings and also became the chair of the investment committee.  The foundation usually granted about 200 grants per quarter ranging from $25,000 to $100,000.  But in 2012, Hank led the board to strategically grant larger, but fewer grants striving for great impact per grant.  This process was extremely successful and helped the foundation towards the spend-down of the foundation.  During the last 5 years of the foundation’s existence, we granted $79M to about 60 non-profits.

Connect with Debbie

through LinkedIn

Connect with Hank

through email

Episode Resources

Choice in Aging

Twanda Foundation

Thomas J. Long Foundation

Thomas J. Long Foundation spend down info

Las Trampas