Folks, we all live in a world of finite resources.
There is only so much land. There are only so many adopters. There are only so many donors.
Those donors only have so much to give.
When I stood on the brink of the non-profit path in 2012, right before filing for 501(C)3 status for Heart of Phoenix Equine Rescue, I wondered a few things. First, how would I ever show people this organization would be one worthy of support? Second was the worry that those wiling to give had already found a charity of their choice, and perhaps there were not enough donors to support a new equine rescue despite the desperate need for one in West Virginia.
What I found was that donors were out there, disillusioned by equine charities, yet still looking to support equine welfare. What they wanted to know was would this rescue be like so many, taking in too many, closing too soon by living on the fiscal cliff with no concern to space or resources?
And the answer was a resounding,”No, we would not.”
People fail to realize Non-Profit donating is a lot like playing the Stock Market. You give with the hope of enormous return and depending on others to see your money is well invested. The return is the great good your money helps facilitate. The investors of your money are the team behind the charity of your choice. A lot of the charities go belly up; investing the money unwisely and the “investors” are left out in the cold.
The Non-profit world is highly competitive. Possibly more so than any other sector.
What we know are that donors give to what they love and where they see a need. They give with the hope that they will see a return in the way of good efforts being carried out.
This can sometimes lead donors down a path of disappointment.
I believe keeping long term donors and gaining new donors requires an organization to work with long term goals. Organizations need to be administrated in such a responsible way that the donor has cause to believe YOU will be here a decade from now serving the community (Truth be told, major grants are not possible to organizations doing anything less). Organizations must not allow idealism cause them to sink their ships before they really ever sail anywhere.
Let us talk about Responsibility
Unfortunately, if you are involved in any capacity with animal rescue in the United States, you know how fleeting mere existence can be: Burn out, Emotions, hoarding, mental illness, financial crisis and simple poor business practices close rescue doors every single day. Most of this can be prevented. Good intentions are in every place we look. They are behind most rescue cases ending poorly. Good intentions and poor business sense close most rescue doors before they even have a chance to build a track record.
How does this make the donors to those groups feel? It hurts, it is disappointing and this causes an overall loss of faith in animal charities. It makes that donor less apt to give to another animal rescue in the future. So organizations that are going to be here year after year work much harder to keep the faith of their donor base, as well. Donors do not want to go through that same experience twice. They invest money and hope in the rescues they give to, and yet, too many times, they are let down. Hard.
How does this harm established organizations? Those disappointed donors now are afraid to give at all. They have lost faith. Earning it back is often possible, but it takes a long time and tremendous effort. Also, you must consider who goes in to clean up the good intentions of the now “defaulted” rescue? Those fiscally responsible groups with long term goals and good administrative practices are who clean up. Those that now have a donor base with trust shaken through no fault of their own, those that have been financially prudent, those that have worked to build something that will live on past for years to come are who.
We know Any time an animal charity closes, it HURTS all rescues. There is no question many times, doors need to close because what is happening behind them is harmful. Yet there needs to be a desire to empower and educate those seeking to go into non-profit that sets them up for success or at least helps to direct their desire. , If they are not especially business minded, they can be helped by bringing them into already active, successful rescues in their areas where they can offer something.
I encourage donors to seek out charities that have a clear goals, sound business management and operate with fiscal responsibility. Do not be afraid to ask questions, find out if you believe the organization will be one your invest will grow in and show a return you can see many years from now.
I encourage those in non-profit to understand good intentions and idealism will only take you so far. Dedicate yourself to understand solid business practices, financial prudence and operating in the black with a solid cushion to protect the organization you represent. Make decisions that build a foundation for the future, and always look toward how your choices impact your ability to be here for the long term.
So before you journey down the non-profit path, you have an obligation to not only work honestly, but you have an obligation to not do anything to shake the trust of your donor base.
(While I’m speaking specifically to animal charities, this same advice can certainly apply to any charity.)