Peanuts = Monkeys

I feel like we have all heard it said, ‘You have to spend money to make money’. This is true on many levels, but how do we feel about that when it is used in reference with a not-for-profit organisation? Can charities say that?

Let’s think of it this way – if there is a charity that no one has ever heard of, they will not receive any funding. A charity that has second rate staff is not going to create trust and therefore will not receive ongoing funding. A charity that is not working effectively because of lack of resources is going to waste money and will not receiving ongoing funding.

Dan Pallotta called this issue out in his TED talk (you should really watch it). The way we think about charity is wrong.

“You want to make 50 million dollars selling violent video games to kids, go for it, we’ll put you on the cover of wired magazine, but you want to make half a million dollars trying to cure kids of malaria you are considered a parasite yourself.” Dan Pallotta

Somewhere along the line we have decided that we need to choose between either doing well for ourselves and our family or doing good for the world and that somehow these two outcomes cannot exist within the same paradigm. It’s a belief system that makes sure that charities and other not-for-profits don’t grow too big and challenge the power of the for-profit sector.

Dan points out that this mentality can be traced back to the religious experience of penance from 400 years ago. There is a long history of making money and then carrying a feeling of guilt because a profit was earned. Some of that guilt was warranted as the profit was earned off the backs of slaves and the poor, but some of the guilt was an unnecessary burden placed on people because of their understanding of who God is. Regardless of the reason, giving to charity was the method used to ease one’s conscience. Charity, therefore, could not turn a profit because then it would cease to serve the purpose of paying for the individuals ‘sinful’ money making. Whilst I would suggest that much of the thinking around business and turning a profit has changed, the feeling about charities spending too much money, getting too big, or their employees earning too much has not.

It is important to be wise with the money that people give but our thinking does need to shift. Overhead costs, including staff wages, are part of the program costs and ‘admin’ is not a necessary evil which we don’t like to acknowledge. It is part of the program itself.

If you pay peanuts you will get monkeys. It may not be true all the time. Some may take a pay cut to work in the nonprofit sector for a period of time but you will always lose the good ones eventually. Our society shouldn’t have to make the choice between doing well for themselves and their family, or doing good for the world. They are not mutually exclusive.

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Asking for Money is Okay…

These days, there’s a lot of work to do. Of this we can all agree. Whether your focus is on providing for yourself, your family, your future or looking to change something in the world that is not right, we all have a long ‘to-do’ list and limited time. The main issue is that there are few tangible indicators that tell us when we have achieved what we have set out to do. There is always something extra to work towards. More money to make, more security to provide, more protection to put into place, more awareness to create, more projects to start, more money to raise. There is always more.

For me, it has always been about providing hope and security for kids in developing countries. Within any community it is children, the elderly and people with a disability who are most vulnerable, and more often than not you can add women to that list. My heart has been to enable vulnerable children to reach their full potential in life, through getting the right nutrition, access to education and a safe place to grow up and engage their creativity. As a world we have come a long way but with 161 million children globally suffering from stunting due to an insufficient intake of nutrients, and 124 million children and adolescents who are not attending school, there is much to do.

I have highlighted recently a few things that hopefully give people a chance to ask some questions around giving money.  If, when, how, why and to what you give to is such a personal experience and I believe the worst thing that we can do is to not talk about it. The more we do talk about it the more we learn about giving and philanthropy. I once heard someone tell me that they didn’t want to hear any more about giving money – they had decided to give and they knew all that they needed to about it. A part of me died inside, not only because it was someone refusing to engage is a subject that I care about, but because this attitude is dangerous in all areas of life. If we ever reach a point when we feel like we have learned all that we need to about a subject then we have stopped living, and we have become proud and arrogant. There is always more to learn. So, we keep talking about it.

I ask people for money. That’s what I do. It sounds a little weird when you say it out loud but essentially that’s my job. A few years ago I had an epiphany that helped me to understand why I do what I do. Firstly, I fundraise because it is good for the people that I serve. I believe that all people deserve the ability to reach their God-given potential, and the organisation I work for are leading the way in ensuring that this happens.

Secondly, I fundraise because it is good for the giver. I have often mentioned that we are designed to give back and it is actually good for us to do so, so when I ask someone to give money towards life-changing, life-giving work, I am not asking for my benefit or for the benefit of the people we serve alone, but it is also for the benefit of those who give. If I didn’t ask people to get involved in this, then I would be doing them a dis-service by robbing them of an opportunity to engage in something that they will enjoy. The worst they can do is say no, and I’m okay with that. It means they have thought about it and made the decision that it is not for them at this time, but I always hold hope for the future…

Giving is a necessary part of life because in our world, a few people have most of the wealth and most people only have some of the wealth. We work to make things a little better and ask people to give to that.  I have come to the conclusion that it is okay to ask for money. And it’s okay for people to choose not to give. But it’s not okay to make people feel guilty about what they do or do not give to.