In a perfect world, many Newsletter readers believe, nonprofits would work cooperatively and combine resources. Many of these same people, however, acknowledge that we are not living in a perfect world.
April's Question of the Month asked if a nonprofit planning a major fundraising campaign had an ethical responsibility to consider the campaign's impact on other organizations in the region, or to coordinate efforts with other local nonprofits. More than two-thirds of the people who responded answered in the affirmative.
"Yes""This is essential, particularly in small communities both from a PR aspect and for the health of the overall non profit segment of the local economy," commented Laura Scott of The Colonial Theatre.
Several people observed that major development efforts can siphon support from other organizations. "There are limited funds for all nonprofits," said Donna Schmid of Humanitarians of Florida Inc., "and large campaigns can have a negative effect on local nonprofits." Carol Ochadleus of POH Medical Center agreed: "Our region of the country is a particularly small arena for fundraising. ... A mega-campaign in the area can potentially decimate funding resources for smaller, less aggressive, yet worthwhile groups. ... Starving smaller, but vital organizations to death does not serve any community well."
Other readers commented on the overall benefits of nonprofit collaboration. "Donors like to see communication among organizations and cooperation," maintained Kathy Stiles Freeland of the Ruffner Mountain Nature Center. An anonymous subscriber noted, "You have a much better chance of successful fundraising when you are not going head to head against other major campaigns."
Some participants in the "Yes" column questioned how effective coordination would be, however. "I really wonder if talking about capital campaigns well in advance of their kickoffs would in actuality make any org's leaders revise their plans or postpone their campaigns?" mused one anonymously. "Most likely such discussion would only dissuade smaller groups, causing them to abandon their capital plans because of the enormity of mega-campaigns being conducted, or soon to start, in their regions."
"No"Many readers who selected "No" cited the nature of the nonprofit sector as their reason. "People give to people and each organization has its own culture and constituents," stated Donna Reckseen of the Memorial Medical Center Foundation.
"Every campaign has a mission statement; every need is important," echoed an anonymous respondent. "... Just because someone supports my cause does not mean they will necessarily not support yours. You just have to be able to make as good a case."
Other participants in the "No" column labeled the idea impractical. "How do you project the impact?" a subscriber asked anonymously. "Nonprofits are also businesses and as such MUST remain viable," said another.
"To have to tiptoe around other organizations' calendars of events is a nightmare," commented an anonymous reader. " ... In a perfect world there would be a special weekend for everyone. In reality, special fundraising endeavors bump into others. ... Donors make choices as to how well they have been treated."
Robert F. Rowell of the Council for Art Education averred, "One: It might negatively impact your campaigns. Two: It will definitely impact on your relationships with potential collaborative partners."
Last, not all nonprofits deserve support equally, stated Paul E. Dufendach of the Friends in the Desert Foundation, Inc. "A well-run, ethical organization with well-defined, worthy, charitable goals should not have to be concerned with how their fundraising affects the fundraising efforts of other organizations which may not be as well run."
Reason for Proponents to Take Hope?One respondent reports that fundraising coordination is working in his community. According to Don S. Anderson of the Wasatch Community Gardens, "The Research Triangle Park region in North Carolina has a Major Campaign Review Committee which collects and coordinates dates of major fundraising efforts. Although they do not forbid a campaign from happening, they can suggest scheduling and other things to keep large campaigns from competing with each other. Organizations recognize the value and voluntarily submit to the Review Committee. It seems to work well."
Perhaps the world—or the nonprofit segment of it—is a little less imperfect than we thought.
Suzanne E. Coffman, May 2004
© 2004, Philanthropic Research, Inc.
Suzanne Coffman is GuideStar's director of communications and the new editor of the GuideStar Newsletter. Although she is looking forward to her new tasks, she keenly regrets losing Patrick Ferraro as the editor and as a colleague, and wishes him well in his new endeavors.