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The Garth Brooks Donation

By Bradley Burck, MA

My colleagues at Fundraising Success Team and I have always taught that good development is not about the money, but rather about relationships. So in light of the recent story about Garth Brooks’ $500,000 donation to a hospital in Oklahoma, I think we need to come back around and spend some more time on this topic.

If you haven’t read the story about Brooks, I encourage you to do so here: GARTH BROOKS ARTICLE

Is this a great case study?

First, I think the majority of the people reading this article would say to the hospital administration: “Give the money back! Or figure out a way to bend over backwards to name something after his mother.”

Somebody at the hospital screwed up on this big time. Why? Well, in every case in fundraising, we need to be thinking about the donor, what the donor wants to do with his/her gift, and the value of our long-term relationship with that donor.

Obviously, Garth Brooks is someone any of us would like to have on our donor list. A $500,000 gift is not chump change. I would see his gift as just the beginning of a long relationship — I can see Garth doing commercials for the hospital. I can see benefit concerts. I can see meet-and-greets with other hospital donors.

So why is Garth being treated like this? How in the world did we all find out about this story?

Only the insiders know. But we can all learn a few things from it:

  1. The donor is always right — unless you’re being asked and pushed into things that are uncomfortable for you. You have to figure out this line. If you want to sever the relationship, that’s fine — but understand the consequences of doing so and be prepared for those consequences.
  2. Always understand the donor’s intentions when he/she gives.
  3.  If you can’t deliver on a promise to a donor, offer meaningful alternatives that are in line with his/her intentions.
  4.  If you can’t deliver or provide meaningful alternatives, give the money back immediately, in person, with a heartfelt apology.
  5.  Never let lawyers get involved in a donor relationship. Think about how all the other donors of this hospital now feel about their relationship with the hospital in this article.

I’ve read this article over and over again and find myself scratching my head in disbelief. I must say, I have met some really bad nonprofit managers and fundraisers in my time — people who view their donors as cash machines instead of people. This one — because the donor is well-known and because of the apparent inability of the hospital to either name something after his mother or simply give the money back — really got to me.

Please — no matter what you do in your daily work of fundraising — always remember that your donors are people with hopes and dreams and feelings. Your job, no matter who you are in the nonprofit realm, is to help them achieve their goals. Your relationships with your donors are more important than any gift they will ever give you or your organization. Value them and treat them with love and respect.

The nonprofit leaders at this hospital receive an “epic fail” in my book.

Go to the Fundraising Success Team page.