Consolidation? Diversity? How Shall We Tilt at Our Windmills?

There Are A Lot of Good Causes Out There. How Best to Support Them?


The Good News

I have the good fortune to live in a community that places a premium on charity and on paying it forward.

The expectation is that anyone who owns a business will sponsor fund raising events. They will also likely donate a percentage of sales to a good cause. Individuals are also called upon to donate time, talent, and treasure on a regular basis. This is closer to a universal norm here than anywhere I have known.

The Not So Good News

But living in such an environment highlights a challenge of our era. Thanks especially to electronic communication, it is easy to start a fund drive or launch a cause. As a result, we as a society have two problems:

One, we are deluged with requests. Add to this mix of charities the emails many of us get every day from political candidates. The volume of requests can be overwhelming. We want to tune it out and ignore them all. We also has to worry about knowing if a given cause is effective, or even legitimate. Services like Charity Navigator can help. But they don’t cover everyone and even for those that they do rate, I find I don’t always agree with their rating criteria.

Two, many causes overlap mission and populations served (human or animal). We have to wonder if too much time and money is being spent on groups that cannot deliver results.

Timing Is Everything

Might some consolidation help both problems? The answer to the question, “Should we consolidate? is, of course, yes and no. Or maybe. In some ways, our political candidates offer us an illustration of how we might think about this.

On the Democratic side, there is no lack of diversity among candidates for president. Gender, race, background, professions, sexual orientation, age – you name it, we can check a block. This early in the stage, this is a good thing. Many worry about too many candidates, and there is risk in that.

But the numbers are likely to be markedly less before long. Natural selection does not happen just on the plains of Africa. But for now, it is not really possible to conclude who is most electable and who could best govern. Diversity is a welcome factor.

In due course, such numbers would not represent diversity, but a bit of chaos and divided efforts. By later this year/early next year it will be time to narrow the roster to very few, down to one as soon as practicable. Effectiveness and unity will be more important than everyone having a say through a preferred candidate. Consolidation will be a virtue.

We can take the same approach individually with other causes. Around our household, we care a lot about animals of all types. That is, in our view, a good and important thing. Such a good thing that we found we were contributing to over half a dozen relevant charities.

That made us feel good, but we were not contributing enough to any of them to be of much use. So, we relooked the list and cut it in half. Sorry to lose some, but glad to put a bit more muscle into our support for those that remain.

Here’s An Idea

Wouldn’t it be great if charities with similar missions and profiles had clearing houses? These could collect donations from people that cared about animals, about children, about social justice issues, etc.

Such operations with transparent accounting for and allocating funds would give more bang for our buck. We could do more in the world.

The history of the United Way and the Red Cross are cautionary tales about the risk of over-consolidation and lax standards. But it need not be so. Rotary International, the Gates Foundation, the Clinton Foundation, and others accomplish this very well.

Giving up control of your turf, and your donor list, is hard. But to keep sending requests from the Democratic Party, from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign, from the Campaign for a House Majority, from state parties, from 23 presidential candidates, from dozens of local races around the country that get to use national mailing lists, etc. – this is nuts.

I challenge the professional fund raisers (I can do that. I used to be one.). Find a better way to integrate, coordinate, and share. Give us systems that appeal for the right reasons. Give us confidence the money is well used. Show us the transparency that quality operations do as a matter of course. You have the tools to do better than this.

    Bill Clontz

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