Saturday, 27 October 2012

The Dirty and Untold Realities of Charitable Fundraising

            It is projected that within the next two years over 100,000 non-profit organizations and charities worldwide will fail and cease to exist completely. If that statistic makes you poop yourself a little, it’s because you need to work on controlling your bowels. Otherwise, it’s kind of really terrifying to understand just how many organizations like PARC are going under because of administrational issues. Not surprisingly, the main cause of this trend has to do with the lifeblood of any organization: funding.

            With public-sector financial support rapidly dwindling in Canada and budget cuts galore, the world of sustainability within charities is quickly transforming into a tumultuous sea of tidal challenges and rogue waves ready give your little non-profit and swift and deadly anemia. A tangled bureaucracy full of roadblocks that prevent access to effective fundraising methods can strangle the flow of capital that sustains the work of charitable collectives, preventing the scaling out of these initiatives. Big-name foundations seem to be the only organizations with access to these tools and outsource fundraising, hiring private groups to do the tough stuff on their behalf. I was once a part of this end of the scale, working as a professional fundraiser for a company that shall remain unnamed, and saw the dirty deeds incorporated into the realities of big-name charitable fundraisers. Get this:

1) Fundraising is a stressful, highly competitive and highly pressurizing job.

            So you want to be a professional fundraiser? Interested in raising money for an organization that does ‘good things’? Cool, prepare to rip out every hair in your body.

            Some fundraising organizations proclaim that you will work in a ‘low-pressure’ environment that is ‘not quota-based’ and allows you to ‘be yourself’ while doing your job. I call shenanigans.  Because large charities sign contracts with fundraisers to match a certain monetary goal by an exact deadline, the people who are actually involved with finding the money must meet a daily amount to ensure the company is staying on target. Where I worked, multiple failures to meet that goal put you on probation and/or had you fired. In fact, most new employees didn’t even make it past the first week before either giving up to the pressure or being laid off because they struggled with performance. I found it a minor miracle that I survived three months.

            At the end of the day, big, highly bureaucratized charities aren’t concerned about the well-being of the people who fundraise, which leads to some of the largest turnover in staff and the inability to work on the capacities of those involved.

2) Fundraising is expensive.

            Charities with extra capital to throw around aren’t too common these days. It takes a massive administration with loads of dependable financial support to be able to afford a fundraising organization. Here’s why:

            You are essentially hiring a private, for-profit company to do your fundraising. While you will see the money you invest return with significant inflation in the form of fundraising dollars, it still takes a serious amount to buy into this process. This is why you don’t see street fundraisers in Toronto collecting for organizations like PARC or SKETCH. It just costs too damn much.

            The inaccessibility woven into a system like this is just another reason why the flow of fundraising money is extremely uneven and thrown into massive foundations instead of going to support the community-based little guy.

3) Fundraising is a Business.

            However insurmountable the overhead costs of fundraising with the big guys may be, it’s the complicated system of ‘donorship’ that seals the coffin. Running a charity is a lot like operating a business, and the dismal amount of resources available to a grass-roots organization just don’t add up when competing with a foundation worth millions. Growing your little ‘save the bunny rabbits’ initiative can be hard when it’s being constantly smothered by other powerful animal rights groups who don’t properly reach out when dealing with smaller care providers.

            The misallocation of resources between the big business of dominant charities and smaller, community based factions equates to inadequate support on the lower end. When a small group needs help with raising money, the bureaucracy of their goliath counterparts effectively prevents access to the right tools for the job.

4) Fundraising can be Different.

            Big-name charities aren’t always life-sucking evil mobs as I may have lead readers to believe throughout the course of this post, but somewhere along the way its lost sight of the important parts of the initiative. The success of a community service provider, as I’ve learned, directly relates to its ability to create connections along a wide array of small and big organizations. We shouldn’t be in competition of one another, but instead envisioning a new system that facilitates collaboration and cooperation between all of its members.

Changing the realities of how fundraising is conducted and who is involved will be no short order. The values and morals included in this process must be rearranged and a completely new and radical perspective embraced. But a world where charity is becomes a monopoly just doesn’t seem like a good idea, and this revolution is a necessarily one. So let’s chew on a new stick, because in the end, we’re all in it for the same core reasons....aren’t we?

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