Showing posts with label fundraising. Show all posts
Showing posts with label fundraising. Show all posts

Friday, April 26, 2013

Second breakfast

Bonus tofu, you were surprisingly tasty
That 1/8 cup of oatmeal didn't come close to filling me up. I was actively hungry after finishing my meager breakfast. So rather than head to work hungry, I fried up some tofu - about 2 oz - with a tablespoon of oil and a pinch of salt. The tofu, oil and salt cost $0.18. Add to that my $0.17 oatmeal, and breakfast cost $0.35. I wouldn't call myself full, but I'm not as hungry. $1.15 left for snacks and meals the rest of the day.

I understand now why so many people in extreme poverty go without breakfast. I wasn't terribly hungry before I ate my oatmeal. I probably could have made it through a few hours without needing to eat. But once I ate that little bit of grain, my stomach started working and it wanted much more than I had to feed it. I suck at being poor. Being poor sucks.

Help end extreme poverty. Donate:

-Selfish Blogger

Meal one below the line

Breakfast for 17 cents: 1/8 C dry steal cut oats, cooked.
Breakfast is 1/8 cup dry steel cut oats and a sprinkling of sugar. Well, the plan was to add sugar. I left out the sugar because I'm worried I'll need those few pennies to buy extra food. The steel cut oats cook up to about 1/4 cup of grain. My goodness that looks like a small amount of food! What if I didn't set aside enough food for the challenge? For ten meals, I only planned on four cups dried lentils/peas, a pound of tofu, and a few veggies. Is that enough? I have no idea!

My colleague asked "Is there a way to do this challenge without going hungry?" I thought there was - I still think there is - but my first breakfast is making me worry that I wasn't smart enough to make sure I have adequate food.

In the months leading up to Live Below the Line I was careful to track my food spending, but I never paid attention to how much I actually eat! I guess we'll see how the first day goes. I left a little wiggle room in my daily budget: $0.11. I was hoping to spend it on half a piece of fruit. I might need to spend it on something a little heartier...

Remember: Live Below the Line is a fundraiser to end extreme poverty. Do your part and contribute today.

-Selfish Blogger

Sunday, December 30, 2012

I couldn't do it cheaper on my own

I want to push back against an ever-present charity evaluation metric: the percent of total expenses spent on programs versus general/administrative/fundraising (G&A). Its a popular measurement tool that makes intuitive sense: If I give $100 to a charity that feeds hungry families, shouldn't I expect my $100 will feed a hungry family? If only $75 or $50 or $15 of my money fed a hungry family, then what on earth happened to the rest!? Something must have gone horribly wrong. My money was misused!!

Every major charity evaluator - Charity NavigatorGiveWellGuideStar - use percent of total expenses spent on programs as part of their ranking system. The general wisdom is, the more money spent on programs, the better - 90% or higher is the gold standard, fall below 80% and suspicions about effectiveness abound.

We know that nonprofits must have some overhead expenses. The most effective charities have some paid staff - people who actually carry out the programs like identifying families that need food, then purchasing the food, then delivering the food, then filling out some paperwork to prove the food was purchased and delivered. There are paid staff who collect and organize the paperwork, compile data from that paperwork and create reports to determine how many families were fed, then present the reports to the board of directors and the public. There are staff who solicited your donation by carefully crafting the language of emails, interviewing clients to get compelling stories to share with you, taking photographs of happy recipients to drive home the meaning your gift can have. Someone had to receive your check or credit card donation, properly account for it, send you a tax receipt, and follow-up with a thank you note so, hopefully, you will give again. And the bank or credit card processing company charged that charity some fees for your transaction. Someone had to run payroll to compensate these employees, and pay payroll taxes on their behalf. Someone had to file a tax return with the IRS and the state, and be sure the charity is in compliance with labor laws. Someone had to create and update the website. Someone had to think, hard, about the best way the organization could feed more families. And the staff need office space, computers, perhaps delivery vans and other property and equipment to help carry out their work - and all of that needs to be properly insured.

Lots of these expenses are clearly not program expenses. And that makes us uncomfortable. "I don't want to pay someone's payroll taxes. I don't want to pay for that data entry person. I'm giving money to make a difference for hungry families, so all my money should go to buying and delivering food."

But those payroll taxes and that data entry person is essential to the nonprofit. Someone has to pay for them, or the nonprofit shuts down and there are no programs to speak of.

