What is Giving Compass?
We connect donors to learning resources and ways to support community-led solutions. Learn more about us.
Too often, she says, she has seen donors and volunteers waste time and money after a crisis. And like a growing number of charity leaders, she is taking a more aggressive and blunt stance to tell donors when other groups can better use their money and when offers of clothes, food, and volunteer services get in the way of providing essential aid.
“It’s very hard to say, 'We are so grateful that you want to make home-cooked meals for the firefighters, but right now, that’s not going to be helpful,’” Ms. Benero says. But, she adds, it’s also “critically important to meet donors’ needs and do it in a way that actually makes a difference in the community.”
Since most crises erupt with no warning, nonprofits of all types should engage in “scenario planning” about how they will handle an outpouring of donations, says Barbara Talisman, a fundraising consultant in Washington. An organization needs to ask itself what sorts of gifts it should and shouldn’t accept, and devise steps to take when people offer unwanted gifts.
Nonprofits need to be especially careful not to accept gifts if they can’t meet the donors’ expectations, nonprofit experts say. When charities don’t consider a certain kind of activity part of their mission, she says, it’s their duty to explain to a donor that others can do the work better. “It’s about keeping our promises,” she says.
Informing donors of what the charity needs immediately after a crisis is essential, say experts. Over the years, the American Red Cross has fine-tuned its guidelines for accepting gifts after seeing unsolicited—and unneeded—donations show up at its doorstep, such as second-hand shoes and clothes.
Now when people want to empty their closets to give in times of crisis, Ms. DeFrancis tells them to hold a garage sale and give the money to the Red Cross instead.
Raising Just Enough
Once a need is met, some experts say nonprofits should alert donors that their contributions may be used for some other purpose.
Doctors Without Borders, for example, has long had a policy of telling donors when it has raised enough for a specific crisis and turning away all other gifts unless they are for the charity’s general fund.