Is Your Organization Doing What is Best for the Donor… or the Organization?

graphic with me first in graffiti organizationsIt’s amazing to Richard and me how non-profit organizations, who do such great things in making the world a better place, have a total disregard for their major donors.

One example of this was a story I heard from someone who quit her position as an MGO several years ago because her organization was “so screwed up” she couldn’t take it any more; she didn’t feel good about asking major donors to fund it any longer.

Here is what happened: This very large organization was structured in a way where they had a national office and affiliates in almost every state. The major gift program was run both from the national office and each of the affiliates. In other words, each affiliate had its own major gift officers.

Now, as this MGO is telling me the story, I’m thinking, “okay, many large organizations with this structure work this way; it’s not out of the ordinary.”

But wait. It gets strange.

The MGO goes on to tell me that the affiliates were asked to identify all the major gift donors and make sure they were in the national organization’s database.

While the affiliate MGOs were out cultivating, stewarding and soliciting the donors in their area, they began to notice that notes were being made in their donor’s records from the national office.

These notes were talking about how the National MGOs were making contact with the donors she and her colleagues were cultivating. Mind you, there was no communication about any of this to the affiliates.

Then, it got worse. The affiliate MGOs started getting calls from their donors asking why someone from the national office was calling them. And other donors were calling saying that they agreed to meet with the national office MGO (thinking they were the local MGO), but when that MGO came to see them, they had no idea who it was.

The donors were furious, and then of course so were the affiliate MGOs. Now you are probably thinking “this is insane.” But it gets even stranger.

Besides the fact that the national office was not communicating with the affiliate MGOs about their donors, the affiliate MGOs started to realize that donors who started giving over a certain dollar figure were being targeted by the national MGOs. Those MGOs were instructed to meet with those donors to see if the donors were willing to make gifts to the national program.

So here you have a local MGO who knows the donor, sometimes having cultivated and stewarded that donor for years – now are all of a sudden these MGOs are in competition with their own national organization. This caused a ton of confused and angry donors… and many donors stopped giving. It also resulted in donors being “taken away” from the local affiliate by the national office… all because these donors were now giving at a very high level. It had nothing to do whatsoever with the desire of the donor.

The MGO who told me this story said the affiliate MGOs started leaving after they found out that the national office was now “poaching” their best board members and recruiting them onto the national board. She said she was totally depressed and then she asked herself this one question:

Is my organization doing the best thing for the donor, or for the organization?

Days after that, she left to find an organization that treats donors as real partners.

This is a blatant example of how an organization can lose its way when leaders don’t do what is best for the donor. They lose sight of the fact that donors are also their mission. If that were the case, they would understand the donors’ passions and interests related to all the good they are doing to change the world.

Now, had the organization’s national office worked with the local MGOs on a strategy that could possibly enhance the donor’s experience and work together on a plan for that donor… then perhaps it could have worked to offer the donor both a local and a national offer that he would support. But that never happened.

So my question to you is this: Is your organization doing the best thing for the donor, or for your organization? Your situation may not be as egregious as my story, but are you putting the donor first? Are you listening to your donors? Are you working with all the departments in your organization and letting them know what your donors want?

Remember, it’s all about your donors.




  • Cheri says:

    Unfortunately, this isn’t that uncommon. I have a friend that used to work for a nonprofit raising funds locally to cover their services. The national group would set targets for the local branches to raise fund that was to be sent to the national group for their expenses. Every few months the national group would raise the local’s goals making it impossible for the local’s MGOs to raise the funds needed for the local services that were being offered. In addition, the national group would tell the local affiliates what fundraising programs they were to do in order to raise the money without the knowledge of the personalities of the communities involved. It was a cookie cutter formula that didn’t work a good portion of the time. Needless to say, in less than two years my friend was so fed up with how the national handled things that she quit that job.

  • Tim Chaten says:

    Well said (both Cheri and Jeff!). The nonprofit should really see their donors as partners and this story is just a horrific example of how a NPO can get it so wrong.

    You should be there to support your donor’s mission through your nonprofit’s mission and be a really great facilitator to accomplish great goals aligning with both you and your donor’s mission.

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