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. ( I’m fishing for help ... but most importantly, a job.

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