No gifts.It’s quite common to give gifts in all kinds of settings and relationships. Many of my friends are so much better at it than I am, probably because I bias towards wanting you to give me a bit of yourself, rather than a thing – because that’s more valuable to me.
But gift giving in non-profits is huge. Freemiums, trinkets, scarfs, books, CD sets, discounts at retail stores, and restaurants – you name it. One large charity was given a small warehouse full of dish sets and immediately figured out how to give them away to donors. I could never figure out how that was a satisfying gift. Frankly, those dishes were ugly and not particularly useful. But they did it.
There are several problems with giving gifts to major and planned gift donors:

  1. The gift itself usually has nothing to do with the cause. I know that if you’re a symphony and you give away a CD of the music the symphony plays, you’d argue that it does relate to the cause. Maybe. But most gifts have little do with the cause. Like those dishes I mentioned above. They were given away by a social services organization. But if there is a connection, even the slightest, then there’s this…
  2. The cost of the gift brings up questions. Jeff and I have heard this many times, regarding the value of the gift that’s given: “Why not just use that money for the cause?” The retort is often that the non-profit got the gift underwritten, so there’s no cost. But what if the underwriting company was encouraged to give cash instead of that? Is it a lost opportunity to raise money? Who knows?
  3. A gift displaces the work that needs to be done. To me, this is the most serious consequence of gift-giving in fundraising. The most valuable exchange in major gift fundraising is the donor receiving satisfaction and fulfillment from giving a gift that makes something actually happen on the planet that they deeply care about. (Tweet it!) There’s no better return on investment for a donor than this. If you, as the MGO, don’t invest the time to figure out your donor’s passions and interests and ways your organization can actualize them – because you’re so busy figuring out the gift thing– if that’s the focus and energy of your time, it’s misplaced and ineffective. A gift can never provide that kind of satisfaction and fulfillment. Never.

So think about all this the next time you want to give a gift, or you have a program in your organization that is based on gift-giving. Think about the donor and what would give him or her the greatest satisfaction. Have that answer guide your actions and your focus.