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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Uh oh.. I think I’m an obstructive vagrant. - Spencer

William H. Allen pegged me just about 100 years ago. Way back in 1912, he hit the nail on the head in his work, The Study of Efficient Appealing and Giving (Modern Philanthropy. New York: Dodd, Mead). In his article, he stated that “Rubber stamping trustees will never impress donors or the public with the seriousness of benevolent work”…. Yup. Sounds like me. I would rather take a good old fashioned butt whuppin’ than go out and beg for money, no matter how noble the cause. Allen went so far as to call behavior such as mine “obstructive vagrancy”. That stings a little bit there Mr. Allen. I’ve not been called a vagrant since the mottled days of my youth when I was known to hang around at store down the road with a couple of buddies, not doing much of anything but feigning coolness (never did work). Sigh. Guilty then. Guilty now.

Maybe this is why non-profits are not beating down my door to sit on their boards. I probably have a sign on my back and shame on you for not telling me. Fact is, I am not as bad as I may seem in this regard. I dive in wherever I can to assist non-profits which I have a passion for. The key segment of the preceding statement is, “wherever I can”. Like I said, I loathe asking for money. Assigned readings are clear as a mountain spring – No matter who the author nor what the study, the ability to raise funds always plays out as one if the top three priorities of a BPO board. Its pretty intuitive really. Any fool could slip up on the sidelines and whisper that in the coaches ear. Show me the money (and how to get it…). We may have stumbled upon the singular area in the social sciences where additional research is not required. We may have to study that though…

I contend however, that I am not a complete and utter failure. I do have a few skills in other areas. I’m dedicated, dependable, and can create some pretty darned fancy seating layouts for fundraiser banquets. I am deceptive good at keeping projects on track and have a fair track record for matching people to tasks …this is starting to read like an NPO resume and I offer sincere apologies – I’ll get back to the overarching purpose of denigrating myself as an obstructive vagrant – I do believe I was getting defensive. As such, and in my defense, I am an unrepentant sucker for a cute kid selling chances something that I will never use, such as a free piano lessons. Ten Bucks? Sold. Ask me to stand beside the little kid with my hand out in support of the abolition of world hunger and I will turn the prettiest shade you yellow you’ve ever seen. I’m the sorriest direct fundraiser on the planet. Clearly, I am unequivocally not a suitable NPO board member.. Or am I? What is a good board member? Do you have to be a ten-ohhhh (with-a-sigh) in fund-raising? Or can you bring other goods to the game? In hindsight, I prefer to think that my contributions to the cause actually do give me license to lean back in one of the soft seats. Sometimes a good board member brings a skill set which offsets a lack in the enviable ability to make an advantageous play on the wallet of the rich and famous. Don’t get me wrong – When it come down to brass tacks, ye-who-bring-the-cash get the gold stars, but the contributions of the worker bee cannot be denied – Just don’t ask him to hit the Moose Lodge peddling chances on a pedicure.

(Obviously, this post is a bit tongue-in-cheek. I recognize the fact that although some people were born for sales, others such as me, were not. The real question is, can one learn to be an effective fundraiser or is this an inherent skill? As Lilya Wagner notes in The Road Less Travelled: Board Roles in Fundraising (1994, p.43), “Board members need to see that they represent a larger cause than themselves.” The article made me take a closer look at my role with an NP board on which I currently sit. I need to suck it up and refocus a bit, becoming a lot less sheepish and apologetic in my approach to direct fund-raising. Glancing ahead at the titles of additional readings, I have a suspicion that I’ll gain some more information on how to do just that as I read further).

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