Fundraising Wisdom From a Woman With Heart

6039 Miller-Dwan Solvey House Donor Wall

Pat burnsDuring an interview with our writer/researcher, a delightful client of ours, Pat Burns, president of the Miller-Dwan Foundation, had some compelling things to say about philanthropy and how she works with her Donors. Her insights are both wise and touching, and I want to share them with you.  (The photos accompanying this blog are from the Donor Art Glass projects we did for Pat at Solvey Hospice House and the Amberwing Center for children, teens, young adults and families struggling to cope with mental health and substance use. Both are located in Duluth, Minnesota.

What prompted you to choose an artist like Christina to do your Donor Recognition as opposed to one of the other Recognition companies?

There's a marked difference in the artistry. We felt the project demanded the ability to not just make an intellectual connection with people, it needed to make an emotional and spiritual connection. The engagement of donors in philanthropy is really one that comes from the heart, and unfortunately so many recognition systems come only from the head. They are only about, "Here's your name on the wall, isn't that wonderful, look at you, you did so much." They don't get what philanthropy is all about.

Philanthropy is really an act of love.
Love needs to be communicated with an emotional and spiritual underpinning. It needs to be recognized in a way that is loving and beautiful and reflects the greater part of us. It needs to be inspirational, to come from a place that isn't simply intellectual. Philanthropy isn't just from the mind, it isn't just about show, it's about a grander purpose. Christina as an artist has a way of expressing that grander purpose that exists behind the philanthropy.

Some folks dismiss philanthropists as people who just want big tax write offs.

What we are truly talking about is philanthropy is in its purest form — and when I am working with people, I don't want it to be about the tax benefit. My experience is that people want to be part of something bigger. They really want a deep engagement in things that they believe in. A simple name list doesn't convey that level of engagement. It doesn't go to a deeper belief system.

If donors are just doing it for tax purposes, our job is to remind them of the grandness of the act so that the next time they step forward to do it, they get this inner stirring that says, "This is really bigger than deductions, really a part of something bigger and more important. I am about changing the world."


The artistry in Christina's Donor Recognition elevates the philanthropic act and helps people really understand the grandness of it. That's where everybody else doing Recognition pales in comparison.

So there's a way in which you use Christina's recognition to teach people the real meaning of their gift. I bet they love that!

People are so moved, they cry in front of these Donor Walls. I'll tell you, after we did the first project with Christina's Donor Wall, it was a WHOLE lot easier to do the second one. People GET IT when you go out and talk with them about it -- especially the Donor Wall Christina did for Amberwing.

Campaign donor wall 1 at Amberwing

Our text was, "Love is a little word. People make it big." That's what it's about. They were very moved. And the design — it was a grand presentation of this universe that the Donors were having impact on. They become more important in the universe — and they ARE more important in the universe because they are doing something for hundreds of people who they don't really know, who they may never meet.

I think especially for the hospice project and the kids' mental health project we did, people were really engaged with their hearts in the giving. If I had done a dry and boring Donor Wall, they probably would have been fine with it because that's what they are used to seeing everywhere else. But because we did something different — something deeper — it elevated everything about the act of giving, it elevated everything the community had come together to do.

Photo 3
What's really cool is that the families who come in to use these facilities are inspired by these walls, especially the kids. Our kids' mental health project is using the Donor Walls now as part of their program. They have added a mindfulness piece to the program so that they go and stand before the Donor Wall with the universe and the dewdrops and the fish and the stars and everything.

Then they read through Maya Angelou's poem, they talk about the poem, they talk about having these people [the Donors] care so much about them that they created this facility where they [the kids] can come receive care.

Strong women
               strong men
          protect the children
                     tend the ailing,
               care for the aged
and in fact,
          the entire world. 
                                      —Maya Angelou

They look at the Donor names and the text and the facilitators use that to say to these children, "This is a part of healing because this community loves you." A bunch of names on the wall would never do that. I am deeply grateful that we have Christina's work here. To do anything less would be to diminish all the work that went into creating this facility.

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Thank you, Pat. It was an honor to be a part of your loving and healing mission.

Christina blue sig