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Tuesday, December 12, 2017

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Confessions of a Donor, Part 2
Tom Ahern

April, 2013

"Donors spotted near deep-ocean hydrothermal vent..."

What do we really know about them?

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Net worth is the least interesting thing about the folks who give to you. Chapter 2 of "Confessions of a donor." 

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I'm going to make a bold statement:

 

I don't think many of us know much about donor behavior at all. I speak from experience.

 

It's as if I am TWO PEOPLE.

 

One "me" is the so-called professional

 

This is the tricks and science me.

  

Of course, I'm still not sure after 13 years working exclusively with nonprofits, if I am a true professional in any sense. But put that aside. As a friend once said, "We all think we're frauds."

 

The tricks and science me thinks he can "win." I.e., beat the odds. The fact that direct mail response rates have swooned in a gliding dive for nigh on 20 years only adds an element of danger, as bad odds steadily worsen.

 

"A half of one-percent is the new black in acquisition, they tell me." "Have you heard? France is getting the kind of response rates that England hasn't attained in a generation. But then France is a new market for direct mail charity." 

 

"Professional me" wants to **SUCCEED**!¡!¡!¡!
  • Bring "zombie donors" (i.e., any lapsed still above ground) back to life...
  • Stir jaded, faded cheeks into fresh blaze, with renewed conviction for a cause...
  • Coax first-time donors to stick with the nonprofit, until it can prove itself worthy of their trust...
  • Make the idea of charitable bequests appealing to middle-class widows...
  • Write in 50 words or less the perfect case for a $4 billion campaign...
  • Compose a thank you so authentically grateful that donors will maybe save it, or show their friends, or even frame it. (Someday...?) 

The other "me" is the donor

 

The donor household, I should correctly say.

 

I learn a ton from what I observe about charitable behavior ... as exhibited here in our house. 

 

Simone and I together give away somewhere between $20-25K in charity every year. She takes the reins. I trot alongside saying, "I totally agree. Great cause."

 

We're not rich. Economically, we're middle-class. But we don't have kids, so we have surplus income. 

 

A handful of causes get big gifts. Most get nominal gifts.  

 

The size of the gift doesn't matter to us. We're picky, even with small gifts. Maybe we give to 25 charities a year ... of the 1.5 million or so 501(c)(3)s out there in the US.

 

Our gifts represent a highly personal investment in what we consider our values, beliefs, and tribes. We give because we are asked, sometimes by friends. But at the same time we only give to stuff we believe is doing great work. 

 

We feel we should plow a portion of our good fortune back into the hurting world. It feels good. It is enlightened self-interest. And it means we're "contributors."

 

There is an ancient Plains Native American (First Nation) saying, "He who does not give when asked does not belong to the tribe ... the cheap S.O.B." 

 

At least there should be saying like that. 

 

Let's talk bequests ... again

 

Simone and I are "major donors, in the eventually-will-be category." When we die, our entire estate goes to charity, through bequests.

 

Nothing goes to family ... not because we don't like them ... we droolingly, fawningly LOVE family (from a safe distance, anyway). 

 

Still, here's the thing: family members do not need our money.

 

But ...

 

... some really important nonprofit causes DO. 

 

Barring a medical catastrophe or some other money-erasing meltdown, we will probably die leaving a tidy sum.

 

I'm not talking epic, Romney-style wealth. But enough.

 

If your definition of a major gift begins at $20K, our estate will likely equal at least 50 major gifts. 

 

So ... who gets all the loot?

 

When we decease, our local community foundation will be smiling, big time. (Even though they still never send us birthday greetings, despite my flat-footed hints.)

 

They will receive the bulk of our estate. Why did we choose a community foundation over all other charities? Because we understand the concept. And while the community foundation concept in practice tends to be underwhelming, it's a good idea that occasionally does some serious good.

 

A community foundation basically does one thing: it gives away money to local nonprofits seeking funding for new program ideas. 

 

To fund its grantsmaking, the foundation collects donations (mostly bequests from locals) and manages those donations in perpetuity, in an endowment devoted to community service.

 

Our community foundation is outstanding at managing money. They will grow our initial investment over time into a powerhouse for good.

 

They ran the numbers a few years back, before the Great Recession. Back then, they calculated, using decades of comparables, that an endowing bequest of just $20,000 would grow in 50 years to $368,000+ in principal and make $300,000 in grants to charities over the same period.

 

Multiply that $20,000 bequest times 40 ... and that's what our community foundation now stands to receive from our estate.

 

Come on, is a birthday card too much to ask? Or are you sadly "math challenged"? 

 

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Last year, my colleague Jen Shang, "the world's first philanthropic psychologist," as the New York Times dubbed her (and wife of chief fundraising researcher, Adrian Sargeant) was quoted. "Seven adjectives define what Americans see as a 'moral' person," Jen told the reporter. Here are those seven words, in a sterling silver bracelet custom-crafted by Roxysjewelry.com. The adjectives: kind, caring, compassionate, helpful, friendly, fair, hard-working, generous and honest



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