I listened recently to an experienced and capable gift officer talk about how good she feels when a donor makes a gift “for a meaningful purpose.”
“What does that mean, exactly?” I asked.
“It means,” she continued, “that I have to be convinced that the mission or purpose of the organization I raise money for is important and matters. It’s not about raising money. It’s about doing good.”
Since our interaction, I have been thinking a lot about what she said. More importantly, I’ve been thinking a lot about what her position means for professionals in our field.
My sense in working with advancement and development professionals each day is that most think and feel this way. In fact, I think our philanthropic sector encourages professionals to think and feel this way. It’s not about getting gifts in the door. It’s about what the gifts provide for the mission, the programs, and those your organization serves.
But I’m not certain this approach is altogether accurate or helpful.
For instance, when we focus only on “the purpose” or “what the gift will do,” we can, if we continue with that logic, potentially paint ourselves into an intellectual (and even emotional) corner that strongly suggests only restricted gifts are worthy gifts. They are the gifts with clear and “meaningful purpose.”
In fact, we may not even suggest to a donor that she give unrestricted because we may not feel as though we can communicate back to the donor the “meaningful purpose,” of their gift, or “what the gift has done.” Meanwhile, we know more and more institutions and organizations are recognizing the immense value of unrestricted gifts which can provide needed flexibility to deliver the mission, even during the most difficult of times.
Additionally, and even more fundamentally, my concern about the “meaningful purpose,” response stems from the notion that giving is not meaningful unless some particular outcome is achieved. In other words, giving – in and of itself – is not meaningful.
This is where we, as the charitable giving sector, have started losing our way.
We should be the most educated and enthusiastic proponents on how and why giving – regardless of the outcomes of those gifts – is good. You can find a brief summary here. We should encourage and invite giving where ever and when ever possible. We should be believers in the fact that giving transforms the giver and that behaviors of generosity when consistently aggregated can change for the better the fabric and contours of families, communities, and our broader world.
Yes, of course, you should only serve an organization or institution you believe is serving a “meaningful purpose.” And most of the advancement and development professionals I work with believe that about their current employer.
But, we embrace a significant misunderstanding when we believe that the value of giving from our donors only begins when we receive the gift. As a point in fact, when we receive the gift, the real value of human generosity has already been realized.
Just ask the donor.