(Crain’s Chicago Business, 22 August 2005)

Ask and ye shall receive? Not necessarily, says Field Museum Chairman Marshall Field V, who’s leading the charge to raise $200 million for capital improvements. Times have changed since he helped John Bryan collect all those $1-million checks for Millennium Park, says Mr. Field, who is also a trustee at the Art Institute of Chicago. Crain’s talked to Mr. Field, 64, about the art of fund raising during a donation drought.

What’s the climate for corporate giving in Chicago these days?
It’s worse than in past years. The museums and colleges all went crazy during the ’90s. You could raise tons of money then because everyone’s stock portfolio was going up so fast they didn’t know what to do with their money. Now, that’s all changed, so for the major institutions, there’s a reduced pile of money. Also, Millennium Park came in and took $150 million out of the market, and a lot of people are still paying that off.

Several prominent Chicago institutions have $100-million-plus capital campaigns going on right now. Is this a problem?
Yes. There are too many big campaigns going after a finite pool of dollars. The other problem is, all the institutions have gone to five-year campaigns. So, somebody just finishes paying out their five-year thing, and wham — there it is again. I think people are getting tired of it.

What’s your fund-raising strategy in this environment?
My strategy is to plug away. It’s just going to take longer and be more frustrating. And I think schools and museums are going to have to cut back on their plans.

Is desperation for dollars prompting organizations to come up with innovative ways of fund raising?
Organizations are trying to make the way they approach plugging away more sophisticated. So, for instance, at the Art Institute, the person who ran development has now been assigned to do nothing but go after big gifts, because that’s what he’s good at. Someone else will be brought in to do the lower gifts development.

What trends are you noticing in corporate giving?
Companies now want their gifts to work for the stockholder — promote the company and its business, almost like special advertising through donations.

How do you make your organization stand out in a sea of causes?
Make friends and bring them into the sphere. All of the big organizations’ boards now are 40-plus people, so they’re not really boards anymore, they’re talent pools, and the work is done at the executive committee level or by other committees. And that’s so potential donors can join the family, if you will.

Does the up-and-coming generation of philanthropists have a different approach to giving than their predecessors?
Younger donors aren’t satisfied with just writing a check. They want to get involved, they want to help the organization with what they feel are their own talents, so it’s a more complicated relationship than it used to be.

Asking for money can be awkward. How can you stand to do so much of it?
I don’t push people hard, unless they’re a board member who isn’t giving. As long as people give to some charity, I don’t fault them for having interests that may not be the same as mine. It’s a numbers game. If I call on a hundred people, 25 are going to give to me and 75 aren’t. So if I get three turndowns, fine — then I’m owed a “yes.”

©2005 by Crain Communications Inc.