How Far Do I Want To Go With You?

Published by The Whiny Donor on

Fred astaireIt’s a bit of a dance, really, isn’t it? A little pas de deux between donor and nonprofit: You take a step towards me, and I either step forward to meet you, or retreat.

For me as a donor, my conundrum is this: How far do I want to go with you? If I express interest in your organization, will you think I’ll do more for you than I’m prepared to do? Should I keep my distance so that you don’t expect too much from me? (And surely I’m overthinking it?)

A friend invited me to sit at her table at a fundraising breakfast for an organization with which she is passionately involved. I didn’t particularly want to go—I had to wake up earlier than usual—and it’s not a cause that speaks to me personally, though it is certainly worthy. But I went as a favor to my friend, and wrote a check that I wouldn’t be embarrassed for her to see.

But here’s the thing: They now have my contact information, and I wonder if I’ll find myself in a never-ending stream of communication and expectation. To be honest, the only other interaction I want to have with this organization is a prompt acknowledgement of my gift—something that, so far, they have failed to do.

I don’t mind hearing from time to time from organizations that I support, of course. Clearly, I have an interest in what they’re doing, and I do want some evidence that my donations are being used wisely. But, frankly, I don’t need to hear from them too often. Traveling out of town over a holiday weekend, I interacted with two nonprofits—I visited a small museum and a decorator’s showhouse that benefits a charity. Tickets to both had been purchased online, so they had my email address. Within a few days of my visits, each charity had not another tmsent me three emails touting their programs and asking me to donate. I’ll never know if their pace slackens after that initial onslaught, because I quickly unsubscribed. Those events were one-time things for me; I enjoyed them, but neither nonprofit will be added to the list that gets my ongoing support.

I try to avoid giving my phone number, though I’ve actually had several conversations with nonprofit staff members that have been quite wonderful. They’ve called to thank me for a donation, and I’ve had an opportunity to tell them why I think their organizations are so important to me. But I’ve also been on the receiving end of at least two badly-executed phonathon calls that have felt more like dunning notices from a collection agency. (Not coincidentally, I no longer give to either organization.) So I resist the possibility of being put on the spot in a call.

I attended a “see us in action” event for another nonprofit last year, and we increased our donation because of it. I’m a solid mid-level donor; this is exactly the type of thing that will nudge me up the scale. Some of the other charities I support, who made no particular outreach, received the same amount we’d given them the year before.

I’ve been giving steadily to one local organization for years. Lately, I seem to have gotten on some sort of “moves management” list with one of their development officers, as she has sent cards and telephoned, and I finally met her in person at a recent event. Her efforts probably will lead to a slightly larger annual gift this year. Certainly, they ensure my continued giving.

So, there are competing impulses on my part: on the one hand, I want to fly under the radar so that nothing is expected of me. On the other, I’m very likely to respond positively if I’m noticed.

Thank you words written on lined paper with a pen on itBut there’s a hierarchy to my giving, so to some extent, I won’t be moved too far no matter what a nonprofit does. I’m on a couple of local nonprofit boards, so my largest gifts go to them, with the others falling in line behind them. There are about a half-dozen in the middle to which I feel pretty much equally committed, and this is where a more personal approach probably makes the most difference.

But I still want to say, “Look. There’s only so much potential here, and you’re one of my middle-of-the-pack charities.” Your attention will flatter me, and I’m likely to respond. I’ll dance, but I’m wary of leading you on, wary you’ll come on too strong.


The Whiny Donor

Unlike most 101 Fundraising bloggers, The Whiny Donor is not a professional fundraiser. She’s a volunteer, chairing the development committees of two small nonprofits in the United States. But ultimately, she views fundraising from the perspective of the donor, and doesn’t always like what she sees.


Simone Joyaux · July 14, 2016 at 16:13

Oh Ms. Whiny. This is a BRILLIANT BRILLIANT piece. If only NGOs ACCEPTED ACKNOWLEDGED RESPECTED ll this. And actually tried to understand where they fall in your story.

But there’s no time. I’m too busy raising money. And my boss will yell at me if I don’t make sufficient contacts (not necessarily the right ones). And keep pushing those who’ve given (without knowing why those donors gave, e.g., “my friend blah blah blah…”

I’m begging you to be patient with the NGOs. But another part of me is saying– “Don’t be patient. Yell at them. Maybe the’ll get it and change.”

I’m tired and stressed. And your please makes me more tired and stressed. But I thank you anyway.

    Sharon Cappetta · July 26, 2016 at 14:44

    Simone – I landed on this article from your blog and honestly thought that you had written it!

Pandora Davies · July 19, 2016 at 16:59

If it is a ‘dance’ – perhaps the real secret to our job is to always make the supporter feel they are leading.

Pat Bjorhovde · July 27, 2016 at 23:41

Thank you, oh Whiny Donor! As a retired professional fundraiser and a continuing volunteer fundraiser for an organization I am passionate about – I wish more donors would be as upfront as you. On the fundraising side, we are always optimistic that you and all of our donors will keep increasing your gifts, and perhaps become one of those rare individuals who are so committed to our organization that your will make the ultimate gift. But although we try to do our research, and find out which organizations may be our donors’ primary recipient – it isn’t always possible to know . So to have someone say, “I love your organization, and I will continue to support it, probably at the level we are giving now, but our biggest gift(s) are going to another organization because . . . “, is a gift in itself. Thank you!

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