Donor Queries

Are you anxious about having a discussion with one of your donors about an illiquid asset gift? It doesn’t have to be difficult or complicated, and you do not need to know everything about a particular asset type. Even those new to the development role can be as effective at these conversations as the veterans in your organization.

In every business, there is a point where specific knowledge of a product or issue is beyond the training and experience of an individual. We all have a list of “go-to” people and organizations to check with when we’re uncertain of something.

It may not be obvious, and we can’t stress this enough, but don’t immediately decline the gift opportunity.

Ruben Orduna, VP of Development and Donor Services at the San Francisco Foundation, has a terrific tactic when he gets a donation question he’s unsure of how to answer. Rather than shutting down the conversation with “No, but thank you for thinking of us,” his response is flipped to “That’s very generous of you to think of us. I’m not sure I have all of the information at hand to answer your question, so let me bring in a partner who is pretty knowledgeable on this kind of gift.”

That’s a very positive and engaging response and there’s a big difference for a donor to hear the first words of “no…” vs “thank you…”. It works whether the question is about real estate, hedge fund gifts, business interests, collections of art, complex annuity or trust situations, deferred gifts, and more.

Adhering to a smart gift acceptance policy is important for every organization and responding to some inquiries may involve the consideration of creative work-arounds. Alternate solutions can still achieve the charitable intent of a donor while satisfying those charged with the important duty of managing and mitigating risk and liability for your business.

There are several tactics and nuances to engage your donor by developing the conversation beyond the first impression, and good blogs are on the web that provide insight on how to be effective in these interactions. But you don’t have to have all the answers or build out a full dossier on the donor before you say, “thank you – let me bring in someone with more knowledge on this question."

Our recommendation is to be honest, admit you need some assistance on this gift inquiry, and reach out to someone who can help.


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