By Sabina Mollot
Ask anyone who has ever had to raise money for an important project or worthy cause what doing so was like and you may end up hearing tales of dealing with rampant stinginess, control freak donors, competition with others in need of funds and just overall difficulty getting big contributions in a post-recession world.
Fortunately, for anyone who may still have to do this, anyway, a Stuyvesant Town resident who consults on capital campaigns and teaches the topic of fundraising, has written a book on how to hone this particular skill.
The book, How to Raise Money for Good and Worthy Causes ($19, Penn Square Publishing) by Daniel P. Butler, was released last month in paperback on Amazon and in the NYU bookstore.
How to Raise Money is part how-to, part memoir, since it includes some personal stories about how Butler’s raised millions in funds, and also some basic facts about how the process works.
Making an effective pitch, for example, will be a challenge when there are similar organizations or projects in need out there.
In terms of competition, “If you’re in New York City, it’s a ferocious environment,” said Butler. “There are lots of hospitals. There are 12 museums. You have to give them examples of what’s unique.”
Having worked for the Boys and Girls Club of America, Butler said for that organization, it was important to stress that it serves children specifically, with many of those children coming from single parent homes at the poverty level.
Butler also talks a lot about the role of board members and board leadership. Sometimes an organization will have a board leader who doesn’t like to give money or raise it.
“There are organizations where board members have never been asked to give money,” said Butler.
However, since such things are traditionally expected, Butler often address the question of how to ask for a gift.
“You have to find a way to say it delicately. A CEO answers to the board so you have to be aggressive but not offensive.” Another issue is how to respond when a board member feels he or she is called upon to give too much.
The recent recession has also brought some challenges to the not-for-profit world, but Butler said, generosity still very much exists, especially from Baby Boomers.
Butler noted that Baby Boomers are more generous when it comes to donating to causes than their parents were.
“Why is that? I’m not sure,” he said, but a big difference between younger and older people in terms of giving is that the younger generation likes to be more informed on how the money gets spent.
“Boomers and the X Generation are very, very involved in philanthropy,” said Butler. But, he stressed, “They’re more demanding than their parents. They want to see your budget and what’s unique about you. That’s the biggest change. A veteran of World War II would say, ‘I made a lot of money and I’d like to give it away.’ Young men and women have to love the agency to give big money. It’s a romantic pursuit.”
This insistence on involvement, though, can pose a problem when administrators would rather not be bothered having to explain their decisions or their books.
“That can be very off-putting to an executive,” said Butler. “He doesn’t want volunteers involved. He or she is the pro.” So for organization heads who find themselves in this frustrating position, Butler has one thing to say: Get over it. Refusing to allow a potential big donor to participate in the process is not an option.
“Those days are gone.”
Butler also shared what he calls his most painful moment in the book, which was when he asked a board chair, whose husband was a wealthy entrepreneur, for a $2 million donation. The woman said she’d have to ask her husband and insisted that Butler come with her. He went, and she asked her husband for the money. Butler then got to witness as the husband used his money to control his wife.
He asked her, in front of Butler, “Do you know how much you spent on clothes last year? I do, $232,000.” He then said he would give the $2 million — if his wife agreed not to purchase any new clothes for a year. She agreed. Then, when Butler thought he was finished the man went on to add, “One more thing,” which is that the wife could also forget about a new apartment the couple was going to purchase together.
While that was his most cringe-worthy donation, Butler added that people shouldn’t be surprised if their organization’s need for money doesn’t necessarily galvanize others to give it.
“People are not going to give you money because you need it any more than you’re going to buy a car from GM because they need it,” said Butler. “A strong board is more important than a great cause for support. I have seen many frivolous causes be successful because of a strong board.”
At NYU’s School of Professional Studies, where Butler has been an assistant adjunct professor for over 30 years, his students tend to include people who are in the arts.
“People who want to learn to start ballet companies or theater companies. So it’s par for the course,” he explained. One student, a breast cancer survivor, came with the goal of learning to raise money for breast cancer research. There are also bankers, attorneys and others looking to fund raise for schools or churches, as well as those looking to get into fundraising as a career.
Butler recommends this, noting that even nonprofit organizations pay those who fill that role “very, very well. At a hospital, salaries could reach the high six-figures, “and even people work under them get paid very well,” he said. Museum work can also be quite lucrative.
“It ain’t neurosurgery,” Butler added of fundraising, “but if you can do it, there will always be a spot for you.”