Tuesday, December 22, 2009



Today's (Wednesday, December 23) NPR "Morning Edition" included a twisted piece about CRM, cause related marketing. It presented the idea that when a nonprofit organization sells it soul to a corporation, the latter is hoping to improve its public karmic account.
Why is this "news", Mr. van Winkle?

( http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=121718372#commentBlock)

Quoting Carol Cone, professed to be the founder of CRM,
"Businesses must show their humanity," she says. "It's no longer a 'nice to do' — it's a 'have to do.' "

Your humble Holy Beggar been in the nonprofit organization fund development trenches too long to find this even good cocktail party dribble. The reporter misses the point by taking account of corporate citizen's ethics.
While the notion "it is more blessed to give than to receive" is popular among those of us with a soul intact, corporations don't' worry about their karma. Corporations have never been about "nice"; it's all bottom line for their stockholders.

The story headline begs the notion of 'selfish giving' with the query, "Does It Count If You Get In Return?"

Count as what? Charity? Does it matter as long as there is money flowing from the haves to the haven'ts.

The Holy Beggar can assure all that it counts ... always counts ... big ... on both sides of the relationship.

Savvy nonprofits are happy to get funding from anywhere that is legit and in sync with its mission ... the marketing department, the CEO's discretionary stash, corporate employees' charity funds and matching funds. Back in the good "old" days of the ERA / feminist movement, Playboy Foundation / Enterprises was very happy to give money to women's causes ... but taking it was a matter of much conversation. The NPR story explained that Macy's is hooking up with Make A Wish Foundation; nice alliterative play.

Gone are the promises of a table for 10 at an annual dinner (and the back cover full page ad in the program book).
In the most recent economic "down-turn", corporate budgets are being cut from brand hyping public relations, with a small balance redirected to product marketing, the latter promising more measurable outcomes, e.g. units sold. Scrooge's transformed largess in Dicken's fabled tome seems a higher level of consciousness when compared to recent corporate CRM targeted ads in The New Yorker.

The challenge to my NPO beggar colleagues is what to give as a thank-you gift to the corporate suits who have everything by the end of the year. The period between Thanksgiving and December 31 is holiest of begging holidays.

Your humble Holy Beggar, taking stock of her still unemployed socio-economic situation would welcome corporate sponsorship. How about utilizing the HB "likeness" to headline an endorsement campaign. In exchange, the HB is wiling to give out coupons for discounted merchandise for each donation placed in the begging cup from December 25 through the 31.

Silent Night?
Don't be silly. Bragging rights! Shout it from the roof tops.

The Holy Beggar wishes all a good night anyway.

And remember,

No matter what,
Don't forget to ask for the money.

As I said, it's all fine when operations coffers are being filled and budgets met. But, what's more troubling is that once the corporations sink a sizable chunk of change into a single NPO, few others are able to get in on the generosity. It's especially sad when a well-run, impacting small NPO serving the neighbors of the HDQ can't muster up enough entitlements to warrant significant support.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Working for Charity

Working for Charity

Just like the premise for this blog ... begging for a job to beg for the organization ... the notion of "working for charity" is a two-way mirror. A general contractor friend of mine seemed surprised when I explained that I would not be willing to write grant proposals for his synagogue's programs with payment (a percentage, no less!) coming in when the grant was funded. I explained this is not speculative construction, where a builder will make an investment in a property, develop it at his / her own expense and then sell it for a profit.

Perhaps this is one of the easier ways to distinguish between working for a non-proft and a for-profit corporation. I've been explaining to a number of artists recently the reality that one can (not to mention, should) make a living (i.e. earn income) by being engaged by (or starting) a not-for-profit entity.

What is the nature of true profit anyway? Something "extra" is the byproduct of one's investment, perhaps. But how does one anticipate, much less value, the merit of an investment in compassion? Is it an hourly fee? "A little gelt at Chanukah ..."

The latter was the response to my serious question to a potential employer ... OK, it was United Jewish Appeal's national headquarters back in the late 1970s ... when I inquired in the interview process about the opportunity for a potential raise in salary. They didn't want to pay enough up front. Silly me ... I took the job and the "raise" was minuscule. When the distinguished gentleman said those words with his heavy Eastern European accent, I noticed a twinkle in his eye that practically pinched my cheek. My mind completed the sentence ... kindelach." (Yiddish for little child.)

Life for this Holy Beggar is very full, nonetheless. I've been turned down for many jobs after the second interview. I think it's an age thing ... stay tuned for the "mother of all blogs" about this.

In the meantime,

No matter what
Don't forget to ask for the money!

A tip of the Holy Beggar's Hat to the Harvard Business Review for the following article ...

"For a Charity or the Money? You Can't Work for Both"

May 18, 2009


Michelle Obama's beautiful and impassioned entreaty to U.C. Merced students to give back and change the world raises an issue that it is time for us all to confront. By what economic rules must they be constrained in their efforts? We give young people horrible mutually exclusive choices. We tell them that they can pursue their dreams of helping the world's neediest citizens or they can pursue their dreams for their own economic futures, but they cannot pursue both. We say to students who choose charity, You must watch your classmates who chose the for-profit sector pass you by on the economic highway — buy homes in better neighborhoods, send their kids to better schools, drive safer cars, take better care of their aging parents, indeed serve on the boards of and direct the very charities that employ you — but you, because you have chosen to help the indigent, you must sacrifice — you can have none of this power, none of this security.

