Giving Is Bad? NOT!!!

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By David Shufflebarger, Senior Partner

I was somewhat taken aback last month by a Washington Post book review of David Callahan’s THE GIVERS: Wealth, Power, and Philanthropy In a New Gilded Age. (Callahan recently gave an interview on 1A with the AVP of the Rockefeller Foundation and the CEO of the Casey Foundation. You can hear the interview/discussion HERE.) The reviewer, Robert G. Kaiser, a former managing editor at the Post, takes a mostly dim view of ‘the astounding growth of American private wealth in the past quarter century, the people who have accumulated it and the ways they are using their money, often aggressively, to change the world – sometimes for the better, sometimes not.’

The last third of the 19th century is often cited as ‘The Golden Age of Philanthropy.’ There were 100 millionaires at the beginning of the 1870’s. By 1892 there were 4,047. The philanthropy of many great givers including Andrew Carnegie, John Rockefeller, Julius Rosenwald, and Jane and Leland Stanford transformed American institutions, many of them colleges and universities.  And all of this when there was no income tax and thus no tax deduction.

Kaiser begins with a reference to Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century and modern income equality in capitalist countries. Now I certainly agree that income inequality is a most important issue. When those at the top prosper while middle- and low-income families are struggling with inflation-adjusted incomes lower than they were 10 and 20 years ago, democracy is imperiled. However, that seems to me to be a separate issue from how much – and how – the wealthy are giving.

A decade ago, Kaiser wrote So Damn Much Money, a penetrating analysis of the impact of spending on – and by – lobbyists. So, I get it that he has a healthy skepticism about big money. In the review he says ‘Callahan’s account of how the rich exercise power in modern America is ominous and grim, though he avoids drawing the darkest conclusions his evidence would support.’ No worry, Kaiser does it for him by emphasizing the giving of George Soros and Charles and David Koch to policy and advocacy groups. Callahan puts these gifts in perspective as relatively small in the scheme of overall giving by the very wealthy but Kaiser seems to miss that point.

Kaiser makes special note of Michael Bloomberg’s extraordinary spending on his mayoral campaigns but says nary a word about his even more extraordinary philanthropy. He points to Bill Gates as the leading example of the new philanthropists who are Callahan’s subjects and confounds me with his two observations.  First, he seems troubled by the fact that the Gates Foundation is nearing $40 billion, is three times the size of the Ford Foundation and nine times that of the Rockefeller Foundation, and has given away $37 billion in its 16 years of existence. He goes on to note that since the Gates’ are giving most of their estates to the Foundation it will likely exceed $150 billion as it begins its 20-year sunset phase. He ends with ‘already the Gates Foundation has helped control the AIDS epidemic in Africa, reduce malaria, create the Common Core school curriculum and a great deal more.’ Gee, I am having a hard time understanding what he thinks the problem is.

I am encouraged by Callahan’s prediction that because of Gates’ and Warren Buffet’s work on the giving pledge there will be such a huge swell in giving by the wealthy that philanthropic expenditures may exceed non-defense discretionary spending by the federal government. Seems like a delightful rather than dreadful future to me.

We May Have Dodged A Bullet, But The Arts Battle Wages On…

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By Judy Anderson, Project Director

The last few months, my inbox has been inundated with messages for many organizations that I care for deeply: National Public Radio, True Colors Theatre Company, Theatre Communications Group, High Museum of Art and more. Their message was clear: if you care about the arts and humanities in America, let your elected officials know that you oppose cutting the national budgets that support the arts, creativity and human endeavors.  The fervor and intensity of the effort to stop the budget cutting in its tracks was successful – the stopgap spending measure for the remainder of fiscal 2017 did not include funding cuts for the US arts sector. But organizations like the National Endowment for the Arts, Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the Institute for Museum and Library Sciences could still see cuts in President Donald Trump’s “skinny budget” for fiscal 2018.

