Donors are not minions and cannot be owned or posessed

slavery amendmentSlavery ended on December 6, 1865 when the 13th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States was ratified. In a nutshell, this means that people cannot own people anymore. I have a hard time juxtaposing this fact with what I hear some non-profit professionals sometimes say, which is: “. . . that is my donor“.

I suspect many of you reading today’s post probably just had a strong reaction to what I said. You’re probably nodding your head and thinking “THOSE” people should know better. However, I suspect many more of us are guilty of trying to control our donors. The following are just a few examples of what I’ve recently seen and inspire this today’s blog post.

Collaborative fundraising

Collaborative fundraising is when two parties get together to raise money for a singular purpose. It could be jointly approaching one large donor (e.g. large multi-national corporation) as a statewide collaborative and asking them to support one program that everyone in the alliance runs. It could also be two separate entities approaching their separate donor lists to support a joint effort.

In my experience, this type of fundraising has become more common in recent years.

You may not be practicing donor-centered fundraising if you find yourself in one of these ventures and you catch yourself saying things like:

  • My list
  • My donors
  • My money vs. your money

Controlling opportunities

controlLet’s face it . . . non-profit organizations typically have many competing priorities and projects usually going on simultaneously (e.g. supporting the annual fund, building a new building, renovating an existing space, endowing a program, etc).

You may not be practicing donor-centered fundraising if you find yourself doing something like:

  • deciding for the donor which project you will won’t present to them as an opportunity because you need their money elsewhere
  • steering the donor away from certain projects
  • trying to change a donor’s mind when they come to you with an idea

I’m not suggesting that fundraising professionals shouldn’t use their best judgement. You know your donors, and you should know what they are passionate about. So, bringing opportunities that align with their interests and passions is very much donor centered. However, if you find yourself using “organizational needs” as a criteria to decide which funding opportunities are shared with a donor, then you might find yourself in the category of trying to “control donors“.

Donors as Minions movie characters

minionsI recently saw the Minions in the movie theater. It was in the middle of this relaxing diversion from my crazy work schedule that I came to believe some (perhaps many) non-profit organizations view their donors as these cute, little yellow characters.

  • Individually small
  • Collectively powerful and useful
  • Looking to serve and belong

Of course, if you follow the movie plot line, you quickly realize that Minions are not a mindless drone collective. They have ideas of their own and oftentimes find themselves sideways with the mission. Another common theme throughout this film and the Despicable Me movies is that the villain for whom the Minions work typically ends up failing at controlling this group of adorable yellow characters.

The bottom line for me is that donors are not minions. If you choose to treat them as such, you will likely end up with a big yellow mess on your hands.

What to do about this?

This post obviously leads one to ask the obvious question, which is “what should be done to avoid this behavior?

I suggest you consider the following simple suggestions:

  1. Mind your language and try to stop using words like “mine” and “yours
  2. Sit down with donors (especially major gift prospects) regularly and engage them in discussions about their philanthropic passions, wishes and dreams
  3. Develop a “menu of opportunities” for your major gifts initiative

Have you seen or experienced similar situations where donors were being controlled or manipulated? If so, what was the end result? How does your organization share funding opportunities with donors (e.g. menu of major gift opportunties)?

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

About DonorDreams

Erik got his start working in the non-profit field immediately upon graduation with his masters degree in 1994. His non-profit management and fundraising experience numbers nearly 20 years. His teachable point of view around resource development is influenced by the work of Penelope Burk and those professionals subscribing to a "donor centered" paradigm. Donors have dreams and it is our responsibility to be dream-makers because donors are not ATMs.

Posted on September 22, 2015, in Fundraising, nonprofit, philanthropy and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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