Robison: Charitable Giving

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(HOST)  As more non-profits struggle to survive in a tough economy, commentator Olin Robison has some reminders for would-be fundraisers.    

(ROBISON)  It has been my privilege over the years to raise quite a bit of money for several non-profit organizations. That is why I presume on this occasion to offer a few thoughts about fundraising.

First, an observation or two:  Few people understand just how big the non-profit sector is in the United States. It is said by economists that fully 11% off all jobs in America are in the non-profit area.  That is, of course, a lot of people: something between 20 and 30 million, depending on who gets counted – whether it is either people or organizations. The larger number, of course, includes all churches, synagogues and other religious groups, which, in my opinion, it should.  Most of these organizations are absolutely dependent on gifts for their sustenance.

In fundraising one should also be aware of a myth.  The myth is that in America Foundations and Corporations are the big givers.  That simply is not true.  All research on the subject shows that, year after year, more than 90% of all giving in America is done by individuals or their estates.  That, dear friends, as they say in Texas, is a true fact.  So, if there is a moral to this, it is that many if not most people have more money than they say they have.  Which brings us to the subject at hand – and a few rules:

First , even though it seems obvious, ask!  Few people who have money to give do so without being asked.

Second, ask big!  Don’t be afraid; just do it. Very few people are offended at being asked for too much. It is also a truism that you never get more than you ask for. There are a few exceptions to this, but not many.

Third, go where the money is!  While few people are put off at being asked for more than they have, there really is no point in asking people for money you know they don’t have.

And now a short personal story to make a point: For some years I was the token American on the Board of the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London.  I resigned when I realized that the main reason I had been invited to join them was that they had had finally realized that they needed to deal with fundraising, which they viewed as something in bad taste. So, they said to themselves, it is best to bring in an America since "they do that".  Well, friends, it is not in bad taste.  In the U.S., it is part of the culture.

People expect to be asked.
Nancy Reagan once said in a different context, "Just do it."  And that’s pretty good advice for anyone engaged in fundraising. Besides, you have nothing to lose, and the non-profit you want to help has everything to gain.

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