March 12, 2004
Plenty of rich people are willing to share their good fortune. All that would-be recipients need to know is how to ask.
That's the insight behind a new fundraising handbook by Bob Zimmerman and Ann Lehman, an El Cerrito couple who are in business together advising nonprofit organizations.
Their slim, self-published paperback, "Boards That Love Fund-Raising: A How-To Guide for Your Board," poses the question: If the wealthy have so much to give, why do so many organizations beg or shy away from asking in the first place?
Rather than engaging in what the authors term "genteel begging," boards should think of fund-raising as an invitation to enter into a relationship.
The donor, in this view, does far more than write a check.
He makes an investment in the organization's mission.
The fund-raiser is not lightening the donor's wallet but rather is extending a hand. He is less interested in scoring a gift than in creating opportunities for the giver and receiver to achieve something together.
"We think board members need to be empowered not to be inferior, to really see this as giving people opportunities," Lehman said.
Lehman has long held the philosophy that people are capable of learning the skills they need to create effective organizations. If they have the techniques in hand, do the hard work and show confidence in their venture, she said, they will increase their revenues.
Zimmerman and Lehman lived through the 1960s and took the era's idealism to heart. They say that although they are less na´ve now, they retain their enthusiasm to help make a more just and healthier world.
Zimmerman, the fund-raising specialist and president of Zimmerman Lehman, started his career as a grant writer in Boston after graduating from Antioch College in 1969. He has been development director at a variety of non-profits on the East and West coasts.
Since founding the consulting firm in 1988, he has trained thousands of people in the art and science of fund-raising. He is known for his no-nonsense approach.
Lehman received her law degree from Northwestern School of Law in Portland, Ore., in 1978. She went on to supervise a storefront law center geared to senior citizens. She has an interest in women's rights and has worked to implement the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, a sexual harassment program for women and girls in San Francisco.
She is co-chair of her neighborhood association and co-chair of the Friends of the El Cerrito Theater.
They married in 1991 and became business partners at about the same time. They have a 10-year-son, Gabe Zimmerman Lehman. They live near the El Cerrito BART station with their dog, Stella, and cat, Betty.
The authors believe their approach could help nonprofits stay financially healthy in today's economic climate, which is one of the toughest the industry has experienced. As government and foundation grants have tapered off, individual giving has become a critically important revenue source.
The advantage goes to organizations that know how to do business with major donors.
"You have to go to individuals," Zimmerman said. "There are people who are getting rich in this economy, and they are continuing to make gifts. The money is still there, but it's in a slightly different format. Government and foundations have less of it.''
Going after major donors is a task that often falls to board members. They need to approach it with enthusiasm and direct, businesslike language.
"They think they have to go out with a tin cup," said Lance Linares, executive director of the Community Foundation of Santa Cruz County. "It really about talking to (donors) in language they understand."
One nonprofit that is adapting successfully is Equal Rights Advocates of San Francisco, a women's legal advocacy organization that marks its 30th anniversary this year. It is working more with major donors to add to the money it raises from traditional sources, such as an annual luncheon and small, individual contributions.
"You don't get donations if you don't ask for them," said Irma D. Herrera, the organization's executive director. "The first rule is you need to ask. You need to identify the people whose interests match what you're doing."
A top fund-raising goal for ERA is to make sure there is enough money on hand to go after good cases. The organization would have less flexibility in such actions if it had to rely solely on grant money.
Zimmerman and Lehman advise charities to review their individual donor lists to select those with the capacity and commitment to give more. "My attitude is, go after the people who can help you," Zimmerman said. "The worst they can say is 'no.' "
In today's economy, rich friends can make or break a charity.
More than two-thirds of Bay Area nonprofits responding to a United Way survey last year reported a drop in corporate or foundation gifts. More than half were bracing for state or local government budget cuts.
Some 60 percent said individual giving was off. But the good news was that the other 40 percent said individual giving had stayed the same or gone up.
Nationally, giving dropped slightly in 2002 against 2001 when adjusted for inflation, according to the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University. An increase in gifts from corporations and estates balanced a drop in support from foundations.
The latest figures show a positive trend, in part because private mega- donors gave more in the final three months of 2003. These numbers point to a future in which the deepest of the deep pockets -- individuals or estates that give $1 million or more -- offset the foundation endowments that so many organizations relied upon in the past. Large donations are expected to grow as the World War II generation passes on.
The latest list includes the estate of Joan Kroc, the widow of the founder of McDonald's. Before she died last year, Kroc picked charities where her money could make a social impact.
Kroc literally had more to give than almost anybody else. But in any community there may be others who share her approach to giving.
Zimmerman said: "There's a genuine impulse to give."
That Love Fundraising is currently available to order
View the press release.