Surprise! You’re Most Likely Part of the Top One Percent.

As you begin to make plans for year-end appeals, let’s spend a few moments considering the idea of entitlement. I’m talking about the idea that wealthy individuals and corporations should, perhaps must, “give back” simply because they have a lot of money.

Do you think the top one percent income earners should pay higher taxes? Do you think they should donate more money to charity?

You might feel a bit differently after I share some news with you. If you earn at least $32,400 a year (or approximately 30,250 Euros, 2 million Indian Rupees, or 223,000 Chinese Yuan), you are part of the top one percent of income earners in the world, according to a new report in Investopedia. If you’re reading this post, I’ll bet the odds are that you’re a one-percenter. Congratulations!

So, as a global one-percenter, do you feel under-taxed? Do you feel cheap and that you don’t contribute enough to charities, particularly global non-governmental organizations? Should fundraising professionals in the USA and around the world expect, perhaps even demand, that you donate more? Should they shame you for not giving enough? Are charities entitled to more of your money just because you’re a one-percenter?

You might think so. I do not.

I believe that charities must behave ethically, provide great services, develop a meaningful case for support, and inspire people, foundations, and corporations to give. Charities must partner with donors, report to them, engage them. Simply thinking that the rich, or anyone for that matter, should do more is not going to get the job done.

I want to share a bizarre story with you that would be funny if it were not true. It’s about fundraising for a wedding. It nicely illustrates my point regarding the failure of an entitlement mindset.

Susan and her fiancé were childhood sweethearts. The couple worked on her family’s farm before attending community college. Then, they went to work to “become financially stable.” The couple continued working hard and eventually saved $15,000 for a wedding. Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough money for the “extravagant blow-out wedding” Susan wanted in order to properly celebrate their “fairy-tale” relationship.

Susan figured her ideal wedding would cost $60,000. So, she decided to look for financial help. She says, “All we asked was for a little help from our friends and family to make it happen.” Specifically, the-bride-to-be sought cash gifts. “How could we have our wedding that we dreamed of without proper funding? We’d sacrificed so much and only asked each guest for around $1,500.” As Fox News reported, Susan also said she “made it clear. If you couldn’t contribute, you weren’t invited to our exclusive wedding. It’s a once and a lifetime [sic] party.”

[Warning: For the rest of Susan’s story, she uses foul language. If foul language bothers you, skip down three paragraphs to the next bold-face sentence.]

Not surprisingly, at least to anyone other than the couple, few people responded. Susan shared her feelings about what happened, “So we sent out RSVP’s and only 8 people replied and sent us the check. We were f—ing livid. How was this supposed to happen without a little help from our friends.”

When fundraising efforts came up short, Susan’s fiancé came up with an alternative idea. He suggested they slash the wedding budget and just get married in Las Vegas. Susan’s Maid-of-Honor supported the idea of spending less even though she had pledged $5,000. Sadly, Susan didn’t want to hear any of it. She ranted, “How could someone who offered me thousands of f—ing dollars then deny my promised money and then tell me to shift down my budget???? She knows my f—ing dream was a blowout wedding. I just wanted to be a Kardashian for a day and then live my life like normal. I called her a filthy f—ing poor excuse of a friend, and hung up.”

Susan continued, “How hard would it to [sic] have been to f—ing donate friends? Do I matter to you? Just f—ing give me money for my wedding. I won’t even sugarcoat. I won’t even pretend that’s not what I wanted. It was for a dream.”

[Note: The rest of this post is free of foul language.]

Well, despite Susan’s profound sense of entitlement and desire to have others pay for most of her wedding, she never got the celebration she wanted. In fact, four days prior to the big day, she canceled the wedding and broke up with her fiancé. Susan did not get the fairy-tale wedding and marriage she had wanted.

It’s fine to wish that people will join you in supporting the mission of your organization. However, just know, what you wish and what you think does not matter. Philanthropy is about the wishes and thoughts of donors.

If a fundraising professional has a sense of entitlement, prospective donors will recognize it. And they won’t appreciate it. Every year, I receive entitled appeals from a number of charities. Usually I haven’t heard from them since my last gift. Annoyingly, the appeal that I do receive looks a lot like an invoice…not very inspiring.

You must passionately represent your organization. In doing so, it’s okay to wish for support. However, resist the temptation to let that crossover into a sense that your nonprofit is entitled to support. For example, never use the phrase give back when communicating with prospects or even with colleagues – as in “That company has done really well this year. It should give back to the community.”

Do not resent the rich. For starters, remember that, globally speaking, you are probably one of them. Second, they have the money and connections your organization needs.

Let The New York Times continue its hit pieces on the rich as it tells them what they should or should not do with their own money. (If you’re not sure what I mean, checkout my rebuttal to the Times regarding Donor-Advised Funds, and read the mostly nonsensical Times op-ed article: “Beware Rich People Who Say They Want to Change the World.”) Instead, look for ways to engage all people appropriately. Understand what motivates them. Inspire them to support your organization. Show them what they can accomplish.

As part of your year-end fundraising planning, do not limit your thinking to funding appeals. Plan to educate, cultivate, engage, and inspire your prospects and donors. If you do, you’ll raise a lot more money.

I once advised a worthy organization about their capital campaign. At our first working meeting, the Board Chair said to me, “We’re a great organization. People care about us and like what we do. We’re not planning on doing anything frivolous with this campaign. We just desperately need to put on a new roof, replace the antique boiler, and address other serious maintenance issues. We should just have to send word out, and people should just give, right?”

I responded to the Board Chair by telling him, “You’re 100 percent right. But, since that’s not going to actually work, why don’t we focus on what will and, instead, inspire people to support the campaign?”

Fortunately, the Board Chair and the rest of the Campaign Committee agreed with me. We got down to work to develop a powerful case for support, and a donor-centered campaign plan. The campaign was a success!

Remember, as year-end approaches, it’s not just about asking for money. What are you going to do to engage prospects and donors, make an effective case for support, and help them to feel good about supporting your organization?

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

6 Comments to “Surprise! You’re Most Likely Part of the Top One Percent.”

  1. Absolutely, Michael! No shoulds or giving backs. Ban those from the fundraising lexicon forever. Key rhetorical question from Miss Entitled: Do I matter to you? From a donor, just add… “…beyond my ability to give?” Keep on keeping on and provoking us… in a good way.

    • Ina, thank you for your kind comment. By the way, a friend of mine who is a psychologist gave me some great advice years ago. He advised that I’d be much happier if I eliminated the word “should” from my vocabulary, both professionally AND personally. I have to remind myself of that periodically, but when I follow his advice, my life is indeed much happier.

  2. Michael,
    Great piece! I remember when I wrote my first year end appeal. I made the mistake of using that give back because we deserved it for doing so much for the people who used our services. Needless to say, it was a glorious failure but a successful learning experience. Thank goodness I’ve learned so much since then.

  3. Michael: great article. We don’t use the term “give back” when soliciting our alumni, but many of them use the term on their own. They’ll say, “I want to give back because I never could have been the success I am today were it not for the education and experience I had received.”

    • Jay, thank you for your insights. The education sector is perhaps one of the few that can legitimately engage in “give-back” fundraising, though hopefully without actually using the term. If donors use the term, that’s okay, as you’ve suggested.

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