The Phone Call That Was Not Returned

The recent book, Ray and Joan by Lisa Napoli, is subtitled, The Man Who Made The McDonald's Fortune And The Woman Who Gave It All Away. Ray Kroc's third wife Joan outlived him by nine years, and she proved to be one of the greatest female philanthropists of all time. 

A few years before she died Joan became acquainted with PBS and NPR. Although she counted Fred Rogers as a personal friend, up to that point, Joan was not a particular fan or patron. But a random contact changed all of that.

Joan had previously funded the construction of a hospice in San Diego. A grateful resident of that hospice penned a thank you to Joan prior to his death. Mrs. Kroc called to check on the resident--a Mr. Bergsma--and learned he had died. She did talk to his wife who just happened to do fundraising for the local PBS station. Stephanie Bergsma became friends with Joan and eventually passed her name onto national representatives of both PBS and NPR. 

What happened next is astounding. Napoli writes, "The PBS contacts never returned the calls, nor did they return separate inquiries from Joan's advisors. NPR's Kevin Close, on the other hand, leaped at the chance to meet her." After he impressed Joan at a meeting, she wrote a check for $500,000--only the third time the network had ever received a gift of that size from an individual.

Joan died of cancer in 2003 at the age of 75. After giving away millions during her lifetime to a variety of causes, gifts from her estate added up to an additional $2.7 billion. The largest gift was $1.5 billion to the Salvation Army. The second largest gift? $225 million to NPR. (The gift grew to $236 million before the funds were transferred.) 

Today when you hear the line on your NPR station, "a gift from the estate of Joan B. Kroc,"  they are referencing that gift from 13 years ago. There is a lesson there as well. Say thank you.

The local PBS affiliate received $5.0 million at Joan's death. The national organization received nothing. 

I am sure there is a logical explanation for why the national headquarters of PBS did not return the phone calls from representatives of the wealthiest woman in the United States, but I am having trouble imagining that scenario. 

$225 million vs. $0.

Sometimes in fundraising you simply get lucky. You just happen to make the right contact at the right time. Other times you make your own luck by working hard.

And then sometimes you simply return phone calls.