February 3, 2016

Giving Back: Master It

“Ah, mastery… what a profoundly satisfying feeling when one finally gets on top of a new set of skills… and then sees the light under the new door those skills can open, even as another door is closing.” –Gail Sheehy

You have heard people complain that giving money away is difficult to do right. Despite the title, this short article will not make you a master at giving back. Instead, it gives you three excellent and reusable tools to create mastery.

  1. Respond to real needs. I list the hardest—and most important first. Ever had someone offer you a seat, when what you intended was to exit the door across the room? If yes, you have some inkling of what nonprofit leaders face when people want to help in ways that don’t help. Real needs often differ from what you think. Many don’t match the word on the street. You might not find them fun. We enjoy giving children toys. They also need shoes, clothes, books, and school supplies. Solving real needs saves time, effort, and resources. It allows you to give back and really change lives.

Beware here. Even if they aren’t helpful, some nonprofits will say, “yes” to your offers. They don’t want to discourage you. Responding to real needs requires truth telling and more often than not creative problem solving. It takes expertise to match what people can and want to give with real needs. Listen carefully. To master giving back, consider working with a consultant to help you to find a way to give back that fits your needs and solves a real need.

  1. Cash rules. Why cash? Nonprofits have needs that can only be solved with cash. Unlike businesses, in some nonprofits 90 percent or more of their revenue is restricted. This means they have to be very creative about how they fund ineligible expenses, such as helping people who almost qualify for their services. Cash offers huge value. It allows nonprofits to solve cash-only problems and innovate.

In many cases, this need for cash bumps you to the front of the line. One nonprofit’s volunteer experience helping with meals is so popular it has three-month wait list. Your offer to help, matched with a cash gift, allows you to pick your date. Anytime! Cash offers star power. My customers are continually amazed (and pleased) at the way relationships positively change when they give cash.

  1. Keep the relationship going. When you discover how to solve real needs, explore ways to repeat the actions. Ongoing relationships benefit your customers or staff. Both need time to associate your name with the cause. Businesses who use the one-and-done approach often never learn if what they did mattered. Sticking around allows you to see the impact of your work. You gain the opportunity to discover more low-cost-to-you opportunities that offer high value to the cause. For example, timing can make a huge difference in your gift’s value. Your employees might be jazzed up about helping before the holidays. The nonprofit might be more enthused by working with in off-season. Then, because other offers are scant, the less-frenzied nonprofit can design more customized experience to fit your needs.

To master giving back, give cash as well as in-kind goods and services, respond to real needs. Rinse and repeat your many successes.


Karen Eber Davis

Karen Eber Davis provides customized advising and coaching around nonprofit strategy and board development. People leaders hire her to bring clarity to sticky situations, break through barriers that seem insurmountable, and align people for better futures. She is the author of 7 Nonprofit Income Streams and Let's Raise Nonprofit Millions Together.


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