Y’all, I didn’t think I would ever see it, but I found an NPO with a heart and a head, too. I spoke to the development office at a hospice near here and they have the same ideas I do about government funding, corporate culture, special events, volunteers, etc. The officer I met with is as sharp as I’ve ever seen in an NPO anywhere; these folks are going to do big, big things…I only hope I can go along with them. There’s something special about hospice people anyway, the fact that I’ve found a like-minded professional that has a great fund-raising head on her shoulders is a plus-plus. Needless to say, I was very impressed.
In my previous rant, er, um, I mean, posting, I blogified on what does and doesn’t work when NPO’s seek government funding. I went on to state my case using irrefutable facts and material data. Now the facts and the data are solid, but there will still be critics who see the same info and come to a different conclusion. Human nature is like that, isn’t it? The Saducees and Pharisees watched Lazarus walk out of the tomb and still doubted the Lordship of Jesus Christ. There are just some things that unbelievers don’t seem to get. For you Philistines out there who see the writing on the wall but can’t read, I have yet another brilliant observation to make; first, some previous blog posting recall…
I have taken NPO’s to task for their propensity to abdicate their ability to think and resort to government funding, especially at the medical research level; my reasons for doing so were stated succinctly and intelligently, now I’m going add one more lucid reason: government funding comes up short every time when compared to giving by individuals.
Last year, $296 billion was gifted to NPO’s; of that amount, about 88% came from individuals, about $260 billion. Tax receipts from individuals totaled about $2.4 trillion; if we set aside 10% of that figure ($240 billion) to NPO’s, which includes medical research, we all come up about $20 billion short. And folks, I was being generous at 10% to make a point; nowhere near 10% of tax revenue is budgeted for NPO work. So why are we and our NPO motivation, mission and focus so willing to settle for something less?
Here’s my point: the government is in the way. And here’s the real kicker: we’ve let it get in the way. As citizens and NPO “leaders”, we’ve said it’s OK to abdicate our responsibility to our fellow man. The domain of NPO support is family, friends, neighbors, churches, PTA’s, and NPO’s, not government bureaucrats. But Steffan, you heartless, cold jerk, don’t you want to eradicate cancer and homelessness and baby seal clubbing (OK, maybe not that)? Yes, and as a free-thinking, responsible, tax-paying citizen, I can join with others like me and still outspend the government every day of the week. Stop taxing me to support “federal studies” to determine how much methane is in cow farts or why men with college degrees make better fathers; there are foundations (they’re NPO’s, too) that do that. If I want to support cow fart research, then I can send them whatever I want, but some government agency is going to take my tax money (and yours, too) and send it to them regardless of the level of support I want them to have or not to have. Does this make sense to anyone? The tax money I save from not having it involuntarily taken from me can then go to support cancer research or homeless prevention or whatever else I want. And along with my contribution, those of 1, 616,473 others will be plenty of support, certainly more than what the government doles out, as I’ve demonstrated. When did we decide it was OK to step aside and let government agencies replace us in the charitable transaction? When did we decide it was OK to look away when our neighbor needed help? Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of wonderful folks who do help and help greatly, but by and large, the typical US citizen hands that responsibility off to a bureaucrat. Part of the reason is that there is literally an agency for each and every thing that we need. Take disaster relief for example; there is FEMA, a bloated, inefficient bureaucracy that helps disaster victims. Why do we need FEMA when there’s the Red Cross, a national NPO that has disaster relief down cold and, here’s the big difference: SUPPORTED BY PEOPLE WHO CARE about disaster victims? Want to really do something to prevent cancer, especially lung, throat, respiratory, etc? Ban cigarettes, just outlaw them; within 10 years, problem solved. That’s not going to happen though, is it? You know why? Tax revenue from tobacco sales runs into the billions! Does it make any sense for an entity, in this case the government, to try to eradicate a disease from which they are profiting so much? Not gonna happen.
So I’ll ask it again, why do we keep doing the same stupid things over and over again?
Now that you’ve read my stuff and fallen madly in love with my massive intellect (yeah, right!), I’m going to continue on my path of heretical heresy and lampoon another sacred cow: federal $’s for medical “research”. Not a day goes by without a politician or celebrity or professional hand-wringer appealing to congress to help fund research to cure some disease; a worthy case is to be made on emotional grounds, but that’s the problem, isn’t it?
The following will document my reasons for not using federal and/or state funds for NPO support; please, before you go Barney Frank on me, just read them, then read them again, and you just might see the crystal clear logic I employ stating my case. They aren’t listed in order of importance, though I’ll save the best for last.
1) There’s not enough to go around. There isn’t enough money in the treasury to provide the NECESSARY funds to eradicate ANY disease without cutting off support for other disease research; there isn’t, and there never will be enough. Fantastic emotional appeals can be made by Michael Fox for federal funding forParkinson’s research, but if we can’t commit to an out-and-out campaign to cure it, to eradicate it, then anything given will come up short. Why stop there? Why give in only half measures, piece by piece, morsel by morsel, when it’s known by everyone that it won’t be enough to complete the task?
