“What a selfish person”, you’re thinking right now. But let me explain.
When you ask people to “give back” by making a gift to your organization, you’re setting up a relationship based on obligation. And transaction. Think carefully about whether that’s really what you want.
Are you looking for gifts made out of guilt?
Are you hoping for donors who give just because they have to?
Or are you hoping your donors will give and feel great about doing so?
Here are a few examples of organizations I’m connected to – and why.
I worked at Hartford Stage for almost 12 years.
They make great, often amazing, theater. And I love theater.
Those years were by no means easy. The work was hard, and sometimes complicated by difficult personalities.
But it was also rewarding, both professionally and personally. And I was honored to work with some of the people I worked with – from artists to co-workers.
I definitely paid my dues. I feel no obligation. I feel affection. And a continued commitment to the mission.
I also love my college.
The four years I spent at F&M were transformational. Yes, it’s a transformational stage of life. But the people I met, the learning I did… they all left an indelible mark on me. One that will last a lifetime. My connection is compounded because my husband and daughter are also F&M alumni.
But I don’t owe them. Hey, my parents paid for college. I feel no financial debt toward the place.
I just love it. Which is why I give – and also spend a fair amount of time volunteering.
There’s nothing transactional here. And I don’t think there should be. There’s a commitment to a great liberal arts college and the kids who are there today and tomorrow.
That’s so much stronger than “you owe us”.
A few years ago, a friend started Grace Cafe, a pay-what-you-can community cafe in Kentucky. I’ve been able to advise them over these first few years – which is both fun and satisfying. But giving to them doesn’t help my community. And other than my friend, I have no ties to Danville, KY.
But they’re going to get rid of hunger there.
Mind you, they’re not “striving to decrease food insecurity among vulnerable populations”. They’re getting rid of hunger. They’re feeding people. Everyone is welcome. And if you can’t pay, you can volunteer. No one gives up their dignity.
I’m not giving to “give back”. I’m giving to get something important done. Because I think people ought to eat, even if I don’t know them.
Donors aren’t debtors.
“Give back” implies a debt. It puts your donor or prospective donor in the uncomfortable position of debtor. That’s not the relationship you want.
Look, I owe my bank payments on a mortgage. I feel no affection for the bank. I don’t particularly care about them. We just pay them every month because their loan allowed us to buy our home.
It’s a purely transactional relationship. It will not last beyond the mortgage.
Giving is emotional, not transactional.
I give out of concern or affection or commitment. A gift is not a payment.
By definition, a gift is something freely given.
Do you want your donors calculating their debt to you? Grudgingly handing over money due?
Or do you want them thinking about what they can accomplish with you if they give?
Do you want them feeling obligated or committed? (There’s a difference there… one is a choice.)
Guilt can work, but only for so long. The satisfaction of generosity lasts much longer. And since it feels great, donors want to do it again.
What do you want your donors to feel?
A warm glow because they chose to be generous. Powerful, because their gift will change something for the better. Virtuous, connected to a community, satisfied.
Do you feel any of that when you pay your bills? Yeah, me either.
Words matter. How you feel about your donors matters, too. And it shows in the words you choose.