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Helping people feel good by encouraging giving

My job is fundraising.

When I tell people that, I can usually count on one of two responses.

The first includes raised eyebrows, big eyes and a laugh ... as if to say "good luck with that!"

The second is more of frown that says "yuck." Followed by, "I hate asking people for money."

Both reactions underscore a general lack of understanding of what fundraising entails.

In the nonprofit world the professional jargon for fundraising is usually either "development" or "advancement." My title at the Beacon is director of development.

To enlighten people about the real nature of development, I usually ask something like, "Do you give to any causes?" Mostly they do and proceed to tell me about the causes they support. I let them talk as much as they want and sometimes engage them with a question or two.

Then I hit them with the zinger, "So, giving money to your cause makes you feel sad?"

At this point they're confused, the light hasn't gone on yet. "Well, no. I like supporting their work."

"Oh? So, giving money to a cause you value actually makes you feel good?"

"Yes, of course."

"Well, that's how I approach my work. My job is to help people experience the joy of giving to cause in which they believe. My job makes people feel good."

"Oh. I never thought of it that way."

Most people haven't.

At its heart, philanthropic giving is a values exchange. An organization does something that people think is important and people value what the organization does for society. To keep the organization in business, to provide this value to society, people make financial gifts.

And Americans are about the most generous people in the world.

Giving USA keeps track of our national philanthropic picture, and earlier this summer it announced that total giving in the USA exceeded $300 billion for the third year in a row. nd while 2009 giving is down a few percentage points over the previous two, it's still a remarkable benchmark during a period that has a lot of us freaked out about our finances.

$300 billion is a lot of dough.

Here's what we supported:

Nonprofit SectorTotal $ in billionsPercent of TotalIncrease/Decrease (over prior year)
Human Services$27.089%+2.3%
Public-Society Benefit Orgs$22.778%-4.2%
Arts, Culture & Humanities$12.344%-2.4%
International Aid$8.893%+6.6%
Environmental/Animal related$6.152%+2.3%
Individuals1$3.51%No change
1Giving to individuals is most often gifts of medication to patients in need.

In my line of work I get to see people at their best. They are doing good. They are trying to make a difference.

In fact I get to see people at their best twice in the process. The first is the giving I just described, and the second is when volunteers participate in the fundraising process.

That's right, people volunteer to help raise money. They form committees; they organize events; they make connections.

And you wonder if I like my job? It's one of the few things that gives me hope and keeps my faith in humanity.

Contact Beacon Development Director Peter Franzen.

This article originally appeared in the St. Louis Beacon.

Peter Franzen

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