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Fund-raiser offers tricks of trade

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Even the people whose job it is to ask the rest of us for money get pep talks.

"Create an even more consistent culture of asking," Joan L. Mason encouraged members of the Utah Society of Fundraisers. "The biggest thing you can do is keep on asking."

Americans are the most generous donors in the world, said Mason, a fund-raiser and faculty member of The Fundraising School at Indiana University's Center for Philanthropy. We proved it after Sept. 11, she said, when we donated nearly $1.5 billion to various agencies in the space of just three weeks.

But don't go blaming Sept. 11 if your local donations are down, Mason told Utah fund-raisers at their winter luncheon earlier this month. If donations to your not-for-profit agency have dropped, it might be because of the slowing economy, but it's not the fault of Sept. 11, she said.

In fact, research done by the Trust for Philanthropy shows that giving generally does not decline in America after a national crisis, she said. The group found that since 1960, the total amount of U.S. giving has increased every year except 1987 (the year of the stock market collapse), even after events such as the Kennedy assassination, the Arab oil embargo and the Gulf War.

"Go where the money is," Mason told Utah fund-raisers — not to big corporations but to individual donors, who typically account for 82 to 87 percent of all the money given to charity in America. Individuals and families don't have boards of directors that can change their minds, she reminded them. In Atlanta, after the Olympics, corporate giving decreased, but charities that relied more on individual donations did OK.

Mason's speech was a revealing peek at the strategies that go into those letters asking for donations to your favorite charity.

Always send an envelope, she reminded the fund-raisers. "They'll put on a stamp," she said about the giving public, "but they won't go get an envelope."

Contact your donors at least five times a year.

Send out a "memory-triggering" letter not long after sending an initial letter asking for donations.

Go after individuals. Individuals will generally stick with a charity for at least five years, "unless you misspell their name," whereas corporations can be fickle.

Make sure your mission is so clear that you could pitch it to someone in the time it takes an elevator to go from the lobby to the 15th floor. Use the term "greatest needs" in your annual letter to donors.

Donors should be your friends for life, "not a one-night stand."

It's more efficient to "maximize" the donors you already have (convince them to "upgrade" or to donate a "special gift") than to try to get newer donors.

People want to give to charities, Mason said. So the role of the fund-raiser is "offering people the joys of philanthropy."

The average American family gives to about six charities a year, she said. The average direct mail gift is $25.47, and the average amount given annually by individuals or families is $1,100.

E-MAIL: jarvik@desnews.com