These past few weeks of soliciting donations for TM/C's Mapping Solutions event have been an education of sorts. At times, it's seemed that my attempts to spread the word, in person and through mail, add up to nothing more than exercises in preparation for future failures. These weeks have illustrated why perseverance is a necessary trait for anyone who wants to get into the nonprofit business.
But along with perserverance, this experience has also taught me a fundamental lesson about the essence of the conventional nonprofit funding model: it's fundamentally inconsistent. And when funding is inconsistent, so is programming. For this reason, many nonprofit organizations, TM/C among them, are beginning to realize the need for an entirely different model of nonprofit funding. One that not only emphasizes empathy, but equity as well. Such a model would require nonprofits to perceive their potential funders as investors in a cause that translates into dollars and cents. After all, social capital is still capital.
As Tom Raiser, author of ROI for Nonprofits: The New Key to Sustainability, writes, Nonprofits "are very good at filling the need, but are often less adept at: 1) Demonstrating the value of their services [and] 2) Communicating the value in a way that is understood at, fundamental economic level, that makes sense to the private sector. If this demonstration and communication gap can be bridged, the private sector can then be cultivated to become investors in the [nonprofit] that provides something of value to them."
So, in keeping with Raiser's advice, last week I decided to think about my approach to soliciting funds not simply as a volunteer, or 'crusader', but as a salesman or marketing representative selling the service of tutoring and mentoring in a region of metro Chicago that is cripplingly underserved.