The rich are different, Mr. Clark.

There is something irrepressible about TD Bank’s Ed Clark. He wants to give advice in areas beyond a banker’s experience. The other day, he handed in another seriously flawed report to the Ontario government and now he is giving advice to the rich. Being one of the rich himself, he is advising them to be more charitable. While nobody will disagree, the rich are not always the best people to decide where this largess should go.

One of the first things you learn in charitable fund-raising is how there is a broad range of potential donors with just as broad a range of ways to motivate them. While the one per cent can provide some very large gifts and the top ten per cent of earners can give your cause a lift, it is the average wage earners who stay committed to your cause who make the year-after-year difference. And while fads such as a bucket of cold water and ice can produce interesting peaks in fund-raising, the annual signature campaigns (the ones identified with your cause) are what you count on.

But like a garden, these signature campaigns need constant tending, nurturing, pruning and new ideas to keep your cause current and in the public mind.

Some fund-raising experts concentrate their efforts on those one-time generous gifts of the one per cent. It helps if you have a building to name or an important prize to identify. There are egos to be stroked and descendants to be flattered. Despite the urge to just rent out this naming, you really have to wait for a generation to die off before you can tack new names on well known edifices such as Toronto’s SkyDome or O’Keefe Centre.

And thank goodness the one per cent are no longer wasting their money on ostentatious mausoleums. University buildings and named wings on hospitals are really much more practical and appreciated. The largest ever of one of these gifts in Canada to health sciences was announced the other day by the family of the late Ted Rogers. A total gift of $130 million will not do much to burnish the image of the company that bears his name but will go a long way to furthering heart research.

But the big problem is that we do not always make the best choices on what to do with our money. It is ours and we get to do as we wish. For example, Bill Gates is one of the richest people in the world and the foundation he and his wife run concentrates on problems in Africa. What Gates forgets is that a large percentage of that money was made in North America. There is also poverty, hunger, ignorance and needs in North America. While the needs in Africa are dire and have to be addressed, there is still validity to the old adage that charity begins at home.

And while Ed Clark’s advice to his fellow top earners is appreciated and obviously warm hearted, we each need to contribute in those areas where we are comfortable that the money is used properly. Being sceptical and checking carefully always makes sense.

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Copyright 2014 © Peter Lowry

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