Purists will cry that the psychic benefit of working for charity makes up for the low pay. But is there no psychic benefit working for Apple? For Google? For the pharmaceutical company that might discover a cure for cancer and pay you seven figures while you work on it? And what about the psychic liability of working for a nonprofit that, aside from a low salary, offers you inadequate resources to measure the best of your talents?

A few years ago Business Week did a survey of Harvard MBAs ten years out of business school, at an average age of 38. Their median annual compensation was $380,000. The average compensation for the CEO of a hunger charity in America at the same time was $84,000. We're not going to get many people with a $380,000 annual earning potential to make a $296,000 annual sacrifice to run a hunger charity. It's cheaper for them to donate $100,000 a year to the hunger charity, get a $50,000 tax savings, still be ahead by $246,000 a year, and have a lifetime of huge earning potential still awaiting them. They can realize their economic dreams and get the psychic benefit of making a difference, but the hungry lose their full-time talents forever. Do we really think it is of comfort to the mother whose child just died of starvation to know that at least no one was making any money in the failed effort to save her son?

Critics will say we don't need Harvard MBAs — the nonprofit sector already has the best and brightest. Coca-Cola and Amgen beg to differ. And we cannot say on the one hand that corporations are greedy and all they care about are profits and on the other that they are gratuitously throwing profits down the toilet by paying Harvard MBAs across the board more than they are worth.

Yes, we can change the world. Yes, we must. But to do it we must right the injustice that allows a baseball player to be paid $5 million a year and have it celebrated in Forbes, but cries "foul!" when the guy running the charity trying to cure cancer makes $400,000. We must reject the dysfunction that calls a billionaire who spends all his time building his wealth a "philanthropist" but the three-hundred thousandaire who spends 100% of her time trying to end hunger a parasite for her six-figure salary. The notion that people should be compensated on the basis of the value they produce can no longer be denied to those who save lives while it is given freely to those who sell sodas and bounce basketballs.

It is time that our vision of change incorporated a vision of a whole person. We must allow those who dream a dream for others to dream a dream for themselves as well. The word charity, after all, comes from the Greek for "grace." It does not come from the word "deprivation." You and I, Mrs. Obama, were raised on this dysfunctional, compartmentalized notion of service. Let us resolve that ours will be the last generation abused by it, for the sake of our dreams of a better world and the very idea of dreams themselves.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

New Year End New Year End New Year

Recently the Chronicle of Philanthropy posed the question, what’s a good year-end appeal strategy.

In fact, when is the "year-end"? Halloween collides with Thanksgiving and Christmas. New Year's and Easter seem more contemporaneous than ever. Jewish people have in fact several new years, including the one that floats around September-ish and another that's all about trees. Corporations and institutions have various fiscals, some even have program years that aren't in synch. My Japanese tea ceremony colleagues can hardly wait for the new year, but do put the old one to bed with bonenkai, a "say goodbye to the year" party. All of these sentiments impact one's emotional sense of conclusion and beginning, to be sure.

Thanksgiving would be a great time to solicit, if not for the fact that it is Thanksgiving.

Finally, good communications strategies would dictate that it's best to avoid the flood if one wishes to be noticed, but at the same time, why not be in the crowd that is hedging bets: lot of folks are considering the last-minute donation before the end of the IRS year. Most likely you are preaching to the choir with this appeal (unless your budget is huge and you can afford to take out ads, this is another story entirely.)

My most successful year-end appeals tackle the issue as if it were sweeping up after a major league play-off: they always have an envelope, a web address for online donations and a phone number. Year end gifts are usually more “rewards” for being good rather than reasons to enable the first fruits of the new year to ripen, so I like to add facts about what's about to happen on the first of the new year as well. Never speak about shortfall, unless you are about to go under for real for good.

More creatively, another way is to create a special new year for your organization. It may be more mission driven than December 31, 2009.

But no matter what,

Don't forget to ask for the money.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Panhandling bans hurt some fundraisers

Panhandling bans hurt some fundraisers

“So ran a headline in the online edition of USAToday (today, September 17, 2009.

Continuing, the lead said, “Communities seeking to prevent panhandlers from venturing into streets are stirring controversy with bans that also prevent people from approaching vehicles to ask for charitable donations.”

The problem is fraught with bias. As if “panhandlers” aren't “people”, too. Wouldn’t it have been more responsible journalism to say, “... other people”? Likewise, “... other fundraisers”!

The Holy Beggar is not sure which side she is on, sides being one of the most important indications in American pop culture today ... it’s the accessory of the entree (“You want a side of fries with that?” Your meal comes with two sides.”), the call of the Unions (“Which Side Are You on, Boy?”) and popular in team sports. Being left-handed, The Holy Beggar is always also sensitive to this.

The article coves a variety of municipalities’ reasons for seeking legislative means to manage the affront of a beggar. The MDA folks who get firemen to pass around a boot to collect funds at traffic intersections (in L.A., too! I had to make a legal U turn to come back to do my slam dunk) said they were losing money when one such ordinance went into affect.

I don’t believe I’m saying this, but “Bully!” to the ACLU ... “David Fidanque, executive director of the ACLU of Oregon, says ordinances that target panhandlers but allow others to solicit in streets are vulnerable to lawsuits. "Expression cannot be prohibited just because it makes people uncomfortable."

The Holy Beggar hopes that all of us will find nice folks who sit behind desks to beg for money on our behalf and that she will soon be hired to do just that.

Meanwhile, no matter what,

Don’t Forget to Ask for the Money!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Si Se Puede!

Si Se Puede!

