Now be honest. Chances are you donate to causes because you were asked to.

Somebody approached you with the right message and cause at the right time and you determined that you had enough discretionary dollars to fit it into your budget.

According to Kim Klein, grassroots fundraising consultant and author of the book, Reliable Fundraising in Unreliable Times, givers aren’t usually proactive. In her book, Klein states: “In studies and in the anecdotal observation of fundraisers, when we ask people why they made their last charitable donation, 80 percent of them will say, ‘Someone asked me.’ And when we ask people who say they do not give money away why they don’t, 80 percent of them will say, ‘I was never asked.’”

Klein spoke this past Tuesday at a daylong fundraising seminar in St. Paul, sponsored by the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits. A gifted and engaging presenter, Klein showed nonprofits how they should improve their fundraising techniques to meet an increase in need rather than cutting their services. Her message that givers give because they’re asked resonated with the attendees.

I showed up wearing two hats – as a board member of a small foundation, and as a consultant to private sector (small business and individual) donors.

To those of us who are working on the behalf of a cause (my first hat), the spontaneous giver is a boon and offers the potential to turn him or her into a long-term supporter. But to those of us who are donors or advocates for donors (the other hat), reflexive giving should have its limits. I encourage donors to keep in mind your ideals – those big-picture causes that, if you had the power to reposition the globe on its axis, everything would fall into a perfect world order.

Klein, herself, attests that, for nonprofit workers, it takes real commitment to the ideal of building a better world in order for the cause to become and remain successful. Nonprofits can get so caught up in the day-to-day concerns of budgets, events, marketing, advocacy and personnel issues that they lose sight of the big picture and, consequently, their inspiration.

This commitment to an ideal should be true for the donor, as well. To participate in building toward a better world, you need to form a pretty clear vision of what that is. Klein devoted two pages of her book to define her own world view, which she presented only as an example. Using actuarial tables, she determined that she’ll live at least until the year 2045. Klein then painted a detailed picture of what her ideal world would then be by that year, which would include a progressive tax system that supports universal health care, education, public transportation and the arts; positive results of environmental efforts on global warming; the eradication of poverty; a reduction in military spending; and progress toward the elimination of racism and sexism. She envisions a society characterized by respectful dialogue and democratic structures that better enable self-governance.

What is your world vision – the world you’d like to pass along to your great-grandchildren? And what programs or services exist today that you can support to help make your vision a reality?

Do some research and find those causes and organizations that best match your ideals for social change, environmental stewardship, cultural preservation, religious expression and/or political discourse. Then, create an annual giving plan that dedicates a good 75%-85% toward those causes.

Consider keeping the remainder uncommitted so you can also respond spontaneously when someone with a good cause asks for your support, or a natural disaster occurs. Within 15 days of the Haitian earthquake in January, people around the world gave more than $528 million to  40+ nonprofit organizations to aid in relief efforts. Unforeseen events such as hurricanes, tsunamis, floods, fires and other tragedies are rarely a part of a giving plan, yet necessitate large and immediate donations.

Revise your plan each year to respond to emerging issues and a shifting political landscape that may affect your world vision. And, of course, check with your tax attorney regarding deductibility of your donated dollars.

 - LuAnne Speeter