The Problem with “Sacrificial Giving”

“We need more donors who are willing to give sacrificially!”  This was a statement recently made to me by the CEO of a national non-profit.  I paused for a moment to think about how I might best respond.  “What would more sacrificial gifts do for your organization?” I asked.

He couldn’t provide a good answer.

The reason he couldn’t provide a good answer was because the “sacrificial gift” (or I would include the “stretch gift”) phrase focuses not on the gift’s impact on the organization, but on the disposition of the donor.  This is not helpful for at least three reasons:

  1. The phrase, “sacrificial gift,” suggests that donors should give to our organizations and expect nothing in return.  In fact, the phrase suggests donors should be giving up something important – that is why their gift would be a “sacrifice.”  This is wrong-headed at its core!  Yes, for many donors, there is an altruistic component to their giving.  They want to do as much good as they can with their giving.  But the presence of altruism does not preclude the presence of other gift-drivers.  Development leaders should focus squarely on all the gift-drivers for donors.  What do they need and/or want from making the gift?    Whether it be emotionally, psychologically, sociologically and even egotistically, the vast majority of donors expect to receive something substantial from their giving experience.  If donors don’t receive what they are looking for, the organization will most likely experience diminished giving from those donors in the future.
  2. The “sacrificial gift” language also suggests that our organizations simply need the current list of donors to give more in order to be successful.  And while it is true that the leadership donors of the past are most likely going to be the leadership donors in the future, every organization should be constantly scanning the horizon for new principal gift prospects.  By focusing so fully on getting more “sacrifice” from the current set of donors, an organization may be misappropriating energies and efforts that could be better used identifying new prospects.
  3. Finally, the primary concern I have with phrases like “sacrificial” or “stretch” giving is that it takes the focus off what we can do as development leaders and, in essence, ‘blames’ the donors.  Instead of complaining about why more of the organization’s donors are not “sacrificing,” why not strategize anew on how the organization can elicit the passion and dedication from donors which will encourage their stretch giving?  I am much more interested in focusing on what the organization can do to create compelling reasons for donors to “sacrifice” for us.

Ultimately what we all want is a passionate partnership with donors.  We want donors to receive joy, peace, fulfillment, and immense satisfaction from their giving to us.  We want their gifts to be of a size to enhance (even transform) our organization and provide us with the capacity to do more of our good work.  When done well, philanthropy looks much more like a “win-win” than it does a “sacrifice.”


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