Thursday, October 28, 2010


I'm sure you've noticed that many nonprofits set up various categories of giving.  I like the images conveyed by the titles used by our local environmental organization, Boxerwood Education Association, which include "Garden Angel" and "Great Oak Society." 

I don't care for the tendency to specify benefits for various levels.  I realize you don't have to accept the chatzkas and whatnots.  I recognize that some people like them.  As for me, I'd rather not fuss whether an entire contribution is tax-deductible or whether it has to be adjusted to reflect value received.

I imagine experts on this topic have all kinds of suggestions.  I haven't Googled or researched them.  What makes sense to me is trying to understand a particular organization and community and what motivates people to contribute.  I'd bet an organization is most successful when its categories of giving match those motivations.

Let's return to the benefits.  Some people like to see their names on lists, for example, as "Garden Angels."  I know people who turn to the lists as soon as they're seated at a concert.  I also know people who never look at the lists, even if they're on them.

Some folks like being invited to special events that recognize similar givers, to mix with the prominent, the monied class (as if "class" has anything to do with wealth or inheritance).  Others are content giving under the title, "Anonymous."  Why?  Perhaps because anonymity is the highest form of generosity.  Or because it doesn't invite solicitations from every other organization in town.

Sometimes it's nice to find a package in the mailbox containing a tasteful tee shirt even if boxes of unworn fabric wait in the attic.  On the other hand, another monogrammed coffee cup -- or a CD of an assorted collection of music worth one listening session -- might not be so welcome.  Someone who already has almost everything doesn't need more clutter.

"I'm not sure why, but this reminds me of the pricing of 'art,'" says Virginia.  "Say you visit an art show and admire a painting priced at $195.  What does that price say?"

Maybe it means the artist is either insecure or doesn't value the work.  A confident buyer might think it's a bargain.  An uncertain viewer might consider it overpriced -- that something's wrong with the piece or the artist would have priced it at least as high as $200.

"In Bangladesh, it might be a gem," says Virginia.  "In New York, it's a dabbler's junk.  Or maybe it's just...."  She lifts her head and peers over her nose, "Poo-poo."

Everything is in the eye of the beholder.

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