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Just For Nonprofits: When Fundraising Is Too Successful
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Just For Nonprofits: When Fundraising Is Too Successful - Executive Leadership Articles

Just For Nonprofits: When Fundraising Is Too Successful

Executive Leadership Articles

Just For Nonprofits: When Fundraising Is Too Successful

Between 1988 and 2003, the annual two-day Great American Yard Sale in Naperville, Illinois, a Chicago suburb, raised half a million dollars to help homeless people. Then, at the height of its popularity, it was canceled for good, a victim of its own success. The event took so much time and energy to organize and stage that its founders no longer enjoyed it. Worse, despite its popularity, revenues were in decline. The event’s tents alone cost $36,000 to rent, and then there were tables, portable toilets, security, and advertising to take care of, not to mention the occasional rent paid to property owners for hosting the event. In its final year, it netted $6,000 for its cause.

Stories such as these abound. Someone hits on a good fundraising idea, and the idea is so good that it grows until it’s out of control, resulting in diminishing returns. Even when the event continues to rake in the cash, the burden on an organization just to keep it running is often such that it threatens the very work the fundraiser is supposed to support. In its fifteen year run, Easter Seals Hawaii’s Taste of Honolulu event drew 50,000 supporters annually and raised a total of over two million dollars. Yet it took the whole year to plan and coordinate. Its business office spent the month following each year’s event just closing the books. There may be nonprofits out there who can support a whole department’s yearlong focus on just one fundraiser, but apparently a group even as well established as Easter Seals Hawaii is not that organization. It would appear there is such a thing as a fundraiser that’s too successful.

The Island Creek Oyster Festival, a fundraiser by the Island Creek Foundation, raised half a million dollars for aquaculture and educational projects in Africa, Haiti, and Massachusetts over its four years, but the foundation discovered similar problems. It canceled the popular event and shifted its fundraising energies to some of its other existing efforts, much to the sadness of food bloggers in the northeastern United States. Yet the foundation seems happier for it.

Some fundraising efforts become so wildly popular that people forget how the target charities are supposed to benefit, as with the annual Pink Ribbon campaign for breast cancer research. Manufacturers put a pink ribbon on some pink merchandise, promising to give a portion of each purchase to fund research, but while support for the cause surges, so do a company’s profits, resulting in doing good for one’s own gain. Sure, the money goes to the research, but something about this way of going about it rubs many the wrong way. Add to this the not-well-known fact that many companies put a ceiling on their total donation, and one can see why breast cancer patients and survivors, among many others, might take offense. Once the donation cap is hit, every additional sale of the pink-labeled product means profit only for the seller, with no benefit at all for research foundations. The October pinking of America sometimes seems like more of a bandwagon than a concerted effort to end the disease.

Most nonprofits would love to be in the position of having a fundraising event that’s too popular. The shoestring budgets on which many of them eke out their missions make complaining about popular events sound vulgar, but the reality is that any well-run organization knows it must keep its focus on its mission. Fundraising makes the work possible, but so does that vision for the cause. When too much of a good thing alters or obscures the vision, too much fundraising can be as much a detriment as not enough.

A Taste of Honolulu: http://archives.starbulletin.com/2006/12/13/news/story02.html
Island Creek Oyster Festival: http://www.islandcreekfoundation.org/annual-reports
Naperville Great American Yard Sale: http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2003-09-05/news/0309050041_1_great-american-yard-sale-kruegers-tents
Sick of Pink: http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/magazine/articles/2009/10/04/sick_of_pink


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Just For Nonprofits: When Fundraising Is Too Successful - Executive Leadership Articles

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