giveA few weeks ago I was on a telephone call with my team and a strategic partner, and we were talking about the changes that are happening (and need to occur) in philanthropy. I brought up a story that happened to a friend of mine, “Jaxson,” and I would like to share it with you here today because it reminds me that we still have a long way to go as a sector.

A $1 Million Gift

Years ago a friend of mine decided to give a substantial gift to charity. Jaxson was moved by this particular organization, which I will not name here because I don’t want to embarrass anyone. (That’s not the point of my article).

Jaxson decided to give a gift of $1 million to a nonprofit that had captured him emotionally, and it didn’t take too long for him to rationalize the gift. In his heart, he thought it was the right thing to do to help people in need.

The way Jaxson explained it to me, he wrote out the check and thinking about the lives that were going to be helped. He had random thoughts about the people he saw in his mind’s eye. One million dollars is a lot of money to give to charity by anyone’s standards.

Jaxson mailed the check in a package with a tracking number to the executive director of the organization.

What Did I Expect?

Want to know what Jaxson thought he would get when the executive director of the nonprofit opened the envelope and took out the check for $1 million?

He expected a phone call. That was the first thing he expected.

Jaxson was enthused about this organization, and he wanted to get involved, and in keeping with his typical style, he wanted to do it in a big way. The group had captured his imagination, and he wanted to make a difference and hear about how the money was going to be used. Yes, he expected a phone call and a conversation.

The Acknowledgement I Received

The days passed, and Jaxson noticed the withdrawal of money from his account, and he continued to wait.

There was no call.

Instead, about a week after the withdrawal from the account, Jaxson received a letter in the mail. It was a form letter. It was a perfunctory letter that was laser printed, and the signature was not an original and just placed on the acknowledgment by a machine.

Jaxson was deflated and, yes, he was a little angry. To let off some steam, he walked to his assistant’s office and told her the experience he was having, and then he reiterated that in his business, no letter was to go out without blue ink to any customer. He explained as a major donor to other causes that donations, which make a substantial impact on programs, required a telephone call.

If you receive a major gift from someone, you’ve got to pick up the damn phone and thank the person. It’s the least that could be done for a significant donation.

Jaxson wasn’t expecting people to bow down to him at the charity where he donated. However, what he wanted was to be properly acknowledged with a phone call, or even a personalized letter that told him specifically what the $1 million gift was going to do. He wanted to see the vision of the possibilities that were now going to happen with the funds I had donated.

Perhaps he was expecting too much.

What Would You Have Done If You Received $1 Million?

My question to you is this: what would you do if you received one million dollars or even one-hundred thousand dollars? Would you pick up the phone? Would you write a personalized letter informing the donor the impact the gift would make in the lives of people in need? Would you invite the donor in to see the programs first-hand?

Eventually, after word got to the executive director that Jaxson was not happy with how his gift was acknowledged, he received the long-awaited call from the executive director, and he insisted Jaxson accept a plaque. Jaxson wasn’t expecting a plate or to be placed on some pedestal. The executive director missed the point. Jaxson wanted a personal acknowledgment that recognized the impact he was going to make through the nonprofit and its programs. More importantly, he wanted to hear what was going to happen in the lives of others that would be for their betterment. He wanted to see the reality of making a difference in the world.

What would you have done if you were the chief fundraiser or the executive director who received a substantial gift?

Want to hear one last thing that could have been possible, but it never came to pass? Had the executive director understood how to personalize and reach out correctly to a major donor, there would have been another million dollars or two that Jaxson could have given. But, he never gave to this organization again.

The moral of the story is this: donors don’t have to give to your nonprofit. They choose to give to your organization out of the goodness of their heart because they want to make a difference or leave a lasting legacy. Your nonprofit serves as the bridge between a donor’s ability and interest to give and the impact his or her resources will have on your mission.


Author of “Not Your Father’s Charity: How to Dominate Your Fundraising to Create Your Success” (Free Digital Download)

© 2017 Wayne Elsey and Not Your Father’s Charity. All Rights Reserved.