Notes on future of fundraising

For those who are not following it, there is an incredibly interesting, incredibly important, and incredibly long discussion page in response to Sue’s notes on the future of fundraising and funds dissemination. It’s worth a read. To keep track of my own thoughts, and to draw in blog readers who don’t normally visit gargantuan talk pages, I’ll post large comments I make. Here’s one from tonight.

…the issue as I see it is a fundamental tension between our decentralized culture and the challenges of our newfound wealth. Together, over the past few years, we have all built some extraordinary capabilities in raising funds to pursue our vision. That has given us tremendous resources to pursue free knowledge. But if we want to continue to have access to resources at that scale, we have to accept the responsibility to our donors to ensure every contribution is spent wisely and with the greatest impact. That requires a concentrated effort to analyze spending and opportunities and allocate donor funds effectively. Some system has to play that role, and some group of people has to carry out the work of that system.
Whoever plays that role — the Foundation, the Board, a new entity like the FAC, whatever — it’s going to be hard and time-consuming and painful. And frankly it’s not at all fun — you have to make some hard decisions, say “no” to people, and at times be very very unpopular.
But it’s a role that has to be played. We cannot just ignore that responsibility to our donors for a few months or years until a Volunteer Council, Movement Roles, the FAC, or some other group is able to focus on the issue, come to agreement on a system, and then build the capability to carry it out consistently. That is why, in my role as the Treasurer of the Board of Trustees, Chair of the Audit Committee, and long-term member of our community, I have pushed and will continue to push Sue and the Foundation very hard to play the assertive role it is playing now. It just has to be played. Our obligation to our donors has to be fulfilled. We have to try, and an imperfect system of grants and project plans and annual reporting is infinitely better than no system.
If you have a problem with the current system, come to me and complain. Come to the Board and complain. Do not personally attack Sue and her staff. Do not challenge their professionalism. You are completely misdirecting your frustration. Get angry at me. Get angry at the Board. Flame us, but don’t flame the 90 incredibly committed, incredibly passionate believers in our cause who have chosen to devote not just themselves but their careers to our mission. We are incredibly lucky to have them in our movement, working with us to build our shared vision.
Even more appropriate, get angry at life. Get angry at the amazing impact we are having. Because what we are experiencing is a natural outgrowth of our success. It is what happens when you build something that helps a half a billion people a month. When over a million people want to support you with donations. This is what is called ironically in English a “high-class problem.” For all the hand-wringing that’s going on, we are incredibly fortunate to have this wealth to spend.
This tension is understandable. Our culture is decentralized. That’s what attracted a lot of us to the projects in the first place. That’s what made our projects so great. And as volunteers, most of us like the luxury of being able to choose exactly what we work on. But if we want to continue to have such amazing resources to pursue our cause we are going to need a system to help us allocate and monitor the use of donor funds. And that will involve a different kind of decentralization, and perhaps a different degree of decentralization, than we are used to. That’s what we have to accept. Everything else – the nature of the system, who operates it — is just a detail.
So in the end I’m saying I agree 100% with Craig. We all need to accept that there has to be some system in place to make tradeoffs in a sincere effort to ensure donor funds are spent well, whether it is the Foundation, the GAC, or a new FAC, or a peer review process, or a Magic 8 ball. And we need to accept that sometimes we won’t personally like the answers that come out of that system. But we still need the system.
And that brings us to this amazingly long discussion page, and to Sue Gardner. Sue and her team are making an extraordinary effort to reach out for feedback, input and help in figuring out the right answer for what this system to be. They chose to do this a month ahead of the board meeting, six weeks ahead of the Finance meeting in Paris, and three months ahead of the Chapters meeting, to ensure as much time as possible for collaborative problem-solving. I applaud what they are doing. I think those who respond to their outstretched hands by slapping them aside with a wave a rhetoric and bile are letting our entire community down. Take advantage of this opportunity. Join the discussion. Please. We need all of you and your best thinking so our community and movement can figure this out together.

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