You Just Never Know

I helped wrap up a successful capital campaign in December, one in which we asked supporters to give significantly more than they ever had before.

One thing that strikes me is how some of the largest gifts came from people the organization had barely known before. And some of the people we expected to give six-figure gifts – folks who had been giving handsomely over the years and who seemed to have great capacity – came in significantly below the level we expected.

I’ve learned not to be judgmental. I try to appreciate the pledges as they come. All are good, and all represent a commitment to the organization. The bottom line is: you can never anticipate what other priorities people have. There are a ton of reasons why donors give at a lower level than you’d anticipated: kids or grandchildren in college, family members ill, worries about business or investments, or, yes, commitments to other nonprofits. You can’t take it personally, and you need to be respectful of their decisions.

And, of course, you need to actually carry out the campaign to find out who will give what – and to be surprised when great gifts happen. You have to put yourself out there.

In this campaign, as in most campaigns, the happy surprises balanced out the disappointments, and we met our goal with a bit to spare.

This reminds me of one of my grandmother’s favorite sayings.  She would shake her head and say, in a heavy Eastern European accent, “You never know what can be happen!” Very true – about life and about capital campaigns.

Copyright Alan Cantor 2012. All rights reserved.

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Raising the Blue Peter!

I’m an avid reader of the Patrick O’Brian seafaring novels, featuring Captain Jack Aubrey and Dr. Stephen Maturin. People either love these books, or they don’t “get” them, looking on with studied patience as O’Brian groupies go on and on about a particularly magnificent moment in volume 14, The Nutmeg of Consolation. It’s a bit like showing tolerance for an unfamiliar and seemingly inexplicable religious practice. Continue reading

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Donor-Advised Fund Reform?

A November 21, 2011 op-ed in the New York Times by Boston College law professor Ray D. Madoff raises some good points.

We all know that donors receive federal tax deductions when they give to a 501(c)(3) public charity. That nonprofit can be a soup kitchen, or a symphony, or a major educational institution. We could argue (and I often do) that the gift to the soup kitchen should be worth more (from a tax policy standpoint) than a gift to a cultural or educational institution, no matter how worthy those other institutions are, because the gift to help hungry people more clearly meets the original intent of the charitable tax deduction – to lessen the burden of government. But let’s not get into that now.

So what’s a donor-advised fund, how does it fit in, and why does Professor Madoff raise concerns? Continue reading

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Thoughts on the Nonprofit World