What’s in a Name?

First, a story about my mother. It’s the kind of story I can tell, but you can’t, because she’s my mother, not yours.

My mom, who recently turned 87, is a very traditional woman of her generation. And she never quite understood that, though my wife Pat decided to take my last name when we got married in 1983, she certainly did not subsume her identity to me. So for years every time my mom sent a birthday card to Pat, she addressed it to “Mrs. Alan Cantor.” It drove both Pat and me nuts: Pat took my last name, sure, but not my first!

Then the time came when Pat earned her doctoral degree, and to mark the accomplishment my mother sent her a card. Continue reading

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Fish Stories

I was visiting with the staff of a small human services agency the other day. I asked them how they liked their board of directors, and they were generally positive, until it came to talking about the board’s attitude about development.  At that point, their calm professionalism fell away, replaced within seconds by apoplexy. Continue reading

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All Bequests Are Generous; Some Can Also Be Smart

Those of you with an oil-burning furnace may be familiar with efficiency percentage tags.

If you don’t heat with fuel oil: When the oil company maintenance crew comes at the beginning of each winter to service your furnace, they leave behind a tag declaring its operating efficiency. If the tag reads 90%, you’re doing really well. If the tag reads 60%, it’s time to get a new furnace. You’re wasting a lot of fuel.

If I were to hang an efficiency tag on charitable bequests, most would be around 75% — and a few would be at 15%. Continue reading

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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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Thoughts on the Nonprofit World