The Rights and Wrongs of Donor Engagement
I do a great deal of thinking about my career. I have played a variety of fundraising roles in nonprofits. Like all of us with tenure in this profession, I acquire memories of researching prospects and following the donor cycle, which includes solicitation and stewardship. Once my donor makes a gift, I typically seek additional and larger gifts.
You may continually think about strategy with your donors, but have you researched their rights? If you know a donor’s rights, do you follow these rights on an ongoing basis?
It always pays to think about the rights of your donors, according to the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP), the Association for Healthcare Philanthropy, the Council for Advancement and Support of Education, and the Giving Institute established the Donor Bill of Rights.
To ensure that philanthropy receives the trust of the public it serves, these donor rights include the elements of clarity of organizational mission, knowing those serving on the organizational board, having access to organizational financial statements, plus being confident that donor gifts will be applied for the purpose intended.
In addition, donors will receive timely appropriate recognition, have understanding that their donations will be managed with confidentially and professionalism, be informed of the nature of the solicitors, have names deleted for mailing lists if so desired, and have questions responded to quickly and professionally.
According to a NonProfit PRO Magazine article by Richard Perry, while a donor’s bill of rights exists, many nonprofit organizations can do a better job in executing these rights. Some handle donor engagement in the wrong way.
Examples cited by Perry include donor thank you letters that were either not sent or sent weeks after the gift is made; donors made designated gifts but did not receive information on how the gift was used; donor questions were delayed or not answered; policy questions were poorly executed; and the donor was not treated the way they expect to be treated. Donors are your institutional partners, and you must know their gifts are making a difference. Donors’ questions need to be answered thoroughly and quickly. Donor information is confidential and any donor request must be honored.
According to the Center for Effective Philanthropy, relationships matter between the donor and institution it supports. A monetary gift is a defining element of the relationship. The gift is never personal. It is to an organization and a specific cause. Professional fundraisers must have professional duties to guard the donor relationship. Donor finances must be kept confidential. Donor family situations are confidential in nature. The nonprofit leader needs to understand a donor’s intended legacy. Individual donors are the lifeblood of charitable giving, and professionals need to constantly realize and interpret what donors need and deserve.
The Semanchik Law Group noted that your nonprofit should be protected from controversial donors. In some cases, donors can exert undue financial influence on nonprofit goals and operations. Some nonprofits create donation caps on the amount of money a donor can donate. Other nonprofits establish and maintain a list of banned donors. These donors could be individuals, corporations or foundations that have a distinctly different mission, vision and value statement than yours. Organizations need to have written giving policies with gift restrictions. No organization wants its reputation harmed by poor donor intent, miscommunication or undue influence.
Whether intentional or unintentional, in an array of nonprofits, donors are treated based upon the size of the gift made to the nonprofit. The rights of donors are at play. Larger donors may get immediate attention while lower end donors wait to be thanked and stewarded. An article by Nonprofit AF suggests nonprofits abandon public recognition of donors by giving levels.
Giving levels promote the notion that money is the most important contribution anyone can give — the more money a person gives, the more they are helping a cause, and those who give more money deserve special praise and treatment while those that give less money are not as important to the organization.
Many organizations use the term major donors. Does that mean lower-level donors are minor donors? A best practice should be to recognize all donors to an organization in terms of one broad community level. Is it wrong to think in equal terms about the power of every donor, regardless of gift size?
While donors have rights, some donors have abused these rights. I worked with a significantly large donor once who so distrusted the organization investment policy that she would attend organizational meetings with her financial planners. Another large and wealthy donor, after making a significant gift, got divorced. He wanted me to take down the plaque that had the name of he and his ex-wife, whom he hated. Another donor felt wronged because he felt my organization abused his donor rights.
At your next staff meeting, show the staff Association of Fundraising Professionals Donors Bill of Rights. Discuss the implications of this bill of rights. Work toward having a meaningful relationship with all donors, beginning today!
Duke Haddad, Ed.D., CFRE, is currently associate director of development, director of capital campaigns and director of corporate development for The Salvation Army Indiana Division in Indianapolis. He also serves as president of Duke Haddad and Associates LLC and is a freelance instructor for Nonprofit Web Advisor.
He has been a contributing author to NonProfit PRO since 2008.
He received his doctorate degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis on education administration plus a dissertation on donor characteristics. He received a master’s degree from Marshall University with an emphasis on public administration plus a thesis on annual fund analysis. He secured a bachelor’s degree (cum laude) with an emphasis on marketing/management. He has done post graduate work at the University of Louisville.
Duke has received the Fundraising Executive of the Year Award, from the Association of Fundraising Professionals Indiana Chapter. He also was given the Outstanding West Virginian Award, Kentucky Colonel Award and Sagamore of the Wabash Award from the governors of West Virginia, Kentucky and Indiana, respectively, for his many career contributions in the field of philanthropy.