Do your fundraising rules bewilder your donors?
My rules encounter
A few months ago, I ran a training session for the board and staff of a local nonprofit on evaluating outcomes. Because I like the organization and its leadership a whole lot but it isn’t in the inner circle of charities I support with cash donations, I didn’t charge for my services.
A few days later, I received a email notice from the microlending nonprofit Kiva that a gift certificate was given in my name from the board chair. I was touched.
Kiva told me the amount of the gift certificate and that I could use it to make a microloan. Because there was some effort involved, I put the action into my pending basket of not urgent items and promptly forgot to “redeem” the gift certificate.
In a few weeks, Kiva sent me an email reminding me that I hadn’t redeemed my gift certificate. All good. But then the reminder told me that I could 1) redeem my gift certificate (by making a micro loan) or 2) do nothing and the gift would convert to a donation to Kiva.
Because I wasn’t really terribly interested in making a micro-loan and because I know how much nonprofits can use the unrestricted funds, I wanted option 2.
Unfortunately, there was a catch. I had to wait ONE YEAR from the time the gift certificate was purchased until Kiva could convert the gift certificate into a donation.
Well, I thought, I’ll just email Kiva’s customer support and tell them that they didn’t have to wait a year. I’d just donate the gift certificate right now so they could put the money immediately to work.
I promptly got an email back explaining the following to me:
Kiva tries to encourage people to make loans with their gift certificates because if they enjoy the experience and continue to lend, we can have a greater impact on global poverty. This is why we don’t encourage people to donate their gift certificates, but we do process them as a donation after one year so the money doesn’t get wasted. (Emphasis added)
I wasn’t enjoying the experience any more.
The email was signed with a person’s name (good). I noted the title given: “Customer Service Volunteer.”
Okay, it’s a volunteer. I’ll give him or her a break. So I wrote back that they really didn’t have to wait a year, that I really did want to have them immediately convert the gift certificate to a donation so they could use it right away.
Instead, I got back the following reply:
If you’d like, I can cancel the gift certificate, and the funds will be immediately returned to the purchaser’s Kiva account.
So, the only options available to me were:
- I could make a micro-loan, which I wasn’t interested in doing.
- I could let the money sit “unused” for one year and then they would transfer the funds into their general fund.
- I could ask that they cancel the gift certificate and return the funds to my colleague.
But what I couldn’t do, under any circumstances, was to have them immediately convert the gift certificate from their microloan category to their general fund category.
I’m sure there must be some pretty complicated accounting rules behind this that I’m not understanding. Or at least I hope so. Because otherwise, I’d just call it foolish bureaucracy on their part. Because instead of satisfying the original donor and a potential new one, they now have no new microloan and a potential donor who knows that Kiva would rather let money sit for 11 months than break ” the rules” to accelerate what it eventually will do anyway.
My “favorite” rules
One of my absolute favorite rules is the one where organizations won’t give membership benefits to a donor who only made a gift through the year end or some other special appeal. Why? Because the donor didn’t formally “renew” their membership — even if the non-membership contribution received was $1,000 and the membership they didn’t get was only $25. What fabulous membership benefits are they holding back anyway? It’s most likely a crummy newsletter and maybe, just maybe, some small discount on merchandise or programs that I’m unlikely to use. And in this case, trying to keep track of which donors are members and which aren’t is usually a processing pretzel that adds undue administrative hassles.
I know that you’ve heard it before, but please put yourself into your donor’s shoes before you start setting up all of these rules. Or else come up with some more convincing excuses.
P.S. I’d love to hear your stories of off-putting rules that you’ve encountered as a donor.
There’s more to this story. Read what happened next.