The Ask

The Ask

If you’re not afraid to ask for money, says nonprofit fundraising guru Kim Klein, then you weren’t born in this country or you’re a child. The taboo against talking about money, much less asking for it, has survived even as all other taboos have fallen. But another strong cultural norm in this country is that of giving money. Because our government funds so few human needs, individuals are asked over and over again to give. Because there is no officially state-supported religion, religious traditions instill the habit of giving, and religious organizations provide a wide range of social and educational services. Americans are asked to dig deep, and despite the recession, they are still giving, albeit in smaller amounts.

If you don’t ask, you won’t get, is another fundraising axiom. The corollary is that if you don’t give, you can’t ask.

Dissent has its own culture of asking and giving. For founder Irving Howe, asking was so distasteful that he insisted on sending out a fundraising letter only every two years. Still, he and his friends gave and gave often. An early letter to the board listed the dollar amounts he and other founding editors were giving and challenged the rest of the board to ante up if they wanted the project to continue. Self-tithing, we called it, for the left must tax itself if it is to remain independent and alive.

Whenever I tell a fundraiser or nonprofit executive about our fundraising schedule, the person gapes first, then announces, “You have to ask more often.” As one said, “Think about how many times a month you’re asked to save the environment.”

Fear not, Dissent reader. Your mailbox will not fill up with address labels and note cards bearing our logo. Still, we face the same dilemmas all print journals face and then some. If we are to survive, we have to get over our reticence.

And so it was that in mid-May we ventured into that peculiar institution, the fundraising house party, where readers and their friends were invited to hear Michael Walzer speak and then contribute to the magazine. What we learned showed us a lot about the interplay of the Left, the culture of asking, and the culture of giving. For our readers and people who should be our readers, dissenting is deeply connected to giving.

“Don’t touch the third rail,” one person warned us. By that she meant the hot-button items of left politics: Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, Israel, torture photos, prosecution of the previous administration for its torture policies. But of course, it was impossible. At the first event, we got a taste of what was to come: “Do you really think there’s a Left in this country?” “Your ‘left internationalism’ is too close to imperialist intervention.” “What do you think Israel should do given Iran’s nuclear capability?” “Isn’t it time to give up on a two-state solution?” “Why are you so pessimistic when Obama’s election open...

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