During a recent trip to my mailbox, I retrieved a donation solicitation that yielded a familiar sight; one that I must admit, kinda irritates me. In the window of the envelope, near the familiar stream of return address labels, a shiny new nickel is on display for the taking. What kind of message is this sending to us? That 5 cents can change a person’s life? Or is it subliminally reinforcing what I see as a concerning and rising industry trend that we will give you a gift if you donate to our cause?
Okay, I’ve said it. Before you go all postal on me, please, hear me out.
It has been a little over two years since I took the helm of the Paula Takacs Foundation for Sarcoma Research. My background in the stock market and securities regulation is apples-and-oranges compared to the non-profit world, and boy have I learned a lot in the last 26 months. I’ve met many peers and have attended many events. I’ve watched, I’ve analyzed, and I’ve ingested a ton. To say that I am in awe of the endless stream of critical missions and passionate nonprofit leaders in a challenging landscape is an understatement. But inherent in the industry competition and the changing demographics of the donating public comes what I believe to be an unfortunate rising trend – the increased expenses of fundraising events related to giving party swag, participation gifts, and the like. Yes, sometimes these things are donated by corporate sponsors, but oftentimes they are absorbed by the nonprofits themselves. And that lessens the impact they can make.
So why are our supporters different? Why do they “get it”?
For every fundraiser we execute, whether it is the annual signature Sarcoma Stomp, or other smaller events held throughout the year, our Board pours over the numbers and makes conscious decisions about where we will allocate our expense budget to attract participants to our event and to ensure that the event is fun, engaging, and of quality. We make the tough choice not to give gifts for showing up, because we firmly believe that those who understand the huge significance of this mission will attend — and because they want to fund as much new research as possible. Are we taking a competitive risk? Yes. Can we sleep at night? Yes, because we feel most authentic and correct in this approach.
I have gotten to know many of our supporters, some of whom hail from sarcoma families and some who are just plain kind. Perhaps I’m a bit partial, but I think that we have the most loyal and heart-forward supporters around. Each year they donate, participate, and volunteer with vigor. They tell us that they had a blast at our events, and they send soulful emails and notes of gratitude for the work that we do. They get it. They feel connected to the cause, the effort we put forth, and the immense value of the sarcoma research program at Levine Cancer Institute.
So what is our philosophy of supporter connectivity and appreciation?
I would like to think that our connectivity lies in several factors, but all of them take root in authenticity and communication. We love getting to know our families – the stories of how they came to know us, the stories of how cancer has impacted their own life, the journeys of survival against the odds, and the heartbreaking retelling of loss. It is that candor and openness between us that is beautifully real. It is the complexity and the struggle of the human health experience in the cancer world that binds us in this mission.
Our supporters also understand how they directly impact the mission and how their generosity is put to work. They read the updates we send in emails and post to our website, they stay in touch on Facebook and Twitter, and they call me to ask questions. They truly believe that the research they are funding at Levine Cancer Institute is important, valuable, and novel. They are keenly aware that efforts to advance the field of cancer research requires significant funding and long-term commitment. They give generously even though they see that the impact on our community and the world-at-large is a lengthy process. They are committed. They get it.
We thank our supporters for their generosity, their embrace, and their understanding of us. Thank you for not making us feel badly that we don’t send you nickels in the mail to entice donations and that we don’t give you expensive swag for showing up at fundraisers. Instead, we show our gratitude in smiles, hugs, handwritten notes, and phone calls. We show our gratitude in the telling of the progress of the growing research program at Levine Cancer Institute. As things continue to advance at Levine, we believe you’ll be hearing from patients who’s lives have been improved by your tireless dedication. These are not expenses you’ll see on our balance sheet. This is how we choose to do business.
We look forward to a wonderful time with you all at the April 29 Sarcoma Stomp. They’ll be lots of smiles, hugs, and expressions of gratitude for all. Come introduce yourself if you are new to the Foundation family. Come ask questions about the progress. Yes, these things will be in our budget under “intangibles.” Nope, they’ll be no nickels in view.