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Non Profit "Memberships"


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The set up

In late 2001 I received a solicitation from a good local charitable organization for the arts. Like many of these organizations, when you give - you get.  Sometimes you get a mug from KQED; give more and you get a T-Shirt; give more and you get fine videos of "the best of Monty Python"...  With this organization, joining up for a membership grants one early access to concert tickets. I've been a member for years, but over the years the value to me (as opposed to the value to the arts) had gone down. Do charities that provide gifts or services for a donation face an escalating competitive market of donors bargaining for more personal gain with each dollar they donate to charity? If I ask "what's in it for me?", should that disqualify it as a charitable donation? Hmmm.

Original message

Their original email appeal to me was very nice. It wasn't smarmy and it didn't say I'd be a putz if I didn't give more. They were trying to raise $50,000 to meet a challenge grant. "Any amount over $100 would count." They were even classy enough to say, "We certainly understand if you cannot increase your donation. But there other ways you can help us make our goal.." This wasn't a hard sell, it was a very nice appeal.

Here's the email conversation we had...

Sent: Thursday, November 01, 2001 11:17 AM
From: Jim Schrempp
To: 'xxxxx'
Subject: RE: An appeal from Montalvo

Hi xxxx,

Thanks for the note. I'll consider upping my donation - it's sitting on my desk now.

One note. I've bought tickets for years, and I think I always donated at the $100 level. Not much, but my way of saying "good job". It also helped that the donation got me early access to tickets. That made me want to donate the hundred bucks.

A couple of years ago I noticed that the tickets I got were noticeably further back and off center than they used to be. Hmmmm. I was still sending in my order as soon as I got the program. What could it be? Then last year I finally realized that the "good" seats were going to those who donated $5,000 or more because they get access to tickets even earlier.

Since I'm not a new economy millionaire (yet) I know that the good seats are now out of my reach. Even if I were to donate $5,000 (which is way more than I would) those other guys would just up the ante to $10,000.

I know how these things go. If I were you I'd give better access to those who donate more. Still, it makes me think there's really no perk for donating $100 anymore. Certainly there's no perk to donating more than $100 until I want to compete at the big boys level. It's just a sad, melancholy yearning for those days when I could get some perk for donating a small amount.



p.s. I've seen Bill Murphy talk before and was lukewarm to his style. I was at the first concert after Sept 11 where he made some opening remarks and I have to say that he did a tremendous job. Excellent message, flawless style, emotive linking with the audience. I wish our president could do as good a job speaking in public.


Montalvo answers my email:

Sent: Friday, November 02, 2001 1:34 PM
From: xxxx [mailto:xxxxx@VillaMontalvo.org]
To: Jim Schrempp
Subject: RE: An appeal from Montalvo

Dear Jim,

Thanks for taking the time to write--and thank you for being such a loyal member. Your support has helped us expand into an important source of the arts for our communities. As you know, besides the Performing Arts, you have helped us bring the arts to more than 12,000 school children each year, institute a new and successful Literary Arts Series, and start off on our exciting new Artist Residency complex.

As our membership has expanded, a number of our long-time members have shared your experience. I don't want to be Pollyanna-ish, but since our theatres are so small, even a back seat is closer than most venues in the area. And as a member, you do get better tickets than the general public.

If you do decide to increase your membership to the Producer level with a donation of $175, you will be moving up in the ticket buying process. You will order your tickets a week earlier than more than half of our membership. The only members who order earlier donate at least $1000.

We know that most people cannot afford to donate at such high levels, but to be honest, these large gifts are very important to our well-being as a nonprofit arts center.

As Membership Manager, one of my most important responsibilities is to listen to our member's concerns. I am afraid that I can't tell you that things will improve, although we are trying to address this issue. Please feel free to contact me at any time if you have more questions. My phone is 408-xxx-xxxx.

Again, thank you for all of your support.



The story ends...

Sent: Friday, November 02, 2001 11:17 AM
From: Jim Schrempp
To: 'xxxxx'
Subject: RE: An appeal from Montalvo

Ok. Nice response. I sent in $200. Thanks for keeping Montalvo going.




Jim Schrempp is a sometimes freelance writer (only Vanity Press will publish his work) living in Saratoga, California. His writings have appeared on numerous pages on his own web site. The opinions expressed in this piece are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent those of anyone else (although Jim wishes more people shared his opinions)