Dear Charities: Don’t Overdo the Thanks

Charities love their donors.  Sometimes charities love their donors a little too much.

I recently had lunch with a representative of a large national donor-advised fund who told me about a large donor who makes multiple eight-figure grants from his sizable donor-advised fund to select non-profits annually.

The donor wishes to remain anonymous and is not looking for recognition of any kind.  The gift letter from the donor-advised fund is quite clear, specifically telling the lucky charitable recipients (paraphrasing): “This is very likely a one-time gift.  The donor does not need or want to be thanked.  Please do not respond to this gift.  Best wishes in your charitable mission.”

Without fail, several of the recipient charities reach out to the donor-advised fund with their thanks and gratitude, asking if the fund can pass along a message to the donor, offering to send reports or other materials to the donor – in other words, completely disregarding the donor’s and the fund’s instructions not to be contacted!

I get it.  I used to work as a fundraiser for non-profits.  It is one of the fundamentals of fundraising: you must thank your donors, often and in different ways.  It’s called stewardship.  It’s drilled into you.  Charities can’t help themselves!

Non-profits know that the best way to raise money is from existing donors, and the best way to get existing donors to keep giving is to thank them for their prior giving.

Noted fundraising consultant Jerry Panas often mentions the “rule of seven” – thank a donor seven times before asking for the next gift.

But can charities overdo their thanks to donors?

Clearly in the case of the story described earlier, yes.  When the donor (or in this case, the fund representing the donor) tells you, “Here is my gift, now leave me alone,” and then you don’t…well, you aren’t listening.

That’s one reason why so many donors choose to remain anonymous: they don’t want to be bothered / hounded / thanked by the organization.  For these donors, the act of giving is enough.  No thanks needed.

There’s little evidence to suggest that this is going to change.  Charities are going to continue thanking donors, as they should, and some donors are going to choose anonymity.

That being the case, some words of advice:

  • If you are a donor seeking complete anonymity, you should expect some curiosity from the charity about who you are and why you are giving.  It’s only natural.  Don’t hold it against them.

You can also choose a middle ground: let the charity know who you are and why you give, but ask not to be publicly named or recognized.

  • If you are the charity, listen to your donors when they tell you they don’t want to be thanked or recognized or contacted.  Have a robust stewardship program in place, but be mindful to not overdo it.

If you receive a completely anonymous gift, be grateful, but respect the donor’s desire for anonymity and don’t attempt to find out who they are, contact them, or send a message through an intermediary.

Philanthropy is built on relationship between giver and recipient.  Thanking someone for a gift is the right thing to do – so long as it respects the wishes of the giver.

Questions or comments?  Contact me on Twitter @juanros or LinkedIn.

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