There is a bit of discussion going on about why people give. Some folks believe that many donors give just for the tax benefit or to secure standing in the community or to repay a friend who gave to their cause. In other words, these folks will say, some people give for selfish reasons not related to the cause itself.
One reason they make these claims is so they can figure out the best way to service those donors once the gift is given. So if a donor gave just for tax reasons, then the back office response to that donor might be about how great the tax savings were, and there would be encouragement to give more because of additional tax benefits.
Or if the donor gave for publicity reasons, then the non-profit could trot out new publicity-laden giving opportunities to the donor, and thus cause higher giving.
That is how this line of reasoning goes. Bottom line, if the donor gave for any reason other than the cause itself, then there is no reason to fret about constructing cause-related encouragement to give, because it won’t matter.
We don’t agree with this conclusion. Here’s why.
As Jeff and I have processed these ideas over the years, we have concluded that regardless of the reason – taxes, obligation, guilt, fear, family custom, publicity, whatever – regardless of the reason, we have not met any donor, even one with a selfish motive for giving, who didn’t want something good to come out of the money they gave away.
And if you agree with that conclusion, then it naturally follows that every donor wants to know, to varying degrees, that their giving actually made a difference. If that is true (and we believe it is), then one of the very critical and strategic activities you as a MGO need to be engaged in with every donor on your caseload is to let them know frequently that their giving is making a difference.
Stop right now and answer this question: when was the last time you told the donors on your caseload that something of value actually happened because of their giving? If it was more than 20 to 30 days ago, then trouble is on the horizon in your relationship with that donor.
Let me take a slight side trip to explain what I mean.
Think about the last time you did something nice for someone else. It could have been a favor. It could have been a gift, a referral, a good word, money – whatever. You did something good for someone. And you did not hear back that the gesture you made or action you took really mattered to them. In fact, there was total silence. How did you feel? Not good, I’m sure.
I have experienced this situation many times, and it has helped me to be more thoughtful in my response to others, including strangers, when they have done something for me. It takes so little to express gratitude or to notice that someone has favored you with a kind action or word. Why not just tell them you are thankful?
So if a donor on your caseload gives a gift, for whatever reason, there is no need to be analyzing the motive for the gift, except to note if there is a specific interest or passion that is being served. After thanking her, the only thing you need to do quickly and frequently is to tell that donor that her gift made a difference. Why? Because every donor needs to make an impact through their giving.
In my earlier post on Donors Need to be Thanked, I told you that one of the two reasons donors go away at a rate of 60% or more is because they are not properly thanked. The other reason they go away is because they did not know their giving made a difference.
Several weeks ago I was talking to a donor who had made a six-figure gift to the university he had graduated from. He received a decent thank-you for the gift, and a call from the dean. But when I asked him how his relationship to the university was going, here is what he said: “Well, to be honest, Richard, I am not sure they really need my money. They send me a nice thank you. The dean calls and says some nice things. But other than that, I don’t hear a thing about what my gift is doing to provide a good education to the students who are going there.”
Then he went on to say that he was rewriting his will to give the majority of his estate, valued at over $200 million, to another charity he and his wife had supported over the years and who were very careful to tell both of them frequently how the gifts they were giving were making a difference.
I went away from the conversation feeling anxious for the good people at the university. They were doing the best they could, and they did not know that this donor felt this way. And I suspect that they never would know until the donor passed and a large gift, which could have gone to the university, went somewhere else.
These are the kinds of stories we hear regularly. A donor gives. There is some regular thank-you that happens. There is little information on how the giving made a difference. And the donor goes away. It’s as simple as that – and tragic.
So if you do nothing else with this post please, at least, do this: set your mind today, as you are reading this, to plan a way to tell every donor on your caseload that they are making a difference. And do it frequently.
As you do it, tell stories of a life changed, a river or lake cleaned up, an animal or forest rescued or restored – do it with emotion and passion. Why? Because that is what the donor needs. She needs to know in her head and in her heart that something good has happened because she gave.
Series details:

  1. It Starts with You
  2. Donors Have Another Life
  3. Donors Care About Specific Things.
  4. Donors Need to be Thanked
  5. Donors Need to Make an Impact
  6. Donors Need to Give Input and Criticism