Charitable Giving

The Halo Effect

I'm on the board of a local nonprofit that had tax credits available to donors who gave over a certain amount in 2013. Since I'm not the chick that can donate significant cash to the cause, I try to amp up the   "Talent and Time" portion of the good board member's trifecta of contributions: Time, Talent and Treasure.

That said, I asked our executive director if everyone on our file of potential donors knew about the credit. Mentioned that perhaps we should send out a couple year-end emails thanking them for their support in 2013 and inviting them to partake of the tax advantages of a generous year-end gift to our group.

The exec didn't want to bother people with a lot of year end emails so I suggested suppressing those who responded to the initial drop.

Results were impressive, but unexpected. The Halo Effect strikes again.
Several things to keep in mind:

  • One Channel Can Drive Another. Several major gifts were walked in by donors as a result of the email. Others mailed them in. The point is they knew these channels were available and their preference drove the bus here. Everyone wins.
  • Staying Top of Mind Year-Round. This organization invests in excellent PR. Even those donors who come to one event and don't actively engage with us year-round know what we're up to and the difference we're making in our community. That makes a difference when you come asking for gifts at the end of the year.
  • Staying Top of Mind Without Every Touch Including an Ask. Of ultra importance, friends. There's an integrated annual plan that includes a lot of storytelling, chances to engage with the org in person, progress reports, accolades and yes, we ask for help, but in a judicious and considered fashion …
  • Excellent Reactivation Tool. We had donors come in who used to support us, but had moved away. We had their personal email on file—and permission to contact them—so their physical address change wasn't a factor. They moved back to the city and wanted to help out with gifts and volunteer time.

Building a Culture of Giving

This past week, Republican candidates released their tax records.

While most media focus has been on tax percentage, the New York Times also looked at charitable giving.

Interestingly, the “heartless business baron” gave 13.8% of 2010 income to charity, more than five times the share committed by his competitor, the “Catholic crusader.”

What’s frightening is that the median taxpayer gives even less – only 2.1%. And that number has trended steadily downward over the past few decades.

What does that mean to organizations that rely on individual donations, especially in light of the shrinking pool of funding from government, foundations, corporations and other high-dollar resources?

It means the organization must not only seek out individuals who share a commitment to its mission … but it may also need to nurture a “tradition of giving” among some of those donors. To teach them (or help them learn!) to give.

How can you do that?

Call it courtship. Or engagement. Or education.

But it'’s a process that won’t happen with a single appeal. In fact, it may take years. And unless an organization is able to hold that longer view on donor development – both in how it speaks to donors and how it tracks their response – it may not happen at all.