Knowing/Not, Assuming/Not, Listening

By: David T. Shufflebarger, Senior Partner

We know from the good work done by the Giving USA Foundation that giving tends to correlate most strongly with the stock market, that the market is off to its worst January start since 2008, and that its January performance, known as the ‘January effect,’ often correlates to how it will do for the year.

We know not whether this January will be predictive.

We might assume that our major donors and prospective donors will be cautious and disinclined to consider giving at their current level or consider a new or increased gift in light of the roiling markets.

We ought not to assume that this will be a consideration for any of your major donors.

I was reminded of all of this during several recent meetings with donors to a national human services organization planning its first major campaign. Now, to be honest, I was indeed mindful of the January effect and predictions that February was not likely to be better, and concerned – and maybe even assuming – that these donors might be wary of any new initiatives.


What a joy it was to hear their enthusiasm as they talked about the areas of the proposed campaign that were nearest and dearest to them.

As I listened, I heard that they were committed to the work of this organization and had made it a priority in their giving.

  • With one couple it seemed clear that they were committed to maintaining their giving and increasing it and would reduce giving to lower priority charities to do so.
  • For another couple, their ability to give at a very major level was due to a windfall of assets in the petroleum industry. While they were clear that oil prices would impact their giving from those assets, they also were clear that they were willing to consider reaching into other investments to make a new gift in addition to what they were already doing.

Isn’t it amazing what we learn when we listen. Any preconceived concerns I had were blown away by the heartening stories I heard when I opened the conversation by asking them about how they became involved with the organization.

So, the moral of this story? Do be mindful of the research on giving and the current state of the economy, but don’t assume anything until you listen to each donor’s passion for your organization.