Here’s my contribution to the September Giving Carnival conversation about the future of fundraising, hosted by Gayle Roberts:
The crystal ball fell off the mantelpiece while I was dusting, so doubtless what follows will include some significant inaccuracies; but it may be that in the course of the next ten years fundraisers and agencies soliciting donations will rethink the current stance holding unethical the practice of having fundraisers compensated by a percentage of the what they raise. Lawyers work on retainer all the time; why not fundraisers? As with lawyers, it’s a way to give access to agencies otherwise lacking the financial wherewithal to hire professional assistance–not to mention a way to enforce productivity on the part of the professionals! And though there’s certainly a potential for conflict of interest between the fundraiser and the client agency, mere potential has never been worth much to the positive or negative side. If ethical people use retainers, work done on retainer will be done ethically. Whether or not such a change is likely, it’s one that should be contemplated and encouraged. And it probably will be: the more nonprofits erupt like pimples on the body politic, the more demand there will be for pay-for-performance fundraising by honest practitioners. Or, as it is written, "If raising money on commission is considered sleazy, only the sleazy will raise money on commission." (Somehow the "If gun ownership is criminal . . ." version of this flows better).
What else?–Ten years from now people will understand that technology does not, in fact, make a fundamental difference in the amount of money donated or in who wins the money-donation sweepstakes. Except insofar as technology can be used to tell–clearly and persuasively–the story of a nonprofit seeking support, "cyber-charity" is essentially a figment of geeks’ imagination (though certainly geeks who made lots of money can have an impact by giving it away). The spread of information technology is very important, as was the invention of the printing press. But would anyone really claim that charity was fundamentally reshaped because people could give alms by writing their promises to pay on printed forms? By the same token, it may be marginally more convenient for generous people to use PayPal in their giving but that doesn’t mean the existence of donation icons will create generosity. A little perspective here, people!
Finally, God willing and the creek don’t rise (though the latter’s unlikely, come to think of it, given global warming), the Democrats will get and stay in power long enough to restore the estate tax and increase the required foundation distribution from 5 to 7.5% (if not to 10%). It’s amazing how public power can influence the behavior of private parties.
Of course if the Democrats do manage to regain power–and, more important, control of the public conversation about our economy’s winners and losers–we might actually return to a society in which essential public tasks are performed by public agencies and private nonprofits supplement and complement government labors instead of being expected to replace them. And wouldn’t that be a brave new world?
* Richard Farina, Hard Lovin Loser