Ahhh… I created this blog to write about what I see in the world around me and, obviously, to write about my view on those things in the world around me. Though I haven’t written too much about it on the blog (yet), I’ve really lightened up over the last few years. For a variety of reasons, I’m a much happier person than I might have been even a few years ago and along with that happiness comes a much decreased inclination to judge things around me and get angry at the stupidity that sometimes shows its ugly face.
Now, with that as a base for this entry I am compelled to note that I’m not “mad” at the events below. Not at all. In fact, if anything I pity the people who are in charge of increasing the fundraising outcomes of the institution involved in the story. Read on and find out what I’m talking about…
A few weeks ago I was invited to attend a special reception for a local organization where I choose to donate a few dollars each year. The reception was organized and hosted by a select fundraising team within that organization (which is separate and apart from the full fundraising team that raises money for this institution). I’m blessed to be fortunate enough where I can donate a few bucks each year to several of my favorite charitable causes so I know the deal at these receptions – you go there, the hosting organization does what it needs to do to make you feel welcome and like you’re one of the team, eventually a professional fundraiser comes around and makes either a hard or a soft ask (i.e. they ask for a donation), and then you reciprocate their kindness for hosting the event with a check or commitment for a future check.
Any professional fundraiser out there can tell you that this is the standard sequence of interactions (boiled down to a very simplistic nature) at one of these events. The donors know it going into it, the fundraising team at the organization plans for it, and everyone representing the organization should be prepared to play their part.
Well, apparently this sequence wasn’t so standard at the event that I attend a few weeks ago. One of the first things that I noticed when I arrived was that there were a great deal of people who worked for the organization at the event. At first glance, one might wonder what’s going on, but this is also part of the basics of fundraising. If you’re hosting a fundraising event on your home turf, then you bring out the entire team to meet and mingle with the donors. This organization had a big number of its staff available to talk to the donors when they arrived. Speaking of the donors (and guests of donors, which is another common tactic to grow a donor base – inviting the friends of donors), I noticed that there were probably 15 – 20 donors milling around mostly talking to one another. I didn’t think anything of it since I was just walking in the door.
After getting a table for my buddy and I to sit down at, we went and got a drink and some food to pick at while we sat down. Some five or ten minutes went by and I started talking to my buddy about the fact that it was weird no one had come up and spoken to us yet. In reality, we hadn’t been made to feel welcome since we arrived. Not only were the front doors of this particular building locked (weird), but the young hostess who was supposed to say hello to the people who were walking into the event was busy tapping away on her cell phone when we walked in. Then after we put our jackets down and all through the time we got some food and a drink, no one spoke to us. So after those ten minutes went by, I began looking around with a more critical, fundraiser’s eye.
The first thing that I noticed was the same first thing that I noticed when I walked in – there were a lot of employees for this organization milling around. However, now that some time had gone by, most of the organization’s employees had gotten themselves some food and sat down to eat – with one another. The donors were sitting by themselves (having a good time, by the way) just like my buddy and I were while the organization’s employees (who outnumbered the donors perhaps 2-to-1) were sitting by themselves (equally having a good time). On the surface, the event looked like a lot of fun! People were hanging out, having a drink, chit chatting, etc. But looking at this event through a fundraiser’s eye was scary.
Another five or so minutes went by and one of the organization’s newer employees walked over to the table where my buddy and I were sitting. Without getting too much into the conversation (since I’m obviously trying to hide the nature of the organization as well as the type of event that this was), this employee made a very good impression on my buddy and I. The employee was well-spoken and when they asked for our (non-monetary) support, my buddy and I knew that it was an earnest ask. After this employee moved on, I thought that maybe I was wrong in beginning to judge the inability of this organization to operate a proper, special event fundraiser because this person gave the perfect set up for one of the professional fundraisers to come over and talk to me about giving to the cause.
But that personal, one-on-one follow-up never came.
Oh sure, I saw the head of the fundraising department walking around as well as the head of this special unit walking around – neither of them talking to most of the 15 to 20 donors (and about as many friends and relatives) who attended the event. It was shocking, really. Again, without going into too much detail believe me when I say that this is an organization that has a great deal of experience in fundraising and I’ve seen them throw phenomenal special events in the past. But this event a few weeks ago did not put their best foot forward at all.
My takeaways from this special event were: 1) the organization’s employees must have seen this as an opportunity to get free food and drink without having to work (i.e. socialize and sell the product) for it, 2) the organization didn’t really care enough for me to continue increasing my donation each year since I wasn’t spoken to by anyone whose job it was to raise money, and 3) the new employee who talked to my buddy and I showed just how out of touch the organization’s long-time employees are with the hard work of raising money and building support.
Coming out of this event, I re-evaluated my budget for the rest of 2012. Back when I created my budget last year, I planned to donate a few additional dollars to this organization in 2012. However, I was so turned off by the way the organization’s huge number of employees preferred to socialize with one another while eating the food and drinking the drinks that were there for the donors, that I rolled back the amount of money I was going to donate to its 2011 level. In fact, the more that I think about how poorly operated the fundraising portion of the event was (especially since there were a variety of high-level people walking around also doing nothing but eating and socializing with each other), I’m considering rolling back my donation even further.
Like I wrote above, there are several organizations where I choose to donate my money. And look, I don’t expect to have an organization kiss my ass because I cut them a check – that’s not why I donate. However, I wouldn’t mind having a fundraiser come and shake my hand and “dance the dance” with me. I serve on the Board of several nonprofit organizations and – in my nonprofits – I would never tolerate the type of organizational gluttony and lack of focus that I saw a few weeks ago. Frankly, it was so off-putting that I would have fired a few people (yes, more than one) by now.
But, I’m not in charge of the organization who hosted the event nor do I want to be. I’m just an aware, cognizant donor who understands the value of the dollars that I choose to invest in nonprofit organizations. I have a variety of similar special events coming up in the next few months. It’ll be interesting to see which of those nonprofits can keep their house in order during the special events and play the game with the donors the way that it is supposed to be played. Sure, I don’t salivate over the prospect of someone asking me for money at one of these events, but I do expect that my prior contributions will be respected enough for someone to at least consider asking me for a future donation.
It’s Fundraising 101.