Most of us give money to worthy causes, whether to fund medical research, sports, culture or a public institution. We care how much of our money goes to the programs we support versus the administration and fundraising effort. The Canadian Cancer Society is under scrutiny for the increasing proportion of its revenues going to fundraising. They are hardly alone in this.
Like sales, fundraising is the art of drawing public attention. It can become an area of competition if charities have to resort to more and more expensive methods to outdo each other. While some may applaud this kind of free market thinking, to me, it results in a lot of waste. We need to move away from thinking of fundraising as "sales" and move towards encouraging people to a life long involvement in the public good.
When you think about how to fundraise, what comes first to mind? Do you think about bake sales, marathons and gala balls? Think again. Events are good for making a splash or raising awareness, but they are more "funraising" than fundraising. Most of a charity's funding comes from committed people making a direct gift. The public events have their place, but they are the icing not the cake.
"I don't want your money. I want your time."
That was a colleague of mine's approach to funding an urban renewal project. He knew that if he could get people involved in the work, get them to see the change that was possible, get them to be a part of it instead of just opening their wallets, that he could spend less time on fundraising and more time on doing the work.
How can I help?
Charities didn't create this situation. They are reacting to the fact that it is increasingly difficult to get people willing to commit themselves to a cause, even when they believe in it. People will respond generously to a crisis (think about the public response to recent natural disasters), but fewer and fewer are ready to measure their commitment in years and decades. The result? More money has to be spent on marketing, advertising and yes, fundraising.
Talk to someone who has really devoted themselves to a public cause and you'll discover the secret: happiness. It has been proven time and time again. Those who spend time helping each other are happier, healthier and longer lived. But don't take my word for it. Try spending some time on helping others through a charity you admire and see for yourself.