Donors Don’t HAVE to Give Anything

28/06/2013 at 10:55 Leave a comment

With all do respect to The Chronicle of Philanthropy, the June 20 issue headline about why Americans don’t give more was troubling.

And I will admit and you dear reader know – I am a fundraising veteran trying to live in an new world. But sometimes the old rules apply.

Coffee giving

This quote is from the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy – I am sorry to disagree with the fine institution – but I don’t think “giving up” anything is the way a donor or their major gift officer approaches cultivation and solicitation.

While I don’t pretend to know the Lilly Family, their generosity is well known and I do not believe their philanthropic strategy was about what they gave up to build their giving. Some of the most generous people I know have a philanthropic “budget” they set every year. Not so they give up something else, but so they have the money they want to make their gifts.

Then there is the idea of those making $10M or more should give at least 23.5% – percentage of income should dictate giving.


While a nice math equation – I don’t believe “should” ever enters a conversation with a donor.

phi·lan·thro·py  (f-lnthr-p)

1. The effort or inclination to increase the well-being of humankind, as by charitable aid or donations.
2. Love of humankind in general.
3. Something, such as an activity or institution, intended to promote human welfare.

Emphasis on effort or inclination – not should, must, have to.

The Give 5 campaign launched in the 1990’s proves my point – encouraging Americans to give (up) 5% of their income didn’t work according to the Chronicle. Again, asking Americans to give up something to support their community or charity of choice.

Philanthropy is about mission, passion, relationships. Connecting those who want to give to programs and people they care about is how successful fundraising partnerships work. I don’t know a fundraiser who would tell a donor they “should” give or ask them to “give up” anything in order to support a program or organization.

Philanthropy is not about giving up it’s about giving back.

2 percenet givingAnd then there’s the chart of giving’s share of GDP on page 10 of the Chronicle.

Bottom line, and I have written about this before, Since 1971 giving has represented between 1.7% and 2.3% of GDP – IN 40 YEARS NO REAL CHANGE.

In 2013, we are deploying and employing new and different methods and voices in our fundraising practice. But what we see is a shift from off line to online giving – but it’s the same amount of giving. It’s not moving the needle. We live in a competitive market place – on average donors give to nine charities and drop six every year.

Our challenge as professional fundraisers, Board members and nonprofit institutions is how do we keep the donors we have and make sure we are one of their top three gifts. And yes find new donors and keep them. To move our donors to higher levels of giving our approach needs to be all about them. We need to know the how, what and why of their interest in our mission and programs. Through the science of cultivation we can raise the art of fundraising and their philanthropy to a new level.

By carefully determining our best donors and focusing our energies on them, again more science than art, we can move their philanthropy according to their interests. But the headlines in our sector journals don’t help – if our donors think that’s what we think about their ability to give -that they aren’t giving up enough and should give up something to make a gift – we are taking for granted the gifts they have given and may give in the future. Our donors owe us nothing. Their philanthropy is their perogative. As fundraisers, we strive to inspire, engage, involve them so we can partner to make our missions reality.

If all this reads as too pollyanna – well I won’t apologize – cause as an old fundraiser some of my best and dearest donors are friends and colleagues with whom I am have been honored to make great things happen because of their generosity.

Entry filed under: Fundraising, Nonprofit fundraising, Nonprofit Research. Tags: , , , , , .

Historic Storms Starting Over

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