Death, Taxes, and Charitable Giving

April.  Tax time.  My CPA friends don’t breathe until the 15th.  And so many nonprofits are worrying that this will be the last year of plenty.  Or what passes for.  Or what will, in retrospect, seems like a world rich in charitable donations.

I do think that the new tax law could cut into the number of donors and the amounts they give.  My financial advisor, during our annual review (or what I think of as the perennially depressing state of my finances) talked about all kinds ways people could twist themselves into pretzels to make deductible charitable gifts.  Or, I kept thinking, we could just focus on what matters:  The what and why of what we do.

In my work, I have the joy of visiting a lot of organizations with varied missions and clients.  It grounds me and reminds me why I can’t even think about retiring.  The work my clients do matters.  It changes lives.  It makes things—especially in a world where I sometimes wonder what is going on—better.

Yesterday, after a board training, one of the board members approached me, brandishing my handouts.

“You should put the copyright mark on this,” he told me.  Otherwise anyone can use your stuff.

Anyone CAN use my stuff. It’s not that original—I probably co-opted some of it from elsewhere.  But even if it was, my passion is building the nonprofit sector. I think about the good that could be done if we could increase charitable giving from just about 2% of the GDP to even just 2.5%.  And if we could get to 3%, that would be amazing.

How could we do that?  I think for starters we stop focusing on all fretting about things—like the tax law—that impacts very few of most of our donors.  And we stop thinking that technology is a good fundraiser.  We stop spending 90% of our time on transactional fundraising techniques, and focus more on how we can hug our donors and bring them closer to us.

Instead of large, grand events, think small and intimate.  Rather than mass mailings, focus on very personal correspondence.  Rather than shouting at your donors from a distance, think about how you can have a quiet conversation with them, and how that conversation can help you to learn about their philanthropic hopes and dreams.

All right.  You cannot do that with everyone.  And yes, there is a place for a grand event, a large mass mailing. But take the time to get to know who your donors are, and which of those donors care passionately about what you do. Put a spotlight on them, and see how you can tie them even closer to your organization and your cause.

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