How Silos Abuse the Donor
It happened at a large southwestern nonprofit. Over the years, when both the husband and wife were in good health, the wife, who had inherited a substantial amount of wealth from her father, had given this nonprofit over $80 million, plus other property and even her private jet.
The nonprofit had truly enjoyed the relationship. The president was a personal friend, and he had put this donor’s name on an endowment to honor the special relationship they had.
Then she passed away. And left the rest of her estate to the nonprofit. But there was one condition: They needed to take care of her surviving husband. The arrangement was spelled out in her will.
But there were some loose ends in the deal – some items that weren’t quite clear. The nonprofit would have to take some time to work those out. And so they did. They took their time while the good husband of this good donor was left in limbo for over three years. Three years without cash or resolution while the nonprofit figured out what would be better for them.
All of this was eventually worked out with a happy ending. But I needed to tell you this story to set the context for what happened at year two of this journey.
So, run the clock back a year in the story.
The surviving husband is sitting at home dealing with this tough cash flow situation. Luckily, he had a little of his own cash to be able to meet his obligations. But during this time, he experienced a lot of anxiety and anger that this nonprofit, that had benefited so generously from his wife, was treating him this way — all to grab as much money as they could for themselves.
So he was not a happy man.
And then the FedEx package arrived. It was from a division of the nonprofit. The package contained a four-color brochure describing a new program the nonprofit was starting. The cover letter from the VP of the division was gushing and effusive: “You have been such a wonderful supporter of our organization, and we have been so fortunate to have you and your good wife as partners with us in this great cause….” — and more blather and creative copy intended to suck even more money out of this good man.
He was shocked. Did this VP, of one of the prominent divisions of the organization, who sat at the leadership table with the president of the organization not know of the horrendous journey he had been on? Did the VP really not know this was not the right timing nor the right offer for the donor? Apparently not.
A case of the right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing. And it increased the hurt and pain of the man.
When I heard this story, I was not surprised. Jeff and I hear them all the time. It is symptomatic of the lack of a system and protocol to handle donors — one that is integrated and holistic; one where what is known about the donor is easily accessed by all, so mistakes like this are not made; one where leadership honors donors as partners versus sources of cash.
There is one practical application of this post for you and your major gift work: Be sure you know the story of every donor on your caseload. Publish the list internally, with various divisions and departments. Go over the list. Be doubly sure you know the whole story. Because if you don’t, you run the risk of abusing and harming your donor.
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.