WP Remix


I’ve had a couple of folks ask me what happened to follow-up on my ‘Pay It Forward’ post back in September. That post referenced an interesting article about the impact David Robinson (NBA) superstar has made through his philanthropy and led me to discuss my philanthropic goals. You can find the original post in the September 2009 archive at the GettingGiving.Com Blog.

Beginning in September I set out on a mission to ‘act more like an involved donor’ and become more thoughtful about my support. I’m sure most of us who write smaller annual giving checks don’t give much thought to their giving philosophy, but as gift size increases so does the research, soul-searching and analysis of various nonprofits. There is a big difference in your outlook when you are writing a $10 check than when you write a $1,000 or $10,000 check. I’d say the same is true as you get into $100,000 or $100,000,000 but I haven’t had that pleasure. Yet.

The main goal of my endeavor was to do a better job distributing my personal philanthropy. Think ‘focused giving’ rather than ‘sprinkle a little here and yonder.’ There was, however, a fascination with the process as I wanted to learn more about the thoughts and tools one would use to really investigate the options, and what I ‘felt’ along the way as I made my final decisions. No research could provide me with that feeling. While “I am not my donor” I am a donor and that experience can’t hurt.

I initially created a long list of criteria (which I seem to have misplaced) and I’ll do the best I can to outline the big ones below along with my answers:

  • National, Regional or Local (I chose local. I want to help close to home)
  • Environment, education, arts, food/shelter (Ended up with a hybrid education/shelter)
  • Must be able to see concrete examples, see that I made a difference (Done.)
  • Must trust nonprofit (Done.)
  • Must trust nonprofit’s staff/leadership (Done.)
  • Financially secure nonprofit, reasonable expenses, etc. (Done.)
  • Must understand mission, long-term goals of nonprofit (Done.)
  • Can I clearly define success of the organization (Yes.)
  • Can I volunteer and/or participate somehow (It’s an option, not now maybe later.)
  • Will a gift of my size make an impact in a meaningful way? (I think it will.)

My list was much more detailed and comprehensive, but you get the idea. It actually may have taken more time and energy to make the list than to answer the questions.

In the end, I knew I was already making significant contributions to my alma mater and this fulfilled my interest in education. Issues of poverty/shelter/food throughout our country are probably next on my list and I decided to focus my research there.

Utilizing a combination of Google, Charity Navigator, Guidestar, NetworkforGood and some others I looked for nonprofits whose mission closely associated with my goals. There were many you’ve heard of, many many many more you’ve not. It was almost overwhelming to see how many nonprofits are dedicated to this mission and the amazing number of different strategies they employ to address the issues. But I can’t support them all.

I had originally thought location didn’t matter, but by the end I was convinced I wanted to stay close to home. This helped reduce my options significantly (thankfully) and as I looked at the final few, it became clear what I needed most to make a decision.

Give me a good website! I need to learn more about you, your mission, your philosophy, your successes, your challenges. Make it easy for me to get the information I need and present it in a way I can understand it. Show me your progress. Make it easy to see your financials.

I need contact information! Give me a staff listing so I can call somebody if I have a question. Not just a ‘contact us’ form with no name, no numbers, no nothing.

Make it easy to give online! I didn’t make a gift online, but I’m an annual fund geek so of course I looked around! Sometimes it takes an advanced degree to figure out how to use an online gift form. I don’t have that kind of time.

Show your passion! If you don’t believe in your organization, why should I? I want to read it in your stories, see it in your photos and, above all else, I want to hear it when I talk to you. Show your excitement about what you do and the impact you’re making. Your enthusiasm is contagious!

Prove yourself! I was surprised that I needed as much ‘proof’ as I did that an impact was being made. I needed to see photos, hear real stories and be convinced that my gift would translate into some better outcome. Don’t just say it’s making an impact, prove it.

Respond! You don’t have to answer the phone on the first ring or reply to my email within a few minutes, but do not blow me off! I had two different nonprofits ignore phone calls. That’s right, I called out of the blue and left a message saying I wanted to learn more about their organization as I was thinking about making a gift. And they didn’t call me back. That simply amazes me. Needless to say, I didn’t call back either.

There are many more, but those six really stood out because my experience highlighted the lack of many to do these things well.

In the end, I chose a nonprofit I was already familiar with, Habitat for Humanity of Monroe County. Their mission is solid, their success evident. My gift will make a difference to them and the the lives of many. I can see the results. I can feel good about my investment. That’s important to me.

I’ve been a Habitat supporter before, but not at my current level. The smaller gifts were transactional but now it’s an investment. I studied the 990′s, explored the website and had personal conversations with the Executive Director and a couple of board members. I went to an event at which I was able to meet a Habitat Homeowner. I treated it just like I would any other significant financial transaction.

If I had to identify one single variable that helped make my decision easier it was the personal interaction with the people I spoke with, especially the Executive Director. It’s easy to see her excitement, passion and dedication. I can trust her. I believe my gift will be used appropriately and I know she is making decisions she believes are in the best interest of the organization and the people it serves. I didn’t need hours and hours of her time, but if I had, she would have happily shared information and answered as many questions as I could come up with.

As you think about your organization, your processes, your customer service and your people, how would you have looked in this situation? If a prospective donor was thinking about making a gift to a nonprofit like yours? If they were ‘investigating’ you and others alike to make a final decision about the allocation of their philanthropic dollars?

They’re looking. How will you look to them?

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