You’ve been in this situation before, I am sure.  Something goes sideways with a donor and you are sure everything is lost. All that hard relationship building work, all the past gifts the donor has made, all the future potential gifts the donor could make – it’s all lost.
That was the situation Michele, a talented MGO, friend and colleague of mine faced when a very high capacity and current giving donor of hers suddenly stopped giving.  The reasons for the abrupt change in giving are really not relevant to this story.  Any donor has the right to change his or her mind about giving. It happens all the time.  The only important fact here is that the giving stopped.
But, that didn’t stop Michele.
She knew that this good donor really did care about the poor who were served by Michele’s organization in this Mid-western city.  She also knew that, if given an opportunity to help, this donor would step up and help.  That was who this donor was – a very wealthy and a very caring individual.
So Michele got together with the volunteer coordinator of her organization and added Michele’s donor to the “call for volunteers” email they were sending out.   Here’s what that email said:

I am writing to let you know that we have several NEW volunteer opportunities available in the downtown area to support and feed individuals who are homeless and/or transitioning out of homelessness.

For a list of these opportunities, please look here:

If any of these opportunities are of interest to you, we welcome you to participate in:

MONDAY, June 3- FRIDAY, June 7

Or, if you want to speak with me personally for details or to reserve your interview time slot, here’s my email:

That was it – pretty straightforward and to the point.
Well, the donor responded and said she would like to help in the program. It was one that works with homeless men who have recently been released from prison to help rebuild their lives.  She said she was very good at cooking nutritious food and she could teach these men how to make a good, inexpensive meal.  And she’s one who should know about food and food pricing since she and her husband own a major chain of grocery stores in the mid-west.
The volunteer coordinator put the donor through the interview process, figured out with the program people how the idea to teach meal preparation could be implemented, and put the donor to work doing something she loves to do.
Michele wrote me several days ago and said, “This is so cool.  I go down to the program site and see the donor’s Rolls Royce in the parking lot and I know a lot of good is happening in there!”
As I’ve reflected on this real story, several important principles have come to mind:

  1. The MGO let the donor be herself without a negative consequence.  Jeff and I have seen so many situations where a donor decides to do something different and the MGO goes into a pout.  And if not a pout, then it’s an internal rant, which defames the donor and criticizes her motives.  Michele didn’t go there.  Instead she found a creative way to re-engage.
  2. Cooperation between functions is good for everyone.  Well, you know this and so do I. But it is refreshing to see it put into practice – to have major gifts, the volunteer recruitment function and program work together to make something practical happen.
  3. The solution celebrated the donor.  This one point brings me so much joy!  Here is an example of the donor being lifted up, and of people working together to help the donor fulfill her passions and interests. Wow!  It doesn’t get better than this.  Right now, as you read this, a very wealthy donor is, very likely, sitting with a bunch of former prisoners and helping them find their way in an area of expertise where she shines.   Whew! I’m about ready to stand up and shout!  Can you see the contrast between their two worlds?  Can you feel how it doesn’t really matter, because one human being is lovingly sharing knowledge to help another?  Goodness, this is so encouraging!
  4. The objective of the MGO was not to recover the money. It was to keep the donor engaged and fulfilled. This point could be a sub-point of #3 above, but I wanted to list it separately.  Here’s why:  Michele realized that the whole thing was NOT about the money – and she acted and created a solution with that in mind.  Jeff and I keep saying this – and here is a perfect example of it.  It is NOT about the money!  The money will come again, I am sure of that, but that is not what is important right now.

So, in my opinion, the takeaway today for you is this:  your donors, all of them, are on a journey with you that, at times, will be frustrating and disappointing.  When you encounter a situation that is not sitting very well with you, step back, let the donor be herself, come up with a creative response or solution, make sure you keep your solution donor centered and remember, it’s not about the money.