My Philosphy of Fundraising

(Not Science, but posting here so I can send to friends easily).

At this time of year I get sent messages from the online lobby group/newssite Causes saying “Thanks to Facebook, in one week all of your friends will see that it’s your birthday. Instead of just writing on your wall, or giving you something you don’t need, what if they had a chance to help a cause you believe in? Whether you want to raise money for clean water in Ethiopia, for vaccinations for children in Haiti, or for a safe home for a puppy in Mississippi, with a Birthday Wish your friends can give in honor of your special day.”

I do not take up this offer, but it’s not because I would prefer people gave me presents to donating to charity. I organise a lot of fundraisers and I can think of many causes I would like people to give to, but for me donations and fundraisers are very distinct things, and I prefer to keep them separate.

I believe my friends are good people. I think most donate when they can, but their incomes vary widely, as do their needs. I don’t like the idea of pushing people who may really be struggling to donate. True none of them are close to starvation, so their may be net utility in a gift to the poorest of the Earth, but for some of my friends being guilt-tripped about giving when they are struggling is not helpful.

My approach to fundraising is to try to give people value for money. If I run a film night I charge the normal ticket price, and use the discount for group bookings to promote the cause. Sometimes I charge a little extra, to make it a round number if nothing else. In this case I provide drinks beforehand, or include raffle tickets in the price. My most recent fundraiser involved tea and scones and jam and I tried to charge what one might pay for an all you can eat scone-athon. For my annual cocktail night I charge roughly bar prices.

Of course some people might not really be able to afford even an evening out drinking at bar prices, but for most that is within reach, at least occasionally. This way they can do it and support good causes at the same time.

I often hold events for multiple causes, either just splitting the money raised or using ridiculously complex systems to make allocations (eg each type of jam being linked to a cause with the money divided according to jam consumption). There are many reasons for this, but one is it brings some obscure, but very worthy, causes to people’s attention. Just this morning I had someone comment that they had discovered causes they were not aware of at my scones event. I like to think that some people will donate as a result, but I don’t see it as my business to inquire who, where and how much.

The system isn’t perfect. I often depend on others to contribute their skills. The musicians and poets who perform at my events are often the financially poorest people I know, so I am concerned I am exploiting their commitment by having them work unpaid. I hope that by bringing them to the attention of people who would not have discovered them otherwise I boost their future earnings, but I doubt that really compensates. Ultimately I hope they enjoy the event themselves, and may even gain inspiration for new art (it’s happened). In a slightly different vein, I rely on friends with mad bartending skills for the cocktail nights. The primary individual is more time poor than anything else, and there is not much I can think to do about this, although suggestions are welcome.

One consequence of this approach is that these events don’t make that much money. This year six events in total will add up to roughly $2000 once the film night is done. I’ll probably have put 300 hours into this, so there is little doubt my time would have been more efficiently spent chasing extra work, which would in turn allow me to up my own donations. But that certainly wouldn’t be as much fun.

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About Stephen Luntz

I am a science journalist, specialising in Australian and New Zealand research across all fields of science. My book, Forensics, Fossils and Fruitbats: A Field Guide to Australian Scientists is out now through CSIRO Publishing. I am also a professional returning officer for non-government organisations. I'm very politically active, but generally try to restrict this blog to scientific matters.
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