Tin cup philanthropy
So, I was coming out of my local grocery store on Saturday and standing outside of the exit was a volunteer. She was holding a small plastic bank in the shape of a dog. Once I was in ear shot distance, she asked if I could spare some change for the local “low kill” animal shelter.
First, let me say that I know this charity. Second, let me say that I respect the work that this charity does. However, I did not part with my pocket change and found myself wondering instead:
- How many hours was that volunteer standing there?
- How much money could she possibly have collected during that time?
- How much more money could she have raised in the same amount of time if she just asked a few of her friends who cared as much as she does about this cause to make a direct contribution?
Now there are some people who believe ALL charitable activities that ask people to make a contribution for nothing in return is “tin cup philanthropy”. If you don’t believe me, just read this Financial Times article for yourself. If you get really interested, you can cross check it with our friends at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania who appear to have fallen in love with what they call “Experimental Entrepreneurship“.
As a donor and a resource development professional, I understand why so many people see traditional philanthropy as begging with a tin cup, and it goes beyond just the volunteer standing outside of my local grocery store begging for her charity of choice. It extends to many non-profit organizations who recruit volunteers who are “reluctant solicitors” in the first place and then provide little to no training to those volunteers. The end result is typically well-intentioned people going to their friends and neighbors begging them to make a pledge, purchase a raffle ticket or attend an event.
When this happens, very little time is spent talking about the community needs that the charity might be addressing with its programming. To be frank, it typically sounds like begging and sometimes degenerates into quid pro quo or favor granting.
While I am intrigued with “experimental entrepreneurship” and see nothing wrong with charities exploring it as revenue stream, I don’t think it is “the answer” to tin cup philanthropy.
Non-profit leaders need to recruit the right volunteers for their fundraising activities, and they need to do a better job of training and supporting those volunteers. Let’s stop begging and start talking about our mission; community needs & gaps; our programs, services & solutions; and most importantly the “return on investment” for the community that comes with making a charitable contribution.
Only once we start doing this will we be able to retire the old tin cup.
What has been your experience as a donor? A volunteer solicitor? If you are a non-profit staff person, am I off-base with my conclusions? And is anyone excited about experimental entrepreneurship and why?
Here is to your health!Erik Anderson Owner, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC firstname.lastname@example.org http://twitter.com/#!/eanderson847 http://www.facebook.com/home.php#!/profile.php?id=1021153653 http://www.linkedin.com/in/erikanderson847