by Jeff Siegel
A couple of years ago, at the start of the holiday season, a Dallas non-profit got a phone call from a local church. Could the church send one of its groups to help serve Thanksgiving dinner?
The non-profit’s executive director told the group he appreciated their offer, but it wasn’t necessary. The center wasn’t going to serve a meal on Thanksgiving Day. What it really needed, he told them, were volunteers for its after-school tutoring program — which runs throughout the year.
In this, the director wasn’t trying to be a Scrooge. He was dealing with one of the facts of non-profit life: Groups like his, which run a food pantry and offers tutoring and other classes for children and adults, have very little problem raising cash, finding volunteers, and getting donations between Nov. 15 and the New Year. It’s the other 46 weeks that are the problem.
Talk to people who run non-profits, and they’ll tell you that the holidays are a blessing and a curse. They couldn’t do what they do without tremendous support in November and December. But they wouldn’t need that kind of tremendous support if they were able to raise more money and attract more volunteers the rest of the year.
Typically, 30 to 40 percent of a non-profit’s revenue comes in the last six weeks of the year. In fact, it’s a frequent topic of conversation when people who run charities get together. They have devised a variety of ways to deal with the problem — focusing on large individual and corporate donors, who don’t target their giving around the holidays; emphasizing regular monthly contributions from smaller donors, which helps even out the bump; and even changing the fiscal year to better accommodate holiday giving.
Yet none of those fixes will provide after-school tutors in April.
Do not think these people are being ungrateful, because they aren’t. They appreciate every offer of help, regardless of when it’s made.
So let me say what needs to be said. The object of giving is not to give to make yourself feel better. The object of giving is to help others, and they need our help more than just during November and December. It’s one thing to dish out turkey and dressing to the homeless over Thanksgiving, which gives all of us a warm and fuzzy glow that’s over by halftime of the next football game. It’s something else entirely to help someone in a earn their GED or find a job, a process that takes considerably longer than an afternoon and the benefits of which last even longer.
After all, you can get that warm and fuzzy glow in April, too.
(Photo by Monochrome via Flickr, using a Creative Commons license.)
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by Jeff Siegel