This haunting question has perplexed the major scholars in the field of philanthropic giving for years.Well, the answer is this: at its core, “Nothing.”Did you hear me? Nothing.But for some reason many naive institutions want grants rather than gifts. I have come up with the answer. From now on by order of Hartsook, all gifts shall now be called “grants.” Put into effect on this day in the year 2011, all fundraisers and nonprofits may boast they have received grants from this person or that person, or that company or that foundation.And philanthropists, you now get to call your gifts “grants.” (Frankly, you get to call them whatever you want. After all, it is your money).Oh, perhaps that disturbing statement gives rise to even more questions and issues. Can the gifts made by anyone be directed and called whatever they want? Shouldn’t society decide where the money might be best used? After all, donors just don’t know how best their money can be used. We should leave it up to the nonprofit leadership or maybe government to determine that; after all, they are unbiased.Anybody following what is going on in Washington recently or for that matter in many state capitals? You are picking sides and declaring what is the best use of tax money. Oh, but that isideway, because that is your money paid in taxes (or at least 50% of us.) Let’s put the burden of picking winners and losers at their door step.No, this is simple and it has been since I asked for my first gift 40 years ago.You have money. My organization needs money. It is up to me/my organization to explain to you why you should give it to me.”It is a tax write off.” See how far you get with that.”We do good work.” This has been the message of so many organizations, and has been surprisingly successful. But that is changing, and quickly.”You care about my cause.” So? I care about a lot of things. Am I supposed to carry the entire burden?”You ought to do it. It is the right thing to do. ” Another whopper.”Well, it is better to go to an objective donor, a Foundation.” Yep. Sure. Have you noticed it is becoming clear that more than half the assets of Foundations are being held in family foundations or community foundations? Guess who makes those decisions? You guessed it: those self-centered, self-directed, and ill-informed PEOPLE.Wow, you can’t get away from them, can you?”So let’s go to corporations, sure they have selfish interests, but maybe we can hook up with Ford Motor Company. Their logo has blue in and our color is blue. A marriage made in heaven. Let’s do it.”Or, how about . . .I can’t keep going on this, listing the absurd connections well-meaning institutions and volunteers come up with to avoid doing the one thing they must do:PROVING THEIR WORTH TO SOMEONE WHO CARES.So is it a grant or a gift? Hell, I might as well give up. Tell me what you want it to be and call it what you like. You will anyway.Just do it right.Well, I am glad that is settled. Let’s move on to the difference between a philanthropist and a donor. That ought to be fun.
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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