Sunday, February 4, 2007

Stop Begging

When asked what I do for a living, I sometimes smile and say, "I beg for money for a living."

The joke usually gets a quick laugh, particularly if I am speaking to other professional fundraisers. But in the back of my mind, I've always questioned why I made the joke.

Why did I feel like the work that I do -- that we as fundraisers show up to do every day for organizations that are making a difference in our world -- was somehow less credible, less "worthy" than the work of, say, financial advisors?

Earlier this year, I was privileged to meet Pam Gerber, the Director of the Entrepreneurs Foundation of North Texas. She is working hard at changing the world of philanthropy from the most difficult of all places: from the donor's perspective.

She issued a simple challenge to me: "Stop thinking about your work that way. You are not begging. You are securing investments."

Pam is right, and her words reminded me of my first conversation with Larry James, CEO of Central Dallas Ministries. I was interviewing for the job of Director of Development, in which my job would be to oversee fundraising efforts for this $4.2 million (at the time) organization.

"I hate charity," he told me.

.... I was shocked. He repeated himself:

"I hate charity. 'Charity' is the reason that we have to be in this business."

Larry went on to describe that fundraising at CDM was not about getting gifts: it was about securing investments in the future of our community. His words ring true for all organizations, not just those fighting poverty.

We should all accept Pam's challenge.

PROPOSED DISCUSSION: What are you and your organization doing to put yourself out of the begging business and into the investment business?