The things donors say

People’s philanthropic priorities and interests fascinate me. How they determine what’s most important and the thought (or lack of) they invest in their giving is always interesting. Warning, these are actual quotes that have stuck with me over the years. Do not try this at home, except for the last one.

“I don’t care about sustainability. If the organization isn’t here in 10 years, then it wasn’t important enough.”

While I believe in and understand Darwinian tendencies, when it comes to organizations, I’m not so sure it’s that easy. Instead of sitting back passively and waiting for organizations to fail, why not seek out those that show true results and invest in measures that help them become sustainable so they continue to serve the community in the most efficient and effective ways? If they don’t have proper assessment measures, invest in that before letting what could be the best solution to a social problem go down in flames.

“We’re not going to fund you because you’re not a sinking ship.”

The first person wants organizations to die and this person wants to save them. They’re set on either perpetuating failing organizations or they like to be the savior. Unfortunately, it shouldn’t be about either. Basing funding decisions solely on cash flow management or calls of desperation don’t help anyone. Instead, save those that show plans for true change and improvement.

“I can’t support you because my boss makes me give to United Way.”

I’ve heard this more times than I care to count. I know it’s unintentional but United Way is slowly killing philanthropy. Every time this is said, I’m pretty sure a Unicorn dies. It’s peer-to-peer fundraising gone horribly wrong, inserting arm-twisting corporate power and authority into what should be a beautiful giving experience. In most cases, their boss, boss’s boss or boss’s friend is chairing the campaign and IT. CAN’T. FAIL. Instead of encouraging philanthropy first and letting people support organizations they feel compelled to, campaign captains leverage their authority and often literally stand over underlings until they write a check. It makes me sick. If they don’t give, or don’t give the right amount, they’re called in for a (bad) chat with their supervisor and it even shows up on performance reviews. Really? If ‘Living United’ is really ‘Forced Giving’ – count me out.

“I want all of my donation to go directly to the cause.”

Usually what they mean is that they want to support programs and don’t value or understand the importance of administrative and fundraising costs. This is an elementary approach to philanthropy. I’ve jumped on this soap box enough. Read why here, here and here. Instead, think of it as multiplication philanthropy. ‘Nuff said.

“We’re not going to support you because our friend doesn’t work there anymore.”

This is a classic case of misdirected giving. It was clear they weren’t giving for the cause, but only as a favor. Sure, we all support our friends in their walks, runs and efforts to help causes that are close to them. This rarely turns you into a life-long supporter of charity X. It’s important that the organization staff build relationships between supporters and the organization, not between supporters and themselves. The latter is not sustainable and will do damage when/if there’s ever a change in staff. If there’s a transition, discuss the implications of departure on organization communication and donor relationships. As a supporter, we do want to support and do business with those we care about but do your best to give for the cause’s sake. All will be better off.

“I’m not going to specifically fund or sponsor any particular program. I’m going to trust you do what is best for the organization and those you serve.”

The stronger your relationships and conversations, the more this will start to happen. Similar to this lady, this person fully trusts the organization and the people that run it. Once you’ve done your homework and believe in an organization, give them your dollars and time, but more importantly, trust them to do what they need with it. Don’t create arbitrary rules and recognition for them to follow.

What have you heard or said? Do you agree with my concerns and reactions? Let me know in the comments.

29 Questions for better philanthropic conversations

CBS has been 3rd in the morning TV news ratings for over 30 years. Charlie Rose will be leading their charge to change this from 7am-8am, bringing a serious tone to an otherwise increasingly witty, wacky and pop-culture-filled hour led by NBC’s ‘Today’ and ABC’s ‘Good Morning America’. Rose is perhaps the single best interviewer I have ever seen. His questions get to the heart of issues and people, facilitating a beautiful dialogue, filled with insightful verbal challenges, full disclosure and shared understanding. Here are 29 questions that I think he’d ask of current and potential supporters – and of development officers – that will take you further in your philanthropic relationships.

Ask supporters…

  1. What’s the largest impact you’ve had on the world?
  2. The world needs band aids AND solutions to social problems. Which do you prefer to invest in and why?
  3. How do you plan on teaching your children about philanthropy?
  4. Are you hoping they (your kids) have the same community values or different ones?
  5. What’s been your best giving experience?
  6. What’s been your worst?
  7. What person has had the most influence on you and your life?
  8. How do you and your spouse/family make your philanthropic decisions?
  9. Do you prefer to give a little to several organizations or more to a few?
  10. What are your top 3 philanthropic interests and why?
  11. How long do you usually stick with an organization or issue?
  12. If you could volunteer full time – what would you do?
  13. How do you define success?
  14. What lead to you being successful?
  15. How can we give others those same opportunities?

As a current/potential supporter, ask fundraisers or nonprofit leaders…

  1. What motivates your employees and staff?
  2. What does the organization look like in 5 years? 10 years?
  3. What are your current costs per client?
  4. What sort of impact are you getting for that?
  5. Summarize your current strategic plan for me.
  6. Who’s doing similar-type work?
  7. How are you working with, or at least learning from, them?
  8. What’s the best way to for me to introduce my network to you?
  9. What connections/introductions can I make for you?
  10. I’m making an unrestricted gift. Where/how will you use it and why?
  11. What sort of professional training does your staff have?
  12. What kind of turnover are you seeing and why?
  13. How does the organization define success – and are you reaching it?
  14. Can philanthropy solve this problem? If so, how much money is needed. If not, what else needs to happen?

So grab coffee or a meal with your favorite supporter or nonprofit staff and have a deeper conversation.  What’s missing? What questions would you ask?