Have you ever noticed that when you buy a tube of toothpaste from the grocery store, that you never think the money you spend still belongs to you? Fact: you exchanged the money for the toothpaste. Toothpaste belongs to you and the money belongs to the store you bought it from. Quid pro quo, tit for tat, or as some say, “We’re square.”
Not so with donations!
After 23 years in fundraising, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard from very kind and generous donors, “so, what good did you do with my money.” They didn’t refer to it as your money, or the organization’s money. It’s, “Did my money help? Were you able to do what you said you would do with my money? ”
Even after the funds have been spent – and the building was erected, the program implemented or the tenured professor hired – the reference to whose money it actually belongs to remains – the donor!
And rightly so!
Simply, the non-profit organization exists for the public good – to serve the community addressed in its mission. It is supported by those in the community who believe that service is important – the donors. The organization’s board represents that community and has the responsibility to collect and apply those donations in a way that best meet that service or need.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work this way.
The most recent court case concerning Garth Brooks’ donation in 2005 to the Integris Canadian Valley Region Hospital in Yukon Oklahoma is the perfect example. The gift was emotional, heartfelt and would make a significant difference to the hospital that was going to use it to fund a women’s health center named after Mr. Brook’s mother, Colleen. The hospital’s President agreed to use and acknowledge the funds as the donor directed.
The hospital quickly forgot and decided it was their money to do with as they wished. They were wrong.
A court made the hospital pay Mr. Brooks back to the tune of $1 million – more than what he gave. An important win for donor’s rights and a reminder of the non-profit organization’s obligation to honor donor intent.
It’s the donor’s money and nonprofits need to remember that.
You can follow David on Twitter at @Whitehead_Dave.
Photo credit by: oneiroi