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Insights from Karen Climer about fundraising and nonprofit organizations

Donors Are Giving For The Right Reasons — Even If They Aren’t Your Reasons

April 10th, 2014 by Karen Climer

Imagine you go into your local grocery store and buy a loaf of bread.  As you are checking out, you casually mention to the cashier that you on your way to the lake to feed the ducks.  The cashier responds haughtily, “If that’s the only reason you are buying this bread, you are doing it for the wrong reason.  We sell bread so that people can eat, not so you can feed ducks!”

You grab your bread, and say, “If I’m buying the bread, who are you to judge my motivation for buying it?”  You walk out promising yourself that you will never buy bread at that store again.

I’ve never seen that happen at the grocery store (I hope you haven’t either!), but I see it frequently with nonprofit organizations.

Last week, I met with the board of an organization.  I mentioned that Big Florida Company might be interested in donating because of the naming opportunities.  A board member said, “If that’s the only reason they are giving, they aren’t giving for the right reasons.”

This board member is not alone.  I hear that same statement from staff members, board members, and development professionals.  I always wonder what the right reasons are.

If someone is interested in the tax deduction, is that the wrong reason?

If someone wants a room named after them, is that the wrong reason?  What if they decide to have the room named in memory of their old friend?  Does that make it a more noble reason?

What if someone is donating because it makes them feel good to help the cause?  Is that the wrong reason?  After all, the donor is getting a warm fuzzy in return.  Maybe it wasn’t about the cause.  It was all about the donor feeling good about himself.

Of course my point is that any of those reasons are great reasons to donate.  It is not our duty (or even our right) as fundraisers to judge anyone else’s motivation for donating any more than the grocery store should judge why you are buying that bread.

What if the grocery store situation were just a little different?  When the cashier finds out you are buying bread to feed ducks, she doesn’t say anything derogatory because she is a professional cashier.  However, her demeanor immediately changes.  Even though she doesn’t say anything, you feel like she’s judging you.  You can’t pinpoint exactly why, but you leave with a bad feeling about the store.  You decide that you will make future bread purchases at a more customer-friendly store.

This is how it usually works at nonprofit organizations.  The board member I mentioned previously will never in a million years tell Big Florida Company that they are giving for the wrong reasons.  But no matter how hard you try to disguise it, if you don’t think your donors are great, they know that.  Donors are intuitive and sense your disdain. 

Unless your donor’s reasons require your organization to do something illegal or unethical, their reasons for giving are exactly the right reasons.

Posted in Donor Motivation, Organizational Culture

2 Responses

  1. Lynn

    This makes me think of the “Friends” episode where Phoebe donates $500 to a charity where Joey is on tv for a phone-a-thon. Phoebe’s goal is to do an unselfish deed and when Joey takes her donation he is put on tv for putting the charity over goal – making Joey look good which in turn makes Phoebe feel good. Phoebe is then upset because her deed isn’t unselfish anymore.

    Long story short, a gift is a gift. And gifts are unselfish.

  2. Karen Climer

    I can’t comment on the TV show because I’ve never seen it. I don’t even own a TV. But I appreciate your comments. Maybe someone else (who has a TV) can comment.

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