Virginia Tech Thanks Donors for Gifts, Asks “Now What?”

VT Memorial

Foundations are sometimes the recipient of well meaning, but not well directed gifts. Virginia Tech is facing such a situation right now.

An Overflow of Generosity

Six months after the April 16th shooting on the Virginia Tech campus that killed 33 and injured many more, the University has reportedly received over 90,000 gifts from around the world. They include banners, t-shirts, flags, statues, plaques, quilts, stuffed animals, dolls, wreaths, cards, and candles.

Steven Estrada, who is in charge of gift archiving efforts, reports: “We have every category. You name the category and we have it. Just for T-shirts alone we could have a museum.”

Looking a Gift Horse in the Mouth

While Virginia Tech’s situation is obviously different than a foundation’s, you may have found yourself in this scenario as well.

  • Has your foundation every said yes to a donor who wanted to sponsor a pet project that didn’t quite fit your needs?
  • Have you accepted donor funding even though you knew you couldn’t exactly meet the grant’s criteria?
  • Have you pursued funding from an organization because you thought you would get it, even if it didn’t really meet your foundation’s priorities?

These are easy traps to fall into. Your organization is trying hard to support its mission through fundraising efforts, and you think if you tweak the criteria or adjust your priorities to meet the needs of the donor (over your own), you might just land a windfall.


Thinking Long Term

This idea works for the short term, but not for the long term. This kind of thinking does not honor the mission of your organization.

Adapting yourself to the needs of others– as we might tell a teenager– does nothing for yourself. It does not build your organization’s character and it does not forward your vision of how you see your future self.

Partnering with Donors

A donor is not an ATM. Nor should she be thought of as one. Moreover, the relationship of a foundation to a donor should not be as simple as the foundation asking and the donor giving. Instead, donors and foundations must work in partnership to advance each other’s goals.

Ideally, foundations should look for long-term donors with whom they can form sustainable relationships. An endowment that sponsors a project in perpetuity is better than a long-term sponsorship and a long-term sponsorship is better than an annual donation. An annual donation bests a one time gift.

Donors are looking for these relationships as well.

Philanthropy vs Fundraising

Feeling stuck? Does this advice sound too optimistic for you in terms of donor relationships? Then reconceptualize how you think of them. Rather than thinking of your relationship simply in terms of fundraising, think of yourselves as partners in philanthropy.

Both you and your supporter (the donor) have a goal and a purpose in mind that you believe will make the world better. By taking a particular action or making an improvement, you are taking steps toward achieving your goal. You have the expertise and your partner has the support. The relationship is interdependent.

Changing your thinking will change your behavior and subsequently your outcomes.

Donor Reporting

Philanthropy should be like a mentorship in which the donor and foundation can grow together toward a common goal. Even if this isn’t the reality, it is in your best interests to act as if it is.

Think of reporting to the donor as a positive thing and try to look forward to it. You should want to tell your benefactor of all the progress you have made.

Virginia Tech’s Next Steps

Virginia Tech reports that there have been many proposals for what to do with their overflow of gifts. They are considering the idea of establishing a museum to house their tribute collection, but a decision has not yet been made.

Estrada says:

“I hope we will have an opportunity next year to let this community see what the world sent us and that our items will be recognized not as condolences but as great tributes, art, artifacts and great symbols of peace, as peace has been the one lesson we are always trying to understand. It is not just the tragedy we are trying to remember;it is what the world did for us during that time that is just as, if not more, important.”

By thinking about their own needs and the desire of the gift givers to pay tribute to their loss, Virginia Tech will be able to create a monument to the tragedy while learning from this event and moving forward.

VT BlackRibbon

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2 Responses to Virginia Tech Thanks Donors for Gifts, Asks “Now What?”

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