Wizards of Philanthropy

Desperate for ideas on how to raise more money for their plucky little nonprofits, Jon and Sarah attend a fundraising conference, and its keynote speaker time (not to be confused with the equally motivating, yet catchier “Hammer Time”).

600 frisée salads are clinked down gently among each conference goer. Jon nudges Sarah to stay awake, as her blood level dropped precipitously low during the last session, “Direct Mail is fun, Yo!”

He resorts to texting, knowing that she has a reactionary trigger to random texts given the likelihood that her feral children have finally bested their sitter, tied her up with electrical tape, and gone off on some Goonie-like adventure for pirate gold in their suburban backyard.

Jon texts: Sarah, if u don’t wake up, we’ll miss the backstage rush for the Wizards of Philanthropy to sign our canvas giveaway totes from Massive Bank. I mean… who doesn’t want yet another free Massive Bank tote bag?

Jon texts: Also, I need someone to stage an elaborate distraction when I pull out my flask for our coffee.

(Jon flags a hurried frisée server to inquire about the timing of coffee.)

(Sarah wakes with a start, knocks over her water, and clutches the buzzing phone.)

Sarah texts: I haven’t seen Wizards this white since I mistakenly attended that Christian rock concert back in ’89. Woof… they may be from Resurrection Band, guessing by their age… A self-professed academic and a striving “Hey-I’m-hip-and-talk-real-talk-fresh” that hasn’t punched a time clock in a nonprofit for 30 years. Sooo… 60 years of mansplaining awaits us… Why did you wake me up? WTF?!

(Sarah looks at the remains of her frisée and wishes she had a better lunch.)

Sarah texts: Why does a pep talk for our sector’s “Wizards” make me feel so…

Jon texts: Lonely? Self-Loathing? Isolated? Exhausted? Defeated? Necrotic? Narcoleptic?

(Jon looks at his empty water glass and coffee mug, while gently fingering his pocket flask. He wonders in what order he should caffeinate, hydrate and inebriate.)

Sarah texts: All that… yes… hell, we have no shortage of middle-aged white guy keynote combos that haven’t worked in the nonprofit sector for decades. And every 20 minutes they get trotted out, dusted off and elevated like some King of the TED Talk.

Jon texts: IDK… the dude in the wizard hat is about to take the stage. Says he’s a social media sorcerer. He’s even got a white beard and a Gandalf staff.

(Jon gets distracted by the self-proclaimed Media Wizard gesticulating wildly–albeit awkwardly through his billowy blue-starred robe — beside a staid PowerPoint of bulleted “Do’s” and “Dont’s” including #putitintheparkinglot, #sustainabilityiseverything, & #taggingislife.)

Sarah texts: Anyone can be anything in their parent’s basement. And the staff isn’t real Jon. I looks like an over-sized saltless pretzel.

(Easily susceptible to suggestion after eating a mealy frisée salad with brownish dressing that was more mauve than brown, Jon starts to think of pretzels, longingly, lovingly.)

Jon texts: BTW, why was the salad dressing mauve? Effing mauve. I lament my life choices that have led me to know what mauve even looks like, as well as ochre and fuchsia. I also know what gingham is, and damask, and decoupage… why?

Sarah texts: It separates you from the wing-eating, strip-club going, tailgating at a football game, Stop-Kneeling-and-STFU, misogynistic, misanthropic, basic bros of today. Wear that fucking gingham with pride, man!

Jon texts: Speaking of which, I think the Wizard was at Charlottesville… I saw several Tiki torches in the backseat of his car when he pulled up this morning. What do you think his perspective is on growing an audience for grassroots, POC-led orgs focused on social activism as an antidote for community unrest?

Sarah texts: IDK, Jon… what’s whiter than a Wizard mascot who probably sports the sticker “My Other Car is a Broom” on his Tesla. That knowledge/life experience ain’t in this wizard’s hat.

Jon texts: Time to get serious. Coffee shot each time the Wizard says Disruption, YOLO, or Paradigm. You down?

Sarah texts: What, um, yeah, sure. Do U know if Danny Trejo is coming to the Arrow or the Flash? Sorry, distracted by clickbait…

Jon texts: Umm, it’s The Flash. But Trejo can do anything. He’s sort of like Meryl Streep that way.

