A Powerful Lesson about #Philanthropy from 2 Celebrities

When I was a young boy, I learned a valuable idiom:

You can’t judge a book by its cover.”

My parents wanted me to appreciate that before you can know or judge something, you first need to take a closer look to develop a deeper understanding.

But, is the idiom correct? For fun, I thought I’d see if it is strictly true when it comes to fundraising. Okay, I’m admittedly a nerd. However, I identified a worthwhile lesson when I explored the issue during philanthropy conversations I had recently with Carl Hiaason, the award-winning journalist and novelist, and Alton Brown, the Food Network star and cookbook author.

Michael Rosen and Carl Hiaasen at the Free Library of Philadelphia.

Michael Rosen and Carl Hiaasen at the Free Library of Philadelphia.

With best-selling book titles including Strip Tease (made into movie), Hoot (also made into a film), Basket Case, Bad Monkey, Skinny Dip and, his latest, Razor Girl, it’s impossible to know what charitable causes interest Hiaason. However, when reading his novels, you’ll find more than quirky characters and over-the-top funny, satirical plots. You’ll also discover underlying messages that are pro-environment. In some of his books, protecting the environment is the plot.

I wondered if the passionate content of Hiaason’s novels could offer a clue to which charitable causes interest the author. So, I asked him. Hiaason responded:

I really don’t want to say that I endorse anybody… [However,] I’ll tell you that in the past I’ve supported, as a private citizen, the Earth Justice Legal Defense Fund [Earthjustice]. It’s phenomenal; they do great work; it’s basically a law firm that takes on big polluters in Florida and the rest of country.”

Hiaason also supports the Everglades Foundation, which raises funds for groups trying to clean up the Everglades.

After reading just a few of his books, it’s easy to see that environmental protection is important to Hiaason. So, I was not surprised to learn about his favorite charities.

Alton Brown and Michael Rosen at the Free Library of Philadelphia.

Alton Brown and Michael Rosen at the Free Library of Philadelphia.

With Brown, it is even easier to guess where his philanthropic passion lies. Brown has hosted top-rated Food Network shows including Good Eats, Iron Chef America, and Cutthroat Kitchen. He’s also written eight books including his latest: Alton Brown: EveryDayCook.

While clues to Hiaason’s philanthropic interest could be found in the pages of his books, I believed Brown’s could be found right on the covers. So, I asked him what his favorite charity is. Brown told me:

I support many charities, but I particularly like Heifer International.”

Heifer International is a charity seeking to end hunger and poverty around the world. Given Brown’s passion for food, it’s not at all surprising that he would support a cause related to food and hunger.

Here are some takeaways for you:

  1. When trying to understand what will inspire your prospects and donors, seek clues regarding their passions.
  2. The more you can demonstrate how your organization can help the individual channel his or her passions, the more likely you will be to receive their support.
  3. When looking for clues about a person’s philanthropic passions, you will sometimes need to do a bit of digging, as with Hiaason. Other times, finding clues will be easy, right on the cover as with Brown.
  4. Recognize that the best source for information about a prospect or donor is the prospect or donor. If you want to know something, ask the person, if it’s appropriate and not too nosey. When meeting in the home or office of a prospect or donor, observe what’s hanging on the walls or lining the bookshelves. Clues are all around just waiting to be discovered.

What are your favorite ways to discover the philanthropic passions of your prospects and donors?

That’s what Michael Rosen says… What do you say?

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