Rarely do I use this site as a bully pulpit. However, in this post I am making an exception and writing about a fundraiser.
I recently received a telephone call from a woman who identified herself as a professional fundraiser conducting a campaign for a breast cancer charity located in the far west U.S. She launched into a canned speech, speaking about the plight of women diagnosed with breast cancer and asking me if I was willing to help them by making a donation. When she paused, I identified myself a a 2x survivor and shared that all my breast cancer donations went to the charity I founded, No Boobs About It. She responded by saying that I should consider diversifying my funding by making a donation to the charity she was calling about!
I suggested that if she wanted me to donate, she should tell me more about the organization she was fundraising for, and how donations raised through her efforts would be used to help women with breast cancer. That’s when things got fuzzy. It became obvious she was speaking from a script and had limited knowledge of the organization or its mission.
I then asked her the question I ask every professional fundraiser who calls me asking for a donation…what percentage of the money you raise for the organization goes to the organization and what do you or your firm keep from this telephone campaign? She responded, “The organization will get 15% of the money I raise.” I responded by saying that our call was over and ended our conversation. At first, since I did not recognized the organization she claimed to represent, I checked the charity out. It does exist. I then called the charity to check out if my caller might simply using the charity’s name to commit fraud.
The person I spoke to, at the charity, confirmed they had a telephone campaign going on. When I shared what had transpired in my conversation with the fundraiser she responded. “Do you want me to take you off the call list for future campaigns?”I expressed my anger at how the fundraiser had conducted herself, but most importantly I shared how shocked I was to hear what the fundraiser was earning from donors who had no idea how little of their gift would actually benefit women with breast cancer.
When breast cancer organizations retain professional fundraisers to raise money through telephone campaigns and agree to a split that gives the fundraiser 85% of the donation and the breast cancer organization 15% of the donation, I take offense. Putting it in real numbers- for every $1 donation, 85 cents goes to the outside professional fundraiser and 15 cents goes to the the breast cancer charity.
During the 35 years I worked in the nonprofit sector, I helped to raise money for the organizations I worked for as a program director or an executive director. I am familiar with the need that some organizations have for outside help with their fundraising. However, most organizations pay fundraising firms a flat fee for their service, they do not give them a percentage of what they raise. Percentage compensation is frowned upon by professional fundraising membership associations.
What most offends me is the bait and switch approach to fundraising. Everyone knows someone who has been touched by breast cancer. You answer a phone, a fundraiser pitches you the need to support this very worthwhile breast cancer organization, and many of us might be willing to agree to the $10, or $15, request. However, the fundraiser doesn’t share that when you donate, she, or her firm will get the lion’s share of your donation.
The next time you get a request for a donation ask the person on the other end of the line if he or she is a staff member, volunteer, or board member of the charity. If the person identifies themselves as a fundraiser, ask how much of the donation you might make will go to the charity. Once you have this information, you can decide whether or not you wish to contribute to the telephone campaign.