Why Non-Profits Annoy Me

Fund raising by non-profits drives me crazy. I don’t think non-profits take the task very seriously, are not bold enough, and annoy people by living from fund drive to fund drive. People or organizations that might donate pick up on this dynamic and do what the non-profit asks: give nickles and dimes. Frankly, I don’t like these groups asking me for money I don’t have. Here I’m arguing that the smaller organizations–those with the smaller budgets–are most able to change this dynamic of begging for their operating budgets.

I volunteer my labor for Valley Free Radio, a low power FM (LPFM) station in Northampton, MA; I help them with their Website and some other online issues. The station is unusual in a few respects: it is truly community-run; it is a non-profit station; and it has no paid staff members. That’s right, the station exists and functions entirely because of volunteer labor. It’s not perfect, but the station is an interesting project in community owned media.

Because the station is an all volunteer endeavour the operating costs are low; last I heard, I think the yearly budget for the station was about $13,000 (that’s the rock-bottom number). The station could use a lot more funding to improve equipment, but it can survive with relatively little funding. Even still, keeping the station fully funded is a chore. Tasking an all volunteer organization into a unified fund raising effort, with many moving parts, is like trying to grab mercury.

Here is my proposal: VFR needs an endowment that will pay for its yearly operating budget, and the endowment could increase year by year (interest and donations), allowing for greater yearly budgets. My basic research tells me that standard practice for endowments allows for the spending of 4.5 percent of the total endowment per year (interest covers that and allows for the endowment to increase at the same time). With that assumption, and spending 4.5 percent of the endowment, VFR would need a $300,000 endowment to pay out $13200 per year.

I didn’t even know this, but there are people that help non-profits take care of this very thing, setting up endowments. Doing a bit of research, I find these companies (themselves non-profits) are generally referred to as “community foundations.” Check this out! There’s one right here called the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts.

Let’s be bold, outrageous, and have large goals. Pitch ideas: “The mother of all fund raisers!” “The fund raiser to end all fund raisers!” “The last fund raiser!” “We’ll never ask you again, you can take that to the bank (we will)!”