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Reynold Levy has been president of the Lincoln Center since 2002. Prior to being selected for this role, he was president of the International Rescue Committee, an international aid organization,[…]

In the 21st century, contributing to non-profits is quickly becoming our most widespread act of citizenship. The president of Lincoln Center explains his recession-proof approach to getting these donations to his institution.

QuestionIs it much more difficult to raise funds in a recession?

Reynold Levy: You know, actually the prospects for giving are much greater than any single institution can reach, so in this - in the last year with all the concerns about the save the economy, giving decreased by about 5.9%. Now, name me a company that wouldn’t have loved their revenue to be reduced only by 5.9% or show me an endowment fund or a pension fund that wouldn’t have broken out a bottle of champagne if their endowment or pension fund went down by 5.9%.

So, giving in America is habit forming, it’s pretty ubiquitous. Two thirds of the American people give money to charity or volunteer to charity. More people give money to non-profits than vote, even in the last election. In the 21st century an act of citizenship is getting involved in the non-profit sector even more than voting. So, there's enormous willingness to give and capacity to give. We are still even in a recession, the richest country in the world. And so, giving is really a function of intelligent asking and you just have to go about it energetically and resiliently every day.

Question: What expectations should fundraisers be aware of in their donors?

Reynold Levy: Well, corporations, I founded the AT&T Foundation in an earlier part of my career. Corporations have stakeholders, so they’ve got to explain, ultimately, to their share-owners why a gift or a sponsorship benefited the company. So, they're interested in tangible things. How do we improve our brand? How do we use a gift to increase sales? How do we meet government officials? How do we market better? How do we recognize our employees?

Individuals, much easier. They don’t have committees, they don’t have stakeholders. They may have spouses and they may have kids, but they more or less know what they're interested in and what they like and there is a much greater tendency to give philanthropically. Simply to give to the institution because you feel better as a result of doing it. You sleep longer, you live longer and you’re extremely interested in heaven and that’s why you give.

And in all of my career, whether I was at the 92nd Street Y or the International Rescue Committee serving refugees or at Lincoln Center, I have never, ever been involved in a donor who does not thank me. Who does not feel better for having given? It’s like a Peace Corp graduation. I don’t know a single Peace Corp graduate who doesn’t say, “As much as I tried to be helpful when I was in Somalia, my experience gave a lot more to me than I gave to Somalians.” And that’s how donors feel about their giving if they’ve chosen wisely.