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An Important TED Talk on How We Think About Charity


Major gift fundraising is all about connection. Commitment is important, but it has to be the kind of commitment that leads to connection. In Seth Godin’s blog he talks about a different kind of commitment, but the same kind of connection that we are looking for. From Seth’s blog:


Marketers want commitment. They want the big finish, the closed sale, the new customer. Buy Now!

The goal then is to create tension, to escalate need, to amplify conflict until action is taken. Escalation causes us to commit to our original need, by reinforcing it.

It goes beyond the retail store, of course… it’s deep within our culture. Noir novels show the hero goading the guy in the bar until a small dispute escalates into a beat down. Movies create drama (and entertainment) by escalating the small-time heist into the next world war. And commercials, retailers and demagogues take every opportunity to find the smallest thread of disclocation and amplify it into real commitment to action.

But what happens when we do the opposite? If we think about connection instead of power, if we think about abundance instead of scarcity, we can turn this on its head. …

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Fifty Shades of Fundraising

I had a conversation with an Executive of a not-for-profit recently. She shared with me the same fantasy I have heard over and over. It is as realistic as meeting the controlling billionaire, Christian Grey, and having him swoop in to take her home, to take her places she has never been, to support her and lavish her with extravagant gifts, and oh yes, provide full funding for her charity.

The Executive Director’s fantasy is to hire a fundraiser who will use his own contacts to bring donors to her not-for-profit, and she will compensate him with a percentage of funds brought in. This is a common fantasy from Directors who are overwhelmed and under-supported by their boards. It entails no extra work for the Executive and keeps her from having to make waves with her board, or to teach them about one of the fundamental responsibilities of a not-for-profit board member.

Board members for charities are recruited for a variety of reasons, particular at start-up. There may be skills needed, such as a good accountant or lawyer, or there may be particular connections related to the industry as in the case of a start-up theater. In this day and age, one attribute some foundations look for before they will fund an organization is a diverse board, and so board members are recruited for that purpose.

So there are many reasons to recruit board members and there are many important jobs for volunteers to be doing to support the organization, but none is as important as fundraising. Without funds, few organizations will exist. In its simplest, and yes I will admit crudest form, the command to raise funds by volunteer leadership is to “give, get, or get out of the way.” In other words, make a quality gift to the charity, help secure other quality gifts, or resign and make room on the board for someone who is willing to do that critical work for the charity.

Still, board members want the honor of sitting on boards without doing the work. Directors want funding without teaching their board members about their responsibilities and how to honorably fulfill them. However, once you realize that you are not going to be rescued by a thirty-something self-made billionaire with issues, you need to either do what needs to be done, or hire someone to lead your board in doing it.