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Donors Expects Gifts To Be Transformational

By Rick Christ - June 18, 2013

All giving should be “transformational.”

During a recent conference of cancer center development officers, a development director said the organization had just received a “transformational gift” — something on the order of $25 million — as a bequest. While the gift could have been described as “huge,” “stupendous” or even “gargantuan,” the potential “transformational” aspects remained in question.

The donor had recently “transformed” from a living human being to a not-so-living human being. The campaign had, as a result, “transformed” from “coming up short” to “over the top.” The donor’s children, no doubt, had just “transformed” from being “inheritors” to “descendants.”

What makes a “transformational” gift? Is it a set dollar amount? Does it vary by institution?

Sr. Georgette Lemuth, OSF, president and CEO of the National Catholic Development Conference, explained it to during at her workshop “Building a Culture of Stewardship and Philanthropy.” Everyone has a gift to offer. Some of us have a financial capacity that exceeds our needs. Some of us have the ability to feed the hungry, clothe the poor, or heal the sick. Others (we fundraisers) have the ability to tell the story of those who feed the hungry to those who have the excess financial capacity; to engage them in the process, and to effectively and efficiently put that excess financial capacity to work to enable those who feed the hungry, clothe the poor, or heal the sick.

She explained that both the donor and the organization (and by extension, the community it serves) is transformed by a gift when:

  • The donor responds to the “case statement” of need from the community, and the organization’s ability to meet that need effectively and efficiently;
  • The donor is compelled by a story that illustrates the community’s need and the organization’s effective and efficient response;
  • The donor makes a commitment to become part of that response, recognizing that their gift from their excess financial capacity has the power to further our organization’s mission in a meaningful way. By the way, the donor gets to decide what is “excess financial capacity,” not fundraisers.
  • The donor’s excess financial capacity is effectively and efficiently “transformed” into food for the hungry, clothes for the poor, or medical treatment for the sick.
  • The donor is not only thanked for their gift, but also receive reports, as specifically as possible, regarding how the gift has transformed the community.
  • If you think a gift is completed when the check clears, you’re a tax collector, not a fundraiser.
  • If you think the gift is completed when the receipt is sent, you’re an accountant, not a fundraiser.
  • If you think the gift is completed when the donor sees what their gift has done, you’re a “transformational” fundraiser.

This is the real reason why direct mail offers with premiums don’t produce long-term donors. Too much emphasis is placed on the initial transaction quid pro quo and not enough importance is placed on what good the gift will do.

There’s a magnificent alchemy at work in “transformational fundraising.” It makes everyone happier – the hungry person who gets a meal, the volunteer who gets to serve it, and the donor who becomes part of the process.

Thoreau said, “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.” Fundraisers can allow donors to sing their song.


Rick Christ is vice president of Amergent, a full-service direct fundraising agency in Peabody, Mass., a contributing editor of The NonProfit Times and a lifelong volunteer, donor, and fundraiser. Follow him @Rick_Christ or contact him:

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