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Fifty Shades of Fundraising

I had a conversation with an Executive of a not-for-profit recently. She shared with me the same fantasy I have heard over and over. It is as realistic as meeting the controlling billionaire, Christian Grey, and having him swoop in to take her home, to take her places she has never been, to support her and lavish her with extravagant gifts, and oh yes, provide full funding for her charity.

The Executive Director’s fantasy is to hire a fundraiser who will use his own contacts to bring donors to her not-for-profit, and she will compensate him with a percentage of funds brought in. This is a common fantasy from Directors who are overwhelmed and under-supported by their boards. It entails no extra work for the Executive and keeps her from having to make waves with her board, or to teach them about one of the fundamental responsibilities of a not-for-profit board member.

Board members for charities are recruited for a variety of reasons, particular at start-up. There may be skills needed, such as a good accountant or lawyer, or there may be particular connections related to the industry as in the case of a start-up theater. In this day and age, one attribute some foundations look for before they will fund an organization is a diverse board, and so board members are recruited for that purpose.

So there are many reasons to recruit board members and there are many important jobs for volunteers to be doing to support the organization, but none is as important as fundraising. Without funds, few organizations will exist. In its simplest, and yes I will admit crudest form, the command to raise funds by volunteer leadership is to “give, get, or get out of the way.” In other words, make a quality gift to the charity, help secure other quality gifts, or resign and make room on the board for someone who is willing to do that critical work for the charity.

Still, board members want the honor of sitting on boards without doing the work. Directors want funding without teaching their board members about their responsibilities and how to honorably fulfill them. However, once you realize that you are not going to be rescued by a thirty-something self-made billionaire with issues, you need to either do what needs to be done, or hire someone to lead your board in doing it.



How to Hire A Jewish Fundraising Consultant

It happened again yesterday. Another call from a potential client who wanted to hire a Jewish fundraising consultant and wanted to know how many new donors I could bring him. We spent a good amount of time talking, but it became clear to me that he did not get it. All he really wanted was the easy answer. All he really wanted to know was how many dollars my friends and contacts would give to him.

Last week I had a much more fulfilling conversation. Of course it started in a very similar way. A potential client wanted to know how many new donors I could bring her organization. Virtually every potential client asks the same question. The only difference between them is whether they are willing to learn or not. In this case, she was open to learning.  In our conversation I was able to teach her that between her rolodex and the rolodexes of her board, she already had more potential major donors, in fact, many times the number I could provide.

All too often charities are looking for the quick fix, the easy way out. The easiest way out is for someone else to do the work, to have someone else bring the donors. But that is not reality. No one has connections to as many potential donors to your organization as you do. Really.

The job of a professional fundraising consultant is to show you how to turn all that potential into donations. How do you energize your board, teach them to open their databases and to use what and who they already know to benefit the organization they care enough about to offer their time and energies to your board? That is what I do. I might even tell you in a future post how I do that, but for now just trust me that it can be done and we do it all the time.

The problem with the easy way out is that it often costs you more than you think. First you end up paying someone who promises to bring you donors, and ultimately they probably don’t. If you are lucky they will bring you one or two, but usually they don’t. Secondly there is another truth which costs you: that if someone is willing to give you their contacts, they will leave your organization with yours. Think about it, where did they get their contacts? Working for someone else. Sure, if they worked with a donor for an extended period of time, it is natural to build personal as well professional relationships. But ultimately the fundraising relationship is built for the benefit of the client or employer. If it is not, then you have a serious issue with integrity that you really don’t want to have to deal with.

So ultimately, the key to hiring a professional Jewish fundraising consultant is to hire someone who sounds like he knows what he is talking about. He probably does. And if he writes about what he knows and is willing to share that wisdom on his blog, well, he’s probably the guy you want on your team.

Review Your Estate Plan Before Tax Laws Change –

BARRING a Congressional logjam, there is likely to be a new estate tax law by the end of 2009. The Obama administration has said that making the tax permanent, avoiding a one-year repeal starting next year, is a high priority. Yet details of the proposal the White House will support are unclear.

For people who are setting up estate plans, or updating existing ones, not knowing what proposal will emerge might be temptation to take a wait-and-see approach. But that could be a mistake.

Estate plans should be reviewed at least every five years, more often if there is a change in finances or circumstances or if health or marriage takes a turn for the worse, or if there is a birth or death in the family.

“With people having a lot less money than they used to, you really need to look at your documents and see if they do what you intended,” said Joshua S. Rubenstein, a lawyer with Katten Muchin Rosenman in New York. A review will allow you to use tax-planning tools that Congress may soon curtail or eliminate.

Review Your Estate Plan Before Tax Laws Change –