Friday, October 15, 2010

What a difference a (small) donor can make

Take a moment to imagine the birth of your favorite not-for-profit organization.

Perhaps you are concerned about Jewish continuity so you support a Jewish day school. Or your cause is care for the elderly. Many families are devoted to their synagogue or youth group.

Some of our beloved local agencies are decades old with dozens of employees and a myriad of programming. But they didn’t start out that way. How did they grow? Every agency begins in a similar manner: a motivated individual or group of passionate players decide that they can make a difference. They create a model of what they wish to accomplish and begin to collect like-minded individuals to help them.

Of course, the next step is how shall they fund their endeavors? As they seek founding support, they realize they have no track record, only a noble mission. What will encourage donations and why should anyone give to an unknown cause? It takes chutzpah to ask and faith to give. And that’s where the “annual fund” makes the difference.

A charity’s annual fund is the engine that drives its daily operation. And everyone can participate in the annual fund; no gift is too small. Often it is the small donations that make the difference in the early years of an organization. Sometimes it’s grants called “seed money,” the lifeblood of new organizations and a way for a donor to help who could otherwise not participate in philanthropy. Here is the perfect way to be A PART of your community, not apart.

We are all mesmerized and incredibly grateful when someone donates a major gift to build a needed building or fund an important initiative, and certainly, these donors make a dynamic difference in our lives.

But let’s suppose that your favorite group needs computers for their students, a van to transport their elderly clients, or support for an innovative program for new parents. In the early years of a non-profit, the difference between success and failure can sometimes be measured by whether this one program can find support. A small grant to a new organization is a catalyst for change.

Ask someone you know who works for a social service organization: what’s on her wish list? Some might tell you grandiose visions of programs and parallel services. But I believe most would say they need something now which directly affects their constituency and your donation, whatever the amount, can help them get it.

That’s something to think about the next time you receive a request for a contribution. While those who are blessed to give sustaining philanthropy are some of the pillars of our community, every donor matters. It takes individual bricks to hold up the pillars. Your donation will sow the seeds of the future.

It is said that people give not because they have money, but because they have heart. When a cause moves your heart, give what you can – and know that your thoughtfulness and generosity will always be appreciated.

A version of this post was published in in Fall 2011.