Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Art of the Year-End Donation

National and local news tell us that we’ve done pretty well in transferring wealth to Amazon, Best Buy, Walmart and the like at this year’s end.

Presumably we got something in return that was of value to us.

When it comes to the year-end ‘ask’ for donations from social, environmental and arts organizations, the same question of value arises.

Of course, many organizations hope for the large benefactors who are looking for some tax benefit in making a donation. Most of us 99 percent do what we can for those causes we believe in. If it isn’t a tax benefit, what value am I getting in making a donation to what I might consider a worthy cause?

The art of making the ‘ask’ is a promise to fulfill a basic sense of altruism in us. If we are civilized, we want to help and we want what we donate to make a difference.

It’s almost a no-brainer to feel good about giving to meet a local, immediate need. Local food banks, children and women’s shelters, and homeless winter shelters are pretty high on that list.

Human health, especially protecting mothers’ milk and vulnerable children, is another place that promises a return on one’s donation. Child literacy and mentoring at-risk youth, too.

I honestly find it very difficult to respond to year-end ‘asks’ from arts organizations and higher academic institutions. I’m sure the need is there and the prices of admission to be entertained or educated doesn’t cover costs— but I find myself leaving those to the patrons and alumni who can afford to give.

Saving the whales and the rain forests, saving Puget Sound, fighting climate change and many Big Causes I find need to be unpacked into specific campaigns that directly relate to accomplishing the bigger cause. The $50 you donate doesn’t really mean the group will buy 50 trees to plant with that money but that’s the idea when It comes to Big Causes.

The art of the ‘ask’ focuses on the immediacy and the urgency of the cause and the consequences of not meeting the need. The ‘ask’ needs to describe how the organization you are donating to is uniquely suited to meet the need.  It helps to have others testify to the need and to the organization’s ability to meet that need. It is essential that everyone who donates be told, exactly, how their donations made a difference.

Read the ‘asks’ you are being sent and see how artful they are in hitting the chords that resonate with your values. Then make those year-end donations. Some folks are in tough financial times; many are much worse off. Where can you make a difference?

Care to share why you donate?

--Mike Sato

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