Spread the Good

When the conversation turns to cost-of-fundraising I can almost hear the collective sigh of missions across the globe. It is a knowing sigh, one that understands when the focus is on quantitative measures, the qualitative aspects of missions suffer.

The cost-of-fundraising madness is truly the kryptonite of philanthropy. It turns the mission from a bold and daring venture into a meek shadow which only comes to life as a photo in direct mail or a website surrounded by copy extolling the virtue of how little was spent to send the photo or to receive an online donation.

If you have been reading this blog lately you know I’m on a bit of a rant about the need to move away from the transaction-based culture of giving to a mission-based culture of philanthropy. Making this move will require that cost-of-fundraising be encased in lead and buried in the cave with other ideas which seemed good at the time, but not so much on closer inspection.

Philanthropy is not about being efficient. It is about being effective. How can the Red Cross efficiently prepare for a disaster which might or might not happen somewhere in the world? How do you solve homelessness efficiently when the causes are so complex? Are we really going to create an efficient educational system, producing graduates in mass as if they are a product? I think I saw that in a sci-fi film or was it on the news regarding an oppressive country?

As the cost-of-fundraising diatribe slowly saps the organization’s strength, the talk turns to cost-of-mission. This leads to organizations not wanting to discuss the realities of their operations honestly:

Yes, kind sir/madam, we do have to pay the rent and our staff, but we have a humble space with a leaky roof and we don’t pay people much. Lights, phones, office supplies, desks, and chairs are also helpful, but we can live without them if you think that’s best. With technology we try to stay on outdated equipment using even older software that does at least some of things we need to do better than a typewriter and a file cabinet.

It is time for missions to rip off their shirts, throw down their glasses and celebrate the magnificent inefficiencies of philanthropy. Without them we are doomed to a world that counts its money saved at the expense of its soul.


P.S. My son Max did the drawing – You can see more of his work on The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.


  • Thanks Anne. It is madness that our sector is judged not by what it does, but by how it sells. Last time I bought a great product or had a great meal I didn’t ask what their profit margin was. A mission-centered approach ensures that organizations doing real good prosper, and those who are essentially just fundraising machines will cease to exist.

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