The Nonprofit Bubonic Plague Syndrome, Part I: The Symptoms

Traditional transactional fundraising (ttf) is dying a slow and particularly gruesome death in this present recession. Stats on that later this week.

It still holds appeal, though, for some nonprofits who continue to bloody their knuckles clinging fiercely to the cinderblock of hope that the reason their fundraising is suffering is just because they haven’t yet pleaded loudly or urgently or emotionally enough with their donors.


Somewhere today, in all likelihood, a nonprofit executive director is sighing, “Well, I’ve held off as long as I could. We can’t go on another month. I have no choice: It’s time now to send…The Letter.

You know, the most urgent of urgent appeals.

The A-bomb (Appeal bomb) of institutional crisis fundraising.

The We’re-three-paychecks-and-rent-checks-behind-and-if-we-don’t-get-$50,000-by-month’s-end-we’re-going-to-have-to-close-and-I-mean-it emotional and heartfelt note (with enclosed reply card and return envelope) From The Desk Of The Executive Director.

Believe me: I certainly understand the temptation to pull the Appeal-bomb trigger, along with the desperate feeling that there’s nothing else you can do. But before you succumb to this approach, consider the experience of nonprofits who during this recession have already uncorked their A-bombs. What they’ve discovered is perhaps the scariest reality of all associated with this economic downturn, namely:

In the past, when you sent out an A-bomb appeal, donors responded by writing a check.

Today, when donors receive an A-bomb appeal from you, they still send a check…to another nonprofit.

It’s The Nonprofit Bubonic Plague Syndrome.

In plague-ravaged Europe of the Middle Ages, when your lymph nodes started to swell up and a few red spots started appearing on your skin, this was the sign for everyone around you to head for the hills. Once those spots turned black and you started breathing heavy and vomiting blood, well, at precisely the point you most needed the help, you’d find yourself very, very alone.

(Well, except for those saintly Christians who would be kind enough to bury you once you expired.)

That’s because with one third of the population of Europe dying, everyone who wasn’t dying was busy doing their best to keep it that way.

Same is true with the Nonprofit Bubonic Plague Syndrome:

Once donors learn that your nonprofit’s nodes are swollen, your social service agency’s skin has red spots, and your program personnel are three paychecks behind, donors’ reaction more than ever before is to flee.

Sure, they’ll make the Sign of the Cross over you and themselves before they go, wish you well, and leave you a damp washcloth. But don’t expect them to try to nurse your nonprofit back to health. Because when the world is steeped in plague, just staying alive is a big enough challenge to fill most donors’ days.

And who can blame them?

With their own ability to give significantly curtailed (see “Bust, Stock Market”, “Bubble, Real Estate”, and “Smithereens, Retirement Account Blown To” for more information), they’re wanting their gifts to do more than keep your lights on, your staff employed, and your rent paid. They don’t mean anything cold and heartless by it. They just want to actually feed the hungry, clothe the naked, give drink to the thirsty–which is why the outpouring for Haiti earthquake relief was so generous, and yet the average gift was so much smaller than in previous disasters.

So this is a paradox indeed:

  • Traditional transactional fundraising (ttf) urges you to drop the A-bomb when you’re totally out of funds.
  • But if donors see the signs of the plague beginning to blotch out on your nonprofit, they’ll excuse themselves–and their checks–from your bank account. (Check the file under “Bad, I Don’t Want To Throw Good Money After”).

Fortunately, Transformational Giving (TG) provides a distinct alternative to howling in pain or suffering silently. Stats on that later this week in Part II of our Nonprofit Bubonic Plague series. Then we’ll look at Solutions in Part III just before the weekend.

Until then, hands off the A-bomb trigger, OK?

About Pastor Foley

The Reverend Dr. Eric Foley is CEO and Co-Founder, with his wife Dr. Hyun Sook Foley, of Voice of the Martyrs Korea, supporting the work of persecuted Christians in North Korea and around the world and spreading their discipleship practices worldwide. He is also the International Ambassador for the International Christian Association, the global fellowship of Voice of the Martyrs sister ministries. Pastor Foley is a much sought after speaker, analyst, and project consultant on the North Korean underground church, North Korean defectors, and underground church discipleship. He and Dr. Foley oversee a far-flung staff across Asia that is working to help North Koreans and Christians everywhere grow to fullness in Christ. He earned the Doctor of Management at Case Western Reserve University's Weatherhead School of Management in Cleveland, Ohio.
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2 Responses to The Nonprofit Bubonic Plague Syndrome, Part I: The Symptoms

  1. Pingback: The Nonprofit Bubonic Plague Syndrome, Part II: The Stats « Transformational Giving

  2. Pingback: The Nonprofit Bubonic Plague Syndrome, Part III: The Solution « Transformational Giving

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