We create a false dichotomy when we separate the expenses of a nonprofit, classifying program expenses as "good" and G&A expenses as "bad". G&A is not separate from program: it is the delivery system that allows services to reach people in need. Without the delivery system in place - the measurement, the payroll, the legal compliance - hungry families would not be fed, because the nonprofit that feeds them would not exist.

Each nonprofit will have a different delivery system - some may be cheaper than others depending on the type of services they are offering, to whom, and where. Rather than using an arbitrary percentage to determine whether the delivery of services is efficient, ask yourself: could I do it cheaper on my own? Could I get food in the hands of a hungry family for less then $25 or $50 or $85? Maybe if I know the hungry family. Maybe if they are right down the street from me. Maybe if my hourly wage is low. Then yes. I could stop by and see the family to ensure someone will be home (food left on their door-step will likely get stolen, then don't have a phone so I must visit in person), then head to the grocery store and buy $70 worth of food, drive it to the family and drive home, spending $5 on gas, and a total of one hour of my time at $25/hr. Seventy percent on my $100 directly helped the family. But what if that family wasn't home when I dropped by? What if I hit traffic? What if the local grocery store doesn't have fresh fruits or vegetables? The cost for my delivery system can quickly rise. And if the family I'm trying to help is in Kenya, it would cost me thousands of dollars to deliver any help on my own.

G&A expenses are really a societal efficiency - not a waste of charitable gifts. Individuals acting on their own to do good work face high costs. But through a nonprofit vehicle, we can pool our resources to create a streamlined delivery system that lets more of our money do good. I'm happy to pay for the existence of that system, and I think you should be too. The charity delivery system, even if it seems inefficient, is vastly more efficient than what any of us could do on our own.

I hope it goes without saying that I think charities should spend only what they need on delivery systems, not more. I am not suggesting they ignore opportunities for improvement. Instead, I am suggesting that we, as donors, stop ignoring the fact that delivering services costs money. We should recognize that delivery systems are not free, and we should be willing to pay for them.

-Selfish Blogger

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

New Charity Endorsed by Givewell

Givewell, a charity evaluation and ranking organization, has recommended a new charity: GiveDirectly.

GiveDirectly transfers money directly from you, the donor, to poor people in Kenya to spend as they choose.

I'm excited to see Givewell add a third charity to their recommended list - one of my big objections to Givewell is that they are too small to evaluate a suitable number of charities. I find it fascinating that they have endorsed a very young charity. GiveDirectly is less than two years old. After listening to one of their conference calls, I've learned that Givewell believes direct cash transfer requires a lower burden of proof for effectiveness than other interventions (like vaccines, or clean water programs).

Still, endorsing a charity with less than two years of data feels like a big departure from Givewell's work in the past. Essentially, the leadership at Givewell believes in the theory of change behind GiveDirectly and is impressed by the GiveDirectly leadership. This is the same way that most donors and foundations decide on their giving. On a certain level, I don't object to Givewell doing the same. But Givewell has purposely set themselves apart from the wider philanthropic world by claiming a superior evaluation model and process that almost assures their recommended charities do more good with your money than other charities.

It will be interested to follow the response to Givewell's endorsement of GiveDirectly, and I am eager to learn more about the impact of direct money transfers.

-Selfish Blogger

It's Giving Tuesday!

Good morning! Have you ever found yourself sitting around the house thinking "I need a good excuse to give some money away"? Well today is your day! Giving Tuesday is here! Now you can give away your money with bunches of other people on the same day. Lookayou!

And if you find yourself saying "I don't have any extra money to give away," consider one of these quick money-finding tips: skip Starbucks, make your lunch a PB&J, sell that thing you've been meaning to put on Craig's List. With any luck, you've scrapped together $5-10 that you can donate to the worthwhile charity of your choice.

I might make a gift to The Adventure Project, or perhaps The Fistula Foundation, or maybe even International Planned Parenthood Federation... Where will your money go?

-Selfish Blogger

Monday, September 12, 2011


This weekend PETA Pack volunteers put on a fabulous vegan bake sale outside the Silverlake Trader Joe's to raise money for PETA's investigation fund. I stopped by and picked up a few delicious goodies (the pumpkin muffins and chocolate coconut truffles were outstanding!). They raised close to $200 and, from what I could see, it only took about 5 people to pull it off.

No doubt, bake sales are a fun way to introduce your work to the public and get volunteers engaged. The nonprofit I run holds a bake sale each winter that brings in a similar sum, and it seems to be the favorite fundraising vehicle of parent groups everywhere.

