What should donors expect when they give to a non-profit?

My inbox was full on Giving Tuesday. I bet yours was too. I love the idea, of course. But after a long holiday week, that includes Black Friday and Cyber Monday, I often wonder if folks have any money left to give on Tuesday?

But, I digress… one reality in Giving Tuesday is how overwhelming it can be. So many organizations asking you for your hard-earned money. Many of these orgs are doing good work, and some are not. How do you know what’s best? How do you choose?

Giving is an important decision that, if done right, can change lives and communities; but, if done wrong, it can be a lost opportunity as there are only so many resources that can go around.

As both donors and orgs try to find each other, what are reasonable expectations for what kind of communication they should expect from each other?

What should a donor expect from an org?

When a donor gives and they never hear much from the organization, it is a lost opportunity. Help One Now has made this mistake more often than we want to admit. It is really heartbreaking. We always strive to be better, because our donor base is the fuel to the fire. We need them, we love them and they enable us to “stay in the game” and make the world better.

Donors should be able to expect that their gift is acknowledged and receive a word of thanks, even if only a simple automated message. On the most practical level, they should get proper receipts or statements for tax purposes. But down the road, they should also be able to expect to get some kind of impact report that helps them see the tangible outcome of their giving.

What should an org expect from a donor?

The truth is, donor expectations can be a burden that the non-profit can’t meet. Or worse, the org can lose impact in the work they do because they put so much effort into managing their donor relationships.

As donors, we can get so paranoid about “impact” that we often lose sight of the bigger picture. Orgs need donors who will lock arms with the nonprofit and recognize that it is important for the nonprofit to be healthy. It is a valid concern to stress about how much of the dollar goes to impact and how much goes to operations. We often see this as black and white, but usually it is far more gray as operating costs are truly part of the impact.

I can tell you firsthand how hard it is to run a healthy organization on small margins. It’s downright stressful and often not sustainable. And sustainability is absolutely key to making long-term impact. Of course, we all celebrate short-term wins, like a school being built, but we also want to see healthy orgs that can continue to fund the operations of the school once it opens.

It comes down to this… in order to build powerful organizations, donors and orgs alike need to have realistic expectations of each other. Orgs need to value the donors and help them see how they are part of the ongoing work. Donors need to see that they are making investments both in the impact and the operations that sustain the work.


I think it’s a helpful reset to think of everything as a collaboration between donors and orgs. I will follow-up with one more post about that next week!

About The Author

I’m the Founder/CEO of Help One Now. I live in downtown Raleigh with my family. I’m a justice advocate, who loves empowering leaders (and tribes) to launch movements for doing good.

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