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Front-Seat Ultimatum: When Donors Steer Giving The Other Way

 

Driving her to survey the location for the off-campus project gave us a few extra minutes with the donor. As good a time as any to broach that other pressing topic. What did she think about the launching of a planned giving program to boost our nonprofit's endowment? Would this be a useful platform to engage supporters who might consider including our mission in their wills?

 

In addition to her ongoing and generous support, this donor had become a trusted advisor to our executive management team. Someone we could run an idea by, knowing she would always be straightforward. Frank. Plain-spoken and speaking her mind. Offering candid perspectives we had learned to value and to glean from.

 

We had already run the idea by other friends of our nonprofit. They were enthusiastic in their endorsement of a planned giving program. Several even notified us they would include our mission in their estate plans. So, while we weren't asking this donor directly for a planned gift at this time, asking her advice might lead to an opportunity to begin a conversation in that direction.

 

What did she think of the idea?

 

The Executive Director was at the wheel. I was in the backseat. Both of us waited for her response. Neither of us quite prepared for the ensuing front-seat ultimatum. Issued bluntly from the passenger's side.

 

First, the warning: "Well, I'll tell you this: Don't you ever ask me for a planned gift."

 

Then, the serious threat: "If you can't use my money now, I'll stop giving to your organization and start giving to another nonprofit that will."

 

As a development professional, you don't forget a startling response like that. Or how abruptly a conversation can change when a donor steers it in another direction. Could we have predicted that the subject of planned giving would trigger an ultimatum so severe?

 

Grant it, this was a person who understood the merit and long-term impact of planned giving. She was smart, sophisticated and savvy. What we hadn't surmised was that her ultimate focus of giving was not about future outcomes. Instead, she was primarily concerned with immediate impact. Touching lives. In the present moment.

 

In retrospect, her giving patterns up to that moment would have suggested such. Here was a donor who shied away from big ticket and big idea appeals. She had little to no interest in fundraising galas, benefit sponsorships and prominent naming recognition. She was stealth, searching for spontaneous opportunities to make the world a better place. In the here and now. Giving from the sidelines or behind the scenes, she took particular joy in learning about the accomplishments and achievements of our program participants. Stories of how her donations enhanced the quality of their lives seemed to fuel her funding decisions forward.

 

This was a hands-on donor. More likely to give by instinct, inspiration and intuition. Straightforward. Frank. Plain-spoken and speaking her mind. Just like she gave us her advice.

 

Some might categorize donors like her as impulsive. Consider them intrusive. Or dismiss them as erratic. Even minimize their emotional tendencies as shallow. Saccharine. Superficial.

 

We opted for another approach. From that front-seat ultimatum going forward, we learned to respect this hands-on donor, and others like her, in a more intentional way. We paid more attention to her clues and signals. The sharp and sudden sentiments shared. The pointed preferences and proclivities that drove her philanthropy.

 

All of this was recorded in detail in her donor constituency file. Referenced often to remind us of what she would not give to. Reminding us of what steered her generosity with abandon.

 

Because this donor appreciated sensing the immediate benefit of her hands-on support, we updated her more frequently on the "here and now" impact she was making. Nothing thrilled her more than to hear the latest story. To learn how her singular actions of goodwill were changing lives today, not some faraway day in the future. Or how she was setting in motion a solution for the challenge du jour, not a crisis forming beyond the horizon.

 

Eventually, these testimonials of her short-term generosity accrued over time. To her great delight, I might add. She, in turn, continued to lavish substantial gifts on our nonprofit. Given with her trademark hands-on spontaneity and immediacy. Good deeds which, now decades later, continue to ripple with long-term benefits. Interestingly, much like a planned gift after all.

 

Perhaps the ultimate intent behind her front-seat ultimatum?

 

 

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