It’s a well-known statistic. People in the U.S. are incredibly generous, with 75% of families donating an average of almost 3% of their annual household income.  A third of this goes directly to religious institutions as tithe, but it’s still an incredible statistic.

And yet we all know people who never give a dime. In fact, we all have clients and patrons who never give a dime, or from whom every dime needs to be extracted with power equipment, no matter how much they say they love you. How can this be?

I like to think of givers as having a “charitable impulse.” It’s that innate desire to give. You cannot teach it, you cannot compel it. People want to give, or they don’t.

You can, however, compel a gift–by appealing to guilt (think NPR), or greed (charity automobile raffles spring to mind), or ego (charity auctions, where donors get into whose-ahem, let’s call it bank account-is bigger auction bidding), or social ambition (board minimum gifts). But donors who give under these scenarios will be reluctant, even surly, about it, and will often want to extract their pound of flesh, or get “value” for their gift in ways both concrete and emotional.

You can spot these givers for whom it isn’t natural–they are difficult to solicit for special needs, or more than once a year. They come to the gala, but never bring anyone, or bid at the auction. They never ever go over the “value” of an auction item, as the idea is to get a bargain, not to give a gift.  They argue when you won’t give them a tax receipt for a check that wasn’t for a tax deductible purpose. (And my guess is, that they are deducting it anyway, which is why you always always have that letter on file, preferably signed off by the donor if it’s an especially large amount.) Some people mistrust the idea of giving us nfp types actual cash; but they are happy to buy you things like fixtures, office machines, or a bus.

Then there’s the ones who repeatedly tell you “just let me know if there’s anything I can do to help” right after you’ve told them that the way they can help is to write a check. They’re sweethearts, but they just don’t get it.

That’s okay. It’s one of the reasons that you need a robust, diversified development program, with straightforward charity for the givers, status for the social climbers, swag for the bargain hunters, shopping expeditions for the buyers, and events for the party animals.

Because Americans are incredibly generous, and I’ve got the stats to prove it.

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