By Sherri W. Morr
As I watched over the last days of 2016, I found only annoyance with every organization that is begging for your end of the year gift.
A mere 6 days ago they were aligning your giving with the light filled spirit of Chanukah. Prior to that many organizations asked to help Israel recover from raging fires some set as arson terrorism.
As a long time admirer of the late Gilda Radner, I enjoyed her saying, “It’s always something.” How correct she was. She repeatedly used the phrase to connect with her own cancer which ultimately took her life while she was still laughing and being totally irreverent about dying.
I wish our organizations could get with the program and come up with knowledgeable Torah portions as a means to encourage giving. The light, the time is running out, the clock is ticking, running, and winding down. Excuse me but is that the reason to give? What did I miss here? We give because it’s part of our tradition. It’s like a strategic plan… We teach the man to fish rather than give him a pound of halibut because he then becomes one less person who has to be fed. We helped him to be independent and in return, he will not only not need us to rush to give before December 31, but also he can take care of himself and benefit from our largess forever. His not taking, means the next person in line has a leg up. His independence thanks to us has opened a slot for someone else … someone who cannot learn to fish because perhaps there is no water source close to him. He has to have the support of others who have the capacity, the understanding of impact giving.
Not every donor has to be a Torah scholar. They and the agency executives who run our campaigns can learn to quote wise elders who came before us. These were scholars who did not depend on time running out as a means to motivate giving; they did not use the clichés and the time related language to remind us that we needed to give, before the end of the year. I tend to wonder whose need was that. Was the poor, homeless person in more need on December 31? Or was their need the same, or, perhaps worse because of the cold. One could think the agency executive, the one that runs the campaign and is thinking strategically that after January 1, more people might actually lose their jobs. Now that’s a real possibility, a realistic thought that agencies can plan for, treat as a priority and strategize to motivate people to give money now to be prepared for the emergency. It says in Pirke Avot, one who is wise is learned from learning from everyone. I wonder, is that a phrase that helps us motivate giving. Knowing that we taught giving one poor person a handout of food, to stave off hunger, and teaching another one how to fish so he too can have food, and rely on it being there without asking. That is an agency executive who has learned from everyone.
As the end of year days wind down, the message moves a notch to say, it’s not too late; there is room for you; the offer is extended. Or, there is still time to get that canvas bag and be rewarded for your donation; there is still time to help us meet our goal; or give what you can during the few days left.
I wrote down every phrase I saw, granted I did not see them all, and yet they only covered a 4×5 piece of note paper, both sides. Many years ago I gave a talk on “Why People Give” and it took way more than an hour. That was without Q/A. People give because they are asked, or because they want recognition, or because they truly want to help, deeply believe in the cause. Recent studies have shown that people who give like themselves more, are generally happier and more successful, not just in business but in their family relationship as well. Read any testimony from any foundation giver and they will clearly state the value of learning from peers, friends and family the value of giving. For some capacity donors that is the true belief in giving. Simply put it makes them feel good.
So here are a few suggestions about how to ask for those pesky end of year gifts next year at this time.
Bring your donors together … in one room, around a table. Tell them your story, why you give, why you give the amount you choose, and have them share points of view. Put multiple groups together … not just the $5000 donors but the $50 donors as well. Many might have been recipients of someone’s sacrifice. Create a wide spread of ages. The dialogue itself may just make you fall off your chair. Have someone repeat common themes. Everyone has a personal story, when they tell it, it becomes your story too. Listen and respect it; repeat it from a different perspective.
Stop using the lame phrases of its not too late and the clock is running out of time. There is always time to give; it’s never too late. Your own feelings will dictate when it’s time to give, not the Hallmark calendar. See what you can learn from others and their stories, and incorporate it into your own story. We own our feelings and our stories; most of all we own our experiences and our traditions. How we play them out is up to each of us. That is what we must learn, that giving is both communal and personal, and that every gift, every contribution, and every pledge payment paves the way for someone to follow your lead.
Sherri W. Morr is the Director for the West Coast Region of American Society of University of Haifa. Prior to this she was director for the Western States for Jewish National Fund.
The views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily reflect the views of her employers, past or present.