Six of us sat in the car Saturday night, sorting through a bagful of odd items: a calendar from a local bank, a piece of cardboard, a small length of green tubing like you see in hospitals, coupons for car repairs, pictures of flag signal codes, pieces of paper with different puzzles. Small envelopes, to be opened only in an emergency, rounded out the items.

Using these "clues," we drove from one location to the next, scrambling to make good time solving the puzzle at each site. Along the way, we laughed and teased each other and had a marvelous time.We were raising money to buy hospital equipment. For the second year, LDS Hospital's Deseret Foundation had put together this unique fundraiser: A treasure hunt without a prize, where the players pay for the privilege of solving puzzles and, in doing so, raise money for equipment and needed services at the hospital.

In the treasure hunt, everyone wins, from the patient who needs the machine the hunt buys, to the more than 300 people who turn out for the event.

It started me thinking about fund-raising events.

During the last legislative session, organizations concerned with the issues and programs of the aged, the poor, the homeless, the retarded, the mentally ill, the disabled, and the displaced were warned repeatedly to look for creative ways to fund programs, because the burden on the state has grown too great. Money supplied by taxes cannot cover the multitude of needs that exist.

Consequently, programs have been compressed, squeezed, hacked up and annihilated as lawmakers and program directors try to spread an ever-smaller dab of jam on a growing slice of bread.

It must sometimes seem as futile as filling a swimming pool with a paper cup.

During the past two years, I have heard a number of conversations about benefits, from the people who try to run successful campaigns to those who find hundreds of bits of "junk" mail in their boxes every year.

"People just aren't giving as much," a friend told me recently. And it is a fact that many groups seem to be making less than in previous years. Even the treasure hunt had a smaller response.

But I don't think it's a matter of people giving less. Generosity doesn't seem to be fading out. Money is tighter and more people are giving time or services instead of cash.

Even more significant is the continous increase in the number of groups competing for donations and public approval.

Every month, new non-profit organizations are formed, and they enter into direct competition for their slice of the "charity pie." While the number of groups keeps growing, the pie remains relatively static.

So in fund-raising, little things make a big difference. I have to believe in a cause to give money. I think that's true of most people.

But making it easier for me helps, too. When I get an appeal in the mail and all I have to do is send a check in a pre-addressed, postage-paid envelope, I'm more apt to do. It sounds stupid, and it probably is. It's not a matter of saying to myself, "I don't think I'll take the time to address this envelope and get out a stamp." It's just that I don't get around to doing it. Keep it simple, and people follow through.

An even surer way to get a positive response is to engage people's fancies. I think the programs that will flourish are going to be those that intrigue and involve people. Creativity can equal big bucks.

When I was a kid, one of the youth groups I belonged to used to "beg an egg, sell an egg." We'd go out in teams of two or three, beg an egg at one house and sell it at the next.

Nobody refused us because our request was simple, small, and unusual. Donating an egg is no big deal. And for a good cause, people were happy to pay a little bit for that egg. Those dimes, quarters, and dollars added up fast.

It's like the treasure hunt. I believe in causes like helping to buy medical equipment. But I believe in a great number of programs that are funded by benefits. So I have to make some hard decisions about where my contributions go.

Throw in a wild, exciting, and mentally stimulating evening, though, and you've got me. And my money.

Creative fund-raising will prove to be the cornerstone of funding for human-needs programs in the future.