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Matt Beem
President, Hartsook Companies, Inc.
 

In time, a little can do a lot

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Saturday, June 28, 2008

Adding two dimes to the next dollar you drop in the church collection plate could lead to billions.

It’s true. More than $306 billion was given to U.S. nonprofit organizations in 2007, according to “Giving USA 2008,” the annual report just released by the Giving USA Foundation. That’s 2.2 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product, the Wall Street Journal reported Monday.

What’s even more impressive is that 75 percent of the $306 billion was given by individuals, the article said. People like you and me.

No one questions whether $306 billion is a lot of money. But we’ve already proven we can give more.

In 1997, Americans gave $163 billion. That’s $143 billion less than we gave in 2007, having increased our giving about $14.3 billion a year for the last decade.

So why stop at $306 billion?

If you size up the challenge in gross dollars, it’s daunting. “Good luck with gas prices hovering around $4 a gallon,” you’re thinking.

But bring it down to a personal level. Let’s say you give $25 a week to your church or synagogue. It’s a likely example, since religious organizations drew more than 33 percent of philanthropy in 2007, according to the article.

What if you increased your giving by 20 percent? Suppose you gave $30 a week.

For starters, you’d add $260 to your congregation’s coffers over the course of the year. Five dollars a week adds up.

You’d also be doing your part to expand philanthropy nationally. If everybody who gave in 2007 gives 20 percent more in 2008, last year’s $306 billion would become this year’s $367 billion.

“O.K.,” you’re thinking. “He can do math. But let’s face it: Mine is a miniscule part on the world stage of giving.”

Not so. I remember when a Missouri Department of Mental Health payment was late in the 1980s and left Sunshine Center School – the program my mother and her neighbor founded to help children with special needs – in a financial crunch. The media were alerted, and there were daily newscasts from the school’s doorstep on 23rd Street.

Sunshine Center needed to raise $90,000 within a week. People from all over town dropped pennies, quarters, dollars – and large checks – at a roadside collection point.

The community stepped up and gave more to Sunshine Center than it had before, and the school remained open. Today it serves hundreds of children and their families and, earlier this month, cut the ribbon at a new facility on Salisbury Road.

There are several lessons in this story. First, the organization presented its need clearly and compellingly. There wasn’t a person in Kansas City who didn’t know of Sunshine Center’s plight.

The school also made a specific request for support. It asked for money. For some, that meant giving to Sunshine Center for the first time above and beyond what they were giving other organizations; for others, it meant adding dollars to those they already were giving the school.

And the school understood that money follows success. Leaders encouraged the media to share the good news of the community’s response. In turn, others stepped forward.

Look around. I’m certain organizations present their need, ask for support and report the success of their good work to you every day.

Try digging a little deeper this year. Those two extra dimes could be the beginning of something big.

Matt Beem is president of Hartsook Companies, an international fundraising consulting firm. He lives in Independence.

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