Life As We Know It: January 6, 2014

    The psychology of fund-raising has always intrigued me. Just not enough to do it. Persuading people to part with something they’ve worked hard to accumulate is part science, part art _ a profession that some folks are drawn to. Others, like me, want no part of it. I’m not being critical of those who raise money for a living. Quite the contrary, I admire their skills. In the realities of today’s world, they are indispensable.

    Of course, we don’t call it fundraising any more, we call it development, and whether it’s the University of Toledo, the Toledo Symphony, the Old Newsboys, the Hospice of Northwest Ohio, or here at WGTE, dependence on public generosity is a fact of life. There’s never enough money to do the good things that need to be done.

    At UT, and down the road at Bowling Green State University, development is a constant, a given, a 24/7 commitment made necessary by the steady erosion of taxpayer support _ at least as a percentage of the whole _ over the last 20 years or so. The symphony, the art museum, and the zoo all treat donated dollars like golden nuggets.

    A few years ago I was struck by the irony of two stories that appeared on the same page in The Blade. The headline on one of them read: “BGSU reaches goal in capital fund-raiser bid.” The headline on the other carried a different message: “Local United Way short of $15 million target.”

    The implication: BGSU’s effort was a total success; the United Way’s annual campaign was not.

    Was the impression left by the two headlines the fault of our headline writers? Absolutely not. A smaller headline beneath the large type on the United Way story did point out that United Way raised $1 million more than it did a year ago and that United Way executives were pleased.

    But because the United Way had set such an ambitious goal, the inescapable conclusion drawn by many was that the campaign somehow failed.  That year’s campaign, however, was the fourth most successful in the organization’s history, raising $14.5 million, which was 7 percent better than the previous year’s campaign.

    The shortfall marked the second year in a row the goal was not reached, but the amount of actual dollars raised in fact went up for the third year in a row.

    That’s why I think goal-setting may be the most difficult and riskiest part of development work, especially in such a high-profile public endeavor as United Way, which in theory reaches out to every worker, every citizen, and every employer, in the region. In the case of United Way of Greater Toledo, that’s the 610,000 people who live and work in Lucas, Wood, and Ottawa counties.

    It would be difficult to overstate the role of some of the biggest employers in the area. Owens-Illinois, Sunoco, The Andersons, and others did their part in responding to the United Way’s “fair share” mantra.

    But charity still comes down to individual decisions, whether by CEOs or university alumni or blue-collar folks struggling with a mortgage and the electric bill. I view the United Way’s achievement _ and it’s really the accomplishment of an army of foot-soldiers known as volunteers _ not as a failure for coming up half a million dollars short but a stunning success in a struggling economy.

     Good for them. But there’s still so much more to do.