August 30, 2010
My father does a lot of work in Latin America, specifically in Nicaragua. He has said a number of times that the poor of Nicaragua don’t need a handout, they need the motivation to do something themselves. We are all very much that way; if we can do something the easy way we will. If someone will give us a handout to solve our problem we’d much rather take that than work for it ourselves. The traditional slogan, “Teach a man to fish” does not go far enough, most of the time we already know how to fish and need to be told, “There’s the lake. “
The “Teach a man to fish” approach does have a great deal of value and is a trend many organizations are beginning to take. By hiring local people and training them to take over businesses, they have an opportunity to create and manage their own economy. I get excited when I hear about what an organization is doing to train the local people to be self-sufficient. But, training a group of people to be self-sustaining in farming or business, or building up local community health systems to serve the breadth of needs in their communities—this is bigger than teaching man to fish.
By empowering a community to take care of itself, you show a depth of respect for the human spirit. In humanity’s greatest moments, we encourage each other to be more than we currently are. Our organizations need to encourage people to provide for themselves and have the desire to be more. I wonder what would have become of the US Space program if President JFK had only been taught “how to fish.”
There are times when people need medical help or providing them with a meal is really the very best first step. But, when we think about on-going and systemic change, we need to provide opportunities for people to help themselves. Not only does it allow our organizations to continue to serve urgent needs in other areas, but it raises the overall quality of life for everyone.
August 25, 2010
A little boy is in Sunday school at church and his teacher asks him a question, “What lives in a tree, eats nuts, and has a bushy tail?” The little boy thinks for a moment and says, “I know the answer is Jesus, but it sounds like a squirrel.”
Who Jesus is and the message He brings is central to the work of most Christian organizations. Whether it is through traditional evangelism or by seeking to model an organization after Christ the Gospel message guides a Christian nonprofit’s vision. But the point of the story above illustrates the greater popular opinion of many Christian organizations. Nonprofits are often valued based on the work the organization does even more than their written missions statement. Like this little boy, many of us have heard the message about evangelism so many times that we jump to conclusions too early. My wish is that more Christian organizations would do good work in this world in response to what Jesus has done for us and let our evangelism come from the actions serving the people of the world.
Beyond Christian ministries, there is a message in this for all of us. We need to be careful not to become too cliché with our message to donors or we lose our ability to be effective. A couple of great examples are our slogans or mission statements. Too often our mission statement or slogan actually doesn’t say anything. In effort to clarify our messages I hope we do not oversimplify the problems.
Our donors and communities need to understand the complexity of the issues with which we work. Poverty, global health, education–they all require a significant on-going investment to make a difference. Our culture provides too many sound bite messages that do not tell us anything. The biggest obstacle many of the problems our organizations face is providing a clear course of action for our donors to respond to.
August 23, 2010
While working on a proposal for a significant merit-based endowment, a co-worker made an insightful comment. He said donors who set up endowments picture themselves as the individual receiving it. We can’t quite make this a rule of thumb, but it does give us a glimpse into the mind of the donor. If you’re creating a merit-based endowment, think about the specific values that made your donor successful. What path did he take to success? What obstacles did she have to overcome? Did he have a unique set of skills, training, or talents that made him successful?
Building a merit-based endowment allows donors an opportunity to highlight a trait in another person or program that they value a great deal. Maybe that trait is hard work, and they want to create a scholarship for students who are doing a double major. Maybe the trait is excellence, and they want to create a scholarship for 4.0 GPA students. This kind of endowment allows a donor to carry on a legacy that was started at the organization, in the community, or in connection with a special issue. If they have given to your organization for a long time what is it that they believe in the very most or have encouraged you to change the very most? If they are community-driven, think about their reputation and what they have done to sustain or encourage that reputation.
This is an interesting exercise to think about when building a merit-based endowment. When an endowment fits with donors’ personal core values and supports what they believe in, it can strengthen their interest and generosity in giving.
August 18, 2010
This month’s Featured Fundraiser is Sandy Clark. Feel free to leave a comment with questions or let me know if you’d like more information about her organization. If you know of a fundraising professional that I should feature here, I’d love to hear your nomination just send me an email. – Jason
What kind of fundraising do you do and who do you do it for?
I am the Director of Development Communications and Annual Fund for the Rural Development Institute (RDI). We work to secure land rights for the extreme poor in developing countries. Check out our new and improved website at: http://www.rdiland.org
What keeps you going? Why do you keep working in development?
After a successful career in policy and program management I took a step away – including a one year sabbatical to travel around the world. As a result of this self-reflection I decided to become very intentional and look for an organization that matched my passion for international development with evidence based research and programming. My work at RDI allows me to introduce powerful people in our community and across the world to a powerful idea- that land can and does make a huge difference in transforming lives and societies. There is so much joy in introducing people to this truth and in seeing the steady expansion of RDI thanks to so many committed people in the community who want to support change around the world.
What tips/advice do you have to other fundraisers in your field?
First, is be focused and patient. Relationships, the really great ones, take time. RDI has been working in this field for over forty years and it is just now that we are picking up momentum. My second tip is to take risks. I am a huge believer in jumping in with both feet and trying out creative ideas. I usually have a couple going in my head at all times. It keeps the energy flowing and excites others to join your cause. Finally, I believe in knowing your subject area. I spend time learning what we are doing and staying informed on current projects and trends in the field. You can’t sell it if you don’t passionately believe it.
What is the most frustrating or difficult thing about fund development?
That is simple–providing the level of personalized attention that each donor and staff member deserves.
You recently changed jobs from a large local social service agency to a small international organization. What has been the major difference?
The primary difference has been in the size of our development department. I went from a 14 member team to a 4 member team. With that I have increased the need to multi-task. I am now the event manager, annual fund manager, writer and researcher – to name a few. What I have also found in this change is a closer link to program staff. In my previous organization our development team was a bit removed from program and it was hard to connect with their day to day activities. Departments and programs were in different buildings and many times different cities. At RDI we are all together and we have regular learning sessions where the entire staff is invited to hear a trip report or recent research from program staff. One day I will be learning about deforestation in Kenya and the next day I will hear about micro-plots in India. The learning opportunities are fascinating and provide me with tremendous stories that I can share with donors.