Getting Fit for Charity

I’m sorry to say that I’ve been away for a little while focusing on another writing project. But I also have a little backlog of Kilted Dad posts and post ideas I plan to start pushing through again during the rest of the month.

Today I want to take a little aside and talk briefly about getting fit for charity. I’ve previously talked about making charitable donations of “stuff” in my post about Getting Organized, but this is more about donating money, or more specifically raising money, for charity.

One has but to look to find an endless supply of fitness or sports related activities which are geared towards raising funds for one or more various charities. Probably the most famous is Relay for Life supporting the American Cancer Society, and similar events include the Walk to End Alzheimer’s for the Alzheimer’s Association and the Heart Walk for the American Heart Association.

These events are popular and successful because they have all hit on a couple of basic themes. First, they are as inclusive as possible, since almost everyone can walk (and because it’s a walking pace, those who can’t could roll in a wheelchair, or whatever means of locomotion is necessary). They have also capitalized on a nonprofit secret – mobilizing others to do your fundraising for you. Staff are always seeking donations from their circle of contacts, but by engaging participants in the fundraising process, they are both lightening the load of fundraising and expanding their circle of contacts.


There are Many More Events

This week, two friends of mine are participating in an alternative to the Relay for Life. They are a group of kayakers, so rather than walking, they paddle from Miami to Key West every summer raising funds for the American Cancer Society. This is the group’s 19th year and this year they reached the one-million-dollar mark of total money raised. Great work guys!

Scottish radio personality Niall Iain MacDonald is currently engaged in a much more extensive effort. He is rowing from New York to Stornoway (in Scotland) to raise awareness and funds for the Scottish Association for Mental Health. He had to abandon an attempt in 2014 when he sustained a back injury during a storm. He began again in May this year and recently had to pause for a broken rudder, but thanks the US Coast Guard for coming to his rescue and assisting in repairs. He is now back underway and hopes to complete the row by September. Good luck!

Switching sports, my Facebook feed has been inundated with information about the Great Cycle Challenge which is raising funds to support the Children’s Cancer Research Fund. Cyclists who register set a mile goal to ride in June and are asked to raise $500 to support the cause. The Kilted Dad has registered and is tracking his rides on the site, but hasn’t been pushing the fundraising yet. If you want to support the CCRF, please donate through the Kilted Dad’s Great Cycle Challenge Dashboard, but I’ll ask you to finish reading this whole post first before making your donation.


My Thoughts About Fundraising

Personally, I’m a bit jaded when it comes to fundraising. Having worked in the nonprofit industry for 16 years and as a dedicated fundraiser for the last 3 of it, I have seen the best and the worst of it. I have seen a doctor who drives a Jaguar and wears a Rolex say he doesn’t have $20 a month to support a program his son participates in, and I have seen an 8-year-old give a $1 because a group presentation asked parents to “give what you can” because “every dollar helps.” I have been locked in a room for 8 hours making fundraising calls and seen a coworker reduced to tears over how rudely she was treated when she asked someone to repeat a gift they had made the previous year. And I have seen my organization gifted with a Steinway piano when I mentioned to a group that it would be nice if we had a new piano!

In my 16 years with nonprofits, even when it wasn’t my primary role, I was always on the lookout for donations or donor prospects. It was always a necessary part of the job, but it was not the fun part, at least not for me. But when I made the move to full-time fundraiser, things got worse.

The fund I was hired to manage was designed to help a specific group of seniors in the community. But as far as the community at large was concerned, the intended recipients were financially stable and well-off (which they were) and did not need support. As far as the local grant-making bodies were concerned, they were not racially diverse enough to be worthy of support (yes, the rejections did specifically mention the demographics). That left the seniors themselves as potential donors, but since they had already been promised the services the fund was intended to finance, they didn’t feel it was their responsibility to fund it.

It appeared to be a dead-end effort that was too limited in scope to be successful. But what was its main flaw? It’s very simple – people donate to causes they care about. And rightly so.


It’s Personal

As a fundraiser, your target demographic is someone who has been affected by or is likely to be affected by your cause. Now a good fundraiser can make connections to the cause where a potential donor doesn’t see them. When asking for donations for the Boy Scouts, I encountered many people who tried to use “I only have daughters” as their excuse not to give. On the surface, that’s a valid reason not to support the Boy Scouts. I got some of them to reconsider their own objection when I asked “Would you want them to marry Eagle Scouts?”

Statistics could probably show that almost everyone will somehow be affected by cancer, whether personally or a close family member. But that still doesn’t mean that a cancer organization should be your preferred charity. My dad died of cancer. He may have preferred to think that is was actually the complications arising from cancer treatment and not the cancer itself, but in the long run, cancer caused his death. But when he reached out to the American Cancer Society for help, they told him that Gastro-esophageal cancer wasn’t common enough to warrant the expenditure of funds. Because of this, they’re not a charity I support.

I used to support the Boy Scouts of America. When I lived in South Carolina, the local council used to get $1000 a year from me personally. But new leadership reduced both the level and the quality of services provided to the Scouts. They strayed from their mission of doing what was best for the kids and instead started doing what was easier for the employees (and allowed them to cut staff). So, I stopped supporting them. Many others did too. Now, I instead support a nature preserve in Scotland and a Scottish cultural organization in the US.


So Why Do People Give?

Simply put, people generally only make donations to causes they personally care about, or to a cause someone they care about has asked them to support. So, if you care about childhood cancer, I’ll encourage you to support the Children’s Cancer Research Fund through the Kilted Dad’s Great Cycle Challenge Dashboard. If that’s not your cause, that’s OK too. But if I have inspired you, please go ahead and donate to whatever charity you do care about. If you’d like, feel free to let me know in the comments and I’ll thank you for supporting them.