Restricted Vs. Unrestricted

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The story takes place at a Seniors Center complex.  Bob is the Executive Director of the complex, Janet is its Development Manager, and Arthur Brown is an elderly donor.
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Janet

(on the phone with the Center’s receptionist)
Yes, I’ll be right out to get Mr. Brown.  He called to say he might be dropping by.  (pause) No, he’s not a member of the Center; I’ve actually never met him before.  (Janet exits, returning with Arthur, who is walking slowly with a cane.) My office is just a little further down the hall, Mr. Brown.  (a little apologetic) Given that I get more visitors than anyone else on staff, you’d think they’d give me an office a little closer to the entrance.

Arthur

Not to worry, Janet; I’m just a little stiff today.  (humorously) I think I overdid it a bit yesterday what with two hours on the treadmill. I’m training for the Chicago Marathon, you know.

Janet

(playing along)
Really?  Wow.  Is this your first marathon, Mr. Brown, or…

Arthur

(smiles) Gotcha!

Janet

(smiles back)
Here we are, Mr. Brown.  Now, since you’re a runner, you probably won’t mind sitting in this extremely uncomfortable wooden chair.

Arthur

(he sits; looks around)
This is a very impressive Seniors Center, Janet.  Is it new?

Janet

Well, yes and no.  The Lakefield Seniors Complex goes back, in some form, to the 1950’s.  But this beautiful building is the product of a complete refurbishment done eight years ago.  About twenty percent of our members spend most of their daytime hours here.  We have quite a variety of programs and activities, and of course, the board and all our working committees are made up entirely of our members.

Arthur

It’s a much more vibrant center than the one near my home – in Weston. I don’t use that one too often, but if I lived near here, I think I might become one of your 20%.

Janet

Weston?  You’ve come a long way then, today.  How was the drive?

Arthur

Oh, I took the bus.

Janet

(surprised)
Two buses, at least, I’d think.

Arthur

Yes — lots of time for reflection.

Janet

Oh, the chair…I’m sorry.  If I’d known you’d traveled so far to get here…

Arthur

No, no, I’m fine, Janet.  (pause)

Janet

Well, if you’ve taken two buses to get here, and interrupted your training schedule, you probably have a good reason for wanting to see me.

Arthur

Yes, I do.  Do you know Lydia Beaton?

Janet

Is she a member here?

Arthur

(realizing that Janet does not know Lydia or that she has died)
Yes, she was a very close friend going back more than fifty years.  Actually her late husband and I grew up together.  Frank and Lydia and my late wife, Rose, were as close as best friends can be, I guess.  We vacationed together, watched each other’s children grow up – you know, the kind of unique connection that only lifelong friends enjoy.

Janet

You said, “was”.  Has Lydia died?

Arthur

Yes, I thought you might have heard. She was such an ardent supporter of this complex.  She mentioned it all the time. (pause) That’s why I’m here today.  I was hoping that I could make a gift in Lydia’s honor.

Janet

Well, of course.  We’d be so appreciative.

Arthur

(While he speaks, Arthur pulls out a blank, personal check, unfolding it slowly, and takes his pen from his shirt pocket)
I know I could have just mailed this in, but I wanted to see this place for myself and meet some of the people behind it.  This is a very impressive facility, as you pointed out, but with or without this building, the real quality of the Center is defined by the people who work here, don’t you think?  That’s, I’m sure, what made it special for Lydia.  I was hoping you, or someone here, could tell me about what program was particularly meaningful for her – something Lydia really got a special kick out of, you know.  I thought that if she were listening in on our conversation right now, it would be a program or activity that would make her smile and say, “Yes, that was really special.”  I’d like to direct my gift to that…in Lydia’s name.

Janet

(a pause, too long to be reflective)
Mr. Brown, I’m so sorry.  We’re only allowed to accept unrestricted gifts.

(Arthur looks somewhat irritated, which Janet misinterprets as misunderstanding)

Showing 13 comments
  • Dorian
    Reply

    Gee…Can I relate! Being in Development is sometimes like being shipwrecked on an island…and no matter how many SOS signals I send…that Donors want to give…but they also want a say on where it goes…no one on my board seems to see the signs…in this economy especially…if we can’t be flexible…and be reflective and responsive to the interests of the donor…we’re sunk!

