Saturday, February 4, 2012

Is TNT Fundraising Efficient?

Some of the comments I have seen on running bulletin boards is that Team in Training is not a good way to raise money, that running and charities have no natural connection. The idea seems to be that if you want to ask people for money for a charity, do it. If you want to run a race, do it. But don't connect the two by saying "I am running the Anchorage Marathon. In return, would you make a donation to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society?" Instead, email or call people you know and ask them to make a donation to LLS because it is a good cause.

I really don't think this would work. Think about the ways that fundraising is typically done. I am not talking about the totally obscene fundraising done by political candidates which essentially turns our politicians into prostitutes and is wrecking our country's ability to represent everyday people, but charitable fundraising. Here are the ways I can think of: (1) The charity hires a fundraising company to make phone calls. (2) The charity hires a fundraising company to send mail solicitations (3) The charity or a fundraising company sends mass emails. (4) The charity holds some kind of an event or gala where people pay to attend. (5) The charity holds some type of telethon - think Public TV or Radio, or the Jerry Lewis Telethon where TV time is purchased or donated. (6) The charity participates in an athletic event or a walkathon. Can you think of anything else?

Think about all of these. The phone calls are annoying beyond belief to me. Most of the time, I won't even answer the phone. The "junk mail" is a close second, especially when I have donated to an organization and I get a letter a couple of weeks later asking me for more. There is also a cost to every fundraising technique, which is why the non-profits have a line on their income statement for the costs of fundraising. The companies that are hired to do the fundraising get a piece of each dollar raised - sometimes a very large cut of the total. I once bought some expensive jellies from a phone solicitation for some kind of police fund. I later found out that of the total donation, the police fund got maybe 30%.

Now given that, would most people respond if I called them at night asking for donations to LLS? I rather doubt it. But with TNT and similar events, people will respond. Even though there is not a direct connection between running and curing cancer, a lot of people will respond to the appeal through a personal connection with the person doing the event, or because they have a personal connection to the cause. There is some appeal to a non-athlete putting their body through all that is necessary to train for a marathon while in return someone they know makes a $25, $50, or $100 tax deductible donation to a good cause. Because we are all volunteers, there is no direct fundraising cost to LLS for this. What there is for a final cost is some of the travel expenses for the trip, and as discussed in my other posts, these are well in line with the typical fundraising expenses organizations have.

I give to a lot of charities during any given year. I donate directly through my pay at work. I reply to a certain number of the blizzard of mail solicitation that comes every day and every week. I sponsor a number of people doing TNT or other similar events. (I don't respond to phone solicitations anymore and rarely answer the phone if I don't recognize the number. It always seems to cost me money, or costs me time saying "no" repeatedly to someone who will be beaten by his supervisor if he takes "no" for an answer, or I have to listen to how Obama or Romney or Gingrich is the spawn of the devil.) All of the charities I donate to have administrative and fundraising costs. I know and accept that a portion of my donation will go towards these costs. It is just the way it is.

When I donate to someone I know (or even someone I don't know) doing a marathon for TNT, a Relay for Life for the American Cancer Society, a three-day walk for Susan G. Komen, or a long distance bike ride for the American Lung Association or the MS Society, I personally am fine with it. It feels good to support someone's efforts and hard work - someone dedicated enough to put their time and body on the line to try to make a difference - to raise money for a good cause.
Personally, I think it is a good way to raise money. It gets people involved in a cause and physically active who might not be otherwise. As long as the money goes to a good organization that is efficient - 25% for administrative and fundraising costs, not 50% - then I believe it to be a good thing. If someone who has worked their butt off gets airfare to travel somewhere to exhaust herself in a long race, well, in my mind, that beats that same money going to the manager of a fundraising business who gets a bonus because his phone bank browbeat enough people into make a donation. If people doing Team in Training and similar events flew first class; if they stayed in $500 a night resorts; if they were wined and dined at very expensive restaurants, then of course that would not be right. No one would donate to that knowingly. But that is not how it is - not at all.

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