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Community Giving: Too Few Giving To Too Many?

August 9, 2012 - Ernest Hohmeyer
I became so tired the other day of receiving that umpteenth recorded message asking for money, I just started hanging up the phone.

And this appeal for money applies to all of us whether you are a business, local government, a resident or a second home owner. In some cases we even ask our visitors for donations.

Some of us are in the business to ask for money: they call them “development officers” or in my case “kids.”

Who Is Calling Now?!

I was so frustrated; I decided to take a sample of how many requests we receive for some kind of donation. In just 2 weeks:

• National, state and local political organizations • Multiple community organizations • Local, regional, and national non-profits • Numerous informal community groups and clubs • Seemingly countless events • Radio, newspaper and media sponsorship • Community fund-raisers • Federal, state and local government taxes (okay I am half-kidding with this one, I think)

All told, it seemed to be one a day. Perhaps it is just the summer and I will admit this was very unscientific but think about this:

Let’s be conservative and say it’s only half that – 3 requests a week - times a year - times $100 contribution: $15,600.00.

What Are We Really Giving?

But hang on here, I am just getting started:

How about all the volunteer work we do whether it be for a community organization, a local non-profit or an event?

Let’s say between e-mails, phone calls and meetings that adds up to an hour a day. Let’s say our valued time is only worth $10 hr. which I can’t even hire a kid for anymore and multiply that over a year: $3, 640.00.

Almost $20,000.00 a year for some type of giving!

Some of you may scoff and say “Wow, thank goodness, I don’t do that!”

I also know that too many of you are also thinking “Well, double that number and we can start to have a real conversation here.”

And it’s hard to say no. Almost of all of these causes are genuine and needed. Without our support, many would not happen.

We are a wide geographic region but small in number in terms of people and businesses. The same people seem to get hit over and over again.

Are We Rationale?

We justify it in terms of:

• “We are part of the community” • “We are also part of some community group and we have had to ask for money too so it’s only quid pro quo.” • “I am going to say no to a person I know?” • “Johnny is doing it, so I better too!” • “I don’t know how, but I know this will help my business.” • “If I don’t, my business may be blacklisted.” • “My kids told me to.”

Speaking from a business perspective: How much of this giving do we really understand what they are for and how they will benefit us? How much can we justify “it will help the community” but not really my business?

Non-Profits vs. Business

In fact, sometimes are we contributing to our competitors? Should we donate to non-profits that also sell retail items and charge for services that our businesses provide? They were built on grants and donations, some of it from you and I. How do we compete with these services when our cost of doing business is based on loans and savings? If these non-profits do not do this, can they survive?

As always the answers are not so simple and vary with each case of giving. However, it may time to consider a more systematic approach as a community.

A Community Event Foundation?

There seems to be an almost countless number of events that take place in our region. We seem to be the event capital of the world. And this is a good thing as it provides one more reason for folks to come here.

But are too few of us are being asked to support what may be too many events? We think we have a good idea of what we want to support at the beginning of the year and then we get hit for countless more during each season.

Is it possible to create a “Community Event Foundation,” a “United Way of Event Funding” as was brought up at this week’s Tourism Council meeting?

In reflecting about this, could we further:

• Separate events from those that want to be local and those that want to grow to be destination events that attract visitors? Those downtown businesses that wanted to support local activities like music in the parks could do so while lodging businesses could emphasize those that are marketing to visitors.

• Create an event “Fact sheet” that makes it simple for all of us to understand what the purpose of each event is, how it will operate and it target audience so we know how it may impact our business?

• Can we create event criteria, similar to what ROOST uses to determine its level of support for events based on community impact?

• Could this “Event Foundation” be something we could contribute to create a pool of money for events? Could that pool of money be leveraged with matching funds from other local government and public sources? There is new pot of money we may not be considering and that is the multitude of socially responsive web sites where if we can leverage or pool or resources for more of a regional approach we may be successful.

• If this could be set up, events would need to be on the “list” to qualify for support.

• Perhaps plaques could be developed by the Foundation, which businesses could display in their store as “proud contributors to the community.”

Could each of us still give to other events? Of course and if a new event crops up during the year, we could still support it.

Understanding Why We Are Giving

However, this may be one way to start creating a system for each of us to better understand these events and provide one sum of money, once a year that may be better for all of our budgets.

By contributing and being recognized as such with a store-front plaque of some sort, it would acknowledge to those that are seeking money, we may have to say no but it is not because we don’t give.

A More Organized Way?

It would be wonderful if the systematic and collective giving approach could also extend to community non-profits. Again, criteria could be set up “a community purpose and impact” fact sheet. Again, we could give once a year and be recognized as supporting the community.

Will this lead to discussions of who gets what? Perhaps. But our businesses have to deal with competition every day and it makes us leaner and perhaps more creative. Plus, this proposed “Event or Non-Profit Fund” is only one avenue and all of us can still contribute outside of it.

Again, we may not have to create something new. Perhaps the Adirondack Community Trust may be a place to start a conversation if there is enough interest in pooling our scarce resources.

We are few in number and perhaps it’s time to create a more systematic approach to how we contribute as community members.


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