Friday, August 5, 2016

Should Joe Donor Trust Us?

In the past, philanthropy was predicated on the not so average person, doing a not so average thing. Giving their money to people and trusting us with their investments. Many times, this was done in what I call blind faith. Meaning that the donor saw an organization doing good in the world, wanted to make a difference and gave fully and freely their assets. Nonprofits, or charities as they were called, were not as professionalized as they are now and weren't as big a part of the industrial complex as they are now, so what has changed? Should donors blindly trust nonprofits with their charitable giving? How do we define nonprofits a donor should trust and what constitutes a good charitable investment?

I often tell my clients that rather than tilting our programming to someone from a grey poupon ad, we should look to Joe/Jane Donor as the mainstream of our industry. Growing Joe/Jane Donor into a philanthropist is our joy and mission. But Joe/Jane Donor doesn't have a great deal of history giving, doesn't always know how a nonprofit works and lives in mainstream society. Here are some of the things Joe/Jane Donor sees about our industry:

In Search Of The Red Cross' $500 Million In Haiti Relief 

And the list goes on. This isn't just from our insider media, this is what the average donor hears about our industry in the mainstream media. Scandal sells.  Remember whenever money and people are involved there can be big trouble. Common sense doesn't always rule the day. There are far more nonprofits doing good in the world than those who stumble and fall. But Joe/Jane Donor doesn't hear about them in their daily work. Joe/Jane Donor doesn't have time to stop in the middle of being charitable and check Guidestar or Charity Navigator, both of which have their challenges in transparency as well. So what is our industry to do?

It is our responsibility and privilege to demonstrate impact to Joe/Jane Donor. It means we do the right thing every time. It means we balance acquisition and dollars with retention and donor love. For every negative story in the news we need to balance it with stories of what donors make possible in the world. It is our sacred compact with these generous folks, it is our duty and our responsibility. The way we talk about and to donors matters. We can't just fawn all over the top of our pyramid and ignore those trying to make a difference at other levels. We have to stop churning numbers and realize that behind every gift is a generous soul and when that generous soul is nurtured and grown and loved, there is no limit to their generosity. How do we as fundraising professionals carry the torch for these folks? How do we actively preserve donor trust and our responsibility to them? How do we fight the urge to do the easy or monetarily simple thing in order to focus on the RIGHT thing?

Generosity changes lives, it changes our own on a daily basis in this industry. They are wonderful human beings. Are we honoring this precious relationship the way we should? Or are we allowing the "job" to take over for the soul? 

I would love to hear your thoughts and hear what you are doing to hold the donor experience high and close to your organization. How are you fighting the good fight?






  1. Lynne, your words ring so true...thank you. Our greatest challenge is helping our leadership to understand the value of ALL donor relationships and the time it takes to properly cultivate and steward them. In this era of the mega gift, we are pressured with unrealistic goals being set and a very transactional mindset - not one of gratitude. The culture of philanthropy needs to reset itself and remember its about the donor. Its a slow and steep trajectory but we, as DR professionals must never give up on ensuring that our organizations are putting our donors first.

  2. These words especially resonated today:
    "... behind every gift is a generous soul and when that generous soul is nurtured and grown and loved, there is no limit to their generosity."
    A powerful reminder that mid-level donors must be nurtured. We need to step it up with reporting that better identifies who they are, so we can take steps to cultivate those relationships and nurture their generosity. Thanks Lynne!

  3. Donors should always be recognized as valued human beings and never as only a means to an end.

  4. Our client's work hard to call ALL donors within a week of processing their donations. The efforts have proven pricless. Not only is it the right thing to do, but the 300% increase in giving has demonstrated it has made the donors feel appreciated. Our ministry related organizations are offering prayer, which becomes an extention of their community imapct.