How One Organization Blew It – The View From This Side

This is not an unprecedented story but is a worthwhile morality tale for non-profit fundraisers. To ruffle as few feathers as possible, I won’t name names.

I was recently honored by being elected Chair of an organization that has a very distinctive mission. There are a few other organizations with compatible but not identical missions and in a collegial manner, I extended a hand to the heads of several.

The President of one of those organizations – one that does a fine job in its sphere – sent an email congratulating me and suggested that the member of their staff responsible for the areas of overlapping interest would soon be in touch to discuss mutual opportunities. The organization I now chair is neither a fundraising nor fund distributing organization, so the possible avenues for collaboration could only be built on mutuality of interest.

Sure enough, a personally addressed envelope arrived from that organization within a couple of days. That wasn’t unusual – a number of congratulatory letters were arriving around that time. However, upon opening this one, I found neither a personal letter nor any reference to the previous communication. Rather, it was a fund raising request.

One might be inclined to say that it was coincidence but, in fact, I had not received personal fund raising appeals from this organization previously. Perhaps they thought that this was the opening they were waiting for since I am known as an advisor to funders and foundations. Interestingly, I have yet to hear from the person who was to have been in touch. I have waited a month to write this on the chance that there would be appropriate follow up on their end.

Now, of course, no one can begrudge any non-profit from doing its best to stimulate support at this time – or any time. But the message came across that one must pay to play, even on an organization-to-organization level. Whatever their intention, it left me with a double bad taste: I am surely not inclined to ever send any financial support whatever and, moreover, if and when I ever do hear from their designated contact, I suspect I would not be inclined to be very open to explore mutual efforts between our two entities.

A pity, I think, since it probably represented a mindless, and needlessly thoughtless act on someone’s part. But organizations do have some responsibility to know how they come across and to exhibit appropriate judgment. In the scheme of things, my discarding of their appeal will have no impact on the functioning of this unnamed organization, but I hope that readers who have development responsibilities take to heart how one organization blew it.

Richard Marker serves as an advisor to foundations, independent funders, and not-for-profit organizations; he is a Senior Fellow in Philanthropy at NYU’s George Heyman Jr. Center for Philanthropy. Richard specializes in strategic philanthropy and planning. He is an occasional contributor to eJewish Philanthropy and regularly blogs at Wise Philanthropy.