Sarah texts: Ah! I hope they wrote him in as the Dusk to Dawn Vampire. DC needs a bit more walking undead. Speaking of… is the Wizard really going to saw that life-size Mark Zuckerberg cutout in half?

Jon texts: Why else would he have a Sawzall? It’s certainly not to cut these grape tomatoes. I mean, FFS, why is it always grape tomatoes in these frisée salads? Would it kill someone to throw in a Sungold or a Cherry?

(Jon lines up the leftover grape tomatoes as if they are facing his own personal miniature firing squad.)

Sarah texts: Ooooh, YOLO!!! HE SAID YOLO!!! Coffee shot.

Jon texts: Yea, well, we should have saw that one coming. I mean, haven’t we all wanted to Sawzall Zuckerberg at one point or another?

Sarah texts: Didn’t Trejo chop-up Zuckerberg in “Machete?” Or was it “Machete Kills?”

Jon texts: Neither. But I’m sure if they ever make the sequel “Machete Kills Again… in Space” they’ll work that in.

– Jon & Sarah







I Want My $2

Moving in the New York Metro area requires, at some point, a no good, very bad, terrible experience with movers. Who hasn’t been extorted by a mover at some point, right? My Worst Experience with a Mover did, however, reconfirm a basic belief that the nonprofit sector is more resilient than most, and certainly tougher than a guy with a fleet of 6 trucks who boasts of 1,700 moves.

Two weeks ago my husband and I moved within our town—throw a stone, or our possessions, and you could probably reach point A to B. A friend recommended a moving company run by Joe, who showed up the morning of the move grumbling and twisted up in his man-with-a-truck emotions. Joe felt he underbid the job. He wasn’t haggled. We took the price he gave and booked the job. Joe was given clear instruction, including a walk-through of our house and dimensions of our storage area. My husband works in engineering and construction in NYC. He knows a thing or two about what is needed for any one man-with-a-truck project. This was a basic job. We have a house of stuff. This is our stuff. Move it. Joe wasn’t having it – he decided that his mistake in underbidding was our mistake.

By 6 PM, the job still wasn’t finished and the day grew grim. Joe locked his truck, our possessions inside, and demanded that he be paid in full before the job was finished or else he’d drive away with our possessions. The moment of tension escalated because the crew hadn’t finished collecting everything from the house, but Joe deemed the job done. He reasoned that extortion was the next best step. My husband is one of the most thoughtful and reasonable people I know, but he doesn’t play well with bullies. He’s adept at negotiating with NYC’s toughest crew: developers, contractors, construction workers…men with much larger trucks and a few of which are much more facile with extortion.

There was a moment, upon witnessing my husband’s hellfire fury of expletives and damnations, that I considered how I would spend the better part of that evening hiding a body in our new backyard. I tried to remember exactly which chemical white powder Snoop used in The Wire to quickly decompose bodies in the empty buildings. I also considered the best “we’re not bad people” gift I would have to bestow upon our neighbors, whose children most likely overheard the negotiations. Cookies seemed wholesome enough, but wine might be more realistic for the situation…or an assorted gift basket of rum, vodka, gin and whiskey.

By 6:30, Joe had his check and my husband sent me a link to the Better Business Bureau. At some point, he realized that my ability to flame Joe via social media channels was more prudent than living out the rest of his days at Rikers. He may have also looked around and realized that he had no idea where we packed our shovel.

At 6:45, I was posted outside the van to direct the crew for the remaining 2 hours. Everyone was quiet and moved quickly and I thought about the amount that caused Joe to spend a day dissolving in animosity, bad decision making and ultimately to abandon part of the job: $2,500.

$2,500 is not an insignificant amount in fundraising. For some organizations it’s a major gift, and for most nonprofits it’s a signal of potentially greater wealth if cultivated and accessed correctly. Moreover, if, let’s say, an organization is expecting $4,000 (going by Joe’s calculations), but only receives $2,500, the work still gets done.

