50 Percent

The following post first appeared on Cause Effective’s blog.

Judy Levine

By Judy Levine, Executive Director, Cause Effective

In January 2013 we reported on a panel focused on the fundraising practices of Nonprofit Excellence Awards-winning executive directors. The take-away? That 50% of their time was spent on fundraising. 

It’s sobering, what it takes to run a nonprofit nowadays.

Of course, nonprofit executives have to be jacks-of-all-trades. Negotiate with a funder, balance the books, schmooze with the board…CEOs need people skills, comfort with numbers, and deep knowledge of the field – they need to be proficient at so many levels.

Given that breadth of expertise, the uniform answer we got this week to the following question was all the more striking.

“How much of your time is spent on fundraising?” was the query we posed at a panel on Best Practices in Fundraising.

Two organizations – one with a budget over $10 million, one barely pushing a million – answered with the same number.

Fifty percent.

Sobering, isn’t it?

Most nonprofit leaders come into the field to do good, to follow a calling. And here they are spending half their time raising the money to pursue that calling.

But let’s put it another way.

We’re in a field that intrinsically, at its very core, doesn’t break even. We’re here to right wrongs, to provide services, that the market can’t pay full freight for.

To do our jobs, we need to find the resources to subsidize this work that from our vantage point seems like a moral imperative.

Work that we, as ethical human beings, find to be part of the human contract. Our responsibility for each other on this planet at this moment in time.

In other words, fundraising is about mission.

It’s about our duty to lift each other up, to make the world a better place than we found it.

It’s all well and good to have the intention, but if we don’t have the resources to make it happen, it’s just a good idea.

And that’s not enough.

Seen that way, fundraising is intricately bound into a purpose-driven life.

It’s a way – not the only way, but a pretty important way – to make change actual.

Instead of ruing that half a CEO’s time is going into fundraising, maybe we ought to view it as the fifty percent of their time that ensures that their organization’s mission lives…


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