Monday, January 28, 2008

Do us a favor.... don't open a food pantry.


I've blogged before, though somewhat unpopularly, about the Greed of Giving.

Not afraid to offend, I now venture back into that realm to talk about another troublesome trait: The Selfishness of the Supposed Sacrifice of Charity Workers.

I am so tired of hearing from my peers that we're making a sacrifice being employed in a non-profit organization. Making less money than we might earn in another pursuit? Perhaps... though few of us would be candidates for my organization's food pantry, I suppose we could argue that we -- like many of this blog's readers -- disappointed our dear financial planners when we made the choice to join this sector instead of pursuing more lucrative ventures.

But please, dear friends and fools of charitable intent, do not for one moment pretend that you are making a sacrifice. The opportunity costs are minimal in this regard when we look at the enormous gains we have made in other areas: seeing the impact of our work every day, feeling the sense of ownership over our actions, revelling in the glorious triumphs of lives changed through a series of events that we set in motion... we make no sacrifices to be here. Indeed, we might even be seen to be selfish.

For me, the sacrifice would be to forego these rewards in pursuit of monetary gain so that my family would be better off. So, though I be a Leo by birth and thereby much in need of constant praise, I graciously disagree with those who imply I've made some sort of sacrifice to be here.

That is why I understand what has driven so many people to pursue this career path. And yet, I bristle nonetheless when these people enter the sector by starting their own non-profit venture.

These feelings sprang forth anew as I read the Chronicle of Philanthropy's Give & Take blog, "Does America Need More Charities?" The blog cites cites Rosetta Thurman's piece, "So You Wanna Be Startin' Somethin': 5 Reasons You Shouldn't Start Your Own Nonprofit."

Judging by the few comments on the blogs so far, they are tapping into a growing sentiment that I share wholeheartedly:

We have too many darn non-profits out there.

Recent years have brought a rapid growth in the number of charitable organizations -- my theory is that people who were spit out of the dot-com bust are trying to apply their same entrepreneurial desires to the non-profit sector. Innovation is good, but mindless growth is not -- and that is often what I see.

I cannot tell you how many people have found out that I am a fundraiser and then pitched me on their plan to open a summer camp for "underprivileged kids" or something. They ask me how they can fund it, as if I walk around with this magic black book of funders who have never been pitched on such a thing. I tell them quite honestly: "The last thing we need is another non-profit."

Think about it. All those non-profits out there are wasting on average 15-25% on overhead for things such as fundraisers, managers and book-keepers.

Imagine if the same amount of money went to half as many non-profits out there -- the increased return would be spectactular even by doing nothing more than cutting all that overhead.

Imagine how many food pantries there are in a city like Dallas. Each of them spend money on fundraising, accounting, etc. (not to mention trips to the North Texas Food Bank to buy their food for $0.14 per pound). What if they all consolidated so that we could get rid of those fundraisers and accountants, streamline pick-ups and roll the savings into more food and case management? We'd likely give out much more food and provide much better service than our current system allows.

So, why don't we do this?

Because, as the golden role of fundraising says, "People don't give to causes or programs. They give to people."

If we consolidated four $1 million organizations into one, the result would not be a $4 million organization. Many donors would be lost in the transfer, as relationships were broken and staff consolidated.

So, yes, I realize that my pinko dream of a two-tiered system of Big Brother government on one side and Big Sister charity on the other is impractical . . . but I will continue to advocate on behalf of more funding for fewer non-profits.

Sorry, Mom and Pop Charity. I love ya, but ya ain't gettin' it done.

Consolidation leads to growth.
Growth leads to scale.
Scale leads to efficiency.
Efficiency leads to growth.

Repeat until tired.

Then retire.

Set up a planned gift to the Communities Foundation of Texas.

Die happy.

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