Do’s and Don’ts from a Donor

Last week a well-respected philanthropist in our area spoke at AFP Indiana’s monthly program.  He offered words of wisdom on a variety of topics I thought deserved to be shared.  I’ve attended countless ‘meet the funders’ sessions where donors share unrealistic expectations, wants and needs. Then organization staff scurry to respond.  Instead,  here are some insights, for both donors and fundraisers, from a donor who has been in the business of giving long enough to ‘get it’…along with some of my own commentary.

Advice for donors

1. It’s harder to give it than earn it

He shared the difference in philanthropic approaches between those who earned their wealth and those who ‘came into it’, sharing that those who earned it are often more philanthropic or more willing to take risks, as they have the confidence in their own ability to earn it again.  Those who came into wealth are generally less likely to take risks and are a bit less philanthropic because they don’t know when/how they’ll recoup the resources. Know your own approach and challenge yourself to do more.

2. You have to give both time and money

It’s easier to sit back and write a check.  Sharing your time, knowledge, creativity and contacts can often help the organization even more.  A healthy mix is important so you have confidence in sharing both parts of yourself.

3. Give anonymously occasionally

Adding your name to a transaction can muddle the beauty of selfless giving.  In fact, according to Maimonides, it’s the most enlightened form of philanthropy. Try it.

4. Don’t buy inappropriate influence

Give for the cause’s sake first.  If you want to be on a committee or a board, say so. Don’t make donations expecting a position or to be able to influence an organizations efforts, staffing decisions, etc. A gift is a gift, with no strings attached – legally and ethically.

5. If you have amassed wealth, it’s your responsibility to give it back to the society that allowed you to build it

Want more on this? Read Andrew Carnegie’s Gospel of Wealth.

6. Share your wealth with family but not so much that it destroys their ambition

Again, see Carnegie’s writings where he goes as far as calling wealth a ‘curse’ for his kids…

7. Money will always buy new friends, but it’s better to keep the old ones

8. If you liked yourself before you had money, continue to be that person

9. If you can be a successful ‘business person’, imagine what kind of ‘person’ you can be.

Do’s for fundraisers

1. Help businesses understand the value of community engagement. Empower and mobilize current ‘enlightened’ corporations to recruit their peers.

2. In making requests, send the right ‘weapon’ (person)

3. Recognize donors appropriately – even if they claim it’s not necessary

And I quote, “people who say they don’t want to be recognized are lying to you”.  He went on to clarify that just because someone doesn’t focus on the recognition available doesn’t mean they don’t want it, won’t expect it and won’t value it.  Fundraisers should use recognition appropriately to engage prospects in conversation.

4. Sell ideas and programs, not dollar amounts

Don’ts for fundraisers

1. Don’t approach a stranger without doing your homework on their history, interests and giving preferences

2. Don’t use words like ‘duty’ or ‘obligation’. No one wants to hear what they ‘owe’. They pay enough bills already.

3. The weakest and worst asks are those not done in person.

And the #1 piece of advice he shared…

Lastly, the single most important indicator of strength is an organization’s (or campaign’s) leadership.  The board and/or campaign chair is THE sign of ability and potential. Without strong leadership, significant donations of time and resources will never reveal themselves.

There’s a lot of information here – what resonates most? From your experience, what do you disagree with or question?  Leave your note in the comments.

4 thoughts on “Do’s and Don’ts from a Donor

  1. Thanks, Nate, for thse recap! I was unable to attend the event and am grateful for this information.

    I was most surprised by #3 Do for fundraisers. I tend to take donors at their word. If they say they are not interested in recognition, I believe them. I’ll have to re-think how I approach that conversation.

    I most value #4 Do for fundraisers. So often, people assume I talk about money all day long. I actually talk about ideas, dreams, action, and causes. And, too, hopefully I’m listening more than talking!

    Keep up the good work, Jessica

    1. Thanks Jessica – ‘Do #4’ also made me think. Way to often we categorize our supporters by gift size when many might support at higher levels if we talked about ideas and projects a bit more.

  2. Thanks for the recap, Nate. Mickey is a mentor and former boss of mine and just like all of us, he has grown as a philanthropist as successfully as he has become a businessman. I’m glad both he and you are spreading the word.

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