A little soapbox "voguing" here ... (as if a blog isn't anything but that!)

I've been vigilantly commenting online about organizations that provide technical assistance to nonprofits (e.g. L.A.’s Center for Nonprofit Management) to spend an equal amount of resources (time, concern, etc.) on the plight of those of us whose professional careers have been whacked by the economy, making us victims of large scale layoffs in attempts to "streamline" operations.

It makes us appear to be the problem, not the solution to our growing social needs for sustainable change in this economy.

In fact "sustainability" is not necessarily what is called for in any case. And certainly, what seems to be coming out of the Obama Administration are new paradigms for examining the systemic nature of problems. At lest I hear people dealing with the realities that there are no easy answers, only better questions.

I'm thinking about calling the local office of my former union, AFSCME, and have a discussion with someone about the realities of sustainability and change, of a huge cache of untapped human resources. Even unions can reconsider their mission and potential in the 21st Century.

We are a force not only to be reckoned with, but who have enough experience and talent to change the world.

Si Se Puede!

'Nuf said.

No matter what ...
Don't forget to ask for the money!

Friday, August 14, 2009

The Holy Beggar's Honor Roll

The Holy Beggar Offers a Tip of the Begging Hat to the following for the thoughtful comments ...

Sandro Oramas

Ellen Sebastian Chang (via Facebook):
"Thank you for creating the Holy Beggar blog. I want you to know that it inspired me as the president of the PTA to use your concept with the children to raise money for their 5th grade camping trip. I didn't want the year to end without you knowing that you have touched my life and made a difference to some 5th graders. (Their all 6th graders now!)"


CATCH - 22

I really don’t want to get negative about the nonprofit sector’s general attitude regarding the current economic crisis. Times are very difficult. Missions are starving for signs of board life. Caseloads are stratospheric. Clients – and a growing number of them -- are in greater need than ever before. And many more talented, professional, caring people are getting laid-off.

Oh, what to do?

A recent online query from the Center for Nonprofit Management in Los Angeles challenged folks to come up with ideas to make their organizations sustainable. To participate in the survey, one has to indicate one's title, and, I assume, an organization.

I was ready to fill out the form, but ... CATCH-22! I can’t because I was laid-off from my job of five years back in December. Consolidation. Making the organization more sustainable, I bet.

All this fashionable greening of the culture. Lip service? Whatever happened to recycling?
! I'm feeling like a plastic disposable picnic plate.

A truly healthy, sustainable socio - economic approach would be to actively find ways to “recycle” those of us who are career professionals of all experiences. And I don't mean give us back our old jobs.

Organizations such as CNM and Southern California Grantmakers, etc. might join the 21st Century and convene a meeting of us -- only folks who have been laid off and who have been heretofore actively working in the nonprofit sector -- to strategize new ways to restructure the sector to deal with the current needs and hopes of our community. Trying to sustain the status quo in the face of significant, holistic change is the mark of a dysfunctional organization. Lord knows I’ve worked for many. Otherwise, they did indeed throw the baby out with the bathwater. I'm not "victim" material. I see great waste and great opportunity.

Additionally, unions, such as AFSME which has among its ranks NPO employees, can convene such meetings as well. Perhaps we might even organize to create an affinity group of such significant number that the insurance companies might court our business. Certainly, the current discussion about health care can find a place for us, without our being considered potentially lead weights on the welfare system.

There are new paradigms to envision, and perhaps a critical mass of temporarily disengaged creative professionals are the ones to carry it out.

It's so exciting that I challenge anyone currently with a job to give it up and join us!

No matter what ... Don’t forget to ask for the money!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Hiatus: There's Begging and There's Begging

While I promised part 2 to the "Thanks" post (and it will come!), I found myself in the highly desirable situation of interviewing for jobs. Whew! While I was not ignoring the blogger's responsibility to keep writing, not matter what, nonetheless actually getting closer to employment did require a shift in consciousness.

I needn't bore you with this info, but thought it is important to the process of communications to acknowledge the situation head-on.

I did find myself in a begging mood ... more assertive, willingness to be "flexible", thoroughly accommodating, etc. I didn't stand my ground, as I would if positioned on "my" "regular" spot, defending territory from other potential beggars because I am convinced that it is the best spot possible. No, I ran around trying to find opportunities that others had neglected, in their own lax way.

More begging news to com. Yes, I remain conflicted as to whether to be employed as a begging agent (i.e. beg for someone else) or just do it for me.

In any event, no matter what ...
Don't forget to ask for the money!

Sunday, June 14, 2009



I will recognize formally the names of all individuals who comment (constructive criticism is welcome) on my blogs, beginning today.

You may comment on any of the postings.
I will mention your name in full (unless you do not wish this recognition) on the first mention.
On all subsequent mentions, I will add an * ...

Thus, if I were commenting on two blogs, the recognition would be Holy Beggar*

Congratulations to the person with the most recognition *s.

Have fun ...

No matter what, Don't Forget to Ask for the Money!

Thanks ... PART 1: Thanks Again!

Thanks ...

PART 1: Thanks Again!

On a recent excursion into the “wilds” of a city park with Rabbi Avraham Greenbaum of Azamra, a practitioner of the chassidus (mystical practices of Judaism), the Rav (an honorific term) gave us a “formula” for constructing a session of hitbodedut, the practice promoted by the great Rabbi Nachman of Breslov. It involves going out regularly and frequently into nature and speaking out loud directly to God. His suggestion was a “please” sandwich on “thanks”, (mayo and pickle, or not): begin with “thanks” and end with “thanks”, with “please” sandwiched in the middle.

