Saturday, November 1, 2008

The Importance of "Modest" Gifts

I'm sure you've heard it or even felt it yourself. "I'm not really in a position to give." Yet most of us are in a position to give something, even if it is very modest. What we really mean is, "I can't give a significant gift and, therefore, what I can give will have little impact." And the way we determine the significance of our gift is by comparing what we can do to what others have already done. When we see an organization that we care about celebrating the receipt of multi-million dollar gifts, we assume that we are no longer needed, that anything we might give is like a drop in the ocean. Perhaps that organization has never told us what small or modest gifts mean to them other than the usual, "Every gift counts!" Counts toward what?

Philanthropy-seeking organizations must, as I said in my previous post, not only make case for each and every gift, but for all gifts, no matter how modest. That case might include the following points:

1. We don't think in terms of large or small. We are grateful for every gift. Each one touches us. Each is a vote of confidence, of solidarity, of hope. The more votes we receive, the more heartened, encouraged and emboldened we grow in pursuit of our cause.

2. While we occasionally single out the major investor in our literature, we also celebrate all those who give according to their means. We realize that a $1,000 gift from someone of modest means may be as, if not more, generous than a gift of $1 million from someone of exceptional means.

3. A large, diverse portfolio of modest gifts is our biggest gift. It gives us a breadth and depth of steady support that allows us to persist over time. Large gifts are wonderful but they are, by definition, unusual and are given more occasionally and irregularly.

4. We revere the loyal donor, the one who may only be able to give modestly but gives again and again. While we will never take any gift or any donor for granted, we are so fortunate to know that we have donors that we can count on as long as we continue to live up to our promise. (Remember, long-term loyal donors are also the most apt to leave bequests to their favorite philanthropies.)

Obviously, philanthropy-seeking organizations should not just say these things. They should mean them and ingrain them in their ethos. This can be done by constantly striving to create a culture that eschews entitlement and begins each day by reflecting on the fact that no one owes us anything, that we are fortunate to receive each and every gift that comes our way, and we are blessed to live in culture where so many assume an obligation to achieve a greater good and to bequeath a better world than the one they inherited. Those of us who are fortunate enough to receive the philanthropic support of others should not think of ourselves as merely an organization or an institution, no matter how long we have been around, but a cause that will live only as long as we inspire the strong support of a few and the sustained support of many.

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