Why a Donor Dumped Her Charity

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December 18, 2010; Source: Wall Street Journal | Plenty of NPQ columnists have warned charities not to take their donors for granted. This article in the Wall Street Journal comes from a donor who “divorced,” so to speak, her favorite national charity. Like feelings toward a former spouse in many cases, the donor still feels affection, but conditions have changed, the married partners have grown apart, and it’s time to file for irreconcilable differences.

The donor/author, Karen Blumenthal, gave some thought to the issue and listed three reasons for heading to divorce court with the longtime recipient of your charitable largesse: (1) the group is no longer showing the donor appreciation and keeping the donor informed; (2) the mission of the charity has crept away from what originally attracted the donor; and (3) the nonprofit appears unreceptive to donors’ and volunteers’ concerns. The latter is what pushed Blumenthal over the edge.

Blumenthal is associated as a “worker bee volunteer” with a local chapter of the national organization so she gets to see first hand the interaction between the national and the local. The national organization decided, in her view, to “turn . . . its focus away from its local chapters, which it calls advisory boards.” In 2009, the all-volunteer chapters were hit with a requirement that they had to raise $2,000 or risk being deemed inactive. The agency said it was thinking about upping the requirement to $10,000. As a consequence, the number of local chapters dropped by 40 percent to about 170. Blumenthal complained that, for many reasons, working with the group became more difficult, volunteers drifted, and donations and book distributions dropped.

Divorce is always difficult, and it’s usually expensive. For nonprofits, a donor’s divorce means a loss of charitable giving and personal energy and in this case a loss of face as this donor goes public with her concerns.—Rick Cohen