“Is there a difference in the quality of the first “thanks” and the second “thanks”? I asked.

The answer is covered in fund raising 101: when there is a previous donor, one thanks initially for the past gift and ... makes a case for the current need (“please”) ... and, finally, thanking the, hopefully, renewing donor.

Nonetheless, my mind was inquiring from a deeper perspective of a spiritual relationship, and from within I will examine the distinction of “thanks” in two blog-parts (blog-ettes?).

Part 1 ... Thanks Again!

In the case of the first “thanks”, I feel we are coming from a “narrow” place. While we are humbly appreciative of everything we have been given to date, we wake up yet another day to find that it has not been “enough”. We feel depleted, lacking, even hungry and are asking again, for new, more, extra.


Perhaps, but fund raising professionals know that, unlike fishing (for fish) it’s more cost-effective (and perhaps lucrative) to spend our resources sustaining current donors than reeling in new ones. Thus, we continue to ask the same folks for support.

The Holy Beggar doesn’t profess to have long-term memory. I’ve never seen a HB sign that says, “Thanks for your past support.” or “I remember you helped me once before. Please help, again.” Rather, the plea is, “Hungry. Will work for food. God bless.”

Despite this fact, I’ve found that once I give even a little to the Hungry Beggar, I feel some type of “relationship” has begun. S/He stands on s/his spot day after day, simply asking for help. When I don’t see s/him, I might wonder (1) Has s/he taken ill or died, (2) My few pennies worked wonders! There’s no need! or (3) My pennies weren’t enough. S/He has moved on.

In the case of the latter, my simple gesture of giving, with its attendant entitlement of relationship, is cause for concern. Was my initial gift a tease. Did I offer hope of more and then let the Holy Beggar down?

Important questions when considering institutional appeals. Research has shown that people are now giving to people, not to institutions and organizations.

What can we learn from the Holy Beggar? Perhaps it’s not as important to project responsible stewardship, donor recognition, etc. Making our appeals personal will do wonders. We need to reach deeply into the souls of our “markets” (course but true term). When our patrons don’t hear from us, do they wonder, "What happened to that organization I helped once? I need to see if they are still doing that great work ..."

In our dreams!?

Well, maybe there's something to that "dream" thing. Perhaps this the future: high-tech virtual fund raising with no past karmic relationship implied.

To be Continued ...

No matter what, Don’t Forget to Ask for the Money!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Handwriting on the Wall: Begging Just in Time, Not Space

The Handwriting on the Wall: Begging Just in Time, Not Space

Chances are that the folks you see studying intently the handwriting on the wall of donor ranks at your local performing arts hall or camp dining room are fund raisers looking for leads. It's almost tempting to tap the letter forms to see how much money was pledged (and, hopefully, paid!) for a three foot high letter (a font of 2592 points!). The really perceptive among us can almost scratch and sniff the serifs to determine how "fresh" this gift was! (A generation ago? Last year?)

Titling a building in recognition of a donation “in perpetuity" is a very tricky mode of donor stewardship. What happens when the organization outgrows and tries to sell its facility? With a new capital campaign pending, we need new blood! A new hero! Should (must?) we transfer the name to the new building if the previous gift doesn't keep on giving? Exactly how long is "perpetuity"?

Case in point! When the late oil tycoon Armand Hammer was planning to make perhaps the gift of his life time of his art collection to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, he put the kybosh on it when he found out that the collection would be placed in a building named within his own lifetime for someone else. He eventually set up his own private museum (now a part of UCLA).

Rather thank dig a hole in the otherwise uncluttered facade of a beautiful new building, only to have to patch it in or tear it down, altogether, I'm advocating a plan to recognize donors over stated periods of time, rather than space. Let the recipient organization manage the stewardship in a way that reflects the nature of the gift.

Organizations should take a lesson from public broadcasting, which equates $ = Y mins. of airtime on X location. A simple equation that can be negotiated in real time, and when time's up ... we can re-up the opportunity at mutual will.

The web is even better, because time and space are negotiable. It’s like renting rather than owning, and it feels terrific.

To this end, I’m thinking about how new, virtual technology can inform the decisions about recognition of bricks-and-mortar gifts. Low tech ones might looks more like a "silent" radio at the car wash or better still, super-titles at the opera. Higher tech could be a laser light that flashes the donor's name for a period of time.

Case in point, when first opened, the Museum of Contemporary Art at the “Temporary” (now the “Geffen Contemporary” and now not open at all, which is another problem!) had a laser light projecting into oblivion (and traffic!) from one of the corners of its building for a few years that read, in red, M_O_C_A_ on a timed schedule. It was very, very cool! It could have as easily read, in any color, Y_O_U_R_(D_O_N_O_R)_N_A_M_E_H_E_R_E

Likewise, there's only so much room on this Holy Beggar's signboard requesting a donation, and she doesn't carry a laser beam to project your name into the heavens.

So, please, let me whistle your favorite tune or corporate jingle for 20 minutes daily. No extra charge for premiere placement (i.e. red lights, of which there are 480 during an average weekday traffic pattern at my corner.) I don’t have a perpetuity rate, because I hope not to have to beg for a job too much longer. How about if, once I get my new job, that I whistle your jingle on my way to work when I stop at every red light for the balance of the scheduled time contracted for your kind donation? It's all negotiable and I've got time for everyone!

No Matter What, Don’t Forget to Ask for the Money!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Don't Believe Your Mission! Live Up to It!

