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  • Otto Reinisch

Lessons from Ebeneezer Scrooge About What Your Donors [Really] Want This Christmas

A Christmas morning encounter between Ebeneezer Scrooge and two solicitors provides powerful lessons about generosity and what donors want in return.

Toward the close of Charles Dickens’, A Christmas Carol, a reformed Scrooge whispers a generous pledge into the ear of the same gentleman who, just the night before, he chastised for soliciting him on behalf of “the Poor and destitute”.

“My dear sir,” said the solicitor, shaking hands with Scrooge. “I don’t know what to say to such munifi-“

“Don’t say anything, please,” retorted Scrooge. “Come and see me. Will you come and see me?”

“I will!” cried the old gentleman. And it was clear he meant to do it.

Lesson #1: Your donors need to give more than you need to receive. It would’ve been easier for Scrooge to fly that Christmas morning than it would’ve been to stop himself from sending “the prize turkey” to Bob Crachet’s house (anonymously, of course) or pledging “back payments” to the solicitors.

The need to give – to make a difference on behalf of a cause larger than ourselves – is a desire shared by people from all cultures, ethnicities, and religions. My own faith sees giving as evidence of our divine humanity; the most God-like thing we can do. “For God so loved the world that he GAVE…” (John 3:16). To cheerfully, willingly give is to be fully human, fully alive.

Lesson #2: Every gift is part of a donor’s story about the search for meaning. It would be impossible for the Cratchets, or the solicitors, or anyone to know why Scrooge gave so generously that Christmas morning without knowing his story. Only then would they understand how – and why - he was “making amends for life opportunities missed”, heeding Jacob Marley’s warnings.

While your donors’ stories won’t include mysterious visits from Christmas spirits, they are no less compelling and formative to them. Taking time to hear our donors’ stories is the key to unlocking why they give and inspiring a lifetime of meaningful philanthropy.

Lesson #3: The relational work of fundraising uses the power of story to help donors find meaning. There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” - Maya Angelou. What a missed opportunity it would be if the solicitors only sought to secure the next gift from Scrooge, never encouraging him to share his story or the powerful lessons he learned. Yet, if we’re honest, most fundraising today – even with our best donors – skips this important step.

Being fully present as we encourage and graciously receive our donors’ stories – and to validate them by sharing our own stories – is what makes our profession meaningful.

My most rewarding work is training board members in the relational work of fundraising beginning with a fresh perspective on the responsibility they’ve avoided for too long. Their fundraising efforts will shine brightest as they use the power of shared storytelling to inspire abundant generosity through authentic donor relationships. And, in return, they will provide what every donor, including Ebeneezer Scrooge, wants at Christmas: meaning.

For more information about working together in 2021 to help your board excel in fundraising, please visit my web site or contact me at otto@whywegive.net

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