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!

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