Don't Believe Your Mission! Live Up to It!

Belief is a tricky thing. I thought I had to at least believe something before I could witness it. And then I saw, many times, shamans in Korea stand barefoot on razor sharp rice straw cleavers. I couldn't believe it, but there it was, before my eyes! They were doing this on behalf of a person who was deathly ill with a spiritual disease. No trickery. These blades were so sharp they attracted skin! And the people were eventually helped.

As a propagandist (and journalist, I know the difference!), one who is a promoter of missions, a fund- and attention-raiser for nonprofit causes, I can assure you that I can write a gut-wrenching, cause celébre mission statement, the heart beat of any appeal for funds. These words are palpable. One can almost smell, touch, taste, hear and see the need.

Too many folks in the nonprofit field think that perception is all that is needed to turn hearts and hands into a donation. What they are missing is the source of life itself.

It's important to live up to one's mission. We're not in the celebrity business, where the most hollow reason for getting someone's attention is good enough for the moment. We've got substance and a mission to support.

Here's a test: Write three headlines that you'd like to see on the front page of your local newspaper (or web log / blog ... in the case that your local print paper has fallen to the realities of communications and economic chaos of these times). What a dream!
  • (Insert your organization's name) conquers (insert your raison d'etre)
  • Community goes all out to (insert your raison d'être) with (Insert your organization's name)
  • (Insert your raison d'être) is a thing of the past / has been achieved by (Insert your organization's name)
It's a great exercise for a board meeting, especially with a "seasoned" board. Yes, we want to believe that we're actually vital to and have engaged our community / constituency, that we're successful and that we're capable of being recognized. But neither we, nor our nonprofit organization can survive on the junk food notoriety of entertainment celebrities.

Nice. Now get down to work. It's time not to believe the mission, but to Live Up to It! Continuously refresh not just the commitment but the practice. Activate it, even in a small way. Keeping it vital is keeping the heartbeat healthy.

No matter what, Don't Forget to Ask for the Money!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

In Praisse of "Anonymous"

In Praise of "Anonymous"

To paraphrase a popular slogan addressing the difficulties women have had in getting recognition (especially in publishing), "Anonymous Was a Donor".

In Jewish tradition, the ultimate form of charity is an anonymous donor supporting an anonymous recipient. According to Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, the 18th Century Italian kabbalist and author of Mesilat Yesharim (translated into English as The Path of the Just), "Anything that is an essential part of the mitzvah [good deed / commandment, such as giving charity] must be performed, despite any mockery, while what is not essential, and causes derision and sarcasm, should not be performed."

In short, “Just Do it!” This Holy Beggar adds, “Please!

The model has its pros and cons.

On the recipient's end, the most common pro is that anonymity shields one from potential shame that help is needed, that things are tough. Maybe I didn't put out full effort in the right direction, ...

But, given today's economy, and the fact that I still have no job due to being laid-off in a corporate nonprofit merger, I can speak personally from the Dept. of HELP! I am trying very hard to find a new job. Shame is not am operative, rather it is pure confusion and deep need. I can’t deal with folks telling me that I am “over qualified”. I rather would like to present myself as “value-added”.

Still, this Holy Beggar would like to know whom to thank when my ship comes in, even if it is "Ms. Anonymous".

Especially if it is "anonymous"! This way I can thank everyone. Doing so has a shotgun effect of sharing my good fortune. It puts everyone into a mode of engaged compassion. WE help US!

I can’t wait to thank you, whomever you are!

No Matter What, Don't Forget to Ask for the Money!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Ain’t We Got Fun(ds)?

Ain’t We Got Fun(ds)?

The “roaring” 20s foxtrot by Richard Whiting / Gus Kahn / Raymond S. Egan has captured the socio-economic mood once again:

There's nothing sure-er.
The rich get rich
And the poor get poorer.
"In the meantime, in between time, ain't we got fun!"

Not so recently, I was walking out of an expensive restaurant in Beverly Hills after a lovely dinner during which too much food was served to eat at that sitting. I left the restaurant with a doggie-bag in hand, and a few yards away, I saw a man who was begging, "Spare some change for food?" Location! Location! Location! Why sit next to a fast food joint, when it's more likely that patrons of Chez X have more bucks (and perhaps are twice as stingy!). I had no more money to give to the cause, but I offered him the contents of my take-home box. I described the menu, and he declined. Hmmmmm.

On another occasion, I encountered a youngish woman who said she needed money for food because she was pregnant and had a young daughter already. I said, "I'll think about it." And went in to drink an overpriced Italian coffee beverage.

Still another time, I passed a "homeless" woman who was a regular habitue at our local post office bench en route to my Weight Watchers "class". I often gave her some change, but had not time, yet I felt guilty about it and made a vow that if I had indeed lost weight that week, I'd give her five dollars when I left the shop. I did lose weight and when I left and pulled the Lincoln bill out of my wallet (which would otherwise have gone to the WW administrator if I didn't lose), she was no where to be seen.

I do have shame about patronizing expensive restaurants, and at the same time do give funds to a food bank, in fact, I used to provide professional fund raising and marketing services for a number of community social welfare agencies. Both of the above interactions were curious to me as a result.

On the one hand, I didn't understand why a hungry person would turn down food. On the other, I was wondering whether my charitable donations to local nonprofits were actually helping people. Finally, we realize from the Weight Watchers situation, that poverty doesn't wait for anyone. There are no conditions.

