What does giving mean? ⋆ Hands-On Fundraising

How do we define giving?

In our own lives? With our friends and families? As fundraisers?

Do our definitions differ?

Tony Martignetti shared a fascinating, yet troubling, piece recently in Vox the other day. “What happened to giving money to charity?” looks at how the ultrawealthy are donating more, but it seems the rest of us are giving less.

“Seems” is the operative word here.

You’ll want to read the article if you haven’t seen it already. But the short version? It’s about how we define “giving”.  If we’re only looking at 501 (c ) 3, tax-deductible gifts, we’re missing a big piece of the puzzle.

From the article, for instance:

According to a 2022 study by Independent Sector, a coalition of philanthropic nonprofits and corporate giving programs, 57 percent of Gen Z believe that giving directly has more impact than giving to nonprofits.


Because one of the effects of a consolidation of donations into fewer and fewer wealthy hands is that those people have a larger voice in what problems are addressed and how nonprofits operate.

That should concern us all. But beyond accounting, I’m concerned that so many people are getting the message that their generosity and kindness don’t matter. After all, when placed next to the big bucks of a MacKenzie Scott, what does my $50 matter?

Are we sending the wrong giving message?

Recently, I got to take part in a webinar with an unlimited question-and-answer period after the presentation. (Boy, that was fun!)

But one person’s question made me so sad. They were trying to thread a needle between good fundraising practice, especially communications, and “donor dominance”. This was a sincere question, offered by someone really trying to get it right.

And I get it. Donors who give large gifts have usually been treated to a lot more personal attention. It’s logical. And getting to know the donors who give your organization the most money is smart. After all, they’re actual humans who care to some degree about your mission.


They’re not the only donors who care. And if we forget that most donors are not huge dollar donors, we miss the real point of philanthropy. And we miss the chance to show the people who care the most that they’re appreciated and needed.

Think about:

  • How do you treat the donor of a $5 gift?
  • How do you treat someone who drops off gently used towels for your animal rescue?
  • Or coats for your organization that works with people who need homes?
  • What about volunteers? Are they a different, separate group from “real” donors? Or treasured for the precious gift of time they give?
  • How much attention is paid to gifts given via social media – and are those gifts counted and acknowledged by your organization? (And is the platform even allowing that to happen?)

Accounting is one thing; caring is another

Of course, there are tax rules. And you need to follow them. And there’s accounting software that can make tracking anything but money difficult.

But there’s no reason not to broaden how we *think about* and *treat* the people who give differently.

And that leads me to another good piece I read recently, in the New York Times. “The Unexpected Power of Random Acts of Kindness” was a great reminder about the huge potential out there for cultivating and celebrating caring.

Again, please read it, but the shorter version is that studies show people often underestimate the value of small gestures of kindness, like giving someone a ride home or baking cookies for a friend.

In one study, participants were given hot chocolate and told they could keep it or give it to someone. Those who gave it away were asked to guess how “big” their act of kindness would feel to the recipient and how the recipient would rate their mood.

The people doing the kind thing all underestimated how much it was appreciated. We downplay how much it matters. But of course, one “small” act of kindness has a way of inspiring others.

Giving – doing something kind – feels good

This is such an important idea for fundraisers! People do not give because they must. Most of the time, we give because it makes us feel good… about ourselves.

The people who gave away their hot chocolate made someone else feel special, seen. But they also made themselves feel like a good person. That’s important!

It’s not really about the dollars

Money is needed to run our organizations. But when we start chasing the dollars, we lose something.

When we value only the donors who give the largest gifts, equating the size of their gift with their value, we lose something. And we allow our whole sector to drift into dangerous territory… where everyone isn’t welcome to help, where only the wealthiest are valued, where giving is all about tax deductions.

That screams for a big change in how our governments approach charities and taxes. It also means we need to find more ways to track gifts. (And how those social media-driven platforms share donor data with our organizations.)

It may also require a re-alignment of values. Can we let go of the idea that there are important and unimportant donors? Because thinking in dollar signs is also why a few donors feel privileged enough to misbehave, that is, display donor domination.

But mostly, we all miss the chance to broaden the net that is philanthropy. To include every kind person who sees a problem and wants to help fix it. And when we miss the chance to thank every donor – sincerely, emotionally – we all lose, too. There’s so much joy in that exchange!

Caring and kindness are reciprocal. They each carry their own blessings. Both giving and receiving feel wonderful.

Thank goodness.

Photo by Norbert Hentges on Unsplash