Starving Organizations: A Fundraising Crisis
Last week, in its blog, Stanford Social Media Review posted an article called “The Charity Trap.” The author wrote, “It seems to me that we need to make a choice. We should either expect an organization … to serve only a Band-Aid function, or we should allow it to build an organization that can grow and adapt to create longer-term change…. If we want charities to pivot, iterate, and adapt, and to have meaningful long-term systemic impact, we need to remove the handcuffs.”
I know—I’m preaching to the choir. But here’s a challenge: The next time you are asked to raise more for less expense and/or effort (or even the same with less), look at that challenge realistically. If you can do it, great. But don’t forget to look at the cost of lost opportunities. For example, moving a proven fundraising program online will definitely save money. But will it deliver the same net income? Sometimes the answer is yes, but often it’s no. Bringing in a new person rather than raise a person’s salary to match another offer may make sense, but what is the cost of recruiting and training? How much momentum will you lose with major donors who have a relationship with that person? What will not happen while that position is vacant? Can you really afford that?
This old dog has been in the business of fundraising for nearly 36 years, but there’s one thing I have never heard about—a nonprofit organization that was going out of business because it accomplished the mission it had set out to complete. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if that happened? Then all the talented, smart, empowered people who helped make that a reality could go help other nonprofits do the same. We’d all still have jobs—there’s plenty to be done—but we’d be enabling more and more nonprofit organizations to experience the joy of saying, “We did it! We fulfilled our mission.”
OK, maybe that’s unrealistic. In fact, it is unrealistic if we keep refusing to invest in the testing, people and processes that can make success possible. We have huge problems to solve. But, that means we need healthy and high-functioning fundraising programs, not ones that are slowly starving to death because of unrealistic expectations of what it costs to raise enough money to make a real, lasting and measurable difference.
Pamela Barden is an independent fundraising consultant focused on direct response. You can read more of her fundraising columns here.