Quick: think of ten charities you’ve heard about lately. If you’re like most people, the ones that come to mind are often large, high-profile, national or international organizations whose mission is to raise funds for important causes.
You know them, because they are the ones knocking on your door, benefitting from community events, and connecting with your youngest family members through schools.
These big (and often highly-ranked) charities are primarily fundraising and marketing organizations. They raise awareness for their issue, raise funds, and then distribute the money to smaller organizations that deliver programs on the ground. This is important work.
They do it well, because most of these organizations have dedicated fundraising and marketing departments, filled with staff who have specific expertise in raising money and attracting supporters. The solicit support from millions of people through repeated marketing programs, learning and honing their craft as they go. And so they should.
What differentiates large organizations from medium and smaller organizations is this: the people who raise the money and the people who spend the money on programs are not the same.
For staff and volunteers at the smaller charities, much of the day is spent designing and delivering programs. Which means their core competency is program design and execution. Not fundraising. Not marketing.
For them, each day is a never-ending series of tradeoffs. Should they spend the morning calling donors? Or should they spend it delivering services to the community? Doing both all the time is rarely an option.
This is a fact of life for most Canadian charities:
This means that only about 23% of Canadian charities have enough staff to even conceive of “job descriptions”, let alone “departments” or “specialization” within the organization.
It’s no surprise, then, that half of Canadian charities have an annual income under $50,000.
Is this a problem? Not always. The whole point of charities is that they exist to serve needs of the community that business and government don’t. Not every charity needs a marketing department to be of service. Not every charity needs a gazillion dollars to be of value.
If you’re a smart donor, you understand the size and mandate of the organizations you support. You recognize that mediocrity in marketing and fundraising programs is often the result of deliberate choices, made by smart and committed individuals, in the name of their mission.
Here’s what you sound like in my head:
"Your website hasn’t been redesigned in years? Great! I know you spent your money on a direct community service, instead."
"Your year-end mailing was late? Excellent! I see that you chose to write a groundbreaking policy paper analysis, instead."
"Your print newsletter is ugly? Fantastic! I adore that, because I know you chose to save money printing it in black and white and so you could mail more copies to more people."
You have to be pretty darn big to be good in all departments. Heck, you have to actually have "departments". If you're a small organization whose staff all wear many hats and you're still delivering excellent programs to your community, you deserve all the support you can get. No matter how wonky your newsletter looked, how phoned-in your envelopes are, or how behind you've become with that LinkedIn page your old intern set up.
Three cheers for deliberate mediocrity!