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Please, Don’t Donate To Us

I got a little reminder about the need to shepherd your resources and occasionally refocus yourself on your core business last week when I did my semi-annual stint as an on air guest for the public radio stations.

I am really proud of them because not only have they raised enough money to erect transmitters in all but one major population center in the state, they have done so while reducing the number of days of their appeal from 10 to 8. I think they were inspired to shorten the fund drive by the fact they have generally reached their goals a day or so early the last few years.

Every time I go on, I usually bring some tickets to a show to give away as a thank you gift. I had suggested some appropriate shows when we were making the initial arrangements and was told it wasn’t necessary to offer tickets because they were de-emphasizing gifts in return for donations this year.

I know the stations has been using the message that the premium was the programming rather than the thank you gift for a number of years now. Actually, most public radio stations I have listened to take that approach. The idea is that you are giving so that you can continue to enjoy programming throughout the year, not so you can get a nifty t-shirt.

Thinking they had adopted a purist approach to the programming is the premium philosophy, I was eager to see how successful they might be. Turns out, they aren’t abandoning thank you gifts altogether, just scaling back a great degree.

I was told that because they have such a small staff to help with the gift fulfillment operations, they decided to stop soliciting gifts to give away because it requires so much tracking of where items have come from, if the stations have received the item or if there is a certificate to be exchanged for the item.

If you have ever tried to run an auction fundraiser yourself, you know what can be involved in this sort of activity.

Instead, they have elected to focus more on station branded shirts and tote bags and CD/DVDs associated with local and national radio shows. This way they had a standard group of items that could be processed in the same manner. The gifts provided by the local community tended to be a limited number of higher ticket items like celebrity chef dinners and spa weekends that required $500+ donations.

This new approach for the fund drive is a little new to everyone I guess. The on-air host during one of my segments asked me what goodies I had brought causing one of the coordinators to gesticulate madly indicating that I didn’t have anything. I covered by talking about the season brochures I had brought to help remind me about dates and times.

We often talk about how chasing grant money for programs and services outside your mission and capabilities can be detrimental to your organization. Sometimes you are also in a position where it is better to say no and refuse the gifts of well meaning people if doing so will strain your resources.

It can be very difficult to say no to a heart-felt offering. Many charities which help the poor and dispossessed would rather receive donations of cash rather than food and clothing because the latter requires items to be inspected, evaluated, sanitized and often discarded, all of which diverts staff time and energy.

Groups can be afraid of the ill-will they might generate by appearing ungrateful and refusing the donations and feel obligated to accept. However, there are some alternatives according to a Chronicle of Philanthropy article recently reprinted on Guide Star. Some of the options include redirecting people to groups who will take the donation, a move that can help bolster the creditability of your organization.

Of course, that probably won’t satisfy the ardent long time supporter that wants their gesture to benefit your organization. The Chronicle of Philanthropy article mentions that many charities have disaster plans which outline how they will deal with the out pouring of generosity that may result from a disaster. These plans include responses to donations they are not willing or able to accept.

It may be worthwhile to develop a similar plan to respond to the undesired generosity of a strong supporter so you are prepared for that situation as well.

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