Expert Advice

Donor Remorse, Giver Remorse: I Wish I Never Made Such a Large Gift to Charity

| Updated April 9, 2018

What nonprofits should consider when dealing with a regretful donor

Kathryn Engelhardt-Cronk, MissionBox co-founder and CEO, is joined by executive director of the Metropolitan Center for Independent Living in St. Paul, Minnesota, Jesse Bethke Gomez, for the MissionBox DoubleTake — a column that offers opinions about the peskier aspects of working in the nonprofit sector. The opinions offered here are based on the authors' personal nonprofit experience and may not reflect the opinions of MissionBox, Inc. These opinions should not be considered legal advice or used as a substitute for professional legal consultation. MissionBox readers are invited to submit alternative responses, which may be published here as well.

I made a large gift to charity in honor of a loved one. Why didn't I receive adequate acknowledgement for such a sizable donation?

I inherited a generous amount of money from my lovely grandmother. She cared deeply about animal welfare and fostered many rescue dogs and cats throughout her life.

I decided to give what for me was a large donation — $25,000, in her name. I selected a national charity that rescues abused animals. I felt this would be a wonderful tribute to my grandmother’s memory.

After a perfunctory thank you letter and a two-minute call from a fundraising staff member, I have never heard from this charity again! I don’t expect a thousand thanks, but I do expect to be kept abreast of the impact of my donation. And they misspelled my grandmother’s name in their formulaic thank you letter.

In retrospect, I should have given the dollars to a smaller, local group — my gift might have made a bigger difference and would hopefully have been more appreciated.

Well, the joke is on the national charity. I planned to give three gifts over the course of three years, but that’s no longer going to happen. I’ll look at other charities for ways to honor my grandmother.

Jesse says ...

Your generosity is so wonderful! The heart of what makes the nonprofit sector work is philanthropy — a word that harks back to the ancient world of Greece, which translated essentially means a love for humanity.

Your generosity can be a game changer for that particular nonprofit organization. As a chief executive officer in the nonprofit sector for over 20 years, some of the most defining moments for me have come from the input from donors. It means the world to the executive director of a nonprofit organization to learn of how a donor feels about their experience of donating to the organization. A nonprofit organization truly thrives when they nurture a culture of philanthropy.

Please consider contacting the chief executive officer of the nonprofit organization and explaining to them how you came to decide to make this most important contribution to their organization. It is so important that the chief executive officer, who by the way is also the chief fundraising officer, learns of your experience. For that particular organization, your feedback can help them become donor-centric and attentive to people who give to their cause. More importantly, it will help the organization recommit themselves to a culture of philanthropy and show their heartfelt gratitude to you, and your grandmother, for this act of care.

From all of us who are deeply committed to the greater good, thank you for your generosity, care and for asking this great question too!

Kathryn says ...

What you are experiencing is called donor remorse. It’s commonly a result of a perceived lack of appreciation on the recipient’s part.

You are correct to say it is unrealistic to expect endless warm platitudes related to your gift, no matter how generous. However, it is the charity’s obligation to express profound gratitude and personal thanks for your shared dedication to their mission. Apparently, this nonprofit was aware that the gift was intended as an act of remembrance of your grandmother. And while mistakes happen, a seemingly small item such as correctly spelling her name felt understandably important to you and should have been immediately corrected, with apologies.

Some people feel that philanthropic giving can be more rewarding when your gift pulls you closer to your community. It can be more difficult to foster this experience when you give to a large, national charity, but is not necessarily always the case. Many national, international and local charities dedicate themselves to you as a donor and make every effort to celebrate your generosity.

Case in point: my family recently created an endowment to support Holocaust relic preservation and educational programs of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. None of us live in Washington, D.C. and most of my family members are not Jewish. The fine folks at the Holocaust Memorial Museum, nonetheless, have gone out of their way to both ceremoniously and personally express their appreciation and gratitude in ways that my family can look to with pride for generations to come. They also keep us updated on the museum’s important work and the impact of our gift.

Since your experience with a large charity was not positive, try giving next year’s gift to a smaller, regional nonprofit and let them know of your unhappiness with your previous giving experience. And don’t just give dollars! Get involved, as much as your time allows, as a volunteer or visitor, in the ongoing work of your chosen nonprofit.

Thanks for being the type of person who wants to give back and thanks to your grandmother for her long-standing kindness to animals at risk.

MissionBox editorial content is offered as guidance only, and is not meant, nor should it be construed as, a replacement for certified, professional expertise.

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