Rethinking Charitable Giving

by | May 7, 2014

When we hear the term fundraising, it seems we development professionals are automatically preconditioned to think a certain way about it. Why is it we don’t blink when we hear about the latest launch of a tech product worth a billion dollars, but we shrink at the thought of using money to get people to invest in services that help others? What about the disconnect between our perceptions of the executive director doing his or her best to manage the daily operations of a nonprofit and that of a CEO who can make charitable contributions for tax reasons yet still be called a philanthropist?

The answers aren’t easy, but the questions themselves point to fundamental issues in the way development professionals approach fundraising. This is what Dan Pallotta, American entrepreneur and humanitarian activist, discussed in his TED presentation last year on the subject “The Way We Think About Charity is Dead Wrong.”

While you can read the transcript and watch the full presentation of the discussion in its entirety for yourself, we wanted to focus on two areas that strike at our hearts as marketers and ones in which Pallotta makes some arguable points: advertising and pursuing new ideas for generating revenues.

First, let’s discuss advertising.

Why is it that charities and nonprofits are somewhat reluctant to commit resources to it? Rolex watch manufacturers, clothing designers, entertainment superstars, sports figures and leisure enthusiasts pound us with their messaging, but what about the charities and the nonprofits themselves? To get people to give of themselves, to instill in them the desire to help others, you need to get the message out to them, and yes, that means spending money to receive donations. A well-targeted advertising plan can help you reach the people who are most likely to read, see, hear and respond to your organization’s needs. Make sure advertising is a topic discussed around your conference room table.

Then there’s the question of risk.

Pallotta argues that while Disney can invest $200 million to produce a film that may flop, “nobody calls the attorney general.” But a nonprofit may be reticent to approach something innovative for fear of repercussions if the project fails. Pallotta’s point — and we agree — is the abhorrence of failure ultimately chokes out any ideas of innovation. While we’re not advocating being wild and reckless with your fundraising approaches, we are saying to be cool and calm, and calculate the cost of a feasible, innovative fundraising endeavor.

That leads us to one final point and one that concerns Pallotta —

Justifying “overhead.”

Do you consider all the members of your team as overhead? Do you cite keeping overhead low as the core reason you’re not committing to advertising or not willing to push the envelope a bit and hold that gala which could potentially net $1 million if you actually executed it? Imagine what you could do instead of looking “overhead” you looked “ahead” to what can be accomplished and what can be achieved for the benefit of those served by your organization.

Just imagine what you and your organization could do.

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