Reasons Non-Profits Fail: Reason #2: Money Is Valued Over Relationship

I’ve had some pretty serious struggles with money in my life – wanting it, being controlled by it, and letting it blur my values and judgment.

I will never forget the time I held on to money so tightly that I lost a relationship over it.  I am too ashamed of that event to tell you the details, but it sticks in my heart and mind as one of the lowest points in my life.

What is it about money that grabs us like it does?  My colleague and friend, Karen, tells me it is about fear and security.  You fear you will not have enough to be secure so you obsess about it.  I can relate to that.  I grew up in a very unsettled and resource poor situation. Over the years I have had to struggle with issues of security.  Even when I had enough, I still worried.  I am now almost over it, but there is still a monster under the bed.

There is no doubt that money drives things in our personal as well as our professional lives.  And in the non-profit world, it is a delicate balance.  Here are some of the areas that can go terribly wrong in a non-profit as relates to money:

1.  We treat donors as sources of cash vs. partners.  We don’t start out this way, but       after awhile the donor just becomes an I.D. number on a list vs. a real human being.  And our agenda is simply to grab the money and run.  We all know this is a dead-end street, but often we can’t help behaving this way because there is so much pressure to perform.

2.  We start to believe revenue is more important than helping others.  So we spend       more time talking about it, worrying about it, emphasizing it…than we do focusing on the people or causes we have committed ourselves to.  And our gaze turns away from people to the money. Now, don’t get me wrong.  I am a serious business-person with my feet planted firmly and practically on the ground. So I am not suggesting some bleeding heart scenario here.  All I am saying is that our love migrates away from relationships and toward money and that is not good.  I remember sitting with a leader of a major non-profit and hearing her get all excited about the business relationships she was developing.  As I listened to the monologue, I realized that the whole thing was more about morphed from a person truly interested in people to one more interested in hob-knobbing with the “rich and famous”.  And that has negatively changed the very character of the organization she leads. I think this good organization is in serious decline.  The leader has lost her way.

3.  Money becomes the objective vs. the result.  You know you are in serious trouble       when money, in any situation, becomes the objective. If earning money is the only reason you work, there is trouble ahead for you, believe me. If someone you know owns a business and his or her objective is money, disaster is looming around the corner – I promise you that.  If all you care about in your relationship to your donor is their money, your job is headed for failure.  In healthy settings, money is always a result or outcome of doing the right thing, i.e. serving your employer, customer or donor.  It is so easy to get away from this point and just chase the money.

Any non-profit whose leaders have moved away from a love of the people or causes they serve and instead turned toward getting and loving money OR the sources of money, is headed towards failure.  It may take some years but, believe me, the time will come.

What can you do to counter this very natural tendency in the major gift or fundraising field?  I have a few suggestions:

1.  Get in touch with your own fear and security issues floating around in your head.       These are things like fear of failure in your MGO job, fear of not having enough money, fear of being shamed, and concerns about your security and well being in the future. We all have these fears, so there is nothing to be ashamed of.  But if these fears are dominating and controlling your life, take steps to get help.  I had to do that and it was good for me.

2.  Learn to identify when those fears are pushing you toward an unhealthy focus on      money.  If you can spot the fear coming up sooner, then you can make a better choice in dealing with it.  For instance, you are behind in your caseload performance and it is eating at you big time.  You are now with a donor where your original intention was NOT to ask for money, but to cultivate the relationship. But the fear is rising up inside of you. And a voice inside screams, “Get the money!”  This is a perfect time to call this situation out and get in front of it before you do any real damage.  When these feelings come up, one technique I use is to force myself to wait before I take action.  Waiting is good.

3.  Make the right choice.  After waiting, make the right choice.  In the illustration             above, get back to cultivation as per your original plan.

4.  Talk about this topic/dynamic in your environment. Purpose to bring up this topic             of money vs. relationship in your workplace.  It will be good for everyone.  But as             you do this, remember to be kind and balanced in your approach, so you will be             listened to and not ignored.

Money plays a very important role in our society and our workplace.  It is a central item in major gift fundraising.  But the second you move away from a relationship and toward money, you start down the path of failure.  Don’t do it.



About Jeff Schreifels and Richard Perry

Jeff Schreifels and Richard Perry have over 55 years of experience fundraising for non-profits. Richard Perry was co-owner of Domain Group until 2005. Jeff Schreifels was a Senior Strategist for Domain Group for 12 years. They came together a few years ago to start Veritus Group, a full-service major gift fundraising agency. Veritus Group has a unique, data-driven approach unlike any agency focused on major gifts. Jeff and Richard are passionate about their work, passionate about life and hopes this blog will provide you with insights and tangible benefits for you and your work. Thank you for reading!
This entry was posted in Major Gifts, Mission, Philanthopy and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Reasons Non-Profits Fail: Reason #2: Money Is Valued Over Relationship

  1. Dean Abrams says:

    Lynne Twist’s book, The Soul of Money, provides great perspective and altitude on this topic. Great read.

  2. Thanks, Dean. Excellent suggestion.

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