Save a Nickel, Lose a Dollar
At what point will the charity watchdogs and, more importantly, the general population, understand that “not for profit” does not equate to “for free?” What can we all be doing to help people understand that, like any job, nonprofit organizations want to pay their staff a fair wage with benefits and provide a decent place to work. That good work deserves to be rewarded. And that it’s tough to retain staff when the corporate world is willing to pay talent more than a nonprofit can afford without being accused of greed.
One of my earliest employers taught me the phrase, “save a nickel, lose a dollar.” Also, “pick your battles.” The company did beautiful work, had lots of repeat business, moved into a better workspace and grew the staff.
This is how I view the current situation with nonprofits and watchdogs. The focus is wrong. For example, the recent report from (the relentless) CBS News that Fred and Diane Kane, who have actively supported Wounded Warrior Project over the years with a large golf tournament, are stopping the tournament, and claim to speak for all the seniors over 65 sending $19 a month. And now they’re focusing on “trying to see change there.” I’m infuriated by the arrogance of their statements and how much damage they are actually causing the people they claim to be helping. Because what it really boils down to is a few dollars.
By no means am I minimizing waste or mismanagement in any organization, nonprofit or otherwise. But I am suggesting that a large part of the current battle between nonprofits and watchdogs comes down to trying to save a nickel and losing many dollars in the process. Using the example of trying to protect a senior donating $19 a month, what is the complaint? That $14 (my estimate) of the $19 is going to programs and not $18.50? No matter that it allows Wounded Warrior Project to offer more programs for wounded veterans than any other group out there, including our own government.
When everyone is done tearing down progressive nonprofits for running their organizations like a business, throwing an occasional perk to employees, and investing to grow their programs, staff and fundraising, who will be left to do the job of caring for our veterans, our homeless, our hungry children? They can’t have it both ways—trying to cut government spending on programs while pretending to understand how fundraising works, and creating more obstacles for upstanding nonprofits to fight through (which of course costs them even more money).
When I attended the National Association of Attorneys General annual nonprofit meeting last fall, it was frightening to hear how many scams are popping up pretending to be nonprofits or nonprofit fundraisers. The Internet makes those scams easy now. Why are the watchdogs not hunting more aggressively to expose them and shut them down?
I get it. The system needs to be overhauled. But right now, it’s scaring off people, like my dad, who are core donors for so many nonprofits. He’s one of the smartest, most well-read people I know. But he’s also Mr. Consumer Reports. And he donates. So when he’s looking for information about nonprofits, guess where he turns. I’ve tried to explain to him the problems with ratings. His response: “I don’t have time to try and figure all that out. I just need something to go by, and so this works.”
But we all know that it really doesn’t.