Your Working Girl Confesses

When Your Working Girl awoke to the CBC investigative report (Charities paid $762 million to external fundraisers) and heard her very own life’s work referred to as that of a “hired gun out for a share of a donor’s wallet” like it was a bad thing, she retreated to her fainting couch.  Admonishments continued to bleat from the radio:  “More than 80% of the donor’s dollar went to pay fundraisers”, “What we have now is an arms race among charities”, and “beware the high cost of fundraising!”  Oh my. 
Having sufficiently recovered, and emboldened by AFP’s and Imagine Canada’s strongly-worded statements in response to the news reports, I want to share with you, my Gentle and Understanding Reader, another perspective.   
I confess.  When I held savagely beaten women and traumatized children in my arms at the shelter 20 years ago, my heart broke at the violence to which I was bearing witness.   Help was clearly needed, of that there was no question. But my first thought was not how I might summon that help for 15 cents on the dollar.  I was, given the seriousness of the situation, forced to think about how we could be most effective, immediately and in the long term.  I have previously written in this space about the work we were able to do at the shelter because of direct mail supporters.  (If you’d like a refresher, see my very first blog, Staging the Revolution).    But there is one thing I haven’t said and I want to be very clear about it today. 
If we had held ourselves to the ‘common standard’ around the ‘cost of fundraising’, we would not have invested in the fundraising techniques that allowed us to provide life-saving shelter for hundreds of women.   And what does it mean when a shelter turns away women whose husbands are beating them?  Not to put too fine a point on it:  dead women and sometimes dead women and children. 
That the cost to raise a dollar passes for the primary criteria in evaluating a ‘good’ charity these days is not only sad, it’s dangerous.  Sad because for a sector that is a bigger percentage of the GDP than the auto industry, the analysis of it is shockingly shallow.  Dangerous because we have boards of directors throughout the country not making the investment necessary to reach out to the new supporters that will enable them to reduce their waiting lists, connect with more young people who need help, give our elderly dignity and comfort in their last years, and prevent preventable diseases. They are so afraid of being judged as one of those charities they talk about on the TV, it renders them immobile.   Instead of seeing themselves as agents of change, they see themselves as stewards of the donor dollar.  That’s a big difference that plays itself out in so many ways.   Do you want change or more of the same?  
So, what is an unbeaten woman worth? What’s the value of a homeless teenager who doesn’t get infected with HIV/AIDS?  A child who is not obese because of healthy lunch programs?  A case of diabetes not contracted? 
Your Working Girl’s inherent modesty prevents her from saying she can answer these questions alone.  But she does have one thing to say to those who critique the philanthropic sector, her life’s work and the life’s work of many of her friends, and who do not include actual effectiveness of a charity in their critique:  Just Stop It. 
Next:  Who died and made you king?  Critiquing the critics.

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Comments

  1. When I consider that our sector is the only one that judges itself on how little we spend instead of how much we achieve, I sometimes get sick to my stomach. Even cost-conscious commercial enterprises cut costs for a reason: to make more profit.If we can make more net revenue by investing more, then that is precisely what we should do, because the cost of investing less, and raising less, and having less net revenue to spend on our mission is measured in unfed children, untreated patients, beaten women, more war, less peace, etc.To the thoughtless, and willfully ignorant, critics who think cost to raise a dollar is more important than lives saved, children helped, social ills addressed, I can only echo Your Working Girl’s admonition: Just Stop It.

  2. I think the public needs to hear more of this story: have you considered submitting an opinion piece to some newspapers?

  3. I have been in fund raising for over 20-years and nothing is more infuriating than having to listen to misinformation about the charitable sector without being addressed properly from organization like AFP and Imagine Canada. I applaud your fight for clearer accountability from some of the people who claim to represent the nonprofit sector. Keep up the good fight and I look forward to reading your next blog.

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