Getting Into College Isn’t A Fair Process. Is Getting a Donation For Your Nonprofit More Equitable?

The college admission scandal that has hit the news this week is both surprising and, seemingly, inevitable. There has always been an advantage for many people who have the means to do what is now being called, “socially acceptable” gaming of the college system.* The conversation about demographic advantages made me wonder, is getting a donation for your nonprofit any better? Is there nonprofit privilege?

I speak with a lot of people at a lot of different nonprofits. One youth mentorship program will have fundraisers that bring in $100,000 while others are ecstatic with a new $250 donor. What is the difference? Is one organization better run or providing more impactful services than the other? Often, the answer is no.

The difference in donations often lies in the access to wealthy individuals that comes with that same demographic privilege (i.e. White, Asian, suburban, coastal, etc…).

Connections make a difference

You can only charge $100 to a fundraiser if you know you have people who can afford to give $100 – not to mention the auction or paddle raise that you are hoping will raise the real money.

Inviting people to join you in a $6.2 capital campaign will only work if you have people who can give 5-, 6- and 7-figure gifts who currently support your organization.

Asking board members to donate at a certain minimum level only works if you are asking for a donation that they can actually give.

That is not to say that a lot of people have not worked very hard to get advantaged nonprofits to the place they are. It’s that resources breed resources. Or, the flip side, it takes money to raise money. But, if you can barely make payroll, hiring a 7+ year experience fundraiser may seem harder than getting your child into Harvard.

What can you do to help eliminate inequity?

I am pretty sure that I am not the person to answer that. But, since you are still reading, and knowing that the people that read this blog tend to be passionate people who give their time, treasure and talent to nonprofits, I want to offer one small way to make a difference. Well, a difference to a handful of nonprofits (if you have other ideas please email them to me and I will happily share them).  If you know that you have the capacity to give an additional $150 this year:

  1. Search Google for things that interest you in prospective nonprofits (e.g. education equality in the Greater Boston, combatting diabetes in suburban New Jersey, support for financial insecurity for seniors in Florida)
  2. Go immediately to the second or third page (the first page is likely to be filled with larger organization with the money to focus on SEO).
  3. Find 1, 2 or even 3 new nonprofits to support at a low level. Think $25 or $50.
  4. Wait to see what happens.

Ideally, the organization will acknowledge the gift and steward you into a deeper relationship and larger donations in the future. (As a bonus, you will also see how you are treated as a first-time donor which is a good learning experience for the fundraisers among you.)

Then, consider introducing more people to the organization(s). Note: if you cannot donate money right now, you can still help create awareness. Let people know that small gifts can make an impact to organizations and you are starting small to make large changes. Creating awareness of a worthy nonprofit can help increase donations. It’s hard to break through the clutter. Support from a reliable source (read: you) can help.

It might be impossible to eliminate inequity in a society that is widening the gaps, but it is possible to share some of our privilege.

#HelpingNonprofits

*Full disclosure: I have high school juniors who have an abundance of substantial advantages to help them get into college.