Spread the Good

The recently released study by the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy and CCS – The Million Dollar Gift Next Door – revealed that 50% of the donors lived in the same state as the organization they supported, and another 10% in the same region. So 60% of all top gifts come from people who are thinking local.

Good news for local organizations, and schools with a lot of alums nearby. For everyone else it is a wake-up call to find ways to bridge the distance between their missions and the hearts of their donors.


On the face of it there is an easy answer as to why – people want to keep their money close to home. Certainly makes sense, but is there something deeper at work? Are donors saying they don’t trust organizations they can’t see? Is the connection between their mail box and the mission not enough? Is social media failing to make the digital connection? Has face-to-face fundraising become so much about the ask, there is no connection between appeals?

The answer seems to be yes on all counts. We are paying the price for direct mail best practices being to ask, ask again quickly, and be sure to ask again soon thereafter; social media being about speaking at, not with, supporters; and face-to-face focusing on the fundraising goals instead of the mission goals.

Philanthropy is a sector where distance should not impact the decision to engage. After all, the person who gives rarely benefits from the gift itself. Giving is truly about the receiver, not the giver. Whether the receiver is in your neighborhood or around the world only matters if you don’t feel connected and therefore need to see it for yourself.

And what about “seeing”? I remember after the Asian tsunami World Vision told the story of sending videos of people receiving help and hearing back from donors they were happy to know their gifts actually resulted in people being helped. This story highlighted how many donors are not actually sure their gift will be used effectively (or at all).

Today how can any organization not show a donor what the mission is accomplishing with their support? You don’t need a Spielberg production, just a camera focused on your mission. Bridging the distance between your mission and your donors is your responsibility. Imagine direct mail having an ask, mission, ask, mission pattern; social media being a conversation with your mission the topic; and face-to-face meetings being mission-centered with fundraising goals never being mentioned.

Keeping a connection despite inconvenient geographic location is a talent we have all learned. My family stretches from coast-to-coast. It’s not always easy, but you receive a video like this and you are transported to a backyard hundreds of miles away, able to give the slugger a virtual hug.

P.S. For the direct mail folks who fear sending mail without an ask, World Vision received checks along with thank you notes for the video.

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