It happened at a large southwestern non-profit. A woman had inherited a substantial amount of wealth from her father, and over the years (when both she and her husband were in good health) she had given this non-profit over $80 million, plus other property and even her private jet.
The non-profit had truly enjoyed the relationship. The president was a personal friend, and he had put this donor’s name on an endowment to honor their special relationship.
Then she passed away. And she left the rest of her estate to the non-profit. But there was one condition: they needed to take care of her surviving husband. The arrangement was spelled out in her will.
But there were some loose ends in the deal – some items that weren’t quite clear. The non-profit needed to take some time to work those out. And so they did. They took their time, while this donor’s good husband was left in limbo for over three years. Yep – three years! Three years without cash or resolution, while the non-profit figured out what would be better for them. Not pretty.
All of this was eventually worked out with a happy ending. But I needed to tell you this story to set the context for what happened at year two of this journey.
So run the story clock back a year.
The surviving husband sat at home dealing with this tough cash flow situation he had been put into by the non-profit. Luckily he had a little of his own cash, so he was able to meet his obligations. But during this time he experienced a lot of anxiety and anger that this non-profit, treated so generously by his wife, was treating him this way – all to grab as much money as they could for themselves.
So he was not a happy man.
And then the FedEx package arrived. It was from a division of the non-profit. The package contained a color brochure describing a new program the non-profit was starting. The cover letter from the VP of the division was gushing and effusive: “You have been such a wonderful supporter of our organization and we have been so fortunate to have you and your wife as partners with us in this great cause,” …and more blather and creative copy intended to suck even more money out of this good man.
He was shocked. Did this VP of one of the prominent divisions of the organization, who sat at the leadership table with the charity’s president – did this person not know of the horrendous journey he had been on? Did the VP not even know that this was not the right timing nor the right offer for the donor? Apparently not.
A case of the right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing.
And it increased the man’s hurt and pain.
When I heard this story, I was not surprised. Jeff and I hear them all the time. The large check that comes in and an employee fails to tell anyone, and there is no notification system to thank the donor; and at the same time, they solicit him again… A planned giving deal in the works for another donor, and a MGO totally unaware of it, so she works out a solicitation strategy that ignores its existence… A major solicitation planned and executed for another donor who has had a broken relationship with the organization.
It goes on and on.
This happens when there is no system or protocol to handle donors – one that is integrated and holistic – one where what is known about the donor is easily accessed by all, so mistakes like this are not made – one where leadership honors donors as partners (rather than sources of cash) and assures that their employees are carefully checking out the story with each donor before taking an action.
There is one practical application of this post for you and your major gift work. Be sure you know the story of every donor on your caseload. Publish the list internally, with various divisions and departments. Go over the list. Be doubly sure you know the whole story. Because if you don’t, you run the risk of abusing and harming your donor.