Thursday, February 4, 2010

It IS personal, isn't it?

It's a personal decision that each one of us makes to be charitable. For some, it comes from a religious or spiritual place. For others, it comes from a feeling of being a member of the family of man, that we are all one race, one people, and we have an obligation to support each other. And others of us do not get "the bug" until we are personally touched by events that compel our bodies to act on behalf of our hearts.

For me, it's a little of all of these reasons.

I began my career working 14 years at a direct marketing firm -- 12 of those years my clients were primarily nonprofit clients who looked to us to help them raise money, so they could fulfill their various missions.

Prior to focusing on nonprofits, I can honestly say I felt a little...slimy. A little disingenuine. I was putting my brains to work figuring out how to sell consumers the next gadget from the upcoming catalog, to convince people to subscribe to a magazine they could live without. But when I began putting those marketing brains to work for nonprofits, I felt better about what I was doing. At least I was working to convince people to give to a cause, to help others, to fund research, to save animals, to do whatever it was our clients' missions were.

Yet through this experience, I was also supporting nonprofits whose missions meant little to me on a personal level.

I found some of my clients were not good stewards of the money that was given to them, that much of it was wasted or spent for the sake of spending money, because money had been budgeted to them and they weren't going to NOT spend it or they wouldn't get it budgeted to them the following year. And others were such incredible stewards of their donors money that every dollar that they received did two dollars worth of good.

After more than a decade of sitting on the sidelines, of observing and evaluating what I would and wouldn't do, I've decided to join the nonprofit forces. I can't say how many times I've sat in strategy meetings with my clients and thought, "If I were in their shoes, here's what I would do." Now, I have that opportunity.

And I am only beginning to understand first-hand the challenges facing nonprofits.

That it isn't as easy to turn the internal tide of thought -- that while as a consultant I could say, "Just walk 'The Board' through these numbers, how can they not see the reasons why they need to invest in acquisition?" it isn't as easy when you're the person sitting in that seat.

That I can't make people not give to Haitian earthquake relief so they give to my organization instead. And I understand that people don't have the funds to do both.

In my past life I withheld writing about my professional work because I did not want to accidentally disclose company secrets. I didn't want to air dirty laundry, the same kind of dirty laundry that every company (and nonprofit) has within its walls. I wanted a clear separation between my professional life and my personal life.

But now, my professional life and my personal life are closely aligned. People who know me best know I have "a soft heart." I feel, truly feel, for people going through troubling times. It takes me not two seconds to put myself in their shoes and empathize with their plights. At times this empathy is a blessing and a curse.

This blog is about the reasons why charity as a whole is so important.

It's about what compells my six-year-old to want to give money to help Haiti, and then two days later wonders why her money didn't make an impact, because she still sees news coverage of suffering there.

It's about the personal connection, the face-to-face discussions with the people who benefit from our charitable acts, that mean so much to us that we take those experiences home with us...for days or weeks. Or years.

It's about the tactics used  that help further a nonprofit's goals, that make them savvy marketers and ultimately successful organizations, who now have success stories to tell. Or those unwise tactics which resulted in the loss of revenue, some bad press, a lost opportunity, a decision we can learn from.

So look for stories both little and small, personal and professional, to litter these pages. I hope you find them helpful, or if not, truthful. Perhaps you will find your heart is in fundraising as well, and you didn't even know it.


  1. JennyF,

    Well said. We all have a calling. This piece very well articulates how comfortable you are with telling people about yours. I commend you on writing it and for the approach you take towards non-profit work. I know I could, and we all could for that matter, give more and your piece made me think about that.

    All good executives, non-profit or otherwise, need to write. We are the keepers of the flame. Keep up the good work. Continue to keep the flame burning brightly. Good luck with the blog. Look forward to future posts.

    All the best,

  2. What a fantastic post, Jenny. I feel incredibly honored to work for the charity you chose to support. Having worked as a direct marketing professional for many years, you have "behind the scenes" knowledge that 99.9% of charitable supporters do not. I am so glad that during our working relationship we impressed upon you how hard we do work to make good business decisions and spend our sponsor's donations wisely. And I agree, all it takes is one trip to the field to change a person from a skeptic to a believer. Best of luck in your new position. I'll be following your posts.