Mikestrathdee’s Blog


On the topic of impact – are you a fire hose or drip irrigation donor?
June 26, 2014, 2:25 pm
Filed under: Charitable Giving, Estate Planning, Financial Management, Generosity

Published in the June, 2014 issue of Gift Planning in Canada
On the topic of impact
Mike Strathdee
Helping donors understand the impact of how they support their favorite causes can take some explaining.
The people I have the privilege of working with generally
make giving decisions informed
by their faith. Unlike churchgoers
of earlier generations, the place where
they worship is often not the primary
or sole beneficiary of their giving.
In fact, it is common for me to meet
with folks who receive charitable
receipts from 20, 30 or more different
charities every year.
Without a doubt, deciding whether
to make large gifts to a few causes
or smaller donations to a greater array
of charities is a highly personal
decision. Getting people to recognize
that one-time gifts under $100
are costly for charities is sometimes
the first discussion point.
Once donors have narrowed down
who will be on their list, asking whether
they want their end-of-life gift to have
short, or longer-term impact can result
in blank stares. I am often asked,
“Isn’t it all the same?”
Water metaphors can be a useful
way of helping donors see the value
of different approaches. The metaphor
I have found most helpful is fire hose
versus drip irrigation.
A fire hose provides quick, intense
bursts of water – great for extinguishing
a blaze, with as much pressure as
possible, or responding to a large,
immediate need. If a person wants
to grow flowers or vegetables, however,
the amount of water that comes out
of a fire hose quickly may be
overwhelming. When growing fragile
crops, drip irrigation, with smaller
amounts of water released over a longer
period of time, is more helpful.
The fire hose approach to end-of-life
giving may be unhelpful, particularly if
the gift is to a smaller charity (or
a larger one that doesn’t have good
policies on how bequests will be used).
I once met with a couple who wanted
to leave a $180,000 gift to their church
– a small rural congregation – that had
no bequest policy. When they told me
that the church’s annual budget was
only $150,000, we were able to have a
good conversation about whether this
gift would be helpful or harmful.
They eventually decided to have the
gift to their church flow through the
Mennonite Foundation of Canada over
a 10-year period.
Sometimes, for donors with
significant charitable intent, there
is often an opportunity to combine fire
hose and drip irrigation gifts. There
are a number of reasons that people
will choose to support an endowed,
or drip irrigation approach to giving,
including ensuring that their support
will continue after they are gone
– incorporating both legacy and
sustainability elements. For example,
In a recent meeting with a couple that
had spent a fair bit of their career
working in the charitable sector,
I was happy to hear that they wanted
to give gifts to organizations that had
endowments. They knew that many
donors dislike supporting the
important work that goes on behind
the scenes, unnoticed or appreciated
and so decided to give support to the
administration of charitable work.
Other donors want to create (or
support) new possibilities for mission,
if a charity’s use of its long-term fund
is broad enough. Contributing to a
medium or longer-term fund to support
the cause(s) they care about fits well
with the giving wishes of more donors
than you might think. But they may
need to ponder different sorts of water
pressure to understand why.
Mike Strathdee, MA, CFP is a Stewardship
Consultant with Mennonite Foundation
of Canada, a national, faith-based public
charitable foundation. Based in Kitchener,
Mike works with individuals, families and
congregations throughout Eastern Canada
in the areas of charitable gift and estate
planning and financial literacy. Prior to
joining MFC in 1999, Mike had a 15 year
journalism career, including 13 years as a
business writer at the Kitchener-Waterloo
Record newspaper.