Please allow me to refer to the donor as HT. “HT said I made a commitment to help”; then later said “I follow through on my commitments.” Finally, HT said “I know they need my help to make this idea happen.” Three critical statements made during an hour-long discussion and for me three warning bells ringing loudly.
I often spend time listening to a donor with a passion for a cause or an organization describe how much they want to help something happen. Sometimes there is already a relationship with the organization or the person with the cause. The donor feels needed and sees an opportunity to really make a difference.
What caused those bells to ring so loudly as I listened to HT describe heart-felt feelings about making a gift?
It comes from my early years as a nonprofit executive when I shared our needs with a donor. I know exactly what it feels like to believe that all we need to move forward with an idea, program or new location is money.
Today I understand that money is not always the best first gift, especially in the early years of an organization. The best first gift might be a series of questions that sends them back to their drawing board to flesh out better answers.
More than once over the years an organization has talked to me seeking funding only to leave with more questions to answer and no check in hand.
Here are a few questions you can ask before you write a check.
• Do they have the right plan? Not just a plan, but one with legs under it. Will their plan sustain them tomorrow after your check is spent?
• Do they have the right people to carry out the plan? Do the people involved have the needed skills to carry out the plan? Are you sure they know what skills are needed?
• Can they handle a significant gift? Depending on the size of the gift – money, assets, property – how will your investment be protected?
• How will you know the gift accomplished what you hoped?
• Are there other donors involved?
If the questions seem right, but you fear not recognizing the right answers then help is available. Let me or someone you trust help you process the answers and then figure out how to make the next best gift.
So consider letting your first gift be challenging questions. That will make your next gift even better.
What questions do you ask when you’re learning about an organization? Send me your favorite one.
Photo Courtesy of Metro Centric, Brunswick Centre, London http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/