Donor “control” is a cause for celebration, not resignation

I’m officially declaring next week as “Leave Jeff Brooks Alone Week”, since this week I’m far too busy picking on the guy to let up.

Actually it’s not as bad as all that. I’m still hoping he was joking in the post I quoted yesterday. And for the most part I like George Crankovic’s guest post on Jeff’s blog entitled We might as well give donors control–they’ll take it anyway. I’ll assume George, like Jeff, was also joking when he wrote:

Oh how times have changed. If you’ve been in fundraising for a while, you remember the Golden Age of Giving. You know, those halcyon days in the bygone past when donors knew their role and knew their place. We would send letters; they would give. Simple.

George goes on to cite a number of examples we like about “donors” being in control, including Toby Ord’s givingwhatwecan.org and Angela Eikenberry’s research on giving circles (which we’ve  written about appreciatively here).

But the post strikes a sour note with us at the end, when George offers a series of five recommendations that leads me to believe that he may be falling rather shy of the full impact of the very point his post makes so well, namely, “donors” want authentic, not simulated, control of their giving. Here are George’s five recommendations:

  • Invite donors to tell you how much and how often they want to give — then listen.
  • Call donors to thank them and to talk, without pressure, about the need and about your charity.
  • Tell donors over and over exactly what their gifts do.
  • Update your website so that it clearly conveys the need you’re responding to.
  • Make sure your appeals have clear, specific offers that are relevant to your donors and show the impact of their giving — not vague calls to action that just restate your organization’s mission statement.

These recommendations remind me of a certain type of painting “coloring book” that my mom used to buy me when I was four or five. The pages were pre-printed with ink of different colors in microscopic dot form, barely visible to the naked eye. One then simply took a paint brush, dipped it in plain water, and then wet the micro-dots. Voila: the paint would appear, exactly the right color in the right spot, and the picture could be completed flawlessly by any four or five year old without an ounce of artistic sense or effort and then hung on the refrigerator.

Great when you’re four or five…not so great when you’re twenty-four or twenty-five.

Likewise, “donor” control over their own giving means just that: control. It doesn’t mean better reporting, greater appreciation, or more precise giving opportunities. It means giving them real paints and a blank canvas and trusting that they really do want to learn how to paint. It means that our nonprofit serves as an easel, and we serve as painting instructors, coaching them to full maturity in the cause just like we grew to full maturity in the cause. Is the first painting a masterpiece? Hardly…but our first one wasn’t, either. So what keeps them working with us is our substance, our ability to equip them, and the ability of our organization to serve as an effective platform for them to impact the cause comprehensively.

To this end I recommend you read The Power of Half: One Family’s Decision to Stop Taking and Start Giving Back. I’ve previously written about the book here. I may not have done things exactly like the Salwens (the authors of the book) did, but that’s just the point:

At some point, champions need to be given the paint box.

In George’s view, we “might as well” give it to them–note the slightest hint of resignation there.

In my view, that’s a moment of great celebrationEphesians 4:11-15 come to life…if and when we nonprofit leaders have done our job right.

About Pastor Foley

The Reverend Dr. Eric Foley is CEO and Co-Founder, with his wife Dr. Hyun Sook Foley, of Voice of the Martyrs Korea, supporting the work of persecuted Christians in North Korea and around the world and spreading their discipleship practices worldwide. He is also the International Ambassador for the International Christian Association, the global fellowship of Voice of the Martyrs sister ministries. Pastor Foley is a much sought after speaker, analyst, and project consultant on the North Korean underground church, North Korean defectors, and underground church discipleship. He and Dr. Foley oversee a far-flung staff across Asia that is working to help North Koreans and Christians everywhere grow to fullness in Christ. He earned the Doctor of Management at Case Western Reserve University's Weatherhead School of Management in Cleveland, Ohio.
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One Response to Donor “control” is a cause for celebration, not resignation

  1. Pingback: Donors and Their New Adventures in Giving, part I « Transformational Giving

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