As an outspoken fundraiser, I have no choice—I have to address the NPR fundraising scandal. On the heels of an unscientific, online survey posted on the AFP website that was heralded as the ethics challenges facing the profession . . . well, maybe ethics are worse than I thought. Clearly stupidity is.I’ve earned a reputation for pushing the envelope as far as anyone in the profession. I am outspoken, so I am sure I have said things I shouldn’t have. This might be one of those times, but I’ve got to say it: where is common sense?Ninety nine percent of the time, donors are professional—business men and women who love what you do and support the mission of your work. As a matter of fact, they are overwhelmingly great human beings. But every now and then, they are not. In fact, a few are scum. And what is your tolerance of scum? That is when the ethics come into play, and nothing beats sticking close to the mission, common sense and the law. Oh, and thinking.What is bad is when the fundraiser is also scum. And because of this very small percentage of fundraisers, the entire profession gets a bad rap.I was featured in the Inside Higher Ed discussion about the Congressman Charlie Rangel solicitation of a corporation for which he had congressional oversight. I was asked to comment on the ethics of the university fundraiser as the gift was being solicited. I defended the fundraiser because Rangel approved, the donor corporation approved, and the college president approved. Where does the fundraiser’s degree of responsibility begin and end?But with NPR, the fundraiser is leading this mess, so let’s point our collective finger at him. Yeah, I know it was a set up and we can talk about that all day. But the Governor of Wisconsin was set up by a liberal guy; NPR was set up by a conservative guy. Even?Do I agree with the tactics of either? Of course not. But hey, where have you been? This is reality.What shouldn’t happen is a retreat from aggressive and creative fundraising. The NPR people made it personal, and personal opinions began to drive the conversation. That was unnecessary, inappropriate and out of place.While gift reporting—or lack of—might seem unseemly, it isn’t. Plenty of donors, for various personal and other reasons, don’t want the gift reported and acknowledged.Ethics isn’t the issue. The fundraisers I’ve known and respected don’t need to be taught ethics—they know how to be and how to do business. The issue is who we hire to represent and raise money for us.In my company, along with hiring the best fundraisers in the world—those who are interested in growing philanthropy and their own profession—we have solid, non-negotiable criteria for employment: THINK.It seems NPR should have made that the first job requirement.
Will You Be There When John Shamberg Calls?
A big part of fundraising is showing up and being available. I learned this lesson on a very memorable New Year’s Eve, a very long time ago.
As an eager young fundraiser working for Washburn University, I didn’t know that it was unusual still to be at work in the evening of December 31st. But, there I was.
Earlier that year, a graduate of Washburn University School of Law told me he was going to give a gift of land to his synagogue, a private K-12 school and Washburn. John Shamberg, who has since passed away, made millions of dollars for institutions all over the world, and he wanted to give a significant gift to organizations he valued. His 40 acres of land on the outskirts of Kansas City were valued at $450,000, and his intention was to give $150,000 each to three organizations.
He’d left the task to the last day of the year, but now he was ready to make it happen.
He called the synagogue. No answer.
He called the K-12 school. No answer.
Then, he called Washburn and got me.
“Bob,” he said, “you just won the jackpot!”
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