  • Sydney Reed
    Reply

    I also can relate. We are in a Capital Campaign right now for a renovation and expandsion on two historic buildings on the Main Street of our town to create a wonderful interactive History Museum. When people give more than the existing membership they often think they are helping fund the new Museum when they are donating to the Operations Budget. Then they are surprised when they aren’t listed as Capital Campaign Donors. It is a tough problem and hard to educate the donor to specify where they would like the funds to go without offending them.

  • Patty Rosely
    Reply

    The Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park Development Troupe has just completed the first reading of the script. Look for our names at the Tony Award nominations in the spring. 🙂

    Thanks for this enlightening exercise

  • Anne Wunsch
    Reply

    Every non-profit needs a menu a giving opportunities. The Development officer needs a strong relationship with the business manager and the org’s finance committee so they can be somewhat flexible when learning about a donor’s preferences. I can’t imagine that the development officer did not pick up the phone and identify a staff person who knew this man’s friend and her preferences. Even when all gifts are unrestricted, a portion of the budget probably funds that activity or program. She missed a golden opportunity to cultivate a long term donor. How disappointing for this gentleman.

  • Jennifer
    Reply

    Ok, so what next? How can we convince our directors, boards and CFOs that unrestricted is absolutely necessary? I’m in this same position myself and everyone is pushing back, how do I get it through to them that restructuring the giving (and more work for accounting which is really the issue) is worth it?

  • Daphne
    Reply

    Almost all donors want to restrict their giving. At my institution, we have very few unrestricted gifts. In fact, I would say 97 – 99% of our gifts are restricted. It is an important way for donors to pay tribute to loved ones and others who were important in their lives. Those organizations who only accept unrestricted gifts are hurting themselves and may not survice this current economic crisis.

  • John
    Reply

    As a program director I had a member of a supportive family approach me about funding a specific project. I passed this long, but here was resistence to the idea from the CEO. He feared she would shift her giving to specific projects rather than the generous general support gift she made each year. In the end, she gave her gift to the specific project and then doubled the size of her annual general support gift in gratitude for what we’d done with her directed gift. It’s a lesson I’ve carried with me now that I am in development.

  • Janet
    Reply

    What I love best about my current position is that restricted giving is celebrated and encouraged. It gives joy to donors and college personnel alike. Luckily, 35% of our operating budget is paid by the college. The trick is how to cover the other 65% when investment income is bottoming and unrestricted gifts are rare. I can think of two possible solutions: take a 15% fee off the top of all restricted gifts to pay for foundation operations, or figure out how to express the impact of an unrestricted gift so it’s appealing to donors.

  • Katie
    Reply

    This is also a good reminder that we development folks need to get out of our offices not just to meet donors, but to see the people who use the facilities/programs/opportunities we are raising money for (myself included here). These are the stories donors want to hear about and are connected to – the people.

  • Axel
    Reply

    I am just a donor, but I would not object if told xx% of my restricted gift would go to basic support for the agency as long as xx% did not exceed a reasonable amount, say 10% with 5% being more reasonable. It is just like sales tax. I don’t recall refusing to buy an item because of the tax on it.

  • Betsy
    Reply

    I really like the idea of the percentage for basic support. Donors can understand that without a solid foundation the programs may not have the roots they need to grow in a healthy way. What I’m finding is that large donors like to support the new project, the new building, the new event…and in these times we need general support just to carry on and keep our fees affordable.

  • Ken Ristine
    Reply

    It appears that the board of this organization has given the CFO control of the organization. You can’t blame the CFO for wanting to keep his/her job as simple as possible, which is exactly what this policy does.

    Restricted gifts are just the first donated dollars in towards those program expenses that you have to meet. If the CFO put in a little work it would be easy to track and account for those dollars, thus lessening some of the need for unrestricted money.

  • John E. Saltee
    Reply

    We need to remember the wishes of the donors and not force their funds to be directed where it will be easier for us but as they wish.

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