Last week, I had the great pleasure of having dinner with Scott, one of my oldest friends that I grew up with, and his lovely wife, Suzanne. We reminisced about our childhood, our friends in the neighborhood, and some of the crazy things we did when we were young. Sometimes I wonder how we survived our youth.
One of the topics that came up during our meal was the year we tried to make wine with the apples that grew on a tree in my yard. We crushed the fruit somehow, extracted the juice, and let it ferment a couple of weeks, then tried drinking it. All I can say is, it was awful. Obviously, it had not aged enough. We were young and did not know much about making wine.
Apparently, I was not the only winemaker in my family. When I was older, we found an old bottle of dandelion wine that my late grandfather made well before I was born. We never knew the exact year it was made, and my parents had no idea what it would be like. When my older brother got married, they opened the bottle at his rehearsal dinner to toast the impending nuptials. Although the thought of dandelion wine did not sound very good to me, it was amazingly good. The years had been kind to this intoxicating nectar.
In the late 1990s, I served on the Board for a social service agency in Northwest Portland, Oregon. We were preparing for an annual gala event, so I approached my friend, Scott Henry, whose family owns the Henry Estate Winery in the Umpqua Valley region in the southern part of the state for a donation of his family’s product, and he generously agreed to donate several cases of their Pinot Noir. He offered to have a local distributor send the wine to the organization, but I chose to drive down and pick it up myself so I could see the winery and learn more about it. Scott showed me the vineyard where the grapes were grown, the machinery that squeezed the juice from the fruit, how it was made, and the area where the wine was stored in great wooden casks, sometimes for years, before it was eventually bottled. It can be a long wait, but well worth it, once the wine is truly ready.
Building donor relationships, like wine making, takes hard work and time. You must cultivate them like a vintner does his vines in the fields. You must nurture them slowly and grow them with care and proper communication about the good work their support helps your organization do. If you rush them and ask for a gift they are not ready to give, you risk a bitter result that neither the donor nor your organization desires. But, if you wait until the relationship has matured and the donor is ready to give, your organization will be rewarded like the wine maker who let his nectar age for the right amount of time.