Sunday, July 12, 2020


I was taught in English class to “write about what I know about’.  That is always good advice, but I have always been a bit ornery, so I often do the opposite.  When my mother told me that if I stopped smoking cigarettes, she would give me a gift.  I waited until I was 21 to stop!  So today I thought I would write about an assignment I was given by a not-for-profit where I am a member of the Board. I was asked to come up with the Development Plan for the organization, something for which I have no expertise. Needless to say, I am part of a committee, but I made the mistake of raising my hand, virtually, of course, and was given the assignment to write it all up. 

A Development Committee is just a fancy way of saying Fund Raising Committee which is the lifeblood of any not-for-profit.  Why should people give to this cause instead of that one?  In my case, for the most part, I give to organizations in my adoptive State, New Mexico, before the rest of the country and the rest of the country before I give abroad.  We all make general rules because of all the choices we have.  Some only give to medical causes or educational causes while I focus on the arts. I never understood why really wealthy people such as Bill & Melinda Gates hire people to help them give their money away until we started trying to make meaningful donations with a tiny tiny fraction of what they have.

I learned from Jean Block, a consultant to not-for-profits, the most important question in the fund-raising business, “You need to ask”. If you don’t ask you don’t get.  Actually, I should have said I re-learned this. There is always pressure to succeed but it is also most rewarding when you meet the challenge. I figured I have raised funds before so I can do this.  Before the age of 30, I had to raise funds for an exhibition of works of art from art dealers in this country and abroad at the Metropolitan Museum -

In the early 1970s, I knew a lot less than I know now. The people I knew who had money were those who could afford to buy at my art gallery!  I asked our clients a number of whom made token contributions.  Then I took the bull by the horns, screwed up my courage, and asked one of my most important clients, Henry Ford II. To my most pleasant surprise, he gave $5,000 but wished to remain anonymous in the catalog.  You can multiply that sum by approximately 5 to get today’s value and an exhibition at the Met also cost a great deal less than.  

I will digress to tell you how obstacles that you do not expect can get in the way.  One of those art dealers played golf with the director of the Metropolitan Museum every weekend and kept telling him that the dealers would never come up with their share of funds for the show.  So, every Monday my future wife, who was the Metropolitan’s curator for the show, was called by the director to ask what the situation was, and she would call me, and I would say we are fine and in the end we were.

Well, it turns out that asking directly for money for a good cause is the easy part when you are just one individual but doing it for an organization involves so much more.

You need to come up with a reason for your organization’s existence and then create an appeal that will make people want to participate. Just saying I have a good cause is not good enough.

You need someone with marketing skills to get the word out because if a tree falls in the forest… you know the rest.

If you are lucky enough to get a challenge grant, how will you pitch it?  You will need a deadline or people will just think “mañana”.  Here In New Mexico, mañana does not mean tomorrow, it just means not today!

Lastly, or maybe not, you need to peg the people in your organization who can accomplish all this, and when they agree, to give them a deadline by which their task must be completed.

When I figure out how to complete these last paragraphs plus some more, I suspect I will get back to you.

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