2) Why just Parkinson’s, for example? Why not juvenile diabetes? Cancer? Cerebral palsy? Rhuematoid arthritis? Alcoholism? Heart disease? Asthma? Muscular distrophy? Do you see where I’m going with this? Picking and choosing one disease or a few diseases over the others is as wrong as picking and choosing one religion for support over the others. There isn’t enough to cure all diseases, so you can’t commit any taxpayer dollars to any of them. It may sound mean and rotten, but you’re reading a blog from someone who is an 18 gallon blood donor, who volunteers at 3 different NPO’s, who originated 5 planned gifts, who tithes at his church, and who offered a kidney to a cousin (I got dq’d). Folks, I’m not a meany, but I am a libertarian, common-sense pragmatist who can use his God-given ability to think, not just emote. If I were a heinous anus (like many of you are thinking I am right about now), could I have done these things?
3) Government money is a form of “bail-out” money. Yes, that’s right, bail-out money. NPO’s (this includes medical research org’s), have taken federal $’s for decades to “bail-out” gaps in their budget. They’ve turned their collective backs on legitimate fund-raising plans (read “Uncharitable” by Dan Pallotta) and prostituted themselves for political expediency. The political perp who funds these NPO’s looks all lovey-dovey at re-election time and the NPO gains a political ally, one who will schmooze their PAC well and grease the skids.
4) government money is thrown into black holes. Whether the cause is a conservative or liberal one, government money is wasted on a massive scale. Take abstinence programs, for example; they’re miserable failures, but a funding favorite of conservative PAC’s and politicians. “Nanny-state” legislation is supported by liberals who want the taxpayer to finance their worldview: abortion, health care for kids, etc.
5) Government funding equals government programs equals NPO mediocrity. Abstinence lessons are the domain of the family and church, not politicians and PAC’s, no matter how well intended. Abortion ( a “legal” but immoral) element of our culture is the domain of health-care (?) providers and families, not politicians and PAC’s. Government agencies and funding entities (NIH, HHS, etc.) have crowded out the good will once exhibited by families, neighbors, friends, churches, and NPO’s. That’s their domain: love, support, caring for one another. It isn’t that of nameless, faceless bureaucrats in cubicles thousands of miles from the need and the mission.
6) I’ll conclude with this doozy: funding of NPO’s (charity, medical research) IS NOT CONSTITUTIONAL!!! I started this post by saying that supporting research funding for one disease over the others is as wrong as supporting the financing of one religion over any others. And you’re going to say that there is a constitutional separation (no, there’s not) of church and state. OK, so where’s the constitutional support for the financing of medical research or for health insurance for kids or for abstinence programs, for so on and so on and…? THERE IS NONE! People, congress is commiting malpractice and they’re doing it with our blessing because we keep voting them in. If government funding is such a great deal for the citizens and politicians would look so magnanimous in supporting an amendment to fund charity, don’t you think they would have it by now? They aren’t going to because they would look ridiculous in answering some of the questions in this blog. that’s why.
More comments later.
In my last posting I ripped into NPO’s for their on-again-off-again fundraising cycle and for the most part, I was correct in doing so. However, I did attend a Meals-On-Wheels breakfast where they used the “Benevon” (f/k/a Raising More Money) model, and was I ever impressed. It’s designed to take out the valleys and level off the peaks in the fundraising cycle so there are fewer and fewer down times and the up times are on a gradual slope upward. The last NPO I worked at was starting to implement the Benevon model, but wasn’t getting anywhere with the board. Frankly, I hope they do get it going, because their mission is so great; unfortunately, the leadership there is sorely lacking. This is the same outfit that crammed their 3 biggest special events into 2 months and gives out the “Tin Cup” award to the most active board member. A tin cup for an award! But this is typical for this NPO: let’s think small, let’s not rock any boats, let’s say no more than yes, etc. And the worst part is this: too many kids they could help won’t get it. Instead of housing 60 kids, they could be (and should be) housing many, many more.
