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The Simplicity of Telling the Truth

By Nell Edgington

There was an overwhelming reaction to my post last week, 5 Lies to Stop Telling Donors. I received more comments on that post than any other blog post in the 3 year history of the Social Velocity blog.

It seems there was a sort of collective sigh of relief in being told that it’s ok to be honest with donors. There were some amazing comments from readers, you can read all of the comments here. But I wanted to highlight a few in particular.

Some readers have been telling their donors the truth for awhile, like Sharon:

I have been honest with my donors for years, but I know I am in the minority, because some of my donors appear shocked when I explain the truth. I hope many more non profits accept this truth, because it’s only when the majority of us pull together that we will see real change.

And this from Linda,

Thank you so very much. This is a conversation that we often have in our world. Amen to transparency and truth. Well done!

And others recounted their own experiences of working with donors who don’t get it, like Curtis:

We recently had someone offer us $1,400 and they had this huge laundry list of expectations. At our new location $1,400 barely covers the electric bill for a single month.

And Kelly:

I am so on board with being real with funders and board members about what it takes to run our program! I had to inform my board that my staff can not be paid with in-kind donations!

I get the sense that there are many nonprofit leaders out there who want to be up front and honest with donors. Maybe they just need permission to do so.

Perhaps Marjorie says it best. The nonprofit sector needs to stand up for what they really need in order to be successful at solving social problems:

In an era of shrinking federal & state funding for human services, it’s tempting to feel relieved at “flat funding”. Trying to make that work just leads to substandard services delivered (in the case of nursing homes, day care, etc) by front-line staff without a living wage or health insurance. Rather than enable the illusion that the nonprofit sector can miraculously make it work, there are times we need to say that WE CAN’T DO IT without appropriate funding … and let public funders and policy-makers deal with the consequences of their budget decisions.

Thanks so much for the comments, everyone, and keep them coming! You are an inspiration to me. Stand up for your work, for your organizations, for your staff, and tell donors what they really need to hear.

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About the Author: Nell Edgington is President of Social Velocity (, a management consulting firm leading nonprofits to greater social impact and financial sustainability. Social Velocity helps nonprofits grow their programs, bring more money in the door, and use resources more effectively. For more information, check out Social Velocity consulting services and clients.

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