Fundraiser Becomes Charity Recipient and Gains Renewed Perspective

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?

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12 Comments to “Fundraiser Becomes Charity Recipient and Gains Renewed Perspective”

  1. Michael,

    Although the ability to empathize is at the heart of charity, it receives scant attention in discussion forums. It’s clear from the brief narrative that your Anonymous exemplifies this admirable trait and eloquently reminds us of its importance. In difficult periods like these, it’s especially timely and fitting.

    Incidentally, if there are any recruiters reading this blog, you would do well to hire this person immediately. I’ve read hundreds of resumes in my nonprofit career, and few have told me more of what I really needed to know about a candidate than these few paragraphs Anonymous wrote. Mark? Steve? Anybody else?

    • Jeff, thank you very much for your very kind, insightful comments. You are absolutely correct in your assesment of Anonymous. Not only does Anonymous have the right mindset, Anonymous also has a superb skill set. If any recruiters would like to follow your advice to consider hiring Anonymous, they can contact me and I’ll arrange an introduction off-line.

  2. What a great story to connect us all to the need in our communities, to the deep appreciation of those who receive support, to the critical role of nonprofit organizations in our nation, to the opportunity to change lives through our support of nonprofits, and to the role we play in facilitating and making those gifts. I think it’s time to write a check!

    • Kathryn, thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts. In our day-to-day work, it’s easy to get lost in the numbers, goals, process, etc. Once in a while, it’s good to remind ourselves what our work is really all about. Most of us connected to the nonprofit sector really are working to make the world a better place. We are part of noble professions. Whenever we’re having a rough day, we would do well to take a moment to think of the people who need and benefit from our services.

  3. Michael,

    A great story told from the client perspective. We should all work to insure our organizations are exceptionally compassionate and effective in their service delivery. Anonymous example reminds us that any one of us could face misfortune and be in need of assistance.

    I pray that anonymous will find work soon.

  4. Michael,

    Thanks for the opportunity to read this. In a simple and straight way – and moving way – he or she explained to us the other side of the moon. It is a dark side because the times are very hard, and plenty of people are in need and request assistance, not just in a developing country but here in our own country and all over the world.

    I hope he or she will get a job soon, maybe this post will change one life and you know, to change a life is to change the world in a way.

    Michela

    • Michela, thank you for your comment. Periodically, I think it’s very important for us to remind ourselves of what those we serve are going through. The valuable insights we gain allow us to better serve. So, Anonymous has given us a special gift.

  5. Reminds us to focus on the higher, more compassionate levels of the “Golden Ladder of Philanthropy” (i.e., not putting the recipient to shame, helping the recipient make their own way and not needing charity any longer . . .) Another great, inspiring piece, Michael!

  6. A fantastic reality check that we need to be reminded of regularly. It’s true that we get so busy with everything we do, etc. but seldom think of who we’re doing it for. Thank you for sharing this story and I hope that Anonymous finds her feet quickly.

    • Ligia, thank you for your comment. You’re right. We need to always remember those who benefit from our efforts. It’s easy to get lost in the process and numbers. But it is important and energizing to remind ourselves of those who benefit from our work.

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