Every once in a while, I get really annoyed about something. Now is one of those times.
I think this feeling has been building over the summer, and I know for a fact it was spurred on by a session I was invited to present with my friends and colleagues David Whitehead (AARP), Jacob Harold (Guidestar) and Andrew Watt (AFP International). This was for the 10th Annual Bridge Conference and was a reprise of a similar session we did last year at bbcon. We were gathered to talk about the overhead myth, about the unrealistic pressure trying to invest little-to-nothing in “costs” puts on a nonprofit. (For a recap of what that session was about, check out this blog from earlier this summer.)
The discussion was great, with lots of engagement from those in the room and an understanding of how vital the different pieces of a nonprofit are in making up the whole. But then, later in the summer, I found myself in different rooms filled with people who were just learning about nonprofits and fundraising, rooms where the thinking was different. These experiences were important and necessary, pointing to the fact that we have more work to do.
Bottom line? We have more room to tell the story and build understanding that fundraising is not separate from mission. Fundraising is, indeed, mission work.
I know not everyone agrees with me. There are some who see fundraising as a burden nonprofits must carry, a burden that takes them away from the “work they are supposed to be doing.” For sure, it is a core responsibility, and building multiple revenue streams that diversify your nonprofit’s portfolio is important. But if there is one thing that serving on both the AFP International and Giving Institute boards of directors has taught me it’s that those most passionate and committed to the profession see fundraising as an honor, as a way to further advance and expand the good work their organizations do. It is part of the entrepreneurial engine that spurs growth.
And the people out there raising money are your organizations’ main story tellers. They are brand champions. Just because they are not the ones delivering the services their work funds does not mean they aren’t agents of good you rely on every day. My board service and my own work in corporate social responsibility has taught me that good fundraisers are exceptionally driven by mission. They are professionals who are passionate about doing their jobs well, and we’re lucky to have them.
We live in a world that likes to put people and organizations into categories.
We’re all guilty of it in some way. It makes it easier if we all go to the right corner and fill the role we’re “supposed” to fill. But the magic often happens when, instead of separating, we intersect. We meet at some point—either random or planned–and see the possibilities. We are inclusive and collaborative, realizing that we all can bring passion and importance to what we do and that, together, the result is much bigger.
For some, utopia might be a world where funding is plenty, where the “work” is focused solely on programs. But that’s not the utopia I seek. A world without the pros I know in the fundraising field, who bring light and energy and enthusiasm to the causes they own and love—who help us understand and see the need that truly does exist—well, that would be a world missing the heart fundraisers share with us every day.