Our RVC Block Party has been postponed to fall 2024.

Austerity Measures in the Nonprofit Sector

You sit in your lawn chair selling the $2-dollar paper, making your one-minute pitch about why I should support you in your work. I purchase a wet paper and leave your bundled up face in the rain, wondering if you know that you are not indebted to me or to anyone who buys your paper, we are all here to lift each other up where we can. When did the pitch and ask become mandatory? How did the beauty contest model grow to be so popular in the nonprofit sector?

I, a newbie to this formal and strategic position of development, am taking furious notes on what are thoughtful practices that will motivate donors to invest more money in our community-based organization. Here are some of my summations: Numbers and theory will grab foundations and larger donors, dynamic changes and capacity will engage individuals. Being relational and sharing stories is for everyone! Please read the fine print, all of this is subject to change from moment to moment. Be strong and get good at taking rejection and silence well.

The nonprofit industrial complex has long started mirroring many governments’ policies on how they give money. There is a saturation of nonprofits and community-based organizations, and to give out money without discretion has been seen as a risk. Dubious donors have been putting into place strict and involved instructions of what is expected of an organization that has received funds. Reading through what each foundation, contract, and individual wants to know and see from our organization is daunting and at times infuriating. We find ourselves having to comply with instructions and deadlines that are not key to the mission and vision because we need the money.

Governments tend to choose austerity measures by force because of certain market bonds and or ties to other lenders. Such is the game for most community-based organizations. We force ourselves to meet certain requirements so that we can be seen, as “valuable” and “relevant”. While witnessing that the gatekeepers to the money, are continuously looking for any reason to knock off one more small community-based organization off their giving list. We continue in this cycle most times so that we can continue serving the communities we live in and love.

Veteran donors feel that their austerity measures to accessing their money are relevant and worthy. While, for the most part, understanding that the wealth distribution in this country is at best atrocious. How donors want to see their dollars make an impact is not necessarily the same as what an organization needs most to fund. Donors often say that they wish their money to go to programs. The catch is in order for the programs to run, money must also pay for the general costs that are necessary to have programs in the first place.  

I would like to be in a field where I could promise donors that their money is going strictly to programs and or whatever their stipulations and restrictions may be. Unfortunately, my organization and others like mine came into existence because of the disparities that we see in our communities. We, in essence, started without and being asked to get ourselves and our communities out of the disparity that we did not create for ourselves seems cruel and counterproductive. None of us, donors included, can do this work without the other. Giving is the duty of all of us who have. Giving is important in balancing out all the unjust situations we see, experience, learn about and wish were different. Bryan Stevenson said, “the only way to do justice is to go into unjust spaces.” So please, come with me.

Do this work knowing that partnership and coalitions are what will make us a more just society not fracturing and restricting funding for work that we in this field know will uplift us all.

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