How nonprofit entitlement mentality destroys organizations

I answered my phone. It was a complete stranger.

Turned out he was the executive director of a nonprofit I’d never heard of. But he’d heard of me, and thought I’d be a great fit for an exciting new project he was working on. He was friendly and energetic.

It took a long time — nearly half an hour — for him to describe it. Partly because it was very complex (a bad sign), and partly because he wasn’t exactly clear what the project was meant to accomplish (an even worse sign).

“Would you be willing to work with us?” he finally asked.

Against my better judgement, I said I might be.

“I hope you can! This is a really important project!”

I said I’d give it some thought and send him an estimate.

“Estimate?” he asked. He suddenly sounded distinctly less friendly. “I was hoping you would do this pro bono.”

I tried to tell him that doing this work is how I make my living, and while I do pro-bono work, I’m selective about it.

“What do you mean ‘selective’?” he spat. “We really need this done, right away. It’s key to my strategy!”

It went downhill from there. He told me he couldn’t believe how “greedy” I was. He was going to tell “everyone” not to do business with me. Finally he hung up on me.

He was an extreme case, but I get queries like his often. Will you work for us for free? You should, because we are so important!

Guess what: No consultant or vendor owes you anything. No matter how cool you are. Every consultant I know does pro-bono work. Quite a lot of it. But it’s with organizations we’re genuinely connected with. Usually not people who contact us at random, using their entitled mindset as the only reason we would give them anything.

I can handle annoying phone calls now and then from entitled nonprofits. They do me no harm.

But I’ve noticed that entitled nonprofits who approach people like me also tend to look at donors with that same sense of entitlement. And that really crushes their chances of raising funds.

They believe donors, like everyone else, owe them support. Because they are awesome and important, and donors should recognize that and fork over the dough.

Entitled fundraising looks like this:

  • It doesn’t treat donors as heroes. Because in the entitlement mindset, donors really aren’t all that heroic. In fact, their motives for giving are not pure!
  • It doesn’t really ask. It hints. It expects donors to read between the lines.
  • It spams donors with stats. It assumes if people know how effective the work is, they’ll donate.
  • It brags and blusters. It’s about how amazing your organization is, not how amazing the donor is.
  • All about past success. It runs on its record, not on the vision of what the donor can do now.
  • It typically fails to thank donors or report back. Because donors owe them their support.

Entitled fundraising doesn’t work.

When response is poor, entitled fundraisers blame donors for their failure to connect. They label donors as selfish or ignorant and retreat deeper into their entitlement cave. Sometimes they look for shortcuts (“Let’s create a viral campaign!”) or rebrand with an eye to more suitable donors.

But as in every other form of business — and in life in general — an entitlement mindset guarantees a lot of failure and frustration.

Great fundraising knows that donors owe us nothing. Our job is to win them over by offering them something they want: The chance to make the world a better place. When you approach donors like that, you raise a lot more money.


Comments

2 responses to “How nonprofit entitlement mentality destroys organizations”

  1. Agree wholeheartedly with this. However I have a question about the first bullet: “It doesn’t treat donors as heroes. Because in the entitlement mindset, donors really aren’t all that heroic. In fact, their motives for giving are not pure!”
    We’ve been hearing from BIPOC fundraisers and donors that the “hero” message doesn’t really resonate with them because community-driven philanthropy is part of their culture, beliefs, and daily life. It’s who they are, not something they do to be “heroic”.
    How can we be more culturally inclusive in expressing donor love?

  2. Agree wholeheartedly with this. However I have a question about the first bullet: “It doesn’t treat donors as heroes. Because in the entitlement mindset, donors really aren’t all that heroic. In fact, their motives for giving are not pure!”
    We’ve been hearing from BIPOC fundraisers and donors that the “hero” message doesn’t really resonate with them because community-driven philanthropy is part of their culture, beliefs, and daily life. It’s who they are, not something they do to be “heroic”.
    How can we be more culturally inclusive in expressing donor love?

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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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