When anger is the motivation behind a gift, then what?

Gifts as expressions of concern, commitment, attachment, loyalty, and love — those are the motivations that fundraisers of faith assume and which we know how to encourage and build upon. But donations given in anger or to make a statement? We’re more accustomed to money withheld in protest.

The idea of weaponized philanthropy is new to most fundraisers working in grassroots charities and ministry organizations.“Get used to it,” advises Blackbaud data guru Steve MacLaughlin in an article posted to the Huffington Post. He writes:

Today’s headlines, timelines, and tweets are causing supporters to respond in record numbers for a variety of different nonprofit organizations. This is only the beginning and we should expect this type of giving to expand and grow over time. How nonprofits respond is absolutely critical to making this sustainable support and not just one-off gifts.

To be sure, the majority of small and mid-sized organizations aren’t likely to experience a tsunami of “actigiving” (MacLaughlin’s word). However, with rumors flying here in the United States about deep cuts to the federal budget and everything from the arts, to medical research, to Meals on Wheels and more possibly on the chopping block, chances are your organization will attract at least a handful of activist donors.

Then what?

Historical data shows that episodic donors are a challenge for nonprofits to retain for more than few years. Talk to anyone who has worked with these donors and they will tell you that there is a ticking clock from the moment that gift is made. Nonprofits will have to work even harder to retain these new kind of episodic donor — the actigivist.


Fortunately, the strategies most likely to make friends out of protest donors are just as likely to draw long-time supporters even closer to your organization. Whether relating to first-time givers or friends of many years, the following practices are the way to go.

Reassure that gifts make a difference. MacLaughlin tells us that “donors want to know how they have helped the cause and this influences their decision to give again” — an observation that applies to first-time givers (including actigivers) as surely as to long-time supporters. In Growing Givers’ Hearts, Thom Jeavons and I stress the importance of describing how gifts are used to meet real needs in the lives of real people.

The motivation may have been to make a point, but the greater satisfaction for donors comes in knowing they’ve made a difference. So tell them.

Re-frame the negative in the positive. It’s tempting to jump on the “woe is us” bandwagon. In fact, there are some who claim that bad news sells better than good. But going bleak doesn’t encourage joy and it’s definitely not the way to grow givers’ hearts.

As people of hope, our messaging should focus on possibilities over problems, testimonials of change not trash-talk. By re-framing the negative in the positive, we show donors that they are creating the change they want.

Remain above the fray. The most effective charitable organizations understand that successful advocacy doesn’t require stepping into the quagmire of partisan politics. The authors of Forces for Good remind us that “maximum influence with a majority” almost always comes from appealing “to a broad political center rather than take a polarizing position.”

Theologically reflective development staff frame conversations with donors in spiritual and not political terms. Fundraising as ministry is a big-tent, bi-partisan approach aimed at encouraging hearts to grow in generosity toward God and neighbor, even as organizational needs are met.

Resist crying “wolf.” There’s more than enough angst out there without faith-based nonprofits piling on with worst case scenarios and premature desperation. It’s one thing (and an important one at that) for the CEOs and boards to engage in “if/then” scenario thinking. However, we shouldn’t play out our worst fears in front of friends of the organization.

Prudent planning assures that if/when the wolf does come calling, we will have fortified the organization and done so without the spectacle of public huffing and puffing. Donors are more likely to believe and respond to the occasional alarm than one that blares non-stop.

So back to the question with which I began this post — what about gifts given in anger or to make a statement? These, too, are opportunities for heart growth as we respond with a ministry mindset.

God is all about change and donor attitudes are as good a place for God to work as any.

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