Get Out of the Way & Let
the Donor Make the Gift

A friend of mine who owns a business recently told me he had contacted an educational organization about making a $50,000 gift. It was to be his first gift to the organization. Now, this was my friend making the contact, not the educational organization making a solicitation call on him. It was kind of out of the blue. Found money for the educational organizaton. My friend had a couple of conditions, neither of which he was told would present a problem:

  1. His gift was to go to support a specific current program of the educational organization chosen by the donor.
  2. His gift was not to result in any diminishment of funds to that program from other sources. In other words his gift was to be additional money in support of the program.

He wanted to make his gift in support of the specific program he chose, because he believed that program was particularly helpful in creating a pool of potential employees for his company.

The head of the educational organization came to visit my friend at his place of business to discuss the gift. You'd think the visit would be to say thanks and make arrangements to receive the money. You'd think the head of the educational organization would be there to stroke my friend and begin to nurture relationship for the additional gifts that could come in the future.

You'd be wrong. The head of the educational organization tried to talk my friend into making the gift as part of a current funding drive to support an entirely different project. A project my friend made it clear he did not agree with.

This project was near and dear to the head of the educational organization's heart. It was to be his signature project, and the funding drive hadn't been progressing as rapidly as he wished. My friend couldn't have cared less about how the fund drive was going. Remember, he was not a supporter of this program and had made that clear. The head of the educational organization persisted in trying to convince my friend to make the gift in support of his pet project. I don't know if he was convinced of his great ability to persuade, or blinded by desire to see his special project come to fruition. But I do know the result of his persistence.

My friend decided he would take his money elsewhere. And by the way, you can imagine his comments on the stupidity of the educational organization and its head as he told me this story. My friend has the ability to make even larger gifts, and his company is growing strongly. Who knows what he will be capable of five or ten years from now. His first gift to the educational organization was to be $50,000. First gifts from a donor are rarely the largest gifts that donor ever makes to the organization. The head of the educational organization, because he wanted to achieve an ambition near and dear to him, lost $50,000 on the spot, and I wonder how much more for the future.

There is a three part lesson to be learned from this story. One we should never forget:

  1. A donor's money is his/hers.
  2. Donors have the right to give in support of that in which they most strongly believe.
  3. A donor's desires should be respected, as long as they provide valid support for the work of that organization and don't conflict with the policies and practices of the organization.

One word of advice to the head of that educational organization should he ever read this and recognize himself–hubris.

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  1. David, I think this is far more commonplace than anyone might think, unfortunately.

    I am the Founder of a free online auction fundraising venue with mobile bidding. We use a unique and industry disrupting 3rd-party funding model that enables our clients to use our online auction platform, yet still keep 100% of their auction proceeds. Then, as a socially responsible company, we share our 3rd-party funding with our nonprofit clients, matching between 1% and 9% of the total auction revenues.

    Our biggest challenge is educating our nonprofit clients and convincing them to do what is in the best interest for their organization (maximizing revenues).

    We’ve proven to help raise 162% of retail value auction-wide, so our service definitely works, but we’ve actually been turned down because we’re too successful at driving auction revenues up. We actually had a client say no to us because they didn’t want their bidders to pay so much for their auction inventory???

    Last I checked, if bidders were willing to bid, it should be up to them to do so.

    We’ve also had so many nonprofits insist on paying the “fees” out of their proceeds instead of allowing our 3rd party funding model to cover the costs that we’ve actually had to succumb to giving our clients the option to pay us for our services – not at all what we have intended or wanted to do.

    The point is that I see this (your article) as being true across the board… it’s rare that those who should have a fiduciary responsibility to their organization actually do.

    If only nonprofits, and specifically those who run them, had the mentality of a “for profit” business, they’d be far more successful.

    Great article illustrating a big problem, David!


  2. This happened recently to a major institution that neighbours ours (I dare not be more specific!). A donor proposed to make an enormous gift — way more than the $50K mentioned in your article — but one of the principals of said institution went along to persuade the donor to put the money somewhere else. Guess what happened!?

    • Catherine,
      Far to often people fail to listen to donors. There is a tendency to put an organization’s needs ahead of a donor’s wishes.

      Sometimes the best thing to do is to accept an appropriate gift rather than sell a needed project. You can always ask for additional gifts once you have made the donor happy by being responsive.

      I find the following to be universally good advice in these situations; Listen first; then ask questions, and finally respond in a way that furthers both your institution’s mission and the donor’s needs.

  3. excellent article, thanks for sharing.

  4. Hi David,

    I work for VON Canada (Victorian Order of Nurses) a not-for-profit and charitable organization that operates in communities across Canada. I very much enjoyed this article and wondered if I could have permission to share it with our 53 sites in our organization's newsletter.  I would of course give full attribution and include your website.

    Please let me know if that would be ok.




    • Debra,

      Tony, Joyce, and I are always happy when someone shares what we post on this website. All three of us care deeply about nonprofit organizations and their place in the world of philanthropy. You may of course share this article. I only ask that you give proper attribution to the website and to me as the writer. A link to the article and to the website's homepage wherever you can place one would be greatly appreciated. Hopefully that will bring more people who may also find benefit in what is posted on


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