Power of Philanthropy

The Most Meaningful Giving Is Personal

Picture of 4 year old girl

No matter how committed we are to the organizations we serve, or how much we believe in a mission, it’s easy to fall into a “work” mentality. Unfortunately, this can hinder us from identifying and realizing meaningful gifts.

Even when we’re responsible, capable and hardworking, we can lose track of what matters most: people.

We can easily become systematic versus sympathetic. Going through the process of identification, qualification, cultivation, solicitation and appreciation without activating our emotions can cause us to overlook donor cues. In this mode, we are more likely to miss the subtle messages that bypass us daily.

To avoid this, or when I find myself slipping into a “doing” versus “being” frame of mind, I purposely make myself recall occasions when I saw philanthropy unleashed firsthand.

One such time was when I was in college, and I watched my dad raise money for the local fire department. He was part of the volunteer fire department my whole life and served as fire chief for 20 years. For him, fundraising wasn’t about work, it was about worth. It wasn’t about a building, but about what the building represented: getting and keeping more long-term volunteers; greater efficiency through well-maintained vehicles and better-stored equipment; shorter response times; and lives saved.

To Dad, and to the community, it was personal … very personal.

As I recall, it wasn’t easy to raise the money they needed, but Dad left no stone unturned. At the much-anticipated ribbon cutting, he recognized all the major contributors. One name really surprised me: Mrs. Addey. I knew Mr. and Mrs. Addey had lived fairly frugal lives, so I asked Dad about the gift. “For Mrs. Addey,” he reminded me, “it was personal. She left the department in her will as a way to say thank you.” I was awestruck. Not only was her gift impressive, but deeply personal.

As a consultant for nonprofits of all sizes and sectors, I try to start by getting my finger on the pulse of an organization’s mission: “Whose lives are changed for the better?” “Who would suffer most if this organization did not exist?” … and work outward from there.

One of the easiest ways for me to re-engage with the personal nature of philanthropy is to think about my husband and our children … that’s how other people feel about their loved ones, as well.

People may give, initially, because they’re asked, but heartfelt gifts may have more a broad, yet, personal connection: a memory from childhood with a youth organization; a desire to relive a nostalgic time at an alma mater; or a longing to repay a hospital or hospice for the care of a loved one.

For those of us who want to see the power of philanthropy unleashed in the organizations we serve, let’s periodically pause our process to remember this important lesson: Meaningful giving is always personal.

Tammy Butterfield

Senior Vice President

Ames, Iowa


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