Sometimes a gift isn’t a just a gift. Sometimes a gift – especially the gift amount – is a message. Consider the $1000 to $50 continuum.
Let’s say that a new donor gives your institution $50 one year and then $1,000 the next. In most instances, something has changed in a positive way with their affinity toward your institution, their financial circumstance, or both. In any case, their $1,000 gift is more than a gift. It’s a conspicuous red flag clamoring, “pay attention to me.”
Or, what about the donor that has given your institution $1,000 for a few years in a row and this year reduces her gift to $50. This message, of course, is most likely not as positive. But we should seek to better understand the message. Have financial circumstances changed for the worse? Has someone or something upset this donor? Is she feeling less connected?
The concept of the “gift as message,” should remind us all that our work isn’t about the money. The money is a byproduct, a side effect. It’s not an outcome, its an outgrowth. Like the image in a mirror, gifts are a reflection of engagement not the engagement itself.
Donors at all levels are whole people who are multifaceted, nuanced, and wonderfully complicated. Our work is to better understand them. And that starts by listening intently and responding appropriately to them. Even when the messages they send come through their giving.