Setting aside the more complicated grant-based negotiations of a lesser gift, a straight GOS gift, particularly at this level, does not alter the critical, daily work of the average mid-size nonprofit organization. Where I work, if we don’t secure X grant, or Y gift, our clinic stays open. Homeless mothers and children still receive medical services. Our providers don’t quit. I, fundraiser, don’t quit. In fact, I may spend an entire YEAR cultivating a donor or company only to receive $2,500, and I don’t quit the relationship because I was perhaps expecting more. I’ve spent several years on some relationships with $0 as the count-up, knowing that I could receive tenfold and more (of $2,500) with a little patience, friendship and considerate courting.

And THIS is the daily work of nonprofits. We do more with less and sometimes nothing. As a fundraiser, I experience the joy of securing exactly what is needed and more about 30% of the time. The rest is a tough, grinding slog of difficult donor expectations, limited resources, smallish gifts and the faint promise of something more.

In the communities and cities impacted by Irma and Harvey, there will be nonprofits that won’t receive enough funding to do the necessary work of sheltering, feeding, providing medical care and basic necessities, cleaning, rebuilding, and more. I am confident that those nonprofits won’t quit. They will work long hours; they will be exhausted; they will sacrifice time with their own families to help another; they won’t be paid; they will give their own personal money; they will make sure the job gets done; they will feel like the job is too big, the need is too huge and their contribution is too little. In many ways it will be, because those communities will need a coordinated effort with government support. Trump only hired the Director of FEMA in June, and his 2018 budget plan includes $667M in cuts to help cities and states prepare for these disasters.

One thing I’m pretty sure of, government ain’t helping anytime soon and not in any sort of substantive capacity that is needed.

I am proud to work in an industry that doesn’t quit, but, frankly, I’m also exhausted, watching us continually do more with less. And despite my meandering sidebar/headliner personal story, it was that moment, in my driveway, in the final quiet moments of our move that I wasn’t calm. I was white hot mad. I was angry that, for Joe, his indignity came from one bad bid and he was hell-bent on getting his take. For me, underbidding and doing the job is my everyday. And I put out the best prayer an atheist can to all the nonprofits out there that will spend the coming months and years trying to rebuild Texas and Florida. They will get underbid everyday. And they won’t leave. They won’t quit.

In the meantime, I’ll continue to work through project Q with less and somehow manage to attribute some amount of success to the daily slog. I will also deeply enjoy writing Joe’s Better Business Bureau review.

– Sarah

The Raffle

He always thought the smell of fresh cut grass was something sad; as if loss and hope were not feelings, but corporeal things that you could touch. His aversion came from the fact that he grew up walled-in by a world of concrete and steel, with nary a shade of green to be found. It was also the incongruity of life in the inner-city that suggested to him that the smell of grass on a 150-year old country club was an altogether different beast. To him, it had no life or joy. It was a perfect creature sprawling for acres on end, ringed by wildness on all sides but never truly existing. It was just… there.

He felt much the same way – just there – on that summery morning, stuffing 100 goodie bags for the golfers’ about to enter his nonprofit’s latest fundraising event. It was a task that should have been completed days earlier by volunteers, but his boss – who was nowhere to be found with the shotgun start just minutes away – didn’t procure the various accoutrement until the day before, leaving him with a late night marathon of pick-ups. He had gotten used to the last minute heroics, and of course, her histrionics, and assumed that she would swoop in – as she usually did — just as the manual labor was being completed, wearing a dress too short and perfume much too strong for someone her age. He reasoned that he didn’t need her for this task anyway, just as he didn’t need her to secure the sponsors, or the raffle items, or the journal ads. He also reasoned that no one would care about her lack of attentiveness, as his nonprofit, long suffering under ineffectual leadership and board governance, was just weeks away from announcing their merger with a much larger, and much more efficient organization. But mostly, he reasoned that because of that merger, he wouldn’t have a job much longer anyway.

That’s why he started interviewing as soon as he heard the rumors. And that’s why he was just… there.

True to form, his boss Helen arrived with minutes to spare in a whirlwind of Chanel No. 5. She made quick work of saying hello to the gathered VIPs before the air horn signaled the start of the outing. With the diaspora of golf carts underway, she walked towards the flotsam and jetsam of goodie bags and gifts, and offered, “You got this, right?” And just like that, she was gone again.

The checklist ran through his head. He knew he had five hours until lunch. Clean up registration. Unload prizes from the truck. Load up registration leftovers into the truck. Set up the Raffle display. Oversee the set-up for lunch. Oh, and find Sal, the event chair, who no doubt was teeing off on the first hole with his foursome at that very moment. He didn’t need Helen for any of it.

