Fundraising

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My board leans on me for everything” – an oft-heard lament from executive directors.

It’s logical. Board members, knowing the competence of the executive director, simply assume that dynamic leader will let them know when they’re needed. It’s easier to follow their lead.

But executive directors, juggling a million balls in the air, resent that they’re expected to be in charge of the actions of yet another group of responsible adults.

Yet the opposite complaint is true as well: Beware the runaway decisions made by a board acting on its own without any staff members in the room…

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It’s hard to ask for money to honor myself” complained a special event honoree recently – and rightfully so.

Sidestepping that reluctance is the reason why many organizations recruit event co-chairs, or vice-chairs – someone who asks, in the honoree’s name, for the donation. “Please give money to honor Robert who’s been so important to our community” is a lot more palatable than Robert asking, himself, for a gift.

But there’s a third ask possibility – and a fourth. The third pitch is asking because of the organization’s good work; and the fourth is asking on behalf of the recipients of the organization’s work.

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A camel is a horse designed by a committee. Heard that one before?

Heeding that adage to the extreme leads, in fundraising, to letters drafted and polished by staff alone – indeed, entire campaigns planned and executed by the development department, with its superior fundraising expertise.

Board members’ jobs, in this model, are to send the darned thing out – not to critique its components. Easier for everyone concerned, yes?

But so much less effective, for many reasons.

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Gratitude makes us more public-spirited.

Seems self-evident, yes? Someone looked out for us in our formative years, hence we “play it forward” and look out for others who are at that vulnerable time of life.

But here’s the twist: Feeling gratitude of any kind – even completely unrelated – turns out to make us more likely to invest in the public good.

And makes us happier, more optimistic, healthier.

Scientists have proven this to be so…

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A $1 million commitment to scaling a promising youth entrepreneurship program. $500,000 to fund mentoring for those recently released from prison. A $75,000 grant – one of 10 – awarded for scholarships to a summer science education institute.

These are the kinds of initiatives appealing to new philanthropists – those termed “high and ultra-high net worth donors.”

It’s easy enough to research the “what” of these donors – what they give to. But that’s after the fact. How can we figure out the “why” – and from that, understand how to position our nonprofits in this sphere?

A new study released in late November by The Philanthropy Workshop gives some clues.

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