Another Dramatic Reminder on Honoring Donor Wishes

There is an ancient quote that says something like “You can spend a lifetime building a good reputation, but can ruin it in a minute.” The follow-up quote is probably “Do something good for me and I’ll try to remember it for a while; hurt me and I will never forget.”

Fast forward to the early 1990s when I was working for our local United Way. Among the most prevalent objections that donors cited for not giving through United Way was, “You support the American Red Cross and I will NEVER give them anything because they were selling donuts to servicemen during World War II.” Always said with fire in the voice, and after more than 45 years.

Unfortunately for the Red Cross, they’ve probably just sealed a similar legacy for the coming century. Their handling of donations to the September 11 “Liberty Fund” – nearly $550 million – has once again proven that they don’t understand what it takes to be effective stewards of charitable gifts.

In late October, The Red Cross announced that some of the funds donated post-September 11 – and clearly intended to directly meet the needs of the victims of that day’s horror – will be used for enhanced corporate infrastructure, and also for future victims of terrorist attacks (i.e. restricted savings). While this use certainly withstands any test of legal charitable purpose, it is not likely to meet the desires of Liberty Fund donors.

The issue became heated enough that Red Cross CEO Bernadine Healy resigned over the decision. Then in mid-November, the board reversed its stand and announced that all funds will go to people harmed by the September 11 attacks.

Too late. Donors don’t want an apology and they don’t want a free donut. Not now. What they want is confidence that those who are the stewards of their gifts will “do the right thing.”

Meeting legal requirements isn’t enough. Even being ethical isn’t enough. It is only enough when we do our best to get inside of the head and heart of our donor and then say with certainty, “I understand your intentions. I will do what I can to make certain your expectations are met and exceeded. You can trust me with your hard-earned contribution, buying our services for the good of others and of the community.”

It usually is not a difficult task to determine how donors want their money spent. They tell us, in so many words…by responding to a specific solicitation, by designating their gift, by not designating their gift. If it is unclear, we can always ask – another opportunity to be in touch with our supporters and to prove that we care.

Sure, I know The Red Cross couldn’t “check in” with all their donors after September 11 events. They didn’t need to. NEVER has a clearer mandate of donor wishes been given.

Don’t be stupid. Don’t be just legal, and don’t be just ethical. Be smart and remember the Golden Rule. That’s all it takes.

Strong Leaders / Strong Stories

Strong leaders have strong stories, and a solid sense of "self" as a leader.  But too often, even strong women view themselves or are perceived as being very good at "getting things done," but not as valuable strategic resources. What can you do to change this?  Find Out More Here