These are tough economic times. Everyone knows this. Many who work in the nonprofit sector have seen the demand for services increase greatly during these challenging times. But, we have experienced events as nonprofit managers, development professionals, volunteer leaders, professional advisors, or consultants. Recently, I heard from one of my readers who has a different perspective. S/he is a development professional who lost her/his job and is now a recipient of charity services. It’s a bit like the Hollywood cliché of a doctor who is suddenly struck by an illness and learns what it’s really like to be a patient.
On this blog site, I’ve written from the perspective of the development professional. I’ve even written from the perspective of the donor. However, until now, I’ve never posted anything from the perspective of the recipient of a nonprofit organization’s services. So, I invited my reader to share her/his thoughts from her/his special perspective. For reasons that will become obvious, I am protecting the writer’s identity, even going to the point of confusing the pronouns. I hope you appreciate the insight:
The truth is I’m just another statistic.
I am an experienced fundraiser who has worked for a few organizations over the last decade. I have had major successes and yes, like everyone else, some failures. I enjoyed my work — knowing that the funds I raised were going to help people who were poorer than I, less educated than I and, in general, did not have the opportunities I did.
And then I lost my job. Yup, a gut puncher if ever there was one.
But rather than dwell on the negative, I saw it as an opportunity. You never know what lies over the horizon.
My biggest problem was how to support my family. Nonprofit salaries are not, shall we say, going to get me on Robin Leach’s Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous (remember that show?). We had no savings and pressure was on to find a job quickly.
That didn’t happen.
Instead, things got very tight in a hurry. The little unemployment compensation I could collect did not pay the bills. I can’t go to friends since they’re maxed out and have their own issues. Family? Forget it. So now, we scramble to find who to turn to.
In our community, there is a Free Loan Society. This society helps families who are having financial troubles and need a little “breathing room” for a few months. The amount isn’t that much, a max of $500 per month. But, if it helps with food shopping…
We had a very tough decision to make. I have always worked in nonprofits and money has always been an issue, but we never took charity. And yet, now we were faced with unpaid bills, mortgage payments and everything that millions of jobless people face daily.
So, we took the plunge. I contacted the head of the Free Loan Society. And, I became a donation receiver as opposed to the person collecting the funds for others.
I won’t get into how that makes me feel. I assume you can figure that out on your own. But, the experience of receiving monthly checks has opened my eyes to a number of lessons I knew, but didn’t think about often enough:
1) Distribute with Care. It was embarrassing to approach the society but, much to their credit, they did NOT make me feel ashamed at all! They handled my story with care and empathy. They guided me through the application process smoothly.
I believe that most donor recipients do NOT want to be receivers. They’d rather be givers. And, one day when they’re back on their feet, they may become givers or larger givers. Those who work at nonprofits need to keep this in mind at all times
2) Toot Less. The Free Loan Society is very hush-hush. People know they exist. People know what they do. People know who heads it. But, that’s it. Their goal is to be as discreet as possible with no press releases, pictures on a website, videos on YouTube, tweets or status updates.
I know we all want to toot on our horn, but sometimes the donations we distribute in secret are most appreciated. Those who work for nonprofit organizations need to be very careful to never exploit those receiving services.
3) Speed Matters. From start to finish, I had my first check within one week of applying for assistance. Now, I know that in most nonprofits, it’s not easy to move funds to constituents as quickly. I understand the operational challenges.
While I understand the challenges, I think that it is essential that nonprofits examine their processes, from fundraising through to service delivery, to see if things can be streamlined to provide better service for constituents with greater efficiency for the organization. This will better serve those in need while giving donors greater confidence.
My family and I will be fine. I know it. Things will turn around, and I’ll find another job. So, don’t worry about me. Instead, I encourage you to think about others in your own community. As someone who works for or with a nonprofit organization, I hope you will consider how you can help your organization to better serve individuals in need and the community at-large. And, although these are uncertain times for us all, I hope you will reach a little deeper to give to the charity of your choice. Believe me, it really will change people’s lives.
That’s what Anonymous and Michael Rosen Say… What do you say?