OCD: Over-Controlling Donor

May 13, 2015 | Social Responsibility

Create a purposeful strategy for giving throughout the year that aligns with your values. You’ll feel less likely to control how the gift is used.

This post is an appeal letter to all donors, from a fellow donor, to get rid of guilt around your financial donations, feel empowered by your giving, and how to support effective nonprofits in the process.

Dear Donor,

While my husband and I have created clarity around our giving, we also have some room to grow as philanthropists. I want to invite you to become a better donor, too. This “ask” is not for your money, but for you to share your resources in a way that is more impactful for charities and less stressful for you.

Each year my husband and I plan our philanthropic giving. We make 4 to 6 significant gifts that we feel will make an impact. And we give it with no strings attached. We donated nearly 2% of our income in cold hard cash to four organizations that we’re passionate about. Most of these organizations are in our neighborhood because we’re passionate and committed to rebuilding our neighborhood. This is where we spend our energy and resources.

Like us, others have discerned their focus to be on a specific city in Haiti, a school in Africa, or facilitating adoptions between China and the United States. The more clear you are on your mission, the more clear you can be on which nonprofit missions are right for you to support.

We happen to do our financial giving at the end of the year, because we have significant financial goals we’re reaching for at the beginning of the year. But now that those are met, I hope we can spread it out throughout the year and increase that percentage. According to the latest report from Giving USA, in 2013, each American adult donated an average of $1,016 and each U.S. household averaged 2,974 in gifts.

Picture of money with quote, Nonprofits need cash.

Here are some ways that we as donors can be better behaved and more supportive of the hard work that goes on in organizations locally and globally.

1. Give unrestricted gifts. It takes money to run a successful nonprofit. Restricted funding is an administrative headache and takes energy away from the work of the mission. Many executive directors spend 70% of their time fundraising. Restricted donations are like all the extras in a cake. Someone wants to pay for the icing (and wants their name in it). Someone else wants to pay for the sprinkles. Someone else wants to pay for the layer of ganache between the layers. If no one is willing to pay for the flour, butter, and eggs, then there is no cake. If an agency spends all of its time raising money for sprinkles, it can’t have the ingredients for the actual cake that holds it all together.

2. Give where you’re intrigued and/or passionate about the mission. And stop giving to everyone who asks. Take the time to research to whom you’re giving. See how they spend their money on their website and at guidestar.org. Their services need to be something you feel called to support. There’s nothing wrong with saying, “No.” to a charity if you don’t want to be part of its mission. Create focus for all of your charitable giving.

I don’t buy those paper balloons at the gas station to benefit a nationwide hospital. It’s not because I’m callous about sick kids. It’s because it’s not part of my mission to support health-based nonprofits. I’m focused on homelessness, social services, and rebuilding my neighborhood.

According to Guidestar, there are more than 1.8 million tax exempt organizations in the United States. And according to many working in the field (including me), there are way too many and the overlap in services is sometimes embarrassing. We’re part of the problem when we donate to all these random groups because 1) we’re not clear on our own giving priorities and 2) we don’t do our research on why that group’s work is needed and is important.

3. Give more than money. And give more often than at special events. Be invested in the cause by donating money and time, and sharing their mission with your network. As a donor and volunteer, this is a very special role you fill for any nonprofit your connected to.

4. Donate January through October. Based on my own experiences, I’ve seen 75% to 90% of donations come in in the last six weeks of the year. That means donations trickle in during January through October, which means managing cash flow is tricky. Consider donating throughout the year. Many nonprofits have monthly giving programs so that you can make a significant contribution over the course of the year. Think about how easy it would be for you to give $25 each month. It adds up to $300 for the year and chances are you won’t even miss it.

5. Be honest and share feedback. It’s painful when a donor just stops donating. Fundraising staff ask themselves, “Why? What could we have done differently?” (Seriously, it hurts their feelings.) As the donor, please let them know what they could have done differently. Do you need more stories of who is impacted by their work? Do you need more frequent or less frequent communication? Or have your priorities simply changed? As with any relationship involving money, communication is very important.

When it comes to being a donor, we all must realize our part in the process: nonprofits need our cash and they also need our investments in other ways. They need us to share the message of their work; they need us to volunteer to help with administrative tasks; they need us to plan events; they need us to rally for laws that impact clients’ lives. Being a donor needs to be just one piece of your connection to that charity. And you’re most effective, and charities are most effective, when they are combined.


Your Fellow Do-Gooder