This past weekend, a dear friend of the family moved out of her house and into senior housing. We had one day to get everything out of the house but her new apartment was full long before the house was empty. It felt like we were on the TV show “Clean Sweep“!

To save time, I ordered a dumpster. Rather than the cute little green one I’d expected, they brought a huge construction size monster dumpster. It’s a good thing! This woman was a bargain hunter and a pack rat. We threw out enough “seen on TV” gizmos and gadgets to fill up about half of the dumpster!

Only once did she get really upset–when I threw out a bucket that contained an expensive compost starter. Then it struck me, if she’d not spent so much money on “good deals” that she never used, she’d have been able to buy bucket loads of compost starter.

I call this “poverty thinking.” I see nonprofits stuck in this poverty thinking all the time. They’ve become so focused on stretching their money that they lose site of quality. They’ll put in the cheapest cabinets in the new building. Or they’ll bring their major donor to McDonald’s to show her how frugal they are.

Most donors, especially major donors, are wise enough to know that paying a little more up front can save lots of money down the road. Cheap cabinets may have saved a buck this year. But, due to less frequent repairs and replacements, buying a higher quality, more expensive cabinet will save them money over time.

It’s the same with cultivating donors. Paying a little more up front can save lots of money over time. Taking a donor out to a decent restaurant is a way of showing her that we value her. That her relationship means more to us than just the money she’s giving. She needs to know that we care about her and her interests.

The moral of the story: if a donor means enough to your nonprofit to take them out to dinner, go to a place with real silverware. By all means show them how well you stewarded the money they gave, but don’t be a cheapskate.

We often we learn more from our mistakes than from our successes. You can email me your craziest mistakes at:

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