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Saturday, January 20, 2018

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Why gifts matter
Tom Ahern

October, 2010

I was recently in Australia, presenting workshops at a conference for "independent" schools. In the U.S., we call them private schools; they charge fees and aren't part of a government-run school system.

The kick-off speaker at the conference, a former headmaster who had (he clearly felt) "lowered" himself to fundraise, stood up and lamented that, if independent schools in Australia expected to bring in more donor dollars, it was (sigh) time to adopt the "crass commercialization practiced by the Americans."

I leaped from my chair to object!

No, I didn't. Honestly, if you think "crass commercialization" is your road to success, who am I to deny you the pain and poor results that will follow?

The chief reason behind ever-improving fundraising success, in my view, is donor-centricity: a profound respect for the act of giving and for the people who make those gifts. Crass commercialization has no role.

Simone Joyaux is writing the 3rd edition of her standard textbook, Strategic Fund Development: Building Profitable Relationships that Last. It will be published by Wiley in 2011. In this passage from the new edition she reflects on the psychological satisfaction that donors receive, when a nonprofit communicates well:

Giving is one way to matter. But organizations often don't adequately communicate that to their donors. It's a fairly simple equation, but organizations and their fundraisers and communicators lose track too often.

So here's the key point: the difference that the gift makes (impact) = the value of the donor.

But for donors to clearly understand this - that they matter - the organization must clearly communicate this sequence, this string of consequences as it were:
  • I give a gift. You tell me the impact of my gift, the results produced by my gift.
  • Because of your communication, I understand that my gift made a difference.
  • Because I now know that my gift made a difference, I understand that my gift matters.
  • Because I now know for sure that my gift matters, then I know that I matter.
  • Now I understand. My gift means that I, personally, matter. I, the donor, have value.
You are obligated to communicate all this to me. And absent any of these incremental moments - this sequence - this string of consequences - I won't understand. I won't make the link. I will not see the equation, the all-important equation: My gift matters hence I matter.

Takeaway >>>>

Making a gift is a purchase decision. I expect something in return. What? Just a feeling, really. The feeling that, by making a gift, I've made a difference. If you don't convey that feeling regularly in your communications, don't expect me to continue giving.

Fundraising communicators: know the business you're in. You're in the "making all donors feel very, very good" business.

Too often, donors are served a steady diet of "how great the agency is," when they should receive, instead, heaping helpings of how great the donors are and how much good gifts do. It's the most common flaw I see.

Find Tom Ahern at to learn lots more! 


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