Last month, a discussion unfolded on Gift Hub that I never got around to commenting on. In response to a question from Phil Cubeta I wrote:
I was trying to say they do not give away the bulk of their lifetime giving “today”. In other words imagine you had someone with $10 million in investable assets. Assume that an analysis of their financial wants/needs and their desire to give showed that they could and would like to give away $6 million over the course of their life. Imagine that all of the tax issues have been handled and the donor is free to give purely in the way that follows their altruistic motives (one of the reasons for organize your giving cited in my article is to separate the tax planning from the altruistic motive).
What I’m saying is that I rarely run across people who would choose to give the $6 million away today and then giving nothing else for the rest of their life. Instead, most people want to give over the course of their life. I think that while there may be a impact maximization case for giving everything asap, that most people want to give over their life and that that choice is OK.
I agree with your perspective. Most people don’t want to just cut loose of the money, the big bundle, the ultimate gift, until late in life, since they actually enjoy the giving and may want to be actively engaged. Also, if you do give all at once to XYX charity, and you are then tapped out, will XYZ send roses on your birth day a year from now? You lose leverage, also, in giving the bundle at once, rather than doling the money out against progress and results on the things you care about.
Then, Gift Hub reader Michelle wrote:
Phil’s last remark is vital to note, and it’s something we see constantly on the inside. This is where the transaction becomes a relationship. Our donors do want the birthday flowers, the mentions in the newsletter, the gradual, long-term, and consistent shaping influence that keeping their recipient on a sort of allowance creates. Every day we see the many ways the donation relationship creates personal meaning and belonging. Were the gift made outright, with no future expectation on either side, the donor would risk the disappearance of a relationship – in many cases an important, self-defining one.
I think Michelle is right. Donors do want “birthday flowers”. But the question is why? Why is it that people who see an important need and are willing to part with their hard earned money to help alleviate the problem, want some flowers sent to them? Isn’t it enough that their money fed a child, lifted a family out of poverty, provided education, healed the environment or even saved a life? It is not enough because most nonprofits are unable to provide any convincing feedback to their donors that indicate the impact of their gift.
When you buy a new computer, you don’t need Dell or Apple to send you flowers as a thank you because the product in your hand affirms your choice to spend the money. Philanthropy is much more challenging in this regard because the “product” you “buy” goes to someone else or is part of a large, longterm event that can be hard to see your impact on.
But imagine the nonprofit that manages to figure out how to demonstrate to their donors (both emotionally and quantitatively) the huge impact of their gift? Suddenly, the nonprofit doesn’t have to spend resources providing “feedback” like birthday flowers. Suddenly, donors’ gifts result in the feedback that humans crave when trying to evaluate their actions.
Relying on birthday flowers is a bit like building a great customer service center to cover for the fact that your customers have no idea if your product is any good (“I don’t know what I bought, but they sure were nice to me!”). It may be necessary, but a much better choice would be to figure out how to show your customers how great your products are. Unless of course, you product isn’t anything special.