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Getting donor money in tough times

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Charles H. Joseph in his Random Tidbits Column for the January 1933 issue of The Sentinel analyzed the economic downturn then and the effect it might have on donations.

“Somebody should write a treatise on ‘Comparative Wealth.’ These days a rich man doesn't know whether he is rich or broke. He is so used to thinking in terms of how much excess money he used to have that he could never use and never spend, than even today when he has much more than he needs, he feels depressed and imagines that he is poor. Yet, under pressure, and with the proper appeal, money continues to be forthcoming for worthy causes. …Every day somewhere some group is raising money every hour in every day. If the fog of uncertainty would only lift so that we could see a little further ahead they that have wealth would dispense it more freely. It's nonsense to say that no one has any money any more. There are still hundreds of thousands who have more than they will ever spend or can spend without throwing it away."

What was true then is truer now. There is enough money in the world to ensure almost any universal solution to any conceivable issue. There is even enough food in the world at this time to “to provide everyone in the world with at least 2,720 kilocalories (kcal) per person per day”, according to data compiled by World Hunger Education Service, which would mean no one would go hungry if resources were appropriated properly. How to get the resources dispensed more freely is the challenge for nonprofits.

Increasingly, big donors are savvier than ever before. Whereas a good narrative and heart-wrenching picture might have worked in the past, nowadays donors are expecting their philanthropy to be like their investments. Specifically they are looking for ROI: return on investments. It becomes the task of the fundraiser to make the cause of how a donation to your specific cause is a good investment.

At times, that plays out into actual gains for the donor. This could the case when donor dollars give the donor publicity (think corporate sponsorship). If a wealthy individual or company is going through a bad publicity stint, getting involved in a good cause in a showy manner could push that unpleasant incident into the shadows.

Other times, the gains are not for the donor, but for the greater gain of mankind. If a donor is asked to fund an activity club in an inner city neighborhood, it is a feel-good donation, but not that compelling. If the activity club is able to show how involvement in its particular program ensures entry of children down the line into college, they have made a more compelling case. The donor is not just funding an activity, but is getting a greater return on investment down the line.

As Charles Joseph pointed out so many years ago, it would behoove those asking for donations to point out ways donors could “see a little further ahead” so that they open their purse strings feeling it is money well invested.

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