In the former case, I was told by someone who knew these things, that often people who are in need of food won't take left-overs ... would I? They have had negative experiences where the food was not palatable, looked awful, was rancid, etc. I can't say that I blame them at all.

In the latter case, en route out of the cafe, I saw the young woman still begging for funds. My conscience was bursting. I asked her if she had a quarter. I said I'd give it back to her plus $1. She gave me a quarter, without hesitating. I used it to get the phone number and address of the local food bank to which I had given a donation. (I had no change.) I wrote down their address and gave to her the quarter coin and the $1 (for bus fare to the food bank).

I later developed a set of help "hand-out" “business cards” as an organization donor "benefit" for contributors to give to those needing free emergency assistance, thereby imparting a sense that our collective work was productive and that we had a way to say “YES!”

No matter what, Don’t Forget to Ask for the Money!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Healing the "Harumph!"

Healing the "Harumph!”

I set up an online chat with my bank very late at night because customer service was available 24/7. I had found something goofy with my account, an unauthorized transaction of an unknown “service”. While I was lamenting being alone, my dinner guests having left me, I was in no mood to be intimate with my seemingly new best friend Alex, a randomly assigned call center operator. Forsooth:

Alex: Hello. Thank you for contacting Bank (name). You are a valued customer. I hope that we will have a great time chatting today.
Alex: Before I take this opportunity to assist you, may I know who I am
chatting with?
LD: Lauren Deutsch, the account holder.
Alex: Thank you, Lauren.
Alex: Lauren, how are you doing this evening?
LD: Please don't spend time "chatting". I am tired and want merely to
take care of this problem. Thank you for looking into this matter.
Alex: Sure!
(matter facilitated, incorrect information, however.)
LD: Good by. Thank you.
Alex: Thank you so much.
Alex: Thank you for taking the time to chat with me today. It was a
pleasurable experience chatting with you today!
Alex: We know you have many choices for your banking needs and I thank
you for choosing Bank (name). Have a good night sleep and sweet dreams!

I sent an e mail to the effect that I was a bit taken aback by "Alex's" chummy tone of language and received a reply in the morning which didn't address the issue of the chat exchange. So, I sent another e mail to that effect via the bank's secure e mail system:

The initial problem (unauthorized service) has been resolved. My reason for contacting the bank via e mail a second time was the tone of voice of the "co-respondent". The chat person seemed to be excited about engaging in the chatting experience, rather than solving a problem with efficiency.

It is now morning, and having awakened after a good rest, I am appreciative of his wish for me to have “sweet dreams”. Can you please tell Alex that I enjoyed chatting with him so much, I'd like to do it again. How can I reach him directly. I had a sweet dream! Wow!

Thank you.

I actually made a conscious decision (a hair's-breath on the other side of "accidental") to change my mood in the reply. I began the exchange in a pissed-off but tired mind-set, but 12 hours later, turned around my sourness into sweetness, albeit a bit sarcastically. I left with a pleasant feeling rather than extending the "harumph!"

It is the same transforming sense that I have felt when seeing a Holy Beggar on the medial strip of the boulevard, his poorly scribbled cardboard sign positioned unconsciously up-side-down. For a few pennies tossed into his oversized empty soda cup, I converted my "harumph!" (see the first e mail for a sample of reasons to "harumph!") into one of pleasantness. That's a great deal!

in 1993 my friend the artist Laurie Gross Schaffer created a "tzedakah pocket", a beautifully crafted linen and silk and extra "pocket" that hangs from a strap of cotton. Printed on the piece is the Hebrew inscription from the proverb "Eyshet Hayl" (A Woman of Valor): "She holds her hand out to the needy and gives generously to the poor." One keeps spare (or intentional) change in it to give to the Holy Beggar on occasion, like a medicine pouch (or gourd or other container for healing herbs, stones, liquids, etc.) used by indigenous healers. According to Jewish tradition and practice the act of giving to the less-fortunate is not just a hand-out, it's an elevated act, a "mitzvah" (good deed) of giving "tzedakah" (charity).

It works both ways, too! Whether it is giving spare change to the Holy Beggar or accepting an unsuspected gift of pleasantness from an unknown source, the acts themselves, however tiny, can change one's outlook in a major way (and inspire the nex blog!)

No matter what, Don't forget to ask for the money!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Soldiers of Fortune: A Rock IN a Hard Place

It's time to examine everything, including our way of describing our lives in these complex times.

Thus, I propose that the situation of being "in between a rock and a hard place" is worth reforming as “being a rock in a hard place".

In my search for gain-/ meaning-full employment in the nonprofit sector, I have been asked by head-hunters, ill-informed executive directors and presidents of boards if I would accept a percentage of the funds I raised and/or if I was willing to defer their paying my fee until the money came in.

No! and No!

We professionals in the nonprofit field, whether fund raisers, program managers, chief everything officers or receptionists, cannot survive on the human equivalent of photosynthesis, even if there was one. Deferred gratification of basic work-for-hire (whether employed or retained) by hard-working, strategy-prone development folks should not be assumed. It is necessary to include in a budget the cost of hiring or contracting with a fund raising professional. It is not appropriate, nor ethical, to hire a development person to work for a "commission".

Unless a request for funds is tagged to unrestricted purposes, the appeal is specific to a project, element of a program or service. Donors (individuals, organizations, corporations, etc.) expect funds to be used for that purpose only. Most grant-makers have specified guidelines what they will and will not fund. Some funders are receptive to the reality that it costs money to raise money and may invite inclusion of the expense on a project’s administrative budget line.