But are bake sales productive fundraisers? Consider how much each baker spends on ingredients and packaging. It's easy for me to shell out $20 for the ingredients and cute little goody bags to whip up some tasty treats for a bake sale. Add in the hours spent to plan and organize, bake and wrap, set up and sell (some of which might be paid staff hours), and the price tag on this type of fundraiser quickly adds up.

If each volunteer donated the equivalent cash they spent on ingredients, the organization might come out about even. They'd save the money spent on staff time and probably get half the cash or more - especially if someone prices your cupcakes at $1 each without knowing they cost $1.50 to make (that's happened to me). If each volunteer, instead of baking for hours, took 30 minutes to place a few phone calls to people they know and ask for a donation, the organization would easily exceed bake sale revenues. Simple! Increased revenues from significantly reduced staff and volunteer hours, but something that few volunteers will sign up to do.

The fact that bake sales (and car washes and rummage sales and other labor-intensive fundraisers) are so popular says something about how we relate to money. More people are comfortable giving away proxies for money, like their time or a dozen cookies, than actual cash. And more people are comfortable asking someone to spend 3 hours working a bake sale than asking for a $50 check (even if that someone is a lawyer who could have billed $600 during her 3 hour bake sale shift). We believe it is better to earn money than ask for money, even if earning it is more expensive for the volunteer, even if it is more expensive for the organization. Dollar-for-dollar, hour-for-hour, these types of fundraisers are less productive than the alternative: directly asking for money.

Of course, there is more to be measured from a bake sale than dollars alone. It's a fun event, so people want to get involved, which builds your volunteer base and makes supporters feel more deeply connected to your cause: you'll be able to count on those people in the future. It's a great way to do outreach: what better way to teach someone about your cause than by getting them to buy cookies? In specific cases, it can actually help some groups fulfill their mission. This is true in the case of PETA, who used their bake sale to introduce the general public to veganism in a tangible (and tasty!) way. Their bake sale would have been worth it whether it made a dime or not.

As donors and volunteers, I think it's important we start considering how we can be most productive and start being honest about when our time could do a lot more to help the causes we love. Look at the well-meaning groups who raise tens of thousands of dollars to fly themselves to poor countries so they can volunteer their time to build schools or dig wells. Without a doubt a new school makes a huge difference for a poor community. These groups are probably doing good work, and they usually bring one expert with them that this type of project needs. But just imagine how much that airfare - that tens of thousands of dollars - could do if it went to an established charity on the ground instead of the Airlines. It could certainly employ local workers to build schools or dig wells instead of college students, and that temporary employment could change outcomes for the families who benefit.

Is it better to do something than nothing? Almost certainly. Could we do more good if we focused on productivity instead of our own personal enjoyment? Absolutely. But in the example above, using the monies more productively by leaving the fundraisers at home means it's unlikely those monies would have been raised in the first place. It's a safe bet that traveling to a foreign country to make new friends and learn about other cultures was the driving motivator for many, and the driving motivator for their donors (mostly parents and friends no doubt). A similar fundraiser to employ local workers in a poor town unseen likely wouldn't have engaged people in the same way - it easily could have flopped and left the town with nothing.

So are the people who participate in these fundraiser selfish? Not anymore than the rest of us, and perhaps less than the general population. In the same way that most people don't think that buying a new car is a trade off for saving the lives of others (it is), those who help with a less-productive fundraiser don't think that they could run a more-productive fundraiser in it's place. Part of the blame for this rests with nonprofits that continue to run less-productive fundraisers while claiming the event is about raising money, instead of being honest that its purpose is volunteer engagement and outreach.

If we really care about a cause, and our goal is to raise money for that cause, it's time we start doing what it really takes: writing checks and asking our friends to do the same.

-Selfish Blogger

BTW, I'm running with PETA Pack. You can support my PETA Pack run here.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Money That Flows to Religion

"What was the total amount given to charity last year?" is a familiar question to anyone who's done fundraising training, and a handy motivating tool for fundraising instructors. When the question is posed, those new to the fundraising game guess embarrassingly small numbers. "$10 million", "$2 billion", "$10 billion!!!!" while the instructor writes their guesses on the board. Finally, the answer is revealed to a (mostly) shocked audience. "Over $300 billion was given in the US last year. And guess what folks, this number doesn't drop much during a recession. Is $300 billion enough for you to do your work? Enough for everyone in this room to do their work?! Let's figure out how you can get some of that $300 billion!" And then comes the breakdown of where that money goes, in the form of a handy pie chart.

