It’s Halloween week and to celebrate, I’ve got a treat for you – scary stories that some of my readers have shared with me about their experiences working in nonprofit fundraising.
Some of these are crazy. Some will make you shake your head in disbelief. Others might even make you wonder what kind of a world we live in.
Chances are good you’ve experienced something similar. I find that it’s not “if” it’s “when” you’ll run across a donor that drives you crazy, pushes your buttons, or makes you question your sanity.
I wish the world was simple and people would just help nonprofits fulfill their mission. But unfortunately, some people have hidden agendas or want lots of attention, and things can get ugly – fast!
It just goes to show you we all endure a lot for our work. And thank God we’re all hanging in there – otherwise, where would this world be?
Critical and Uncaring
About 8-9 years ago, we had MAJOR sound system issues at our big fundraising dinner. Of course, it was during my speech!
The room was too big and cavernous for me to be heard without a sound system, so I was trying my best to stay calm and joke around while they tried to fix it. The fellow we had there to play the piano jumped up and started playing something that he knew I could sing. (I have sung semi-professionally for more than 20 years.) Song ended…still no sound system.
So, I got up to the podium and decided that I would speak as loudly as possible and finish my speech. I knew for every minute you run past your stated ending time, you lose lots of $$$. As if the evening couldn’t get worse, as I stood there trying to give my message, my necklace broke, with many, many tiny beads rolling all over the floor. Still no sound system. I drew my speech to the most dignified close that I could think of and sat down.
When we got the table host critiques, one woman said that I made a fool of myself and they hoped that I never again had a microphone put in my hand! She then offered to sign me up for public-speaking lessons! I was dancing as fast as I can up there and apparently, she thought I had the whole thing set up! I never did get that necklace put back together.
Eva P., Executive Director
I had a woman call me all the way from Connecticut (we are a small rescue in rural Georgia.) She said she was interested in one of our dogs. I explained where we are located and as it says on our website we cannot transport, but if it is the right home we can give them information on transport. She was irate and yelled and told me off for not caring enough to find a way to get the dog to her and that she would never support us and even though she had a lot of money I would never see any of it since I would not help her.
It was very upsetting, but luckily I too have been growing and since I have received this kind of thing before I was able to shake it off and find the dog a good home locally. For me the hardest thing is when you work so many hours and try so hard and the only response is people accusing us of not caring enough. We do what we can do and move on.
Carrie M., Past President
The other day a donor stopped me after mass and said to me, “I just sent you a note. I am not coming to your banquet. I am attending another one and giving my donation to them.” Interesting how she made it a point to come tell me this even though she had just said all of that in a note that was on its way to me. I had to try really hard not to dislike her because I have always liked her up until this point. She got “blessed and let go.” Clearly, she’s not my tribe.
Nancy K., Founder
Angry About Alcohol
There is a local church that had supported us for years with monthly giving until I received a very hateful CHRISTMAS CARD telling us they would no longer be supporting us because of a fundraiser we had involving a local brewery. I reached out to them several times to try and meet with them, and they would not even respond to me. Fortunately, they were the exception and not the rule – other churches couldn’t have cared less. Also (and fortunately!), I was able to talk my Board down from banning alcohol at any of our events. I’m glad to say we have a wine tasting event coming up soon, and many of our church friends are first in line for tickets!
Amy G. S., Executive Director
Fuming over “Failure to Focus”
Our hate mail was from a prospective volunteer. We initiated contact with her and then the Butte fire caused us to evacuate and concentrate on taking in burned and orphaned domestic and wild animals. When we contacted her again to set up a meeting just 3 weeks after her initial contact she said she was no longer interested and questioned our commitment. I explained that our contact person had a full-time job and a firefighter husband, and that we were busy with the fire. She continued to berate us for not having contacted her sooner about her helping us with our Twitter account. We hit DELETE on such a negative person becoming a volunteer with our dedicated group!
Most people are so positive that we need to remind ourselves to remove ourselves from the negative ones to avoid becoming one.
Irate and Indignant
I can’t even begin to tell you the amount of hate mail we received at Best Friends from people who just couldn’t understand why we thought animals were more important than human beings, or the environment, or foreign policies, or anything else under the sun (we didn’t of course, it just wasn’t our mission to save everything and everyone. You have to have somefocus and directi on right?).
While I found those letters bizarre in nature (did you really take time out of your day to bash an organization for existing?), the ones that came after we had taken in a large amount of the dogs that were rescued from Michael Vick’s dog fighting compound in Virginia were so much worse. People couldn’t understand why we were wasting time on these “damaged” dogs, these “vicious killers”, while there were children starving and in need of comfort and essentials. And then we even started receiving hate mail from our own kind! Rescues, animal shelters and animal lovers from all over wanted to know why we were using all of these resources to save these “throwaways”, when so many others could be saved in their place that didn’t need as much attention and long term care. Excuse me? Aren’t we in the business of saving animals and making a difference?
Fast forward a few years, and as it turns out, this single case brought more attention to the issue of dog fighting and was able to substantiate the need for more aggressive laws for this crime, eventually seeing dog fighting become a felony federal offense in all 50 states. And these dogs, the ones no one else wanted to give a chance to… with a bit of patience and affection (neither of which they’d ever received prior) were able to be adopted into homes and become some of the best ambassadors for the cause. They changed the way that fight bust dogs were viewed all across our nation – they were no longer seen as damaged goods that needed to be exterminated – they were now viewed as what they have always been… victims, and are assessed and given the same chance as any other dog confiscated from cruelty. Hey naysayers! Still think we wasted time on those dogs?
Fact is, there will always be “those people”. I don’t really waste my breath on them. We have plenty of supporters in animal welfare. Those are the ones I want to be sure I talk to. If they’re in my face, I “kill ‘em with kindness” and move on.
Jamie H., Grants Administrator
I had a really awful reaction from a donor when I worked at a hospice in England. I was very new to the organization and was their one and only events fundraiser (part of this was supporting people who wanted to organize their own events- everything from a Bingo night to a bike ride across the country). A donor, a woman whose husband was very, very ill and receiving care at the hospice, wanted to organize an event. Before calling me she took it upon herself to create her own sponsorship form and approach the paper about her event, really letting us know seemed to be secondary, an afterthought. She did not inform me that her husband was a very seriously ill patient initially, so in speaking with her I didn’t take into account that she was under a huge amount of strain. I learned much later that she had cared for him during a degenerative illness for years before he’d become a patient.
It was such a simple matter- one of using hospice-issued sponsor forms which was a safe guard to us and to her- and our conversation about this that she started yelling and I mean yelling over the phone. The conversation ended with me giving her my manager’s number and her telling me she was going to get me fired.
My manager was great, and seemed to assuage the situation, but it dragged on for over a year. The donor refused to have anything to do with me even after I apologized in writing and in person. A couple of months later when her husband passed away, I sent her a card with condolences from me and her local fundraiser, even after this I was still hearing from ward nurses that she “hated” me and the Hospice should’ve fired me when they had the chance. In fact, there was a subsequent letter to my manager requesting “executive action” be taken against me! Never before or after had I felt like I had no control over a situation, I tried every way I could to re-c0nnect with this person, to no avail. I still have no idea what I could’ve done to get back on her good side.
Brooke B., Development Officer
Thanks to everyone who shared their story. I received SO MANY that I couldn’t use them all. These are some of the most outrageous and the ones I thought you’d enjoy reading.