In the mind-set of many boards of directors and staff, the title "fund raiser" sounds like an addressee for Soldier of Fortune magazine; no ethical professional wants to be considered a mercenary who prospers on the misery of the chronically or critically deprived. Donors are (or should be) suspicious of a person whose enthusiasm for the cause is compromised by their enthusiasm for their own personal gain.

Many nonprofits underestimate the resource development function within the administration of a nonprofit. Nonprofit leaders, whether paid or staff, usually well-intentioned individuals whose passions fuel their actions and who take their own funds to get things going, don't understand that they have to keep things going for the long-run of their mission. Finding the resources to do that is a full-time job and requires certain skills and takes effort.

Boards of directors need to understand that this is the cost of doing business, nonprofit or otherwise, and must insure that this budget item is covered.We have all heard that the lament that “the board isn’t a ‘fund raising’ board” or know of executive directors / CEOs who don't understand their pivotal position in the process of securing necessary resources (meeting donors, writing letters, leveraging relationships, etc.). Further, they don't understand why the development professional they hired needs to sit in on program meetings, to talk with clients and to be continually, formally educated in the field for which their organization provides a singular role.

I promise you, there is no magic. There is only engagement, collaboration and committment. What's the value of your commitment?

No matter what, Don't Forget to Ask for the Money

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Chi and Charity: It's Called "Currency" for a Reason

Chi and Charity: It's Called "Currency" for a Reason

When the gross economic melt-down began its grave spiral and the news stories focused on how once prosperous was now less prosperous and the poor were poorer, I heard something more than a rhyme connecting health and wealth.

When one is ill and seeks the advice of a practitioner of Traditional Oriental / Chinese Medicine (TCM), the doctor will assess the currency of the patient's chi, the life force, to make a diagnosis and prescribe treatment. Chi is the essence of vitality that flows through channels or meridians in our body. When illness, defined as a disharmony, occurs, the doctor may stimulate a point to affect healing, in effect “jump starting” what might be sluggish or blocked. Chi moves substance, such as blood and bile, phlegm and lymph, and enables organs to remain intact; in short, it keeps the body functioning in the world. It's quite simple, requiring no belief in esoterica nor any other effort on our part: no chi, no life.

In TCM acute, sharp, specific pain is defined as a condition of excess, possibly causing stagnation of chi in one place. On the other hand, pain that is dull, achy, perhaps chronic and overall sluggish is usually connected with a deficiency of chi.

Money also needs to flow for an economic “corpus” to be healthy. No flow of money, no life.

In parallel, the pain felt among individuals who consider themselves wealthy is different than that of the poor. All of a sudden, your stock took a dive beyond the X – axis on the chart! There goes the endowment! But for someone who’s “... been down so long it looks like up to me,” to quote lyricist / singer Richard Fariña, the pain of another day eating processed snacks for dinner from the gas station mini-mart is numbing and constant: there isn’t anything that doesn’t hurt like yesterday.

Money is called “currency” for a reason; it was never meant to be stockpiled. And while we can imagine the Feds printing more when we need it, there isn't an endless amount of it, if all bets are called in. When “value” ceases to flow, there is disharmony. It is dangerous and creates problems of both deficiency and excess among the “have nots” on one hand and “have too muches” on the other, leading to the economic illness in which we find ourselves.

The stimuli packages implemented by the Federal government resemble the application of acupuncture to the various channels of our economy. A prick here, another there is supposed to crank up the currency and to return harmony to our system. But all we are being challenged to do is to consume more by spending more.

I propose that this will only work within one layer of a multi-dimensional system. The continuum from wealth to less wealth is not the same as that of wealth to poverty.
Robert K. Merton theory of the compounding of iniquity, as noted in The New Yorker (“Talk of the Town”, October 10, 2005) is apropos. We must reconnect our meridians.

Wouldn’t it be better over-all if the funds pumped into the economy were designated in a manner to balance consumer and charitable activities? A two tier, inclusive system would provide incentives for us to support nonprofit organizations as well as our big-box store. Within the charitable tier, I see yet another dynamic, symbiotic dual system: lump-sum “bail-out” packages for nonprofits providing basic human needs (food, clothing, shelter, transportation, health care, etc.) made directly from the government, and stronger individual and corporate tax incentives to encourage donations to support nonessential needs, such as the arts, sciences, etc. This is not to diminish the value of the latter in a society that has a fine quality of life, but everything needs to be brought back into harmony so that every body will feel strong enough to begin to enjoy itself a bit.

No matter what, Don't Forget to Ask for the Money!

Pennies from Heaven Yield Dollars!

To continue the previous post about making known one's needs and creating accessible ways for those compassionate ones to contribute ...

Why be too "proud" as not to ask. The "graying" of the patron-base of major institutions is a fact of life. Sure, these usual audience members are closer to fulfilling their pledges for endowment than before the economic down-turn. But they are going to live longer than their parents, so the old model of fund raising doesn't work very well. The extra change from the young, under-employed, students and others who dearly love and want to support their philharmonic, or art museum, etc. can be realized.

About three directors ago, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art had decided to increase its basic membership from $35 to $60 (or close to it). The appeal from the director was to recount the benefits of membership (art notwithstanding) to include discounts to the gift shop and the cafeteria. I wrote back, saying that I didn't need to join a gift shop or cafeteria. The art collection didn't interest me that much. I'd take my money and use it for admission to other museums with art I enjoyed. The increase was so significant -- especially for a public institution -- that I couldn't join. I had to break a long tradition of supporting my community through donations and way-laid an important sense of my identity: membership in a museum.