Sal owned several companies including a carting business and a construction firm, but the appellation he used to describe himself most frequently was Board of Trustee at the local community bank. His outward affinity for the role, and the enthusiasm with which he shared it with new friends, suggested a furtive overcompensation for a myriad of past sins. But no one dared pry because Sal brokered no questions and suffered no fools. He was a singular force of nature and the momentum behind the golf outing. With the exception of a handful of long-time donors, every foursome and every sponsor were Sal’s business contacts, and all of them enthusiastically signed up at the mere mention of his name on the phone.

As the hours ticked by, he removed each and every item from his to-do list, with nary a sign of his boss. Just as he tweaked the placement of the last table with the help of the club’s staff, the first golfer came in from the course. He was followed, within minutes, by Sal, who came right over and asked for the raffle tickets.

Sal argued, weeks earlier, that since most of the golfers were his friends, who better than him to walk around the room and sell raffle tickets and ultimately announce who the winners were when he gave his welcome speech to the gathered guests. Helen agreed without hesitation because any other alternative meant work for her. So she instructed him to find Sal before the lunch started and hand off the raffle tickets, as well as the starter cash necessary to give change and a small tote to carry everything in.

As the rest of the golfers gathered in the banquet room, Sal snaked his way through the crowd like an evangelist offering absolution. He was a sight to behold. There was no frivolity. No ebullience. Just the task… Walk up to friend, ask for money, pocket cash, give raffle ticket, walk up to next friend. Within half an hour, and timed perfectly with the opening of the buffet, Sal had completed his task and walked up to him and handed over the tote of cash. “There’s close to Twenty thousand in there… not a bad haul… we did good kid.” Indeed. With the foursomes and sponsorships, this easily put them over the $100,000 mark for the event… something the outing had never achieved before.

He saw Helen, martini in hand, swoop into the room and was about to signal her to come over to share in the success when Sal said, “Count out ten thousand will ya.” Confused, but complicit, he started to count the bills as Sal reached into his back pocket and produced a check and a pen. When he finished the tally, Sal handed him the check, neatly made out to his nonprofit in the amount of $10,000, and said, “Now give me the ten grand.”

“I’m sorry, what?”

“You heard me. Give me the cash. You’re making change for me. What’s the problem?”

“None. I, uh, just didn’t hear what you said. Here you go, Sal.”

“Good. Now kid. Remember to send me a receipt for the check I just gave you. Oh, and just so you know, I’m gonna’ announce my friend Jimmy as the winner of the Corvette for a weekend. It don’t matter whose name you pull out of the raffle bowl and hand to me. Got it?” And with that, Sal turned and walked away. But his exodus was short-lived, as he quickly spun around and said with a gaze meant to imply so much more than just the words about to be echoed, “Oh, and don’t tell anyone about this.”

The words just hung there, like a career criminal on the gallows pole… an image that suddenly, and violently came to his mind.

When Sal was out of easy view, he motioned for Helen to come over and with a fearlessness that only comes from not caring, explained everything that just happened.

“Okay,” Helen said.

“That’s it? Okay? How can you say that? We have to do something about it?”

“I am. I’m going to send him a receipt for his check, and look the other way when he announces the raffle winners.”

“Helen, what? You can’t…”

“Sal has single-handedly raised more than $100,000 for our charity. I don’t care what he does with a raffle prize or with his taxes. And you shouldn’t either. Understand me?”

And with that order, she flitted back to the room, to refresh her martini and say hello to anyone she missed earlier.

Rebuked thoroughly, and with his job completed for the moment, he stepped outside to look at the Country Club grass once more. His perspective changed. It was no longer just there. It suddenly came alive for him. It wasn’t ringed by wilderness, but actively working against it. And its perfection belied its constant efforts, both furtive and overt, to keep it in check… to keep it firmly ensconced in its place.

He took a few steps further down the patio and away from the banquet room and the “no cell phone” signs that were posted everywhere, and found an alcove of sorts out of sight of the guests. He reached for his phone and played the voicemail message he received early in the day from the headhunter… And he was relieved that he no longer had to be… there.

– Jon