I continue to be amazed at the relevant info I’m reading in Dan Pallotta’s book, “Uncharitable”. Some of the issues he is raising are the same ones I’ve been raising for years, like advertising. But where he really stands out is in the challenges he throws down to the conventional “wisdom” (?) of society and the notion of the donated dollar/used dollar ratio, and that includes the so-called “watchdogs” of charity. The commonly accepted ratio or percentage is that no more than 35% of an NPO’s budget should be spent on operations and certainly not on fundraising costs. Really? Why not? Why 35%? And who gets to decide if it’s 35% or 25% or 75% or anything else? And why them? I’m going to stretch my boundaries here and commit more heresy; I’ll bet my bottom dollar that these watchdog group people are paper-pushing cube-dwellers who have never been involved directly with the inner, day-to-day workings of an NPO. certainly not in any fundraising capacity. So just who up and decided that these ratios are the only true barameters of NPO operational efficiency? Who the @#$%& are they and where did they get their data from? Without knowing, are we to assume it’s just a capricious and arbritary amount? That’s what it sounds like to me. To be sure, NPO’s are more efficient service providers than government agencies, but who isn’t? My hat’s off to NPO’s there, because their motivation is greater than that of the Assistant Deputy Associate Co-Buck Passer at the Department of Navel-Gazing in Washington, DC. That doesn’t give NPO’s a pass, though; it still means they have light years to go to catch up to the efficiencies in the market-place, a market-place that still seeks to get dollars. Doesn’t it make sense to use a successful dollar-seeking-and-acquisition model (the for-profit model) instead of the hit-and-miss, on-again-off-again model currently in use by 95% of NPO’s? Is Bismarck a hewwing? Is a 200-lb possum fat?
OK, enough heresy for one day. I’ll make another post after I’ve read more from Pallotta; it’s sure to be right on. Not me, but Pallotta.
At the risk of repeating myself a zillion times, I still hold fast to the notion that capital markets will discover where the capital is: the value in senior-owned residential real estate, by some estimates about $2 trillion. Until that day, there are a few of us that already get it; one of these genuises is Larry Norris, a reverse mortgage (RM) rep in Tampa, Fl. He does other mortgage-related products too, but he has a vision for using RM’s to capitalize other financial products that offset some of the very few limitations that RM’s possess. He gets it; he sees past the immediate transaction and has a solution. We need more like him.
That great big “WOW!” and “AMEN”! you heard was from me as I read more of “Uncharitable”, the Dan Pallotta indictment of NPO practices. And I thought I was the heretic! Awesome, awesome stuff; I especially like the stats on the investment “return” that direct mail and special events fundraising brings…pretty poor results from both, actually. Pallotta states that for every dollar spent in a direct mail campaign, the org receives $10; for special events, the ratio is $1 spent to $3.20 received. Soliciting major gifts: $1 spent for $24 received; there were no figures available for planned giving. He goes on to say that the smaller org’s are almost forced to commit to the lesser-productive efforts because of their lack of resources, human and otherwise, to do anything else. But is it asking a CEO or board of directors too much to see that a 1/24 ratio is so much better that 1/10 and 1/3.20? It shouldn’t, but it apparently is. Why the willingness to engage in such unproductive activities? What did I say in my first few posts? “We’ve always done it this way.” “The board likes special events.” “The board doesn’t want to try anything too different.” Blah, blah, blah, yada, yada, yada. Not too farsighted, is it? Not too representative of what many of us think of as leadership, is it? And I will echo Pallotta and a couple of my earlier posts: the ones who get hurt are the one’s the mission is supposed to be serving. It’s so stupid as to be almost criminal.
Man, I hate it when I’m right all the time…OK, no I don’t. Dang! There I go again, being right and saying so. Anyway, I’ve read the first few pages in “Uncharitable” and WOW am I impressed; this guy (Dan Pallotta) sounds like me! Don’t be impressed with anything I’ve said or blogged on this subject; Pallotta says it much better than I ever could, but these are some of the things I’ve been talking myself blue in the face over: the NPO sector has this hat-in-hand, tin-cup mentality that is symbolic of an inferiority complex. True story: there actually is a NPO that gives out the Tin Cup Award to the board member who has supported it the most. Can you believe it? An award that exemplifies small-mindedness! As you might have guessed, this NPO is so backward, it’s not even funny. And it’s too bad, because the need is so great for what they do, but as Pallotta said, some NPO’s think that process has greater value than progress.
Man, I hate it when I’m right all the time…OK, no I don’t. Have you noticed that several of my prior postings have started out this way? Hey, when you’re right, you’re right, so why hide it? OK, enough gloating.
“Uncharitable” came in today and from what I’ve read on the jacket and a few of the appendix items I flipped to, I’m right on with some of my “heretical” NPO ideas, like advertising, special event fundraising, and direct mail. I’m going to read a few chapters before I contact the author, but so far, it appears he and I are philosophical soul-mates on NPO’s. Who knows? Maybe he and I can do something to shake things up; Lord knows it’s needed.
Man, I hate it when I’m right all the time…OK, no I don’t. I read over the US News article on leaders and lo and behold only one name stands out as anything resembling an NPO leader: Marian Wright Edelman, who is described as an “activist”. Well excuse the @#$%& out of me, but when you say “activist” I see ACORN and Lenin and the Black Panthers and a whole lot of folks that are just professional butt-rashes.
OK, the part about me being right, and being right ALL the time. There are others mentioned in this article who are NPO leaders, but no one knows who they are. Why aren’t Dr’s Freeman Hrabowski and Regina Benjamin household names? Why aren’t we shouting the praises of Linda Rottenberg from the roof-tops? These are fantastic people who have made it their life’s work to make the world a better place…but no one knows who they are.