The Fundraising Executive

STRATEGIC PLANNING — Part 3: Donor Doctrine as the Starting Point

By Eddie Thompson | July 25, 2014 | Donor Communications

doctrine-puzzleA couple of years ago I published two articles on strategic and tactical planning and continue to be surprised at how those posts from 2012 continue to show up on the list of top reads. So here’s one more thought about the strategy-tactic idea and how it relates to charitable gift planning.

For examples of how strategic and tactical planning can be applied to fundraising in general and charitable estate planning in particular, click on the images below.

Strategic and Tactical Planning

STRATEGIC AND TACTICAL PLANNING — Part 1: The Fundraising Approach

The word “tactical” is the adjective form of the verb “to tact.” A sailboat heading into an opposing wind will tact back and forth, temporarily veering off course, in order to work its way toward its destination — the STRATEGIC OBJECTIVE.

Simply put, TACTICAL PLANNING  is a response or reaction to an immediate need (i.e. opposing wind). The objective of tactical planning is to work around or remove obstacles standing in the way of an established strategic plan — thus the term “tactical response.”


STRATEGIC AND TACTICAL GIVING – Part 2: Hans Brinker with His Finger in the Dike

OPERATIONAL PLANNING has to do with logistics, supplies, and infrastructure, without which neither an army nor a nonprofit can be effective.

DOCTRINE is a carefully crafted statement of core beliefs. Political or military doctrines are designed to be the philosophical and moral compass for all types of planning — strategic, tactical, and operational. Examples:

The Monroe Doctrine (1823) was articulated by President James Monroe in an address to Congress. It essentially served notice to European powers that the Americas were off limits to colonial expansion.

The fundamental belief underlying the late twentieth century Cold War was the Doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD).

More recently, the Doctrine of Unilateral Preemptive Action (for better or worse) calls for preemptive action against perceived threats with or without international cooperation.

Most major donors have over time developed a philanthropic doctrine. Multiple funding requests over many years force donors to ask themselves, “What do we really believe, and what do we really want to accomplish?” The philanthropic doctrine of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is stated as follows:

“The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation believes that every life has equal value, and works to help all people lead healthy, productive lives.”

The value of every life is their core belief or philanthropic doctrine. Working to help people lead healthy productive lives is their strategic objective.

Below are four things to keep in mind about philanthropic doctrine as it relates to gift planning.

1. Charitable estate planning should begin with Donor Doctrine. Though we rarely refer to it by that term, the first objective with every Thompson & Associates’ planning client is to clarify their donor doctrine — that is, what donors deeply believe about their past, their community, their children, the future, God, eternity, and taxes.

For each charity or giving category, there is a back story.

We don’t even talk about assets or giving in the first several meetings. The discussion is about their history and life experiences that have shaped their beliefs and perceptions. We eventually give surveys to husbands and wives to complete separately. The first survey I crafted was a bit aggressive — twenty-one single-spaced pages! With time and experience we’ve cut that down to seven pages of basic questions that are most effecting in bringing out donors’ core beliefs. Surveys have their place, but deepest beliefs and values are very often things not easily expressed on paper. Those things come out only in conversation.

2. Most of the elements of Donor Doctrine emerge from life experiences. Perhaps the best way to describe this is with a personal example. Sheryl and I give regularly to ten charities, all of which fit into one of three categories. For each charity or giving category, there is a back story.

My Parents — Much of my giving is motivated by how profoundly thankful I am for my parents and what they did for me. Gifts from our estate are directed to causes they loved and in their names. The flipside of that belief is that I give to other organizations because I am aware that some people did not grow up with parents like mine.

Healthcare — We give to a specific hospital because of the death of our grandson. Our ongoing contributions are not motivated by the excellent medical care he received, but because we were so very thankful for the personal care and concern shown to our extended family from the entire hospital staff.

Our Church — We give regularly to our church because we are so thankful for what God has done for us.

Our list of charities and giving priorities mirrors our deeply held beliefs, each of which have grown around the most poignant experiences of our lives.

3. The most significant acts of generosity are the result of clear understanding on donor doctrine. Our first several interviews culminate with a written statement of the clients’ core beliefs, highest hopes, and their greatest loves. Seeing it in writing is transforming to a lot of people. I think helping them gain clarity with regard to donor doctrine has a lot to do with any gift planner’s success.

When it comes to major gifts, bequests, or charitable estate planning, it is very difficult to whittle a square peg to fit a round hole. 

Recently, we made a contribution of some laboratory equipment to the private school where Curtis, Sheryl’s brother-in-law, teaches. We gave a modest gift NOT because it was part of our long-term giving strategy but simply because we love Curtis.

When people make commitments for major gifts, even organization-changing gifts, it is usually because the gift lines up with all the elements of their donor doctrine — what they believe, who they trust, what they hope for, and who/what they love.

4. Most fundraisers work much harder at inspiring donor beliefs than they do at discovering them. I had two fundraisers from an organization visit me recently with what I considered to be an outrageous request. They went on and on and on about the wonders of their organization until I had to stop them, saying, “You have no idea who I am, what I believe, or what I value. What on earth makes you think I would ever consider such a gift?”

When it comes to major gifts, bequests, or charitable estate planning, it is very difficult to whittle a square peg to fit a round hole. That is to say, you cannot reshape donors’ beliefs, hopes, and loves to fit a particular cause.

We often get comments from previous clients. They are happy to learn about their giving potential using charitable trusts and other gift mechanisms. What they are most thrilled about is their ability to focus their giving in a way that perpetuates their beliefs and values. After all is said and done, charitable estate planning success is not defined by dollars but by how excited the donor feels about the gift they have made or the plan they have created.  See Defining Success: The Starting Point in CharitableEstate Planning.

Eddie Thompson, Ed.D.

Copyright 2014, R. Edward Thompson