Lest we forget, the issue of federal support for the arts – how much, for whom, for what – has been an easy target for fiscal conservatives since the national endowments were founded during President Johnson’s great society movement. I clearly recall the artists’ protests in the streets of Atlanta (among many other cities) following the defunding and censorship attacks of the 1980s. During the recent budget process, I heard an economist of some renown interviewed (yes, it was on NPR) explain that if all three agencies were defunded the combined “savings” would not move the needle on reducing the $3.9 trillion federal budget. The agencies’ budgets trail far behind the big-ticket items of defense, Medicare and social security.

But here’s the question: what will we lose if the arts funding doesn’t survive in 2018 and beyond? It bears taking a look at what we as a nation have accomplished with federal support for the arts across the country:

  • The NEA is the only funder — public or private— that supports and funds the arts in every state and the U.S. territories.
  • Last year the NEA provided more than 180 awards directly to museums – most in the range of $15,000 to $25,000. Almost all of the grants had the purpose of facilitating the exhibition of, and access to, American art – especially to low-income individuals, the handicapped and to children (and museums in turn invest more than $2 billion a year in education).
  • The NEH projects have trained 95,598 teachers and professions on a variety of topics, from Congress and American History to Shakespeare in the Classroom.
  • 40% of NEA supported activities take place in high-poverty neighborhoods.
  • The NEH reaches rural communities, preserves Native American history, supports veterans, and engages young people.

[See https://museumhack.com/positive-impact-neh-nea/ for additional facts]

While NEA support may not carry the same imprimatur as in its early years, the fact that an organization is recognized at the national level as being a quality venture and receives funding from the federal, state and local levels, does act as a catalyst to leverage additional support from individuals, foundations and corporations.

So, my next step is to follow up with my elected officials to thank them for supporting the arts in this funding measure, remind them that September is not that far away and ask them to stay strong for the arts.

Different Is Good: The Alexander Haas Experience

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By Heather Thornton, Project Manager

My start at Alexander Haas began ordinarily enough; I heard through a friend that a fundraising consulting firm in Buckhead was hiring, and I was looking to make a move from my current job at a local nonprofit.

I went in for an interview with few expectations; my knowledge about fundraising, consulting firms, and fundraising consulting firms was limited.  During the interview, one statement stood out and still resonates with me today.

The interviewer said to me “You know, if you’re going to spend 40 hours a week with the same group of people, you may as well enjoy coming to work and do work that you enjoy.”

Eleven years later, I am still at Alexander Haas and truly enjoy it.  The people I work with are some of the most experienced, interesting and kindest people that I know.   The reasons I have stayed are also the reasons why I think Alexander Haas is the leader in our field:

  1. Teamwork Makes the Dream Work

At Alexander Haas, we work as a team.  Clients work with more than one consultant; in fact, each client has a team behind him or her working together to further the mission of the organization.  This philosophy mirrors a fundamental tenet of Alexander Haas; we work as a team, not as individuals working towards different goals.  All of our consultants, each of whom have decades of experience in the development field, partner with the other consultants to accomplish the goals of our clients.  If you hire our firm, you are hiring an experienced team whose members work closely together on a daily basis out of one central office.

  1. A Value-Added Approach

A crucial part of each client’s team includes an experienced and professional Project Coordinator.  The Project Coordinator’s role it is to serve as a liaison between the consultant and his or her clients to keep services on track.  Every client receives specialized support from this value added organizational approach.

  1. One Size Does Not Fit All

Every organization and client’s needs are different, and so is our firm’s work with each client.  We do not work from a preset list of action steps and recommendations; rather, our work with each client is tailor-made to address the needs of that client.  Our clients are not “cookie cutter” organizations, and neither are we.

A wise person once told me that if you find a job doing something you are passionate about, then you are doing pretty well.  As an added bonus, I work with a team who helps clients further their missions to help others on a daily basis…pretty well, indeed.

Toxic Employees And Their Effect On Your Organization

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By Nancy Peterman, Partner

After reading a blog I wrote some time ago about development officers who suffered from various mental issues, a colleague shared with me a Harvard Business School working paper (16-057) by Michael Houseman and Dylan Minor, on Toxic Workers.  Unlike many of those employees I referenced in my previous article who specifically suffered from a psychiatric diagnosis, the article on Toxic Workers covered a more general classification, defining toxic workers as, “those who are harmful to organizational performance” and who were terminated for toxic behavior.

