NANCY EDMONDS HANSON: After Thought — Ask … And Shall It Be Given?

Are you reading this on Thursday, Feb. 8? Then you’re perched at the pinnacle of year-round efforts to persuade you to step up with support for North Dakota charities’ good works. For 24 magical hours, three Fargo-based funders — the Impact, Dakota Medical and Alex Stern Family Foundations — are together matching every donation of $10 or more made to participating nonprofit organizations. Most arrive online via www.givingheartsday.org.

They represent a galaxy of compelling causes: education, health care, the arts, religion, advocacy, human and animal welfare — you name it, there’s a good chance you’ll find it on this year’s list. After all, 401 separate nonprofit organizations and funds appear there — a tenfold increase from just 38 back in Year One.

Twenty-two times as many people made contributions last year as at the start. With matching funds, the financial impact on nonprofits was 15 times the first campaign’s — nearly $10.7 million. That brought the 10-year total to more than $41 million. Today’s results are expected to easily float it across the $50 million mark … with campaign planners hoping to double the number of donors who pull out the plastic (or checkbooks) to pitch in.

Sponsors of Giving Hearts Day have worked long and hard to generate the juggernaut that it’s become. Collaborating with the charities themselves, they’ve created a newsworthy mood that’s light-hearted, fun and sometimes just a little goofy, like last year’s Mr. Matchy-Matchy in his heart-spangled suit. Under this year’s banner of #countme, they’ve built a positive showcase for North Dakota nonprofits to highlight their good works … and, of course, a channel for persuading generous folks to open up their wallets.

Underneath the happy anticipation of this year’s campaign, though, is a dark undercurrent that seems quite new — a backlash from good people who are feeling exhausted and a bit annoyed at the blizzard of do-good options.

With competition for those charitable dollars at an all-time high, the charities hoping to boost their totals have been coached in best-practice “friend-raising” techniques. They’ve been inundating Facebook and email with persuasive appeals and filling known donors’ mailboxes with postcards, letters and sophisticated marketing materials. Some have bought ads in the media. Others have turned to the telephone to remind friends to pick them today.

Plain and simple, humans don’t much like to be asked for money. The more often and insistently they’re asked, the likelier they are to speak up. This year, the chorus is louder than I’ve ever noticed in the past. Particularly on social media, more people — more thoughtful, charitable, warm-hearted people — seem to be tiring of the blizzard of charitable appeals.

It worries me. The objections I’ve been hearing aren’t coming from Scrooge McDuck and his caustic flock of cynical penny-pinchers. Instead, they’re coming from the same kind folks who tirelessly volunteer for public-spirited causes, from feeding the hungry and sheltering the homeless to supporting all kinds of positive community projects in every corner of the state. They’re the ones who stand tall when charities call them, who deeply care about countless civic-minded crusades.

“Nine items of marketing in my mail today for Giving Hearts Day,” one woman reported last week on Facebook. “It makes me not want to give when I see the fancy marketing and ‘Pick me! Pick me!’ materials dropping in my mailbox. If they have money for all this fancy stuff, they do not need my donation.”

Another estimates she receives about 10 fund-raising appeals every week (not all, of course, tagged to Giving Hearts Day). “That’s about 500 pieces of unwanted mail a year — a waste of money and environmentally bad. I resent it.”

Some complaints, like hers, center on wasting paper and postage on printed appeals that mostly go unread. Other commenters feel fleeting fury at the flurry of “asks” in email, Facebook posts and pop-up ads. Since they’re so much less expensive than ink and paper, they’re proliferating even faster — like fruit flies. My own email inbox is larded with dozens every single day. But “delete” is even better than single-sort recycling; I ignore every one of them.

With so many supplicants, even a modest amount of contact from each can seem overwhelming. Yet nonprofits truly depend on these campaigns. Despite all the headlines about grants and corporate gifts, a cool 80 percent of funds that keep nonprofits running come from you and me — individual donors who can be touched by their values and their missions … or cajoled ’til we finally yield.

It’s easy to dismiss these persistent emotional appeals as a waste of money. But if they weren’t generating donations well in excess of what they cost, you can be guaranteed certain they would not keep coming.

Part of the Impact Foundation’s program, in fact, is to teach nonprofits how to do a better job of all of this. Their core gospel is tough but unavoidable: Those who do not ask, do not get.

Yet members of the backlash emphasize that too many, asking too often, leads to the same result.

There’s no magical answer. The source of the targeted would-be donors’ discontent — too-frequent pleas that some contend can be equated to nagging — is, at its heart, glaringly simple: An excess of good causes seeking support among a limited supply of potential benefactors inclined and able to contribute.

Giving Hearts Day relies on a smart game plan to tackle the syndrome. It scores its points by multiplying the impact of every gift, even small ones. It coaches charities in composing their most compelling stories. And the volunteers and staff who are making this greatest occasion of philanthropy happen strive, oh so hard, to define giving not just the right thing to do … but the best way to feel good about yourself and your role in a much larger mission.

This is the last time I’ll say it (promise!): If you’re reading this on Feb. 8, 2018, there’s still time to join the fun.

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