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Raising those funds not like it used to be

There was a time when businesses donated money to worthwhile causes merely because they were worthwhile. Companies wanted to be good citizens of the community and charitable donations were part of the deal.

And, in some cases that’s still true. However, there has been a gradual shift over the past decade.

It’s much, much harder these days to raise money for nonprofits than it used to be. The change has been the result, in part, of the astronomical increase in the number of nonprofits chasing corporate contributions.

Years ago, there were a few basic charities that most businesses supported to some degree or other: Heart fund, Diabetes, Cancer Society, United Way, Boy Scouts and the like. In addition to those groups, companies had pet nonprofits that perhaps a senior executive or an owner felt strongly about and those groups got donations also.

My point is that everybody knew the organizations, their board members and the small number of requests made giving everybody a little something doable. Not so today.

Hardly a week passes that I don’t get donation solicitations from some nonprofit or other, and it’s not uncommon to get several requests in one week. Sometimes I have heard of the organization, often I haven’t. Clearly, it’s impossible to support all these groups, or even most of them.

Further, it’s impossible to read all the promotional material that accompanies the request. So, like most executives, I find myself scanning the list of board members and if I don’t see the name of a friend or business associate, I chunk it.

Getting something for giving

Another trend I have noted is the requirement that the donating company get something in return for their contribution. Quietly giving because it’s the right thing to do is a relic of the past.

Now, corporate donors want recognition for their contribution. Lots of recognition.

I don’t know, and wouldn’t presume to guess, whether this shift is the result of our corporate culture becoming increasingly cold and more businesslike or whether it’s the result of frustration at so many requests.

Nonetheless, it’s a different playing field today for those who accept the challenge of raising money for nonprofits.

Why contribute?

Nonprofits define the culture of our communities. Whether they’re civic, health related, educational or offer services to the poor, nonprofits make our communities better places to live.

Companies need to attract a good base of employees, and good employees are attracted to places with good quality of life and better quality of life is what nonprofits bring to the table. So, even if a cold-hearted corporation has no conscience and is strictly in it for the money, they still need to be supportive of nonprofits to keep the community desirable.

In addition to community enhancement, companies need to be aware of their image.

Whether they get specific recognition for their donation or not, most everyone knows whose supporting nonprofits and whose not. I have found that the nonprofit responsibility for a community even as large as Jackson is accepted by fewer than 200 souls. And, those folks know who is not participating, and it reflects poorly on well-known companies who don’t carry their fair share.

Just an observation

This is not meant to be judgmental. Merely an observation that things are not like they were in years gone by. Nonprofits would be well advised to build a recognition piece into their fundraising. Adding a line item for “donor recognition cost” to the budget is painful and diverts funds from the charities’ core function however it’s becoming a reality for those nonprofits that want to remain viable.

Further, attracting a few board members with high community visibility might keep the solicitation letter from heading straight for the scrap heap. There are exceptions to the rule that people give to people; however, the rule is generally true. If I know that a friend, customer, colleague or high visibility community leader is active in a nonprofit. I’m more likely to donate than if I don’t know anybody on the board. Again, I’m not defending or justifying the practice, just admitting that it is reality.

And, finally, and sadly, nonprofits are being forced into recruiting sales people to spearhead their fundraising. Yes, I mean salesmen. Somebody within the organization has got to be committed to fundraising full-time or the nonprofit, regardless of how worthwhile it is, is not going to be able to compete for a reasonable share of charitable dollars.

Thought for the Moment

You can preach a better sermon with your life than with your lips. — Playwright and poet Oliver Goldsmith (1730-1774)

Joe D. Jones, CPA, is publisher of the Mississippi Business Journal. Contact him at cpajones@msbusiness.com.

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