Don Morris
Don Morris

First You Have to Ask . . .

by Donald J. Morris


From the Editor: Don Morris serves as President of the NFB's Merchants Division. He is a longtime leader of the Federation and a businessman with a flare for selling. In recent months he has been helping with our capital campaign. His experience is instructive and should encourage us all as we invite others to help change what it means to be blind.

If the program was "Jeopardy," "First you have to ask" would be the answer. The appropriate question with which to respond is, "What is required to achieve a successful Capital Campaign request?"

One of the challenges Dr. Jernigan left us is acquiring the funding to build the National Research and Training Institute for the Blind, which he designed before his death. To accomplish this goal, we will need to raise eighteen million dollars. In one bite that goal seems almost unattainable; however, we don't have to do it all in one bite.

Many corporate givers plan their charitable gifts over a number of years. By this means they can give very substantial gifts. We have learned that even those of us whose means are more modest can make significant gifts by spreading them over a period of five years. We are asking our members and friends to join us in a five-year pledge to help achieve this objective.

As a Capital Campaign volunteer and as the president of the NFB Merchants Division, I have had the chance to work with several blind vendors in arranging for their participation in the Capital Campaign. We achieved the first goal set for blind vendors fairly early on with participation by only a limited number of vendors. Therefore the Vendor Goal has now been doubled, and I believe we will meet and perhaps exceed that target.

To begin with, it is important to know the essentials of our project: a five-story building (170,000 square feet) attached to the National Center for the Blind. It includes a research library, technology training labs, classrooms, a distance-learning center, an adaptive-technology development center, and office and flexible meeting space. The goal is to raise the needed funds by summer 2001 and to complete the project in 2003.

Through the facilities of the NRTIB, modern technology will provide learning opportunities to blind children, adults, and seniors. We estimate that more than a half-million blind people will be influenced by this new learning technology within the first ten years of the Institute's operation. The NRTIB will not provide larger and fancier offices for existing programs. All of these programs will be an extension into new areas of research and training.

But first you have to ask. . .

I saw our current building before it became the National Center for the Blind. My imagination was not adequate to foresee the day when the NFB could possibly use that much space. Fortunately Dr. Jernigan had the vision to know that opportunities were abundant if we only had the ability to seize them. He declared that the day would come when, even though we used our space at 1800 Johnson Street prudently, we would need still more. I personally was content to accept the idea that we would need the new space simply because Dr. Jernigan had said we would, and in fact our existing building is now full to the brim. However, as I have heard more details about the plans for the NFB's future growth and expanded services to blind people, I am becoming really excited about the potential and possibilities that lie ahead of us.

If you are a Capital Campaign volunteer, I invite you to adapt the letter I wrote to a number of vendors and send it to your colleagues and friends. Ron Gardner wrote a letter to members of the lawyers division which gave me an idea for the following letter. Vendor response has been very encouraging. Five-year gifts from blind vendors range from $1,000 to $100,000. The task of gathering the gifts we need is not difficult, but first you have to ask.

Blind Vendor

Xx Street

City, State Zip