Investment is a word that comes up a lot in our lives. We are urged to save for a home, top up our superannuation, get a stock portfolio (invest in your future!). Take courses (invest in your career!). Take up meditation (invest in your wellbeing!). Join a gym (invest in your health!). Buy local (invest in your community!). Donate to your child’s school (now you’ve invested in their future!).
Recently I did invest in my child’s future. In other children’s futures. I donated to the school giving day. Actually, I helped organise the school giving day. It was a long road that ultimately ended in the school chapel, phone in hand, calling parents, alumni, past parents. I put donation forms into trays – ‘no answer’, ‘call back’, ‘no thank you’, ‘wrong number’, ‘will donate later’, and the best tray, ‘donation to process’.
With no fundraising culture at the school (and certainly no professional fundraiser let alone a development team), we did not quite know what to expect. But with key members of staff working hard with a committed team of volunteers and a great consultant, we were hopeful our community would support the giving day.
And, wow, did they support us. We smashed our target and had a ‘smash cake’ (kind of like a piñata) to celebrate. The look on the faces of the Year 7s who smashed that beautiful cake to reveal the treasures inside was priceless.
The day was exhausting and exhilarating and gave me an insight into the work you as fundraisers do. Respect.
So back to investment. In the nonprofit sector, we talk a lot about the need to invest in fundraising – or the fact that there is lack of investment. Which brings me to the ongoing conversation about administration costs. As the 2021 Australian Communities report found, keeping marketing and administration costs low matters more to 70% of givers than growing overall donation revenue. Our 2021 FIA Arthur Venn Lifetime Achievement Award recipient, Associate Professor Wendy Scaife, has also found similar attitudes in her research.
This bewildering idea that nonprofits can better serve their beneficiaries by essentially running on empty is not anecdotal, it’s evidence based. As we know from general research into public attitudes, those attitudes won’t change without education.
The 2021 Australian Communities report posits that it is time to reframe this antiquated narrative. Agreed. If the majority of our citizens can’t see that funding the organisation itself is an investment in the health of our communities, then perhaps it is time to show them the evidence.