Unexpected Gifts: Best Practices for Managing the Aftermath
Circumstances such as natural disasters, sudden public acclaim or an unexpected large bequest can thrust your organization into the spotlight, heightening public awareness and, perhaps, resulting in an extraordinary number of gifts from new donors. As terrific as that sounds, such unexpected volume can present a unique set of significant challenges and opportunities.
During economic times such as these, it can be difficult to imagine how an unexpected financial influx could be cause for concern; however, hurdles do surface, and how your organization overcomes them can determine future growth and sustainability. While studies indicate that people who go online to donate to a charity for the first time often do not return to the Web to make later gifts, major donors can be a very different story.
The most common challenge organizations have to overcome relates to development infrastructure and resources, including technology, staffing and customer service. When a crisis or increased visibility occurs, and people respond in record numbers, it’s not unusual for an organization to experience Web site crashes due to traffic overload; and practical, operational limitations related to processing and acknowledging gifts. Smaller fundraising shops often struggle the most with managing major gifts, especially if no existing program is in place or major-donor programs are under-resourced.
There also might be programmatic implications. When donors support one specific area of an organization’s efforts (restricted giving), it could cause a decrease in general operating support (unrestricted giving). Organizational leadership must be adept at quick decision making regarding how to grow programs, hire the necessary staff, and communicate how giving is being directed with new donor and prospect communities.
On the other side of the spectrum, significant opportunities abound, beginning with the most obvious and most coveted: new donors and increased prospects for the major-donor pool. Every fundraiser’s dream! Heightened media attention, especially from respected, syndicated outlets, can raise your profile significantly, increase brand recognition and lend credibility to your organization. Added credibility will open doors and also can lead to unsolicited major gifts. Keeping these new donors in the fold is always a challenge, but those organizations that do can benefit in both the short and long term.
A flood of unanticipated large gifts also can allow your organization greater flexibility and the opportunity to explore new strategies and tactics to build your fundraising operation. Surplus funding can be an opportunity to invest in capacity building and diversifying your resources. Greater giving from new sources also can be a leveraging opportunity. Your long-time institutional donors may be encouraged to help fund some of the nuts-and-bolts of capacity building, allowing you to use new dollars for program-specific initiatives.