The Best Kind of “Ask”

I was giving a fundraising seminar a couple of weeks ago. Most of the audience members were nonprofit CEOs, development directors, and Board members. A woman asked me, “So the other day I was sitting at Rotary with a man I knew had lots of money. But I couldn’t figure out, there at the breakfast table, how to ask him for a contribution.”

I told her that I was relieved that she hadn’t asked him for a contribution. He didn’t know the organization. He didn’t really know her. They were surrounded by other people. It was entirely the wrong setting, and he had not come to Rotary to be solicited. But the fortuitous seating arrangement was a great opportunity for her, one that she apparently hadn’t taken advantage of because she was so worried about how to ask him for a gift.

What could she have done? Continue reading

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A More Powerful Kind of Legacy

My friend Susan is a fan of my blog and usually sends a note to say that she agreed with what I wrote that week. But not when she read my post, “An Approach to Funding That Might Actually Work.”

“What’s your big problem with perpetual endowments?” she asked. “I don’t have kids, and I want to leave my mark in the world. I really like the idea of creating a fund with my name on it that will work forever for a cause I care about.”

Susan, a wonderful woman and an active environmentalist, in this case is being very traditional. And she’s not alone. Nearly every time I question the assumption that permanent endowments are a godsend for each and every nonprofit, people respond with shock. But question it I do. Continue reading

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Keeping the Glass Filled

More years ago than I’d care to admit, I spent four months as a Russian language exchange student in what was then the Soviet Union. One night I went to a hockey game – the local team against the Red Army team – and, as was customary at all public venues there, not only theaters or museums, we had to check our coats as we entered the arena.

After the game, I gave my coat check to the grizzled, WWII veteran (conspicuously bedecked with military ribbons), and he grumpily went off to get my coat. I was honestly out of money that night – not a single kopeck for a tip. Instead, after he handed me his coat, I offered a cheerful “Spasibo!” (Thank you!)

He looked at me, shook his head dismissively, and growled, “Spasibo, my friend, doesn’t fill the vodka glass!” Continue reading

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As Rich as Rockefeller?

All of you who are struggling to get your next foundation grant application pulled together and those of you who work earnestly as foundation staff or trustees may want to pause and think about how these entities – the powerful, life-giving, and capricious foundations – came into existence. Here’s the short version.

Though charitable foundations have a long history in the United States (some credit Benjamin Franklin with creating the first foundation, the progenitor of the Philadelphia Foundation), they did not gain prominence until early in the twentieth century.

The first two permanent foundations of note were created by Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller. Let’s look at Rockefeller, courtesy of “Titan,” a remarkable biography by Ron Chernow. Continue reading

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