What Zuckerberg’s $100 million gift teaches us

I wasn’t going to write about Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s mega-donation to Newark Public Schools. (Good account of it here.)

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I thought it was too abnormal to be of interest to those of us doing normal fundraising from normal donors. I mean, really: One of the richest men in America, about to have his character trashed by a movie about him, decides to shore up his reputation by giving $100 million to an impoverished school district. And he announces it on a mega-popular talk show. Sounds like an Orson Welles movie.

Then I realized something: There’s nothing unusual about this situation at all. Only the size of the donation and the fame of the people involved make this story notable.

This situation happens all the time, and we probably get a huge share of all our donations for reasons very much like what drove Mr. Zuckerberg’s giving.

Donors frequently give to bolster their reputation. Not to the general public, but to friends or family. Or, even more likely, to themselves.

You’ve probably even seen it in your own life: You come to a realization that you haven’t been behaving up to your own standards. That realization prompts you to good deeds like charitable giving. You had to show yourself — or someone — that you’re the person you say you are.

So often, donors give because of reasons internal to themselves.

Mark Zuckerberg didn’t give to Newark Public Schools just because of the needs of Newark Public Schools. He gave because of the needs of Mark Zuckerberg. Does that taint his motivation or make his gift less valuable? Not at all! Not one penny-worth. Same with any donor, large or small.

Our job is to be there for them, to create heart connections with causes and needs, to give them something worthwhile to donate to so they can change the world — and save their reputations — or even their souls.

Just remember, it’s more about them than about us.


Comments

14 responses to “What Zuckerberg’s $100 million gift teaches us”

  1. While I completely agree with you that this was more about him than helping the Newark Schools, what no one is truly talking about is the fact this is a $100 million CHALLENGE grant. I dvr’d and finally watched Mr. Zuckerberg’s announcement on the Oprah Show and when I heard him say “$100 million CHALLENGE grant.” My ears perked up – Challenge? All of us in the fundraising world know what this means and while these types of gifts are a great way to inspire others to give, $100 million is a very lofty challenge, especially coming from an individual who as of this time today does not have the liquid assets to make this kind of gift. Now, once Facebook goes public Mr. Zuckerberg will undoubtedly have the liquid assets to make this kind of gift, but again $100 million is a very lofty challenge especially for Newark, New Jersey.

  2. While I completely agree with you that this was more about him than helping the Newark Schools, what no one is truly talking about is the fact this is a $100 million CHALLENGE grant. I dvr’d and finally watched Mr. Zuckerberg’s announcement on the Oprah Show and when I heard him say “$100 million CHALLENGE grant.” My ears perked up – Challenge? All of us in the fundraising world know what this means and while these types of gifts are a great way to inspire others to give, $100 million is a very lofty challenge, especially coming from an individual who as of this time today does not have the liquid assets to make this kind of gift. Now, once Facebook goes public Mr. Zuckerberg will undoubtedly have the liquid assets to make this kind of gift, but again $100 million is a very lofty challenge especially for Newark, New Jersey.

  3. Jeff–best line of the whole post, maybe your whole week: “Just remember, it’s more about them than about us.”
    Killer.
    If more NPOs could keep their eye on that ball income and life would be better for them!
    You nailed it…again.
    st

  4. Jeff–best line of the whole post, maybe your whole week: “Just remember, it’s more about them than about us.”
    Killer.
    If more NPOs could keep their eye on that ball income and life would be better for them!
    You nailed it…again.
    st

  5. Right on target! It’s about understand the mindset of the donors. Being there, getting to know them and truly seeing what it is that makes them give which is less about the cause and much more about the things that you are writing about Jeff. Thank you kindly for your blog as it points to the important direction. Kudos.
    Michael Steiner
    Director of Donor Development
    Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh
    Email: msteiner@jewishfedrationpittsburgh.org
    My Blog: http://donordevelopment.wordpress.com/

  6. Right on target! It’s about understand the mindset of the donors. Being there, getting to know them and truly seeing what it is that makes them give which is less about the cause and much more about the things that you are writing about Jeff. Thank you kindly for your blog as it points to the important direction. Kudos.
    Michael Steiner
    Director of Donor Development
    Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh
    Email: msteiner@jewishfedrationpittsburgh.org
    My Blog: http://donordevelopment.wordpress.com/

  7. You mean most giving is about ego (not to mention tax deducations)? Really? I had to take a course in astrophysics, metaphysics and astronomy to figure that out. But I could never become a rocket scientist, no matter how hard I tried.
    The donors I appreciate the most are the anonymous ones. They give because they know their gifts are needed, and those are the people I respect.

  8. You mean most giving is about ego (not to mention tax deducations)? Really? I had to take a course in astrophysics, metaphysics and astronomy to figure that out. But I could never become a rocket scientist, no matter how hard I tried.
    The donors I appreciate the most are the anonymous ones. They give because they know their gifts are needed, and those are the people I respect.

  9. Jeff, Couldn’t agree more that it’s about the donor. The Zuckerberg donation (http://bit.ly/ZuckerbergDonation) is a great lesson in donor management. The Newark public school system is going to garner a lot of public attention and media scrutiny, and the lesson of “it’s about them not us” goes beyond the donor and applies to the hundreds of students that are going to be helped by Mr. Zuckerberg’s generosity.

  10. Jeff, Couldn’t agree more that it’s about the donor. The Zuckerberg donation (http://bit.ly/ZuckerbergDonation) is a great lesson in donor management. The Newark public school system is going to garner a lot of public attention and media scrutiny, and the lesson of “it’s about them not us” goes beyond the donor and applies to the hundreds of students that are going to be helped by Mr. Zuckerberg’s generosity.

  11. Completely agree. In fact, I recently wrote a blog post for my firm on the same idea of “who cares why people give. It’s the giving that’s important.
    http://www.collinsgroup.com/blog/2010/08/19/give-openheartedly-or-not-you%E2%80%99ll-make-a-difference/

  12. Completely agree. In fact, I recently wrote a blog post for my firm on the same idea of “who cares why people give. It’s the giving that’s important.
    http://www.collinsgroup.com/blog/2010/08/19/give-openheartedly-or-not-you%E2%80%99ll-make-a-difference/

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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff BrooksJeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 35 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com. More.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 30 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com.

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