ATMHow many of you have ever been the parent of a teenager? I have a teenage son who really keeps me on my toes in more ways than one. I distinctly remember a time when he was small and he wanted me to buy something for him while we were together at the mall. I went with the old “I don’t have the money” response, thinking that that would be the end of it. As those of you who have met my son will know, it is never quite that easy. Without missing a beat, his response, at 3 years of age, was “there is an ATM right over there.”

In speaking with friends over the years who have raised children, one of the things that many of them had in common was their kids’ concept of “where money comes from.” A group of 100 teenagers were asked the question “Where does money come from?” 4 of out 10 respondents (unscientific poll, work with me here) replied, “From my parents.” 30% more responded “From the ATM.”

I see some similarity in the area of donor relations. Sometimes we in the field of philanthropy treat our donors as though they are ATMs. How many of us head over to our local ATM periodically, just to reach out and make sure that we maintain effective communications with our favorite machine? Or do you ever head over to the ATM and give it a brief report on the outcomes that you accomplished with the money that you withdrew Friday night? Have you ever considered inviting the ATM along the next time you have occasion to spend money so that the ATM can feel like it is truly partnering with you as a consumer? My guess is that the answer for most (all) of us is “no.”

I am sure that you have figured out my point by now. Donors are not ATMs. People who give to support our missions do so because they want to help bring about some type of change in the world. Whether it is fighting homelessness, helping animals thrive, or finding cures for cancer, donors partner with us to make a difference. In order to help them to recognize the importance and value of what they do, it is critical that we communicate with them beyond simply asking for money. We need to make them aware of what their past donations have accomplished. We need to give them opportunities to experience and touch the mission in a tangible way. We need to keep them up to date on changing needs, or what we can do together in the future with their continued support.

So, the next time you see an ATM, recognize that it is providing a critical service for you. And allow that to be a reminder of ‘that donor whom you need to call to thank and let them know what their investment is doing in the community.’ They will appreciate the acknowledgment.

Have a great week,



If I am completely out to lunch on this issue please feel free to leave your opinion in the comments below.

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2 Thoughts on “The Difference Between a Donor and an ATM.

  1. Bertie Williams on September 4, 2013 at 8:22 pm said:

    I like the way you wrote this article. It describes me very well. Since I agreed with you my next thought or thoughts were I better start contacting these folks but on the other hand I have the kind of organization that is existing almost on nothing, yet it exists. And people really do give but not much so I use these small donations wisely. I do like to do special things for my donors during the year, such as making sweet potato pies for them. Does this count? And I make millions of valentines and on and on and on. But I just don’t have a formal way of contacting them. Somehow I just feel like I must do more. In the meantime please continue to send out your messages. We really do need to be reminded.

    • Bertie, if it is working for you then it’s good! Being small affords you the opportunity that bigger small organizations like mine would have trouble doing. Our kitchen staff would not be happy with me if I asked them to make 500 pies. And if I were to make them myself, well, let’s just say it might have the opposite of the intended effect. The key is to do something to build those relationships. I may have to send some money your way so I can get one of those pies 🙂

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