Someone wants to give your nonprofit organization a sizeable donation. That’s great, right? Of course it’s great! But what happens when the donor has a very specific idea of what their gift should be used for, but your organization’s needs lie elsewhere?
A while back, I heard of church that was rapidly growing out of their current church building. They were busting at the seams on Sunday mornings and had to keep adding more services to accommodate everyone who wanted to attend. They hosted many different ministries on their campus throughout the week that were also growing and needed more space. In addition, the church had dreams of opening a preschool/daycare to better serve their community.
The church decided to conduct a multimillion-dollar fundraising campaign that would allow them to purchase a piece of property and build a new, larger facility. In the middle of the fundraising campaign, a wealthy older couple from the church came to the church leaders to offer a six-figure donation. However, this couple had a very specific stipulation for their donation. They wanted it to be used exclusively for a pipe organ in the new church sanctuary.
Now, this request wasn’t totally out of left field. The church’s current sanctuary had a pipe organ in it. Unfortunately, there was no longer anyone in the church that actually knew how to play it, so it only got used on very rare occasions, like when the church would pay someone to play it for a Christmas service or a special concert. But this couple was adamant that every church sanctuary should include a pipe organ, and they were willing to foot the entire bill for one for their new church building.
The church leaders tried to reason with the couple. They explained that no one in the church could play the organ, and that the church had been steadily moving toward more contemporary music that didn’t involve the use of one. They also showed the couple the already-approved plans for the new sanctuary—which didn’t include a pipe organ. They asked the couple if they would be willing to donate the money to the general building fund instead, since a six-figure donation would go a long way toward helping the church meet its fundraising goal, but the couple responded essentially with “no pipe organ, no money.” In the end, the church accepted the couple’s generous donation and had the plans redesigned to include a pipe organ.
I wasn’t privy to the conversations between the church leaders and the couple, but I suspect there wasn’t anything that could have been said or done to change the couple’s mind. They wanted their church to have a pipe organ, and they wouldn’t take “no” for an answer. In the end, the church leaders made the choice they thought was best. They accepted the gift of a fully paid-for pipe organ, rather than potentially alienating long-standing church members by refusing their well-meaning donation.
At some point, you may be put in the same position as those church leaders, if you haven’t already experienced something similar. It’s not the worst position to be put in, by any means, but it does present a dilemma. Do you accept donations with strings attached?
There are a couple of reasons why you might not want to accept a designated donation. For one, the donor may want you to use it for something that is not on mission. You may want to think twice before accepting a donation for something that would cause you and your team to be distracted from what you are trying to accomplish through your organization. You also may want to turn down a donation that could actually cost you money in the long run. Looking back at the pipe organ story—yes, the church got a free pipe organ, but they now have to pay someone to play it, tune it, and maintain it. Fortunately, none of these things involve a huge amount of money, but if you have someone who wants to contribute toward a new program or service that will have ongoing costs, be sure to take that into consideration before accepting the donation.
Offer Multiple Options to Donors
Your organization likely has faithful supporters who are willing to support the daily operations of your nonprofit through general donations. However, not everyone wants to give to your organization’s general fund. For some people, it can feel as if they are not making a very big impact when they do so. If your organization has a $5 million operating budget, someone who only has $500 to contribute may feel like their donation is just a drop in the bucket. One way to get around this is to give your donors the option to donate toward more specific things so they can feel like they are making a real difference. For example, if you run a summer camp for underprivileged youth, you could set up a scholarship fund that would allow donors to sponsor a camper for $500. So, instead of contributing .01% of your organization’s annual budget, they are contributing 100% of the funds needed to send a kid to camp!
Last year, when the organization I work for, VitalChurch Ministry, conducted our end-of-the-year fundraising campaign, we asked people to sponsor a church in crisis that desperately needed the help of our organization, but didn’t have the funds to pay for it. Many of our donors are people from churches we have worked with in the past. They know what it’s like to be a part of a church that needs help and guidance. Our fundraising “ask” hit home with many donors, and they stepped up to support our organization so we could help another church in need. They may not have responded as generously, had we just asked for a general donation to our organization.
Your big-dollar doners may want to contribute toward something that they feel will have an impact on your organization for many years to come, such as a new building, a much-needed piece of equipment, or a new program. Ideally, your donors will want to contribute toward things that your organization actually needs (as opposed to what they think it needs). As a leader of a nonprofit organization, it’s important to be prepared with ideas, so when someone wants to give generously toward something impactful, you can steer them in the right direction.short url: