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So You Want My Money

by Deborah Aguiar-Velez

June 9,2010

I am sitting in front of a pile of printed emails, letters and cards that is several inches high. As I read each one of them, I notice that they have one thing in common: they are all requests for money. Charities and non-profits are asking for my help. Today, they’re not looking for my time or my talents, but for my treasure. I know why they need my money. According to Guidestar’s report “The Effect of the Economy on the Nonprofit Sector,” 52% of non-profits have reported decreased contributions, and 58% have received increased demand for their services. 8% of organizations have reported that they are in imminent danger of closing their doors because of a lack of financial resources.

But why do they target me and not a foundation? According to CharitiesChoice.com, 76.5% of contributions from the U.S.A. comes directly from individuals. I am important to them because I am a key contributor to their bottom line.

Though I appreciate the attention, I don’t want to be seen as an open piggy bank or a blank check. I want to be seen as a person with a brain, a heart and some idiosyncrasies that make me unique. So non-profits, hear me out:

If you want my money, I want you to establish a relationship with me and demonstrate that you recognize how invaluable I am to your efforts.

How do you prove to me that I hold some sort of value to your organization? Start by doing the following:

1. Stop sending me “Dear Friend:” correspondence. There are no excuses for not addressing me by name. If you can’t afford a word-processing program, download the Writer from www.OpenOffice.org. It is free and has a simple mail merge tool that anyone can use, so you can personalize your correspondence.

2. Spell my name correctly. I get frustrated when people add an L to my last name (Aguilar instead of Aguiar), because the former is very common while my last name is rare. There is nothing more personal (or more beautiful) than one’s name.

3. Show me a picture of someone who has been impacted by your efforts, and give that person a name. Make it real. Instead of stock photos of people in need, show me a picture of “Jane Smith” and ask Jane to describe in her own words how my contribution is making a difference in your organization and her life.

4. Give me a way to track your progress. I can check very easily if you are eligible to receive tax-deductible charitable contributions (www.irs.gov/app/pub-78/forwardToSearch.do). But you have to tell me where to go to get updates. Give me a link to your website where I can track what is happening in your organization. And if you don’t have a website, ask one of your employees to write a blog. You can create a free blog at http://wordpress.com.

5.  Let me review your finances. Guidestar gathers and publicizes information about nonprofit organizations. If you are not currently on Guidestar, get listed. There I can find Form 990 (Income Tax Return for Exempt Organization) from previous years and see how the money is spent in your organization. Everything that I look at is listed on this page: www.npccny.org/Form_990/990.htm.

6.  Invite me to your offices or have an open house. Let me see where you work, and introduce me to your staff. I want to hear the passion in their words and how much they enjoy making a difference. Let me see how diverse your team is and how well they work together.

7.  Lastly, ask me to volunteer. Tell me that you value my talents and my time as much as you value my treasure. Give me some opportunities to do administrative work, interact with your clients, or do something with my hands: cook, paint, or hug a child.

Remember, if I feel valued by your organization, it is much easier for me to pick your request from the pile and write that check, regardless of how hard the economic times have impacted me. And when you get my money, you'll realize that I am no longer a faceless contributor, but a member of your team.

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