Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Barack Raises Donations & Development Awareness

The New York Post captures what fundraisers know about the reality of the dollars as it relates to Barack Obama's campaign. Obama Built Donor Network From The Ground Up speaks to what community organizers, central city churches, start up non-profits and effective entities have long realized - the little guys and gals really are important.

I started my community organizer training at the Center for Third World Organizing in Oakland, California. I will probably never qualify as their typical graduate or the featured alumni, as I was thinking about getting out of organizing very soon after getting fully into it. The work was hard, exhausting even, and I couldn't see how I'd ever pay my student loans with this wonderful work that I loved in many ways. The pay was low, the days were long, and with the many lessons that I learned - effective fundraising was the methodology for social justice movements, not for organizers aspiring to the American dream. I imagine no one at CTWO is surprised at Barack's strategy either. He's raising resources from real people who are engaged and committed to his audacious hope for the future.

I didn't learn about non-profit work at Purdue University, it wasn't on the minds of the office that helped graduates plot their life course. The Organizational Leadership and Supervision (OLS) program did however offer me hope for my future in the midst of indecision. Learning the role of leadership in a technology driven world made me view the future with hope - as a leader I believed, I had the potential to change my world.

I didn't quite know what I wanted to do - I was certain however that I wanted to bridge mission driven work with business practices that made sense. Years later, as an organizational and development consultant, I reflect on the principles that have guided my career. Never underestimate your audience is a lesson taken straight from my Summer at the Minority Activists Apprenticeship Program (MAAP) at CTWO. Those $5, $10, $25 donors surely matter.

I, just like any of my fundraising counterparts, would happily take $1,000,000 from anyone who would like to donate it. I can write grants with the best of them and any campaign without large donors is incredibly unbalanced as well. Yet, if I attend one more meeting, one more board training, one more volunteer function where people submit the idea that we will just get the "money people" to write large checks - I'll just cry. If it was that easy and if the money was just falling out of the trees, then there would be no need for effective strategic resource development professionals. Effective being the operative word. In this lack luster economy however, you can identify a number of Development Officer positions ripe with a salary of under $75,000. People simply don't get it. If you have to work that hard to do the job, you should at the very least be able to live comfortably in the work that you do. That is another post.

An effective development staff person realizes that a diverse fundraising strategy must compliment a solid infrastructure that can handle real resource development. If there is the perception that small donations don't matter or that the money is falling from the trees - everyone should just run. It doesn't work that way. Raising money isn't about the money at all. It is about connecting people to the mission and work that motivates them at some core level. CTWO realized that and they taught me to think bigger and broader about the hard work of funding a movement. Barack Obama is in it for the long haul, he gets that. Send your $25 today.

If professional fundraisers and development staff were surrounded by people who got it - then turnover in development offices would not resemble a revolving door. True development takes time, investment, understanding and a true mission and cause that people can get behind. The hours are long, the work is hard and the end result provides resources to create change. That is the power of those $25 donations. People underestimate the additional benefits of building a donor database in the same way that you build a beautiful home - with a vision from the ground up. I am more heartened to support Barack Obama each day. The lack of understanding about fundraising has long been a pet peeve of mine, now its a criteria for political candidates to gain my support. Don't underestimate those of us that can only give $25 today....tomorrow it will indeed be more. Non-profit organizations should take a page from this book - and let the investment in ideas for the average person begin.

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