Recently, I blogged about the NPR video and criticized the fundraiser. The more I thought about this, the more compelled I felt to write more and the takeaways from this event and others.Orient your staff on their responsibility to represent your organization at all times. Depending on the role—especially those in leadership positions—nonprofit professionals should know there is never a time they can “take their [insert organization’s name here] hat off.” To some extent, this applies to everyone who works for your nonprofit. They need to know they should never offer an opinion about an employee or the functions of the organization unless they really know who they are talking to—and even, then, it’s likely not a good idea.Inaction speaks loudly as words. If someone offers an offensive comment, you have every right to indicate that it was inappropriate. Ignoring it or simply nodding could be misunderstood as consent in real time and in a video clip. Obviously, don’t start an argument, but you don’t have to affirm your donor’s belief system. If you’re having trouble you should turn the relationship over to your superior.Brief interns, volunteers or students about the appropriate way to deal with these issues. Make sure they know how to respond according to the organization’s guidelines.Donors have a right to be anonymous in your reporting the gift to the public. But you should know the IRS rules on the reporting of gifts to the government. Any gift of $5,000 or 2% of your budget, whichever is higher, needs to be reported in your 990. Pledges are counted at the time of the commitment as a gift made during that year and will need to be reported. Gifts made from a community foundation donor advised fund are not reported. There are other variations, so those who deal with donors should know the rules. There nothing wrong with saying “I don’t know. I will check on it.”If you don’t know the donor prospect, conduct simple research before you meet. This is just good fundraising preparation. These days, with search engines like Google and other tools available to all, this should be easy. While the folk lore stories are always fun, most people don’t wake up one morning and decide to give you millions of dollars without a reason (see my book, Nobody Wants to Give Money Away!).Be careful what you write in an email and assume the world is reading it. I often wonder if an email’s author realizes these careless little missives are forwarded, saved, referred to later, and often stored on the hard drive of their computer. The real trouble for nonprofits is that these emails don’t just reflect on the person sending them—they become a part of the organization’s history. Also, if the organization you work with owns your computer and your address, they have every right to use what they glean from it against you. While you might like to think you have rights on this issue, hear this: “You have no privacy.”Don’t take the bait. Fundraisers’ ability to stay focused is tested often. It’s great to know that in our country it’s okay if everyone doesn’t agree with you. You are going to find people who think homeless people should just get a job, that hospitals already charge too much and don’t need charity support, that students need to work to go to school, that the arts are a waste of time, that international relationship is not American…and the list goes on and on. Generally, you aren’t going to change people who have that mindset. At the same time you can be true to yourself and your own values and your character.You can’t always predict when your character or the character of your organization will be tested, or whether the test will be fair or not. But you can learn from the mistakes of those whose 15 seconds of fame were wasted on avoidable, embarrassing and even irrecoverable moments.Just act honorably, responsibly and ethically and you won’t have to worry. What’s so hard about that?
Will You Be There When John Shamberg Calls?
A big part of fundraising is showing up and being available. I learned this lesson on a very memorable New Year’s Eve, a very long time ago.
As an eager young fundraiser working for Washburn University, I didn’t know that it was unusual still to be at work in the evening of December 31st. But, there I was.
Earlier that year, a graduate of Washburn University School of Law told me he was going to give a gift of land to his synagogue, a private K-12 school and Washburn. John Shamberg, who has since passed away, made millions of dollars for institutions all over the world, and he wanted to give a significant gift to organizations he valued. His 40 acres of land on the outskirts of Kansas City were valued at $450,000, and his intention was to give $150,000 each to three organizations.
He’d left the task to the last day of the year, but now he was ready to make it happen.
He called the synagogue. No answer.
He called the K-12 school. No answer.
Then, he called Washburn and got me.
“Bob,” he said, “you just won the jackpot!”
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