Monday, October 13, 2008

Be Careful What You Ask For

No, I’m not invoking that old saw – “Be careful what you ask for; you may get it.” I’m establishing a new credo for fund raising in a contracted economy – “Be careful what you ask for, or you may not get anything.”

Philanthropy-seeking organizations can’t ask for more when people have less but they have to continue to ask to keep pursuing their mission. The way to do that is to be more careful in what they ask for. I would suggest dispensing with the tendency to ask for private support in nice round numbers -- $10,000, $100,000 or a $1,000,000. I would also forgo asking people to contribute so they could qualify for certain “giving societies.” No one is in the mood to give for the sake of a society but Americans will continue to give throughout this recession as they have through every previous recession including the Great Depression. They will give to the most clearly developed concepts designed to advance a common good or to redress a common need. Two indicators of a well-developed philanthropic concept are a carefully constructed business plan and a detailed budget.

When philanthropists see that an organization has not only conceived of a way to bring about a greater good but to do so in the most creative and cost-effective way possible, they will respond. They will give exactly what you ask if you are exacting in determining your needs. That will mean asking for very precise amounts to correspond with precise budget items. We should see “asks” then not in nice round numbers but in “sharp pencil” calculations such as $11,432 or $94, 274 or $965,804. This will show how thoughtfully you have developed your plans and how careful you are in asking those with less to continue to give.

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