The Real Meaning of Gift Giving: Dollars or Donors?
I have to admit I have always had a problem with getting and giving gifts.
It’s probably because I’m worried about the motivation behind the gift giving. Do you ever wonder about it? Does the person giving the gift really care? Or is it just an obligation?
People close to me tell me not to worry about it. "Just accept the fact that someone actually thought about you, Richard," they say.
But I still wonder. Here’s why.
In a perfect world, a gift is an expression of a deeper relationship. It is a tangible way of telling the other person you value them, you care about them, you love them and that they really do matter in the larger scheme of things. Plus, they matter to you. If you really can’t say one of these things about the person, then why would you give them a gift?
But in many relationships, what things have degraded to is an obligatory transaction devoid of any real meaning. And that is why I worry about it. Fundamentally, I just want to be loved and valued for who I am.
Which leads me to the gift-giving equivalent in our major-gift work—the dollars versus donors discussion.
Jeff and I have talked about this quite a bit in this blog. "It’s about the donor! Not the dollars," we say. But time and time again, we run into systems and processes in nonprofits that are set up to love the dollar, not the donor.
Here’s an example.
I am aware of a situation right now, in a wonderful charity, where there is a tremendous lag in processing donor gifts. The backlog runs all the way to two weeks! This means that donors who are sending in their gifts are not even being acknowledged for their giving until three weeks after they gave their gifts! This is a disaster.
Add to this the fact that the dollars from these donors are banked the very day the mail arrives! I hope you are getting what I am saying. Someone is quickly and urgently grabbing the money and banking it, then calmly and, I might say, callously putting the donor into a holding pattern that will take as long as it takes. No urgency. No awareness of who sent in the money. Nothing.
Now, you might be saying this doesn’t happen in your organization. Have you checked recently?
I’ve seen too many instances in the last two months where the correspondence and donor information related to $25,000 and $50,000 gifts sit like a bag of garbage on the back porch.
How does this happen? One simple reason—management does not value donors. Managers like this should be fired. Why? Because they do not know or understand where the money that is funding their paychecks is coming from—they don’t value donors.
Think about how this makes the donors feel. Besides not hearing from their "favorite and beloved charity," they intuitively know it’s about the money in this relationship. It’s like getting a gift at Christmas from someone you know doesn’t like you. It feels pretty bad.
There is a bright spot in the charity I referred to earlier, a place where one manager is doing it right. She had a major-donor event two weeks ago and had the receipt and thank-you kit out to each of the 250 donors who attended the event in the next day’s mail. "I couldn’t believe it," one donor commented. "I went to the event and two days later I had my thank you and receipt in my hands! Wow!"
Now that’s an enlightened manager—a person who knows the value of her donors—a person who values her donors as partners rather than sources of cash. This story just brightened my day. And I pass it on to you as a model for what you should do in your organization.
Your major donors deserve your immediate attention and care. It is only about them, not their money. Don’t ever forget it.
And spend an hour today checking on the systems in your organization to make sure there’s not a bag of garbage on your back porch where the letters, aspirations and goodwill of your good donors are uncaringly stored and waiting to be attended.
If you honor and care for your donors, you will bring goodness into your life and into your organization. It will be like getting a gift from someone who loves you.
If you’re hanging with Richard it won’t be long before you’ll be laughing.
He always finds something funny in everything. But when the conversation is about people, their money and giving, you’ll find a deeply caring counselor who helps donors fulfill their passions and interests. Richard believes that successful major-gift fundraising is not fundamentally about securing revenue for good causes. Instead it is about helping donors express who they are through their giving. The Connections blog will provide practical information on how to do this successfully. Richard has more than 30 years of nonprofit leadership and fundraising experience, and is founding partner of the Veritus Group.