Gifts or Giving – Dollars or Donors?


I have to admit I have always had a problem with receiving and giving gifts.

It’s probably because I’m worried about the motivation behind the gift giving.  Do you ever wonder about it?  Does the person giving the gift really care, or is it just an obligation?

Good question.

People close to me tell me not to worry about it.  “Just accept the fact that someone actually thought about you, Richard,” they say.

But I still wonder.  Here’s why.

In a perfect world, a gift is an expression of a deeper relationship.  It is a tangible way of telling the other person you value him, you care about him, you love him, and that he really does matter in the larger scheme of things. PLUS he matters to you.  If you really can’t say one of these things about the person, then why would you give him a gift?

But what things have been reduced to, in many relationships, is an obligatory transaction devoid of any real meaning.  And that is why I worry about it.  Fundamentally, I just want to be loved and valued for who I am.

Which leads me to the gift-giving equivalent in our major gift work – the dollars vs. donors discussion.

Jeff and I have talked about this quite a bit in this blog.  “It’s about the donor,” we say, “not the dollars.”  But time and time again we run into systems and processes in non-profits that are set up to love the dollar not the donor.

Here’s an example.

I am aware of a situation right now in a wonderful charity where there is a tremendous lag in processing donor gifts.  The back-log runs all the way to two weeks!  This means that donors who are sending in their gifts are not even being acknowledged for their giving until three weeks after they gave their gift!  This is a disaster.

Add to this the fact that the DOLLARS from these donors are banked the very day the mail arrives!  Are you getting what I am saying?  Someone is quickly and urgently grabbing the money and banking it, then calmly and, I might say, callously, putting the donor into a holding pattern that will take as long as it takes.  Who cares?  No urgency.  No awareness of WHO sent the money in.  Nothing.

Now, you might be saying this doesn’t happen in your organization.  Have you checked recently?

I’ve seen too many instances in the last two months where the correspondence and donor information related to $25,000 and $50,000 gifts sit like bags of garbage on the back porch.

How does this happen?  One simple reason: management does not value donors.  Managers like this should be fired.  Why?  Because they do not know or understand where the money that is funding their paycheck is coming from – they don’t value donors.

Think about how this makes the donor feel.  Besides not hearing from their “favorite and beloved charity”, they intuitively know it’s about the money in this relationship. It’s like getting a gift at Christmas from someone you know who doesn’t like you.  It feels pretty bad.

There is a bright spot in the charity I referred to earlier – a place where one manager is doing it right.  She held a major donor event two weeks ago and had the receipt and thank you kit out to each of the 250 donors who attended the event in the next day’s mail!  One donor commented, “I couldn’t believe it.  I went to the event and two days later I had my thank you and receipt in my hands!  Wow!”

Now that’s an enlightened manager – a person who knows the value of her donors – a person who values her donors as partners vs. sources of cash.  This story just brightened my day.  And I pass it on to you as a model for what you should do in your organization.

Your major donors deserve your immediate attention and care. It IS only about them, NOT their money.  Don’t ever forget it.

And spend an hour today checking on the systems in your organization to make sure there’s not a bag of garbage on your back porch where the letters, aspirations and goodwill of your good donors are uncaringly stored and waiting to be attended.

If you honor your donors and care for them, you will bring goodness into your life and into your organization.  It will be like getting a gift from someone who loves you.

Jeff and I hope this holiday season will be filled with GIVING in your life.  Not gifts.  Giving – the giving and receiving of love, relationship and authenticity.  There is nothing better, believe me.



About Jeff Schreifels and Richard Perry

Jeff Schreifels and Richard Perry have over 55 years of experience fundraising for non-profits. Richard Perry was co-owner of Domain Group until 2005. Jeff Schreifels was a Senior Strategist for Domain Group for 12 years. They came together a few years ago to start Veritus Group, a full-service major gift fundraising agency. Veritus Group has a unique, data-driven approach unlike any agency focused on major gifts. Jeff and Richard are passionate about their work, passionate about life and hopes this blog will provide you with insights and tangible benefits for you and your work. Thank you for reading!
This entry was posted in Development Directors, Donor-Centered, Major Gift Officers, Major Gifts, Non-Profits and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Gifts or Giving – Dollars or Donors?

  1. Chip Eagle says:

    I just wanted to say that I truly enjoy your blog almost every single time. There can’t be many people who could have delivered the message below without sounding “preachy” but you nailed it. You help me grow as a development professional with your writings and I appreciate them.

    Thank you,

    Jason W. “Chip” Eagle
    Manager, Department of Gift Planning
    Sacred Heart Southern Missions
    P.O. Box 300
    Walls, MS 38680

  2. Thanks, Jason. Your feedback is truly appreciated.

  3. Nic says:


    This is a cracker! Thanks for hitting the nail on the head, Non profits continually disregard their supporters, I’ve heard the term “Giving Unit” used many times in reference to supporters – at the end of the day all the organisation is interested in is what’s in the supporters wallet. I think the systems reflect the attitude of management so it is worth getting the mind set right within the organisation which will then impact the systems.

    Nic Capp
    Melbourne , Australia

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