Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Lose The Fear

Last night in Georgetown I was speaking before a Board of a small nonprofit about fundraising. Quite by accident I stumbled into a life lesson. I had asked, by way of introduction, why the members of the Board were involved in the organization. I wrote their answers on a flipchart...things like "we save the lives of children" and "we give families a second chance" and even, "we create the future leaders of Georgetown." Powerful stuff. That flipchart page faced the audience for the rest of the evening. What happened next surprised me.

The fundraising committee of the Board decided that their goal should be to raise $64,000 in major gifts in the coming year, major gifts for this organization being a gift of $5,000 or so. I asked who would be willing to ask the local bank President (I made this person up. I was just using that title as an example) for $5,000. Remember, that flipchart page was up behind me, you know, the one with "save the lives of children" etc. on it. The assembled volunteers said that they were scared of fundraising. No one said that they would be willing to ask for $5,000. Someone said, we have to learn to "lose the fear". I almost went down the path of talking about how to make an "ask" fearlessly when I stopped for a moment.

It was not that they were scared of fundraising. With further discussion we found that no one knew what $5,000 would do to help them. They did not know if $5,000 would sponsor a child, pay for a program, expand the supply cabinet, or what. It was not fear. It was not passion (remember that flipchart page). It was simply that they could not bring themselves to ask someone for money when they did not know what the money was for.

The moral of the story is to avoid simple excuses. Instead of fear it was a lack of understanding of how to connect organizational needs to what was staring them in the face...the good the organization does for the community.

We all lost the fear of fundraising once we started talking about marketing materials and how to communicate the need. It was a break through moment that occurred by not letting the easy answer of "I am scared of fundraising" be the last thing heard.

Monday, September 21, 2009

God bless the child

Mid-August, an 11 year-old girl named Miranda Roberts (cute as a button, smart and friendly as could be) came to our office with her grandfather, Robert Melendez, with a check for $50 – a gift to an endowed Fund here that was created in memory of Miranda’s Aunt Terri, who died tragically young in 2007 – a murder victim, actually. The check represented money Miranda had saved to honor the memory of her aunt, Terri Melendez. The same week, we received a check for $50,000 for a Fund here that was created to help renovate a public building. $50 vs. $50,000. Hmmm. Which check was more valuable to us?

We’re grateful for both, of course, but to be honest, Miranda’s $50 gift is the one we’ll remember longer. Hers was to an endowed Fund whose income will forever be used to help people in the community who are homeless while the $50,000 gift was to a Fund that, once spent to help renovate a building, will close. The larger gift came from a foundation, while Miranda’s was the result of saving her money and foregoing a new pair of sneakers, a cell phone, or visits to restaurants. Her gift was timeless and selfless.

Miranda Roberts – one of tomorrow’s (and today’s) philanthropists.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Offsetting Your Digital Footprint

By now we have all heard about carbon footprints. We've been made to feel guilty about the tenticled trail of spent-energy tugging on that pint of shipped strawberries delivered in winter. The sensitized among us offset the climbing cloud of carbon dioxide trailing our choices by planting trees. Several nonprofit organizations sell measured units of carbon sequestration just for this purpose. The appeal seems to be that offsetting your carbon footprint reduces guilt. In a similar way your digital footprint can also be offset to better the world. It does not even require an additional purchase. Guilt too, is not involved. In fact, you are doing it right now whether you are aware of it or not.

If you are going to troll the internet, at least linger at sites that reflect your hopes for the world. Your visits will be noted, enumerated, and aggregated. Your visits create a virtuous cycle of ever-increasing connectivity. The more who visit a website now, the more who will be drawn to that website in the future. Your clicks and comments create buzz that strengthens the nonprofits you frequent. If you tweet, email, blog, and just plain talk about the nonprofits you like, more people will do the same. The more buzz created, the more people will find your favorite nonprofit.

Taking this one step further, given that your every purchase is going to be tracked by credit card companies, the products you consume recorded via the loyalty cards of grocers and other retailers, your current location and movements monitored by cellular and landline telephone companies, your frequent flier miles metered out by airlines, hotels, rental car agencies...(you get the picture yet?)...why not freely give your coordinates to that Art Museum that asks for your zipcode at the admissions desk, or provide your home address to a nonprofit you care about. The idea that you are going to limit your digital footprint by treading lightly with nonprofits is silly given the broad boulevards of data we tramp out each day. Stand tall and proudly lay down that tiny digital trail. Use your own personal data stream to carve a path toward a changed world.

In a world where our digital footprints are being tracked by those who may not have our best interests at heart, there is an offset. Take a path less-well-traveled. Make it more traveled. Help a charity mark your passing with really big signs. Blaze a trail so like-minded people behind you can see your digital footprints.