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Posts Tagged ‘donors’

A reader recently gave a suggestion for a future post:  “Write about the importance of unrestricted giving to an organization you support, especially umbrella organizations such as __________ or a local United Way.” 

As one who is currently serving in leadership roles in two national organizations (including the _________ referred to above), the suggestion rings true.  Unrestricted gifts hold a special place in the hearts of executive directors everywhere for the obvious reason – they give the leadership the most flexibility to determine how the funds will be spent in the furtherance of their organization’s mission.  Donations with strings attached, restricting how or when funds can be expended, are also welcome and encouraged, and frankly are often the focus of major fundraising campaigns.  And certainly no development officer worth his or her salt would necessarily balk at a major gift just because the donor wants to limit the organization’s ability to “squander” the gift.  But human nature being what it is, the leaders of charitable institutions want to preserve their ability to guide the organization by using its assets free of encumbrances from the outside world, i.e. donors.  For organizations that operate efficiently and effectively, nothing could be better.

However….

For major donors, we are not talking about a mere two-way street here; we are talking about a major four lane highway.  These donors are increasingly demanding a say in how their funds are deployed to further the mission of the organizations they support – as they rightly should.  Unlike the fee for service or commodity mentality that pervades the for-profit world (if you can’t do the job I will take my business elsewhere), charities aspire to be something bigger than themselves, and donors look to satisfy their need to give back by aligning with those institutions that best mirror their personal world view. 

This may be hard to fathom if you are on the lower end of the giving spectrum.  I laughed out loud when I read a recent article by Gail Collins in the New York Times when she spoke of how unpopular Congress is right now and compared them to “…people who get students to call you up during dinner and ask you to give money to your old university.”  That about sums up the average casual donor’s feelings about the transactional approach to charitable giving.  The charities solicit, I say “no” (or “yes” if my guard is down) and the transaction is complete.  Fast, sterile, faintly cynical and not particularly satisfying.  Could you imagine soliciting, much less obtaining major gifts in this manner?

No, major gifts require far more finesse.  The very word “major” implies that the donor is not just giving money; s/he is investing in a cause.  And if s/he invests in a cause, s/he has the right (responsibility?) to monitor the use of those funds.  Charitable groups that get this right do far more than just solicit funds.  They go out of their way to properly steward the assets and report back to their donors about their progress.  They respect the wishes of their donors and develop relationships with them that often transcend the business at hand.  For the uninitiated, the attention lavished on a potential major donor may be cynically viewed as a slick sales job.  The fact is, if this is the potential donor’s visceral reaction to a particular organization’s development process, then perhaps that organization is not for them.

Charities do a lot of good in the world.  They need resources to do it.  Donors want to help but they also want to feel genuinely respected and yes, loved for what they bring to the table.  So here is the “major four lane highway” prescription –

(1)  For not-for-profit managers and boards of directors:  Never stop defining, evaluating, and communicating your vision/mission.  Be fully aware that you are the steward of your organization’s assets and it is your duty to ensure that adequate controls are in place to properly safeguard and expend those assets.  Realize that donors may place restrictions on their charitable dollars because they are not entirely comfortable that the leadership will always do the right thing.  You have to constantly work to earn and retain that trust.

 (2)  For donors:  Be vigilant in your oversight of the causes you support.  After all, you voluntarily fund them and they need to live up to your expectations.  On the other hand, when your organization performs at or above expectations, don’t be afraid to show a little appreciation – and don’t forget about unrestricted gifts.  Unrestricted gifts speak volumes to the leadership about the confidence that you place in them.

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