When Reality Doesn’t Match the Story

Posted by on Apr 30, 2012 | 0 comments

Fundraising is about relationships. Relationships are strengthened by communication. Communication is a sharing of information.

But what if the information isn’t true?

I’ve faced this situation twice in my career. I’ve been enthusiastically “telling the story” only to discover that “the story” was more like a fairy tale. Needless to say, both experiences ended in a parting of the ways between me and my employer.

As a fundraiser, the information you share with potential donors is all you have to stand on. It has to be correct and verifiable. Your donors should be able to look at your organization with a magnifying glass and see nothing out of order.

When a nonprofit organization attempts to sugarcoat its financial information by over-stating the percentage of a donation that will go directly to projects by inflating dedicated personnel time to those projects, they are lying.

When a fundraiser stands before a packed audience of potential donors and quotes those numbers, they become part of the cover-up. And that’s not a place most fundraisers want to be.

Honest and verifiable numbers are critical to a nonprofit’s reputation and to a fundraiser’s success. It’s not unfair for a donor to ask where an organization’s money comes from and how it is used. It’s totally unfair for a nonprofit to refuse to share general information to answer simple questions from donors and others.

Equally disturbing is the nonprofit that knowingly misuses the gifts from donors through misappropriation of funds, poor management, over-staffing, and waste.

Fundraising is challenging enough without the added discomfort of not really knowing how your organization’s funds are being used.

My suggestion to you the fundraiser: find out.  Ask the hard questions. If the numbers don’t seem to add up, they probably don’t. Ask why.

If you can easily estimate total salaries and they are a LARGE percentage of your organization’s total budget, ask why.

If you see that programs are allotted a high percentage of your budget on paper, but can “do the math” to see that this is not accurate, ask why.

Transparency is the key. Your records should be easy to access and simple to follow. Nothing should be hidden and all expenses should make sense.

As a fundraiser, your reputation is on the line every time you stand up and report on your organization, and every time you send a direct mail or email asking for funding for a program. Yes, you represent your organization, but if you are raising funds for an organization that isn’t telling their story accurately, your reputation is as much in jeapardy as the organization’s.

The good news is that many nonprofits go above and beyond what’s required legally to make certain a donor’s money is spent appropriately. Transparency is now something that is expected, rather than being the exception.

If you’re not with an organization that goes above and beyond to make their actions transparent, you might consider suggesting changes to your organization’s reporting efforts. Sometimes it’s as simple as managment not understanding how important those numbers are when you are talking to donors. Sometimes it’s a damaging need for control in upper management, and if so that’s a tough one.

Be transparent and demand transparency. It will pay off in your fundraising efforts, your donors will have greater respect for you and your organization, and your nonprofit organization will gain respect not only from those who are looking in, but from those within the organization itself.  Increased transparency will demand a higher level of honesty, frugality and openness from all involved.

It’s much more comfortable under a magnifying glass when you have nothing to hide.

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