I’m not the first to notice a change in attitudes about people of wealth. Recently, USA Today published a top travel story called “Guilt trip” about luxury travelers toning it down or canceling vacations. The Associated Press identified a “stealth wealth” set that is hiding luxury purchases and shipping expensive items home rather than walking out of stores with them. Recently, I solicited comments from many of my friends regarding an inspirational, nonprofit fundraising article I had written. I wanted to see if they agreed with me that this was the best time in our country’s history to raise money. Well, I received a lot of interesting responses, but what I noticed was a “wealth divide.” From my wealthy friends, it was doom and gloom, “retreat,” and “don’t talk about doing well.” They talked about fear, anxiety, and they worry about the country. At the same time, the vast majority of them are doing fine. Their businesses may be challenged, their investments may be soft, their foundations may have taken a hit, but they are all going to be players in the future. These are the men and women I have relied on for years to be my positive inspirational support and now I am theirs! So what is the issue? The responsibility has shifted. As fundraisers, they need us to show them the way. One wrote me, “I learned in the past few months about how important the attitude of the fundraiser or the CEO is to my attitude about giving.” As fundraisers, we can join the chorus of doom and gloom or sing a different song. Those who know me won’t be surprised to learn I’m choosing the latter. I raise a lot of money as, I hope, a respected professional, but I also regularly give money away. A couple of weeks ago I personally gave away $750k to a couple of organizations. In one case it was with a group of people who gave $250k each to an organization they loved, but had never given to at this level before. The other group has a lot of money, but it is one I care about most. I am not the richest guy in America, and what I found were several others who weren’t either, but they were joining me. They, like me, were ready to stand up for what they believed. Each donor that contributed to this leadership campaign of which I was a part would tell you that they believed in my honesty and enthusiasm. My editor tells me people want to support what I support because they believe. The needs of our nation—whether for basic human needs or education, culture or health care—have not gone away. Why should we? Whether you believe me or not, roughly the same amount of money will be given away this year as last year. Will the causes you care about get the coin or close their doors? Don’t rely solely on my optimism and experience—trust what the research is telling you: It is up to you.
Will You Be There When John Shamberg Calls?
A big part of fundraising is showing up and being available. I learned this lesson on a very memorable New Year’s Eve, a very long time ago.
As an eager young fundraiser working for Washburn University, I didn’t know that it was unusual still to be at work in the evening of December 31st. But, there I was.
Earlier that year, a graduate of Washburn University School of Law told me he was going to give a gift of land to his synagogue, a private K-12 school and Washburn. John Shamberg, who has since passed away, made millions of dollars for institutions all over the world, and he wanted to give a significant gift to organizations he valued. His 40 acres of land on the outskirts of Kansas City were valued at $450,000, and his intention was to give $150,000 each to three organizations.
He’d left the task to the last day of the year, but now he was ready to make it happen.
He called the synagogue. No answer.
He called the K-12 school. No answer.
Then, he called Washburn and got me.
“Bob,” he said, “you just won the jackpot!”
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