How do you define a DONOR?  Is there a minimum gift amount?  Or, should total giving represent a particular percentage of your income?  What about actually caring about the beneficiary group?  Does the support need to be long-term?  And, what about “banking in” on tax advantages – a definite no?

In a recent post, Greg Fox questions the casual use of the term – donor.  Point well taken.  Certainly, sometimes it seems like we throw the word around so haphazardly.  To address this issue, Greg recommends potential guidelines for defining who is (and is NOT) a donor:

“Are among the 15% who give 85% of the revenue, Contribute 10% or more of their annual household income to only a few select charities, Demonstrated a sustained pattern of giving over three or more consecutive years, Give and who also advocate for your organization, or Have a personal relationship to the charity”

Unfortunately, these descriptions seem more like a development department’s “wish list” than a donor definition. I’ll address each point-by-point.

  • Are among the 15% who give 85% of the revenue” – This is an incredible proportion of income.  It reminds me of the Biblical story of the woman who gave all she had – just a mite.  Yes, this is a wonderful picture of a donor.  But, what about those who only give 84% of their income?  Or, what about the single mom who gives what she can after feeding her own children (only $20 of her $400 weekly paycheck)?
  • Contribute 10% or more of their annual household income to only a few select charities” – Sure, there are testimonials from major donors who explained the incredible transformation when they decided to approach their giving more strategically – to specific causes or organizations.  However, is there something bad with supporting a lot of charities?  I’m not sure about that one.
  • Demonstrated a sustained pattern of giving over three or more consecutive years” – Yes, donor retention and donor loyalty can have tremendous organizational benefits.  But, do we despise a one-hit wonder?  What about a philanthropist who is passionate about providing 2 years of start-up or “seed” money to new ideas and organizations?
  • Give and who also advocate for your organization” – Sure, why not?  An advocating donor can have substantial impact – pulling in new donors and new support.  But, what about the anonymous donor who doesn’t want others to know about their personal philanthropy?  Is the gift less valuable?
  • Have a personal relationship to the charity” – We love donors, and we love volunteers.  But, we especially love donors who are volunteers and volunteers who are donors.  Double-whammy!  However, I don’t want to forget about that donor that cannot be involved with the organization – a former domestic violence victim who gives a donation but can’t bear to visit the shelter.  Or, what about the growing trend toward international organizations – benefiting children in a country that you may never step foot in.

That’s the funny thing about philanthropy, charity, and donations.  Who defines the gift or its value?  Philanthropy, while sometimes motivated by financial benefit, is also deeply motivated by a person’s beliefs about what the world “ought” to beRooted in an individual’s perspective, then, a gift is a complicated thing.

What do you think?  Please leave a comment with your suggestions on how to define a donor.

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