Live United: The journey of a donation

Published 8:45 pm Friday, January 6, 2023

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Live United by Erin Haag

Many executive directors live and breathe the mission of their organization. I think it’ll come as no surprise that I’m one of them. That doesn’t mean that I don’t value life-work balance and strive to make sure that my team and other nonprofits are taking care of themselves, too.

Erin Haag

One of the things that I enjoy doing though is reading about nonprofit work, participating in like-minded groups of nonprofit professionals and more. This is my “working downtime,” what I idly browse when I’m waiting in line at the bank, at the post office, waiting for a meeting to start or things along those lines. It’s not working time, but it’s still relevant to the work I do.

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Recently, there’s been a series of conversations around nonprofit individuals that are upset that their personal gift to another nonprofit wasn’t acknowledged right away. This occurred in a social media group — so it’s an interactive question and responses from a variety of nonprofit employees across the country. It’s been interesting to see the responses.

One of my goals for this year is to build stronger relationships. I think many of the donors that I have great relationships with are readers of this article series. However, due to the small capacity of our staff (that life-work balance thing) it’s not always easy to get out the thank yous, the tax receipts and other forms of acknowledgment. I don’t have pretty hand outs and a great website for a source of information, and my social media game is pretty low.

I kinda thought it was just me — or at least just organizations at the same capacity as mine. I was intrigued to see the responses that gently chided the individuals for not providing more grace at the end of the year, for not understanding how complex the process is. Some took a little more defensive stance of questioning if the donor was giving for the right motivation — was it recognition or because the donor believed the organization was doing good work? One person said, “You can either trust that the organization is properly stewarding your gift, or withdraw further support. Trust is key.”

Uffda. I felt like that went over the top, although I did love that last quote in the context of giving. I think it’s fair to call and inquire to make sure your donation was received — because goodness knows, with the mail today, sometimes it’s not! I received a donation this year that came through the mail without a stamp! A minor miracle there. Some participants talked about the delay in postal mail, far and beyond what we’ve experienced here in Albert Lea. I do appreciate grace and understanding but I never mind an inquiry — and delays in that acknowledgment do not ever mean that we don’t appreciate the donation, appreciate the donor and that it’s not needed. It simply means that we’re hitting the ground running at full capacity putting those donations to good use in our community.

So what happens when we receive a donation? Over the last six months, we’ve been able to set up a more consistent process. We’ve been able to do that because we have staff that have been with us long enough to receive the training and maintain that consistency. Staff retention is exciting stuff y’all!

It’s a process of checks and balances, of multiple data entry systems and then finally a deposit. For the most part, as long as we have the funds in our physical possession, it’s cashed by the last day of the month. This year we implemented a new donor software that will help us, but it’s been a slow slog in learning the process and the reporting. Nothing is ever as quick to learn as the sales guy says it will be. But we’ve made great progress on routines this year, and 2023 is the year that we expand those routine, and include good donor stewardship. It’s fascinating to see the different policies across the country through — who gets a phone call? Who gets a handwritten letter? Who gets a tax receipt (other than the legally required ones). We’ll have to determine our own policies — and do our very best to do a full acknowledgment of the donors who make the work that we do possible.

If you’re a donor — thank you! We will be getting out tax receipt for 2022 donations $250 and above by the end of January. If you’d like a receipt for an amount below that, please just let me know. If you donate through your workplace, that will be reflected on your pay stub. You’re welcome to give our office a call at 507-373-8670 or email, and I can send you a PDF version of your tax receipt. I just received a note in the mail yesterday requesting this, and that was wonderful. Donations are certainly a journey — and I hope that this year, I’ll do a better job at showcasing the impact of your dollars in the work that we do. Thank you for helping to support our mission and Live United.

Erin Haag is the executive director of the United Way of Freeborn County.