Obviously there are shifts each year, but in the 5 years I've been looking at these pie charts based on Giving USA studies, the shifts have been minimal. The pies I've seen have 10 slices, give or take. Education and health/human services are two of the largest slices of pie, around 15% each. Animals/Environment (always lumped together) usually fall to the very bottom with about 2%. The largest chunk is always the same, and it's always far above the rest. No less than 1/3 of all charitable giving in the US, more than $100 billion annually, goes to religion. And when I say religion, I don't mean Catholic universities (education) or Jewish hospitals (health), I mean proselytizing and church building.*

$100 billion is pretty darn close to what we need to cut world poverty in half, and it's not been easy to get it. Are mega churches and televangelist salaries the best way to spend our charitable dollars? Does the vatican need your money more than a hungry child? And when the "charitable" work of religion includes lies to prevent condom use in AIDS stricken regions of the planet, I hope most people will agree that at least some of that $100 billion is causing great harm by going to religion instead of going to reputable nonprofits who are providing life saving services.

When the fundraising classes discuss why religion dominates the charitable contributions in this country, lot's of ideas get thrown around. But the inevitable answer landed on is always "because they ask, and they ask every week". I'm not sure if this is the whole answer, but there is no doubt it's a big part of it. People give because they are asked. And churches never hesitate to pass the collection plate.

I wonder if we can grab on to religion's ability to ask and use it to do real good. Here's my idea for the readers: make your own collection plate. Take a dollar from your wallet each Sunday and set it aside for a good cause. Once a year, you've got $52 just waiting to help someone who really needs it.

I know not everyone will do this. But I've taken enough fundraising course to know one thing for certain: the top reason people don't give is because they are never asked. So I'm asking. I'm asking you. Will you give $52 more this year than you gave last year? Will you save $1 a week to help someone truly in need?

List of reputable charities to consider:

If you decide to give, tell us about it.

-Selfish Blogger

*I should mention that I've never actually read the Giving USA report myself - it costs money to get your hands on - so I can't be certain how they classify each category. I'm simply repeating the definitions that my fundraising instructors have used. I assume they are right.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Share a Cup of Coffee

My first fundraising job was for a university. For three hours each night (during dinner time) I called university alumni and asked them for money. Sometimes it was difficult, but I was pretty good at it, and I learned a lot about why people give and how to successfully ask for that gift - skills that are essential now that I'm the Executive Director of a nonprofit.

The year I started making those calls, the university set the goal of increasing the alumni giving rate from a tiny 7% to a more respectable 13%. It didn't matter how big the gifts were, we just needed to get more alumni to become donors. (Most people don't know this, but the US New and World Report rankings of universities include alumni giving rates. Increasing our rate wasn't so much a goal for increasing income, but rather a goal for improving our national ranking).

Our campaign was ingenious, and a concept I have used since. One alumnus conceived of and paid for the whole campaign, and it went something like this:

Share a Cup of Coffee with Your University
Think of how much you spend on those fancy coffees. Would you be willing to share a cup of coffee each month with your university? Save the money you spend on one cup of coffee each month, and at the end of the year that's a substantial $25 gift. Share a cup of coffee with the university by making a $25 contribution to support our annual fund.

It worked. In about 18 months we had nearly doubled our annual giving rate to 13%.

There's something I really like about this campaign. It presents the idea of simple sacrifice as a way to give. You don't have to have extra money laying around to make a gift (who does!?), you just have to reallocate some of the money you're already spending. It subtly shows that we actually do have extra money laying around! If you spend $3 on a cup of coffee, when you could make that coffee at home? That's extra money. If you buy a soda with your meals out when you could get water for free? That's extra money. If you are having meals out at all! That's extra money, and you can afford to give to charity.

When I volunteered to do training for a chapter of my sorority, I put it to the test. Speaking to 70 college women attending a state school, I showed that they had money to give to our philanthropy using the coffee example. Instead of falling on deaf ears, the sorority engaged in a lively discussion about where else they could make cuts in their budget in order to make meaningful gifts to charity. Designer bags, weekly manicures, alcohol, everything was on the table. Rather than feeling put out at the suggestion they should give up something they enjoy to give to charity, they felt empowered. As "poor" (I use the term loosely) college students, they had more money than they knew to help an important cause.

When you feel like to you don't have money to give to charity, remember this example. There are things you buy - yearly, monthly, maybe daily? - that are extras. They are luxuries. And when set against the backdrop of our world, where children die because they don't have enough food or clean water, those luxuries are selfish.

Here's a stagering figure that Peter Singer presents: for $125 billion, we could cut world poverty in half. $116 billion is what American's spend on booze annually.

What are you willing to give up to save a life?

-Selfish Blogger