Don’t Let Hillary (or Rudy or Barack or …) Steal Your Donors
For those fundraisers who appreciated that 2006 and 2007 were relatively disaster-free, and therefore were free to pursue funding for their causes without seeing donors abandon them for the victims of a previously unimaginable hurricane or tsunami, let me be the first to tell you that 2008 will be different.
In 2008, a disaster is brewing that will hijack both the majority of the public’s attention and its funding. This Category 1 disaster is not a hurricane, but an election. This year will be all election, all the time — and if you don’t get out front and actually compete with it, Hillary, Rudy and the gang will leave your charitable campaigns in their tracks.
The 2008 presidential campaign will be the costliest in American history. Experts predict that the Democratic and Republican nominees will raise and spend around $1 billion on the presidential campaign alone. Add in all of the other campaigns, from dogcatcher to governor, and the 529s and political-action committees that circumvent campaign finance regulations, and we’re talking about tens of billions of dollars of donor support.
Millions of Americans will support candidates this year with their hard-earned dollars. Some will do it out of civic duty, some will do it because they see it as an investment in our future, and some will do it to serve their own self-interests. However, in almost every case, these people would be better off supporting one of America’s more than 1 million charities, and it is my belief that nonprofit leaders have an obligation to point this out to those considering donating to political campaigns.
It’s not unpatriotic to argue that donors should stop funding candidates and support their local charities instead; it’s common sense and good business. The time to spread the word is today, before all the available money disappears forever in a torrent of noisy campaign commercials. Here are some key points that nonprofit leaders should make to donors:
■ Charities are more efficient than candidates. A charity that spends 25 percent of its budget on administrative costs, fundraising and communications is considered about average in the nonprofit world. The rest is used for achieving its goals. Candidates, however, spend every last dime given to them on overhead, fundraising and
communications. This is the nature of political campaigns. There’s nothing left at the end.
■ Charities are more accountable. State attorneys general, watchdog groups, donors and, to some extent, the IRS, are here to scrutinize the financial practices of every charity in the country to ensure funds are spent appropriately. The speed of political campaigns precludes any serious scrutiny of how the public’s dollars are spent. All we really know is how much they raised and how much they have left. Where the rest went is anyone’s guess.
■ Charities are more effective. Nonprofit groups increasingly have stepped in to provide programs our government once sought to deliver. Because of charities, our veterans are being provided for, our coasts are being protected, hungry children are being fed, diseases are being cured and more animals are safe. Without a doubt, our country is a better place because of charities. Can we really say the same thing about our elected officials?
■ Donors already pay for the candidates through their taxes. From the presidential race down to local mayoral races, most elections are financed with large chunks of government matching funds. Taxpayers already are supporting these elections. Have we paid for a charity yet in the same manner? Not likely. Charity support is being cut nationwide from local, state and federal budgets. But even during the worst of financial crises, as after-school programs and food for the poor are being cut, matching funds for elections are safe because those who benefit from the programs, the elected officials, are the ones who vote on those budgets.
■ Charities won’t flip-flop on their donors. Most people are motivated by one issue, whether it’s the economy, education or reproductive rights, and they select and support candidates who believe as they do on that issue. But how does anyone know that candidates, when elected, will care as much about the issue as they claim to today?
Quite simply, people can’t. But what are the chances that an advocacy charity will make the same flip-flop? Absolutely none. The charity has a record of supporting that issue and makes its living from that continued support. Advocacy groups are not beholden to special interests; they are the special interest. If donors truly care about an issue, the one they can truly trust to work on their behalf is the charity that shares their values.
■ Charities are in it for the long haul. Once the election cycle ends, the losers will go home and the winners will celebrate. Many of the campaign’s issues will go back on the shelf until the next cycle begins.
But for charities, the day after the election will be just another day, a day to do their jobs and to try to make the world a better place.
■ Campaign deductions aren’t tax-deductible. Federal law recognizes a basic principle of economics in its support of charities. Charities provide a public good, and it therefore is in the interest of our society to support them. Accordingly, all donations from people who itemize on their taxes can be deducted. Donations to candidates, however, are not tax-deductible. Supporting a candidate is no different than buying a bottle of wine, except one can predict more readily the results of consuming wine.
The 2008 elections are important, and the candidates undoubtedly will have differing views on vital issues. But the candidates are going to run for election whether Americans support them financially or not. In 2008, charities need to persuade their donors to vote with their ballots, not their checkbooks, and save their money for the entities that can do the most with it — America’s charities. FS