The Attitude Towards Donors
The attitude toward donors is an important element of an organization’s fundraising culture, said Emily Anthony and Julie Edsforth at a recent SVP education session. As the new chair of Child Care Resources’ stewardship committee, I registered for the session to spend time thinking about the organization’s fundraising culture. When Emily and Julie discussed the other two components of fundraising culture, attitude toward fundraising and attitude toward asking, I was able to jump right into conversation about whether fundraising is valued and integrated within the organization and whether people are comfortable asking for money.
But, discussing the attitude toward donors - which is defined as how donors are perceived, related to, and integrated into an organization’s work - gave me pause. What’s not to like about donors? They provide the funding to allow nonprofits to take action. Right? Maybe when some people think about donors, they think about reality TV “rich people,” like the Kardashians or the Real Housewives. Surely, real donors aren’t as wacky as that, especially not in the Pacific Northwest. Right?
Then, I remembered a donor visit I made a while ago. Somewhere near the end of the visit, the donor took out a $100 bill, dramatically ripped it in half and let the pieces fall to the floor. I can’t remember why he did it. Only that it took every ounce of restraint I could muster to stay in my seat with a patient smile on my face. Inside I was thinking, “What the...?! We could really use that money to help families.”
Last week, I went to a meeting of the Road Map Project’s aligned funders workgroup. At this meeting, representatives from the area’s biggest and most generous foundations and corporations discuss ways to support the collective impact effort in South King County. On my way to the meeting, I wondered what it would be like. Would there be a lot of $100 bill ripping? Cigar chomping? Maniacal laughing? Rationally, I knew this wouldn’t be the case. But I had to admit that I wasn’t quite sure what to expect of these funding powerhouses or how I would relate to them.
Long story short, the meeting was inspiring. I left energized about the work of the Road Map Project (a topic for another blog post!) and, more to the point, impressed by the honest interest and passion of the funders. They wanted to see South King County institutions and organizations succeed, but mostly, they wanted to see the kids of South King County succeed. When participants reported various accomplishments there was honest celebration and there was a lot of discussion of how to help as many kids as quickly and as effectively as possible.
My experience reinforced Emily and Julie’s point about attitudes toward donors. When we start to think about asking for money, it’s easy to perceive donors as fundamentally different folks, who destroy currency for fun, and don’t share nonprofit passions and values. In reality, most donors share a desire to see our nonprofit work succeed and to advance our mission. We might not always agree, but we all want to reach the same end goal. From now on, in my donor work, I’m going to try to be aware of my unhelpful, unconscious stereotypes and to talk about these attitudes more openly.