More Than Money
Issue #33

Embracing The Gift

Table of Contents

“Keeping the Thrill Alive”

I'm a "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 passions.
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 Inspired Philanthropy (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 www.josseybass.com/go/inspiredphilanthropy ).

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 of money.

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 in gold.

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 "go-away" money.

11) I remember that I can give after I'm dead.
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 now.

12) I remember that it's a small price to pay.
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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