Danger: Icky Money Ahead! — When Nonprofit Leaders Won't Ask Volunteers
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Clair is a development officer for a social service charity that enjoys considerable community support but struggles financially — as it always has. When I got off the phone from her I was still trying to think through what she had related to me.
Clair's situation seemed like yet another example of the stereotypical community service organization — lots of heart and good will but no money. You know the type — small, grassroots organization wants to address a pressing human need in the community. It's willing to work hard but finds the finances always a tough go.
As she began relating her concerns and frustrations, I sensed a deeper and much more oblique cause for the group's money woes than the oft-repeated "not enough to go around" cliché.
Clair's worthy nonprofit enjoys a lot of volunteer participation. That's a good thing. Unfortunately, the inward-looking leadership views volunteer service as reducing payroll expense rather than growing community buy-in to the cause.
The organization has a longstanding policy of never asking volunteers for a gift — ever. You read it right.
The reasoning is that these folks have already given "enough." Whatever that is. The twisted logic in this astounds me. However bizarre it may sound, it's just an extreme example of rather common thinking.
Principle 1 of The Eight PrinciplesTM is Donors are the Drivers®. Donors are in the driver's seat in philanthropy. It's not about a nonprofit's "needs." It's about donors' desire to make the world a better place. The way they see it.
Any organization that through the power of its cause can enlist the time of others to help it is already over the hump in fundraising. Hands down.
The really hard work is done. In our affluent society, individuals' time is more valuable to them than their money.
The giving of time demands a higher emotional commitment than giving money. Volunteers want you to succeed. These true believers will be more than happy to provide financial resources if you ask them. They do so at a rate 50 percent higher than non-volunteers and in amounts 50 percent higher than those who don't give their time.
Why would any group so handicap itself with such a policy?
The leadership — senior staff and board — for the most part view money as a necessary evil. The "ick" factor of money is something the leaders just can't seem to get over.
These folks apparently do not understand how individuals with resources view those resources. For this group's leadership, it will always be about "not enough." Sadly, scarcity is the narrative that it continues to repeat.
Well-meaning organizations leave millions of dollars on the table each year, all the while bemoaning their impoverished state.
The facts: Human service and public benefit efforts are second only to religion as charities of choice by donors. Second. That's more than education, the arts, health and the environment. For higher income donors, community benefit can even top religion.
It is the scarcity mind-set that all too often insures these nonprofits' continued financial struggle.
I'm afraid I was more sounding board than counsel to Clair during our call. Changing entrenched mind-sets such as those she described is very, very difficult. Frankly, I wonder if it's possible to right this ship without a leadership change. Clair senses this.
We ended our call with an agreement to circle back in a month. My prediction? Clair will be seeking another job.
There you have it. A real-life example of a qualified development professional stymied to the point of moving on.
And yet, if she does leave, Clair's departure will not motivate the organization's leadership to look inward. It'll continue to cry poor.
What a loss — for the organization and would-be donors. But most of all for those whose lives won't be changed for the better.
I extend my heartfelt thanks to Clair for reaching out.
Let me hear from you. Please share your situation and the challenges you face in developing sustainable revenue streams. Email me (info@TheEightPrinciples.com), and I'll arrange a brief consult providing you with practical guidance. I'll choose some of these thorny obstacles to share, along with my insights, in upcoming columns.
Success is waiting. Go out and achieve it!
Larry believes in the power of relationships and the power of philanthropy to create a better place and transform lives.
Larry is the founder of The Eight Principles. His mission is to give nonprofits and philanthropists alike the opportunity to achieve their shared visions. With more than 25 years of experience in charitable fundraising and philanthropy, Larry knows that financial sustainability and scalability is possible for any nonprofit organization or charitable cause and is dependent on neither size nor resources but instead with the commitment to create a shared vision.
Larry is the author of the award-wining book, "The Eight Principles of Sustainable Fundraising." He is the Association of Fundraising Professionals' 2010 Outstanding Development Executive and has ranked in the Top 15 Fundraising Consultants in the United States by the Wall Street Business Network.
Larry is the creator of the revolutionary online fundraising training platform, The Oracle League.
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