Not All Non-Profits Deserve Donations

January 24, 2009

Posted in Fundraising.

Camp Fire struggles to raise money. It’s not because we don’t use the money well, or because our mission is controversial – it’s because we’re not a charity.

Camp Fire isn’t curing cancer. We’re won’t be fixing poverty.

We run summer camps.

We’re not Mission Critical

Donors often look at our programs as a luxury. And to some extent, they are. There are a lot of organizations that need money, and many of those organizations are working on really critical missions: poverty, homelessness, diseases, and so on. Where does summer camp rank in this list?

We Have No Exit Strategy

Let’s imagine that cancer just got cured. How long before the local cancer organization throws a party, pops the champagne, and closes up shop? They want to go out of business in the good way: they could cure cancer. But we don’t have an exit strategy. There’s no endgame for our organization.

So how do we raise money?

Two answers: we charge for our services, and we find the right donors.

Non-profit hospitals and universities face this problem, too. Your hospital charges you for surgery, doesn’t it? And universities certainly aren’t relying on donations alone, with tuition increasing by 8% annually.

But most hospitals and universities do have financial aid programs, raising money specifically to make their services available through scholarships and such. They provide a valuable and important service, and they raise money to make sure they can continue doing so. The new hospital wing and the new classroom building come from wealthy donors who believe in that mission and appreciate what they do.

It’s a lot harder to raise money from strangers. Instead, we focus on our already-engaged parents and alumni. Fortunately, Camp Fire has a group of loyal supporters who love our programs and want to ensure that future generations can experience our camps. Our challenge is to make the most of those relationships while we run fee-for-service programs. We’ll focus on marketing and programming for sustainability, and fundraising for growth.

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