Much has been written about talent management, particularly finding those outstanding employees who can serve as rainmakers, lifting up an entire organization by their productivity and positive attributes. A focus for most of our clients with open positions is to do just that, identify the best and brightest for the job.  But this article suggests that it may be equally if not more important to spend an equal amount of effort to avoid employing toxic workers.

A surprise to me was that “workers who are overconfident, self-regarding, and profess to follow the rules” are ones who are more likely to be labeled as toxic and terminated for behavioral reasons.  The article shared that toxic workers often lack compassion. Unfortunately, toxic workers are often more productive than an average employee.

Toxic workers are found to not only be harmful to the organization itself, but they also infect others with such behavior.  It is well documented that a negative factor has a greater influence on people than a positive factor.  I recall an article I read more than ten years ago that attributed this factor to basic animal instincts embedded in our brains from a herd safety mentality.  Having an innate sensitivity to negativity allows us to respond quickly and appropriately when our physical safety is threatened.  And it makes sense that the negative should take precedence over anything else holding our attention.  It may also explain why gossip is so addictive or why the horror genre has such a following!

The simple and obvious solution to toxic workers is to avoid them.  However, defining toxicity in the interview process is difficult, if not impossible in many instances.  A thorough reference check may be the better route to identify a potential problem.  A candidate who has had multiple employers with short tenures is an indicator of a problem.  Finding out during the reference process that the person was a great employee but not a good fit for that institution or that others did not enjoy working with the individual also may be a red flag indicating that further evaluation is in order.

It’s All About The Data

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By John H. Taylor, Partner

It seems that it was only 20 years ago that we felt that the only data we needed to effectively solicit donors and recruit volunteers was knowing where they lived and a home phone number.  Cell phone?  In 1997, I was the proud owner of a “bag phone”!  Gosh, that was just 20 years ago!

Today, in many development offices around the country, there are discussions concerning the need to clean up data in fundraising systems.  Donors are frequently “lost,” or at the very least offended, when data is misused or inaccurate.  Getting someone’s name wrong is just bad form.  The reaction is even worse when a pledge reminder is sent to someone who is deceased and a relative opens the mail.

As bad as bad data is, or using good data incorrectly may be, golden opportunities (and revenue) are missed due to lack of data.  Too many institutions simply focus on the obvious data errors.  What isn’t so obvious are the data omissions that, if rectified, could result in significant increases in revenue.

Today, there are many more two-income families than there were 20 years ago – necessary in many cases just to make ends meet.  And, if we can find a spare moment, many of us are volunteering our time to nonprofit organizations and corporations that serve our children, families, and communities.

Given the above, one of the most important data areas many fail to focus on relates to employment and relationship information.  While we all understand the benefit of knowing where someone works not only to assist with wealth identification factors and making appointments for major gift calls, as well as to facilitate a corporate matching gift, we don’t always take it to the next step and obtain spousal employment data as well as board affiliations and even retirement information.  Many of these boards, former employers and spouse employers will also match gifts!

There are three key steps we should take regarding these data:

  1. Gather the information through the use of frequent and effective donor and alumni survey instruments and then add it to the development system;
  2. Link the individual and their affiliation records to the various corporations and ensure that the corporate records reflect all the pertinent information regarding their matching gifts programs;
  3. Upon receipt of a contribution (or even before), remind the donor which of the corporations they are affiliated with might be eligible to match their contribution and to what extent (.5:1, 1:1, or even more).

I recall a remarkable success story following these points above from my days at Duke University.  We had a donor who wanted to establish a $25,000 scholarship and submitted her first $5,000 payment.  After carefully reviewing eligibility requirements, we found that this single payment could be matched by four corporations (at 1:1) she was affiliated with – the scholarship was immediately funded!

Good use of good data is critical to the success of a fundraising program.  But what’s equally important is understanding how additional data we do not have can make us even more successful.

 

 

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