The politics of fundraising

This month, the fundraising season started anew, heralded by the angels of solicitors, all seeking money for a good cause (myself included). After all, when one has donated all the money one can, one asks for money from others. (Compare this with my husband’s philosophy of starting with others, then making up the difference with your own checkbook).

This year, I thought I had a brief respite from glad handing for a cause until I learned that the elementary school my daughter attends (for Kindergarten) is having it’s bi-annual fundraiser (goal $150,000.00). Shortly thereafter, I was invited to attend the annual Red Cross Heroe’s Breakfast (desired ‘donation, $150 minimum), was asked by 3 friends to sit at their respective tables for the district-wide school’s foundation (min donation, also $150.00) and then of course, hit up for the auction my daughter attended for the last three years (seats are $75 each, then the items purchased at the auction itself).

Saying yes and when to say no

Nearly every good friend in my circle as been a past auction chair, or is presently serving as an auction chair. These are high-energy, smart, motivated women who are passionate about their cause. They should be! Education is important, as are service organizations that help the poor and needy. Who can argue with either? That’s not up for discussion. What is up for debate and conversation (with spouse) is the impact on personal finances.

“I can’t do it,” said one woman, a current chair of an auction (goal $150K), when referring to the two other auctions held at schools attended by her other children. “I can only do one.” Translation: she’s made the decision to donate to 1, attend 1, and spend her time making 1 successful. “I just had to prioritize my efforts for a single entity this year.”

Contrast this with another woman with only one child. She has been a past auction chair but this year has limited her contributions….according to her. “I’m attending my auction (elementary), the school foundation and X” (her child’s former school’s auction), unabashed and actually quite excited. She had no problem spending the money to buy her seat or purchase items. “I don’t have to do anything,” she said gleefully. “I just get to show up, eat food and spend money.” Go girl.

The rest of us don’t have that kind of time nor inclination. As an older, wiser friend told me after she took a training class on how to better choose clients, a criteria had to include 3 things:

1. It has a direct impact on you/your family or child (money or other)
2. It furthers your goals or career (long term)
3. You are doing it for love (personal satisfaction)

I liked her examples and started applying it to the recent requests. The man who invited me to the Heroe’s breakfast is the chief HR officer for a firm of 4,500 person global consulting firm. I’ve referred several potential candidates his way, and it’s been successful. He’s a good person to know. This is definitely the category of ‘direct impact on me/my family,’ and is a good cause to boot.

“Smart spend,” says my husband, knowing full well it’s a tax deductible write-off.

The school’s foundation will impact my family (daughter) but it’s not like my $150 is going directly to her classroom for supplies. The money will be shared among many schools, most that are much better off than her own. My husband is definitely opposed to this, suggesting instead that we approach the her teacher and offer to purchase supplies for her classroom. So attending that event is a  no, which coincidentally, conflicts with a trip we have, so it is sort of a mute point).

The auctions are another matter. Think about this: paying for the seat (usually $65-75, and this covers the food, overhead), then purchasing items (let’s say $2K), a raffle ticket ($25-$50 depending on the auction) and raise the paddle (for special projects, $25-2,000 allotments). The logical person must ask: is it not better to just give the money directly to the school, or does one want to walk away with something in return? The second consideration is also—where is the priority– existing or past school auctions?

Once again, Rog and I came back to the basics. Where will we have the biggest impact for the dollar, and what will affect our daughter(s). This made the decision easy. For one auction, we are not going to attend, but instead, work with the school directly (and her classroom). For the other, we will be out of town, but as our next child will be attending the school in 2012, we want to ensure future programs are adequately covered.

So what to say to the wonderful women (and men) who are heading auction, procurement and raffle? I’ve found honesty is the best route. “We are placing our priority on X school for this year,” or “we are going to be giving directly to the class,” or “we are working with the organization directly.” Of course, my sister thinks this is bunk.

“You shouldn’t be giving explanations at all!” she said, disgusted at the thought. “It’s none of their business.” She’s right of course, but next year, I might be the one in a position of responsibility, and then my perspective might be a little different, and it will be necessary to understand the politics of fundraising.