Tuesday, November 20

Thank you sir, may I have another?

I used to work at a small social service nonprofit that accepted in-kind donations of clothes and food for our case workers to give to their clients. As a development officer, I would frequently get phone calls from a board member who would say something like this:

"Mrs. Smith is on her way over with a car load full of donations. She is a very wealthy real estate agent that the fundraising committee has been trying to cultivate for a long time. Can you meet her downstairs and thank her for the donations when she gets there?"
Believe it or not, I wasn't as cynical as I am today that early in my career, so I would cheerily accept countless bags of crap from rich people who felt guilty about throwing their "gently worn" clothes in the trash.

I honestly didn't mind the senselessness of me spending hours accepting donations, sorting them, and then writing tax deductible thank you letters... only to later throw most of it in the trash myself. Heck, I believed in that organization so much, I would eat maggots if it meant bringing on a new potential major donor.

What did bother me so much was the fact that many of these donors who unloaded their "gently worn" junk walked away with a sense of gratification that their charitable obligation had been made... and therefore never gave a financial donation.

I had this video clip of Kevin Bacon from the movie Animal House in mind when I read this opinion piece by Mark Winne, the former director of Connecticut's Hartford Food System. Winne describes his frustration at the troubling co-dependency between food bank donors and recipients.
Both parties were trapped in an ever-expanding web of immediate gratification that offered the recipients no long-term hope of eventually achieving independence and self-reliance.
He goes on to make this conclusion:
While none of this is inherently wrong, it does distract the public and policymakers from the task of harnessing the political will needed to end hunger in the United States.

The risk is that the multibillion-dollar system of food banking has become such a pervasive force in the anti-hunger world, and so tied to its donors and its volunteers, that it cannot step back and ask if this is the best way to end hunger, food insecurity and their root cause, poverty.
I recommend the article. I'd like to thank one of my favorite readers for passing it on - at this time of year I'm thankful that I have so many great readers in all corners of the nonprofit fundraising industry.

I can't help but think how many other small nonprofits around the country continue to accept in-kind donations they can't possibly use simply because they don't want to tell prospective donors "no" - and by doing so - may actually be prolonging an end to the societal problem they are hoping to cure.

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