Corrections or additions?
This article by Kathleen McGinn Spring was prepared for the March
17, 2004 issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Donors & Charities: Mutual Self-Interest
Strangely, morality may be impeding charitable giving. "The old school
is altruistic giving," says partnership marketing consultant Dana
Lichtstrahl. "You give and you receive nothing." That is the
traditional attitude on the corporate side. Meanwhile, non-profits
want donors to give solely because they believe in the organization’s
She says that in clinging to these attitudes corporations and
non-profits alike are short-changing themselves.
Lichtstrahl has seen charitable giving from both sides of the fence.
As director of marketing for U.S. Trust’s New Jersey operations for
five years she spent considerable time identifying and working with
the non-profits to which the company made grants.
A Princeton native, she came to marketing by way of television. After
majoring in studio arts and communications at the University of
Maryland (Class of 1974), she worked in television in the Washington,
D.C., area as both an artist and a writer. "For a couple of years I
worked at Channel 13 in Baltimore," she recounts. "I worked with Oprah
Winfrey. She was hosting a show called People Are Talking." That was
in the early 1980s, before Winfrey was summoned to Chicago for a job
interview that launched her into the highest orbits of celebrity fame
And what is Winfrey really like?
"Lovely," is Lichtstrahl’s answer. She offers no further details, and
it is impossible to tell whether or not she is just being discrete, an
essential trait in a successful consultant.
Toward the end of her career in television, Lichtstrahl began
gravitating toward marketing. When she moved back to Princeton, in
1989, she was busy raising a young son, who was soon joined by a baby
brother. During that time, she started an organizational consulting
company, and worked with businesses and individuals on getting their
acts together so that they could move ahead efficiently.
"People put way too much on their to-do lists," she says. "They put
down 25 items instead of three."
Moving from consulting into a full-time job, she joined U.S. Trust
toward the end of the 1990s. Three years later, the company was taken
over by Charles Schwab, and two years after that its New York and New
Jersey operations were consolidated.
Lichtstrahl was out of a job, and considered looking for another one.
She hesitated, though, because the part of the U.S. Trust job she had
enjoyed the most involved charitable giving, and she had seen how both
sides were missing opportunities. She thought she glimpsed "the next
philanthropy frontier" and was eager to test her hypothesis in her own
She spoke with Stan Katz, noted expert on philanthropy and faculty
chair at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School. She asked him
if she was wrong to posit that corporations and non-profits should
prosper together by weaving partnerships based on mutual self
interest. Was her idea of the next frontier of philanthropy off base?
"You’re right on the money!" was Katz’s reply.
With that encouragement, Lichtstrahl launched her business, Dana
Lichtstrahl LLC, which operates from an office in her Princeton home.
Most of her biggest clients use her for marketing services, but she is
excited about the concept of partnership marketing, and hopes that
interest in forging relationships between corporations and non-profits
At U.S. Trust, she saw that "non-profits didn’t know how to romance
the corporate stone." The non-profits have been using the same
approach for 25 years, she says. She characterizes it as "the take."
Typically, a non-profit, on its knees, with hat in hand, solicits
$1,000, or $40,000, or $3 million to fund a project. The return for
the corporation, if any, generally consists of its name on a gala
program or, for bigger gifts, its name on a plaque.
Wrong, says Lichtstrahl. All wrong. Ask not what the corporation can
give to you, but rather ask what you can give to the corporation.
"Non-profits have no idea how much they have to offer!" she exclaims.
The smallest non-profit has it in its power to boost employee morale,
build customer loyalty, create positive buzz, and, yes, add revenue –
substantial revenue – to the corporation’s bottom line.
All of this sounds a bit ambitious. How would it actually work? What
does an animal rescue group, for example, have to offer to, say, a
bank? Lichtstrahl hesitates not one second.