No matter what, Don't Forget to Ask for the Money!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Disney Hall Donor Wall and Temple Coin Toss Donation Boxes

Between acts of the L.A. Philharmonic's production of John Adams' / Peter Sellers' "Tree Flower" I was waiting around with friends on the mezzanine and noticed a huge wall of "sheets" of plastic (most likely) of which only a small number of them had the names of donors. I suggested that the Music Center philanthropy folks place a Sharpie pen and a "puske" (charity box) nearby with instructions for folks to make a donation of any amount and write their names on one of the panels when they have. It seemed silly not to encourage ticket holders (perhaps even those with season or series purchases) -- who were standing around with their hands in their pockets at intermission anyway -- to take out some spare change and contribute on the spot. The development staff even can wipe off the names in time for the next performance.

One sees donation boxes everywhere in Japan, at Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples, in sizes ranging from small shipping containers to tiny "doll houses". Mostly made of wood employing the finest of Japanese carpentry workmanship, they typically have a grill on the top made of rectangular square dowels situated in their diamond orientation (to allow for maximum openness and still provide some security from diving hands ... although, this is Japan so it's unlikely!). Below, there are two facing boards positioned slanting from the top down toward the middle section, forming a hole the length of the box. When coins are tossed, carnival game fashion, the coins make clattering then rolling sounds only to quietly thud into the black hole of the cache on the bottom.

They are not pervasive in the negative sense, rather, they are innocuous and, most important, productive.
This passive request for a donation provides an opportunity to exchange a few yen coins (or bills if one is careful in the toss) for a blessing, or at minimum, a chance to ring a copper bell by tugging on a rope. So, why not encourage folks attending a concert to toss a few coins in exchange for a well-tuned finale?

No matter what, Don't Forget to Ask for the Money!

Monday, May 4, 2009

Welcome to the Holy Beggar! Life at the Crossroads

Begging for a Job: Institutionalized Compassion in the Nonprofit Sector

Every "village" has had a "Holy Beggar". A person who provokes his / her neighbors to exercise a daily dose of compassion. That simple act of tossing a few coins in an open hat or cup ... or even the empty hand ... wakes up the human side of ourselves. We never knew where s/he came from and ultimately couldn't remember life without her (or him). "There but for fortune ..."

Sometimes we are happy to meet those people (the beggar and the ultimate ME who “sees” him/her). Sometimes we felt annoyed, at best "Harumph!": "Grrrrrrrrrr. Why are you standing there?" "You need a shower." "You're making me miss my traffic light." "Your sign is upside down." "Are you really a ‘VIET VET’?" "Do you really need that cane?" "Are you on drugs or drunk?" "Will you to spend my coins to feed that hungry-looking dog."

I've been a professional resource development / marketing communications / PR pro (aka fund raiser, propagandist) who's been working in the nonprofit field for over 35 years. I was been laid off from my job of five years due to the economy (merger). As the "divorce" papers intimated (but never said directly ... silly them), my age put the final nail(s) into the coffin. It's not that the organization doesn't need my skills in raising money for its worthy cause. And, to make matters even more silly, part of the severance “deal” is that I can’t ever again be hired by this organization even if there were a job! After all my success on their behalf, it seemed hostile.

So here I am, begging for a begging job, a conundrum to be sure.

Begging for a job is two-faced: Do I spend my time looking for a difficult job in a horrible depression / recession to help someone else or do I work on developing my own campaign for the uber "cause celébre", c'est moi?

What I find ludicrous (read: insulting) is that the nonprofit professionals, those inveterate "enablers", are encouraging for-profit "suits", who have been disconnected from their heretofore secure six-figure salaries, to consider a shifting careers to the non-profit field. “Hey, over here! Yo!”

Do you hear of any for-profit corps encouraging us career non-profit pros to "c'mon down"?

Sometimes I have to explain to less "sophisticated" nonprofit execs that there is a difference between begging for them on commission vs. begging and getting a salary. The former is considered unethical by fund raising professionals for a good reason.

If I go out on my own, I have somethings to consider:

While free lance begging is quite different from institutionalized compassion (or is it?), I still need to undertake the hunt appropriately, beginning with research: What are the best street corners (already occupied?) to stand and beg, put together a compelling costume, develop the ultimate sign(s?) and see what props will work to my best interest. (Now, we're getting rhetorical). Shall I use a cup? Hat? Sock? Picture of my cat? Sing? Have a boom box? Show a little ankle? Calf? Knee? Thigh? More???

The opportunity to get sponsors may be more profitable. Perhaps a real estate company will pay me for my location (location! location!) or to ask me to jiggle an arrow-ed sign that says, "Estate Open House" with a little Can-Can high step in the direction of the foreclosed (mine?) property.

But what do I know about the dangers? I've sat behind a desk for several years, made calculated phone calls, taken lunch with big donors, reported to foundation boards and enjoyed the gym afterward. Will I get arrested? Do I need a license? Do I have to disguise my face if I would like to get a job somewhere nice again?

I shudder to think. And yet, it is very compelling. Can I walk my talk and demonstrate the value of having someone with a bit more than he/she needs give it willingly to someone who says he/she has nothing (or less)?

I decided to start a blog, "Life at the Crossroads: The Holy Beggar" to explore giving and receiving, charity and charisma, need and greed, in short, begging. (http://holybeggar.blogspot.com) I’m fishing for help ... but most importantly, a job.

No matter what, "Don't Forget to Ask For The Money."