"thrillionaire," which I define as "someone who knows the
thrill of giving." It's a genuine thrill to have the ability
and the willingness to share my money and my time. But I'll
admit it's not always a thrill to be asked.
When I was a less experienced donor, I was
often overwhelmed by the sheer volume of "asks," as they're
called. My mailbox was filled with requests. People phoned
to ask for money. Worse, they phoned asking for an appointment.
Uhoh. (When they want to see me, it means they want at least
three zeroes on that check. Maybe more.)
The request might come from someone near
and dear. I have a half-century's worth of family, friends,
and acquaintances. Most of them are involved with at least
one, and probably many, nonprofits. Some of my friends chair
capital campaigns, black-tie balls, and boards. Some are
nonprofit executive directors or development directors.
Or they have children selling magazines, cookies, and gift
wrap for their schools, places of worship, clubs, or troops.
Sometimes I feel like a poor cousin of the Ford Foundation,
which has been described as "a large body of money surrounded
by people who want some."
It's a funny thing, though-the more I'm
asked, the easier the process becomes. It's like building
muscle: the more you exercise, the stronger you get. Here's
how I've built my Yes/No muscles:
1) I understand that it's not personal.
I admit it seems pretty personal when someone's sitting
in my kitchen asking for my money, but most of the time,
it's not about me and it's not about them. It's business-for
both of us. I am being asked for capital to run a not-for-profit
business; I'm not being asked to "help the little children."
So I ask pointed questions about the business, and I expect
the nonprofit to be an efficient business.
2) I enjoy hearing about other people's
I view being asked to donate as an opportunity to hear about
a cause that inspires passion in at least one of us. Even
when I choose not to give, I'm happy to hear what others
are doing to make the world a better place. If I am not
convinced to give immediately, at least I'm better informed
about the organization, its mission, its accomplishments,
its goals, and its fundraising philosophy. I can be a friend
and advocate, if not a funder.
3) I know nobody has enough money or
time to give to everything.
Even the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the richest
in human history, doesn't have enough money to heal the
world. I can't feel sad, guilty, selfish, stingy, or greedy
because I don't have enough money, time, and talent to fix
everything that's wrong with people and the planet.
4) I've learned that it's not accurate
to say, "I can't give that amount." It's accurate to say,
"I choose not to give that amount."
When I was struggling with my response to a very big ask,
I sought the counsel of executive coach Renée Freedman.
She helped me see that, technically speaking, I could give
what was being asked. I was not unable; I was unwilling.
That simple concept put me squarely in the driver's seat.
I am not a victim of limited capacity; I'm the master of
my capacity, whatever that may be. Now, I can unashamedly
say that I'm unwilling to commit that kind of money, not
unable. And I can say it confidently because. . .
5) I have a giving plan.
After years of scattershot donations, I heard donor activist
Tracy Gary speak about the power of intentional, strategic
giving. She and her co-author, Melissa Kohner, created a
workbook that anyone can use to maximize the effectiveness
of charitable giving. I buy
(Jossey-Bass, 2002) in large quantities and give a copy
to everyone who asks me for major money. It helps them understand
why I am so focused on one field of interest. (For free
copies of their worksheets, visit
6) I give more than money.
I'm a "skillionaire" as well as a "thrillionaire"-I enjoy
contributing my skills and experience to nonprofits. Many
times, I've been told that the intangibles I have contributed
are worth more to the organization than the actual dollars
I've given. I never hesitate to give skills and time instead
7) I give
More Than Money Journal.
Few nonprofit executives or development directors are personally
wealthy. When I became financially independent, life with
money was not what I had imagined.
More Than Money Journal
became my guidebook to the strange new territory. Now I
give gift subscriptions to people who ask me for money,
so they can better understand their wealthier contributors
as human beings.
8) I recognize when I'm being asked for
more than money.
Certain charities request cash, but what they truly desire
is your personal endorsement for their work. "Anonymous"
does not help bring others into the fold. Wouldn't you love
to be able to say that Oprah gave to your cause? A single
dollar from her is an endorsement worth anybody else's weight
9) I keep records.
I know how much I gave and when. If I didn't, I'd be tempted
to respond spontaneously to multiple requests from charities
that ask throughout the year. And I toss, unopened, without
guilt or regret, countless direct mail solicitations.
10) I know they'll ask the next person
after they ask me.
No matter how dramatic the pitch, I'm fully aware that the
fundraisers' plans are not contingent upon my money. They
have a long list of people to ask, and I'm just one of them.
If I say no, they'll go ask somebody else. In fact, if I
say yes they'll go ask somebody else. If I can steer an
asker to one truly passionate donor for his or her cause,
I'm giving a much better gift than if I give them some lukewarm
11) I remember that I can give after
Besides being a "thrillionaire" and a "skillionaire," I'm
a "willionaire." I have the pleasure of providing for charity
in my will. The bulk of my estate will go to nonprofit entities.
The will contains a provision that directs a certain percentage
to be divided among a list of charities, which is kept in
an accompanying envelope. The contents of the envelope can
be changed, without involving attorneys, as often as I choose.
Certain institutions ask for donations larger than I'm willing
to give in this lifetime. However, I am happy to add them
to the list in the envelope, so they can have "a piece of
the pie by and by when I die." They can add another name
to their legacy society roster and I'm off the hook for
12) I remember that it's a small price
Above all, I remember that it is indeed a thrill and a privilege
to have enough to share-and that being asked to share is
a small price to pay for living in a society that enables
and supports individuals in creating wealth. Any time I'm
tempted to crumble under the weight of the asks, I remind
myself that it beats all the alternatives. Nobody asks for
money if you're dead or broke.
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