"First, the rescue group could canvas its board and volunteers and
find out if anyone knows a photographer," she says. Then, fabulous
photos of adorable kittens and noble hounds could be hung in the
bank’s branch offices. Customers would find a delightful distraction
from the inevitable wait in line, and employees would have something
different to look at. Customer satisfaction could increase as could
employee morale, especially if employees were encouraged to get
involved in the cause.
Over time, the bank, differentiating itself as the sponsor of the
animal rescue organization, could win new customers. Perhaps it would
even be chosen to finance a new shelter or to manage the estate needs
of members of the non-profit’s board.
Meanwhile, the animal rescue organization would be benefiting from
direct donations from the bank. In all likelihood it would also be
drawing donations – and pet adoptions – from the bank’s customers. And
it would raise its profile in the community.
Win/win. That’s the model that Lichtstrahl is advocating.
In another example, she talks about how U.S. Trust increased its
revenue through a philanthropic partnership with the New Jersey
Symphony Orchestra. The bank formed a group of substantial donors into
Amadeus Circle, where they enjoyed special events and were given
gifts. "For those who had given for five years," Lichtstrahl says,
"we’d purchase gorgeous books on the musical arts." The company name,
along with that of the orchestra, appeared on a book plate inside the
"New clients, and revenue, that’s the bottom line," says Lichtstrahl.
This would seem to be a soft sell in a country where promotion,
cross-promotion, and cross-cross-promotion are inescapable facts of
daily life. (Think about the ads on your movie popcorn bag, the plug
for cell phones and Realtors that appear on screen before the film
rolls, and the Coke swilled by all the actors.) But, when it comes to
philanthropy, corporations suddenly become shy about reaping benefits,
and non-profits become balky about promoting the interests of their
Seeking to introduce a new paradigm, Lichtstrahl tells her corporate
clients, "You want to give money, but you want something in return.
That’s okay. You have permission. It’s old school to give and receive
nothing." The message for non-profits is much the same. It is not
wrong to promote the interests of a bank or a pharmaceutical or a
corner grocery store.
"It’s creating community," says Lichtstrahl. That, in her view, is the
For non-profits, partnerships can also be salvation in an increasingly
difficult corporate giving environment. Here is Lichtstrahl’s advice
for non-profits willing to explore this option:
Cast a wide net. Don’t just focus on the largest, most visible
companies. Look at even the smallest businesses. As an example, she
says that a small theater company might approach a local dry cleaner,
offering to exchange tickets for the expense of dry cleaning costumes.
The benefit to the dry cleaner could be the opportunity to win
customers, or increase customer loyalty, through ticket giveaways or
In addition to marquis companies and local retailers, there are entire
industry segments that most non-profits overlook. The list Lichtstrahl
has composed includes communications, finance, food service, law,
printing, R&D, telecommunications, and transportation.
Conduct due diligence. Research any target company. Use the Internet,
annual reports, newspaper business sections, company newsletters, and
business guides, but don’t stop there. The most effective networking
has a personal component. A believer in the six degrees of separation
theory of universal attachment, Lichtstrahl says that someone in your
organization almost certainly knows someone who knows someone in your
After discovering a good match between the goals and interests of your
non-profit and a target company, and articulating just what you can
offer that company, try for a personal introduction to a decision
Face-to-face. This is where the rubber meets the road and great things
happen. Spend 80 percent of your time talking to people face-to-face.
Lichtstrahl talks about the irreplaceable power of a committed
personality when she credits U.S. Trust’s involvement with Homefront
to a talk that Connie Mercer, its director, gave to the bank’s
employees. The result of Mercer’s visit was years and years of
enthusiastic participation by a large number of employees in every one
of Homefront’s annual fundraisers.
The partnership relationship. As you meet people and they refer you to
others, create a relationship by being concerned about their needs.
Imagine what you can do to support them. Discover your value, and
bring it to the table.
Take your passion on the road. Think of this as personal relationship
building. Inspire others with your excitement about your non-profit’s
Dana Lichtstrahl, 59 Moran Avenue, Princeton 08542. 609-915-1999.
– Kathleen McGinn Spring
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