Fundraisers Boost Divorce Rates

A few years ago, a colleague of mine called a donor to thank him for a generous gift he had just made. 

The wife answered the phone and accepted my colleague's thanks, but thought it was strange to receive such effusive gratitude for what she considered an ordinary gift.

When my colleague informed her he was calling not about their $300 gift, but their $10,000 gift, she screamed.  Her husband hadn't told her about that gift.


When you're in fundraising, it's only a matter of time before you become the messenger of a "money secret."  It may start like any other call, business as usual, just wanted to say thanks for the gift, but then... the gasp, the phone crashing to the floor, the raised voices in the background - and you, alone on the line wondering how it all went so wrong.

Thing is, you're not alone.  We're not alone.  Money secrets bother legal and financial advisors too.  Just like major gift proposals, too many good planning strategies never see the light of day because one spouse is keeping money secrets. 

Most "stop-and-think" gifts from married donors require transparency, collaboration, and sometimes even the involvement of other family members and professional advisors.  In these cases, you know that donors have the "permission" of these stakeholders, because they're actively involved in the process.  It is those other cases that you need to be careful about. 

The Pin Drop

As in the story above, someone keeping money secrets from their spouse isn't your problem... until it is.  So what can you do to head it off?

Learn to ask "pin-drop" questions.  Pin-drop questions (as in, "so quiet you could hear a pin drop") are well-crafted questions that help your donors explore the meaning and purpose of both their family and their financial wealth.  By delivering your most important suggestions through such questions, you can help your money-secretive donors experience reflective and transformational moments. 

Examples of Pin-Drop Questions

- How do you think your spouse feels about being excluded/included from the decision-making?

- Has a family member ever asked to be included in this process?

- How do you think you could help your family members grow by allowing them/not allowing them to participate?

- What are you afraid might happen if you worked together with them on this?


Through pin-drop questions, you help cast a vision for your donors and nudge them into seeing the advantages of including and working with their spouses or other family members on significant financial and giving matters.  At the very least, your suggestions might enhance the couple's financial decision-making and charitable giving.  Who knows?  You might even improve their relationship. 

Happily Together After

There is a happy ending to my colleague's story.  A year after his traumatic call, the donor and his wife, by holding hands and making plans, gave the charity $1 million to fund their donor advised fund. 

Needless to say, my colleague had no problem making the thank-you call for that one. 

By:  Dan Rice, Co-founder of CTAC

Back to the September 2011 eNewsletter

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