If They Only Knew …
As someone who’s linked to the nonprofit sector, it’s disheartening to see posts on social media warning the public about organizations that are scandalously mismanaged. You know, the ones whose executive directors use donated dollars to fund champagne-fueled romps in exotic locales where they eat caviar off the backs of starving children.
Exaggerated? Of course. But not by much. I’m often reminded of the time I came across a message board where someone had used quotes I reported in a 2004 article to support his belief that fundraising is a scam that relies on people’s gullibility to support its internal abuses. Here’s the offending quote, which came from Vaneeda Bennett, chief development officer (now chief revenue officer) at the American Diabetes Association: “If you don’t make X number of calls, you’re not going to get results. If you don’t have X number of prospects, you’re not going to reach your goal.”
The complainer used the quote to try and paint Vaneeda and her staff as manipulative tricksters whose sole purpose in life is to separate good people from their money. Did he fail to mention the life-saving work ADA does? Of course. Did he cherry-pick certain parts of the story and try to change their meaning by wrapping them up in his own biases? Indeed. But he also found an audience and garnered dozens of supportive responses — most seemingly based on a general belief that nonprofits should somehow do the work they do without support from the public, and that angels should descend from the heavens to feed the hungry, house the homeless, save abused children and animals, make art available to the masses, teach people to read, etc. (Fundraisers, of course, know that those angels do exist. They’re called donors.)
Stuff like this breaks my heart, so I can only imagine how it feels to actually be a nonprofit fundraiser and read it. And these misguided notions pain me most when we are knee-deep in nominations for our annual Fundraising Professionals of the Year Awards. That’s because as we agonize over which nominees will be acknowledged here for their work, I continue to be amazed and humbled. Fundraisers, on the whole, are dedicated, passionate and tireless advocates of the causes they champion and of the greater good. The overwhelming majority are meticulously ethical and completely undeserving of the shadow that hangs darkly over their profession. But the bad rap persists, usually based on misinformation or at least a misunderstanding of solid information. Or, unfortunately, on news around the few bad apples. (Why is it that in a situation that is one part negative to 1,000 parts positive, human nature tends to give more credence to the negative?) Or on a single bad experience like a thank-you that never came or a question that went unanswered.