I follow a LinkedIn group sponsored by the Chronicle of Philanthropy. A recent discussion started by Gary Ravetto, a nonprofit strategist from Cleveland Ohio raised the following issue: “We are a bunch of beggars, I was told tonight……[by someone who] doesn’t work in the nonprofit sector. His exact words were, “I’ve been reading you and the others who are with those charities. You work pretty hard at ignoring the obvious. You are a bunch of beggars. You people always have your hand out whining about how you need more money. I’m for shutting all of you down so you’ll stop pestering the rest of us who make a living the hard way.”
Well, that told Gary and all those other whiny fundraisers!!
Fundraising is a difficult task. Fundraisers constantly toe the line between being statesman-like representatives of their organizations and ” persuasive salespeople”. Friend-raising, fundraising, the line is often blurred. And board members who find themselves placed in the position of “softening up prospects” often have the hardest jobs of all – they DO tend to see themselves as beggars and desperately want to avoid becoming the cocktail party pariah, the one whom everyone else wants to avoid because of a perception that they are picking pockets. In their mind’s eye, they end up ranking right up there with life insurance and used car sales people. What a life!
But step back a minute. The not-for-profit sector is huge. What rings true for me may not ring true for you, but that’s okay. There are plenty of religious, social, international, animal-rights, civil rights, sports, cultural, educational, etc., etc., etc. groups around to spark philanthropic interest in just about anyone’s mind (except maybe Gary’s “beggar-epithet” throwing correspondent noted above.) When viewed in that light, one cannot help but drop the beggar tagline and begin to realize that (1) fundraising is necessary (and not a necessary evil) because (2) the government can’t or won’t do it all and (3) people need to feel part of the solution to the problem.
Most of the responses to Gary’s post were very interesting, but I want to share one with you that especially quantifies the importance of the work done in not-for-profit sector. John Biggins, a fundraising consultant in the Chicago area, offered the following response to the Machiavellian correspondent:
“You can’t combat ignorance. For all of us who proudly work in this field and witness the impact on a day-to-day basis on humanity, Peter Drucker’s quote always resonates with me: ‘Fundraising is going around with a begging bowl, asking for money because the need is so great. Fund development is creating a constituency which supports the organization because it deserves it.’
Since community impact and serving his fellow citizen does not seem to have much value in his shallow mind, perhaps economic impact may counter his weak observation. Let’s take a look at what would happen to the economy if he had his wish of ‘shutting us down’:
-Nonprofits employ 10% of the nation’s private workers
-Nonprofits represent $800 billion in annual purchasing power
-Nonprofit expenditures account for 8.5% of national income
-Nonprofit sector is the 3rd largest contributor to the U.S. GDP, after retail trade and wholesale trade
-Donations alone accounts for 2.2% of the nation’s GDP
I’d say to him careful for what you wish for…”
So I restate the question – Is fundraising (or fund development in the parlance of Peter Drucker) akin to begging? Or is it more like planting seeds with style?