Click Here to Donate

I spent some of the weekend reading and thinking about data analytics as it applies to fundraising. (I know—you only wish you had that kind of excitement in your life.) There are many ways one could slice up the population of charitable donors but the biggest one has to do with whether a donation will affect their budget and in fact whether they even have a budget.

If you make donations out of your discretionary funds—the money left over from your paycheck after you’ve covered your expenses—you are a member of the “income class.” I would guess that everyone reading this blog falls into that category. In fact, nearly everyone I’ve ever met falls into that category. But if you have so much wealth that it doesn’t so much arrive monthly as simply exist, you belong to the “asset class,” and those are a different breed of people, my friends.

Just like some stores sell large quantities of low-cost items with razor-thin margins and other stores sell a small number of extremely expensive items, each of which produces a huge profit for the merchant and the up-stream suppliers, some nonprofits rely on many small donations and others put their efforts into acquiring the occasional massive gift. Those massive gifts come from asset-class donors, and their motivations are very different from the income class.

Organizations that pursue asset-class gifts (generally universities, hospitals, and some arts organizations) bring in more money than organizations that focus their efforts on small donors (nearly all human service organizations). Therefore, I’m told, some orgs are shifting strategy to go after the big dogs who have all the bones. (If this sounds like the 1% and the 99%, it is, except it’s more like the 0.01%.)

But again, motives differ. Income-class donors tend to be motivated by empathy. They want to provide a few meals or make sure the poor kid can still go on the field trips or keep the dv shelter open. Their hearts are big but their individual impacts are small.

Asset-class donors want to make big impacts. They want to change the world. Sometimes (not always) they want credit for changing the world. For example, here in Seattle, four very wealthy brothers made a combined enormous gift to renovate the opera house. The beautiful new facility is now named after their mother.

And good for them. Nothing wrong with big impacts or recognition. Someone built the new cancer ward at the Children’s Hospital and it wasn’t my fifty dollar contribution. What’s worrying me, in terms of other orgs looking for the big bucks, is the propensity that big donors have for exerting control over the use of the gift and therefore the operations of the org. We’ve already seen this in education, where some big-money donors (cough*Gates*cough) have demanded to have their own visions of how it ought to be done  implemented in exchange for their money. This is a dangerous road to go down.

I worry less about arts orgs, which cater to rich people anyway (not that there’s anything wrong with that). But what does Joe Billionaire know about running public schools or feeding the poor? Bupkis. Somehow, though, money has a way of making people feel like experts at everything.

Lots more to say about this but out of time again because I have to earn my cash flow. Have a great Monday, friends.




2 thoughts on “Click Here to Donate

  1. Our library is named after a family from the other end of the state. They donated lots of money to Nebraska libraries, but nobody around here has heard of them. When people ask, I simply say, “remember the old Carnegie library?”

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