Monday, April 23, 2007


"I don’t understand these fundraisers, …they waste all this money…why don't they just give the money to …the sick people?"

"…you know what? They don’t! They throw a party so rich people like me can spend $10,000 on a table and then they give it to the sick people!" ...that’s how it’s done! Joan Cusack to Jennifer Aniston in "Friends with Money"

Alright, let's get this over with folks: Fundraisers are a Lie! Yes that's right you heard me.

A few months back, I attended a luncheon to raise funds for a school for the deaf. Yes, it was luncheon and a fashion show and a fundraiser all in one. First there was the obligatory silent auction, then (during lunch) the not-so-silent auction, and then after lunch when the plates were taken away, we were asked if we would like to purchase the Orchid Centerpieces! Hadn't they got enough from us? Let me think-No! Easy as it is to lampoon a fundraiser, that is not where I am going today.

One of the ladies who lunch (our table mate) told me that she had been involved in planning the event for months. As a volunteer and parent she had besieged her local stores to donate goods to "sell" at the silent auction. This yuppie begging was stressful, but "worth it" she told me. She had been up early in the morning today, blowing up balloons and setting tables. She was very excited and pleased to hear that the event had "raised" $200,000 for the school. How much did the event cost I asked, "I don't know" she told me. I asked if she had a financial statement or even last years audit. She said it would be awkward to ask as they might construe it as nosy or even (gasp) accusatory. I reassured her and promised to tell her what the numbers showed.

When she sent me the audit report I quickly turned to the fundraising expenses page. There I found that their event coordinator was paid $60,000 per year, that the event had cost $100,000, that the lunch and hotel had cost another $40,000. In other words...the event had netted...Nothing. When I shared this information with the parent, she was devastated. "Why did I do all this work?" "Why did we do this event?"

Because, I told makes people feel better.


Anonymous said...

Shame on you and your bad math. If the event coordinator is paid $60,000 a year then you don't subtract the entire $60,000 for that one event. Therefore that fundraising event did net somewhere close to $60,000. What other potential mistakes have you made with your math?

janet said...

This is, of course, all simple math done with out the documentation that explains any of it. If the event planner was paid $60,000 and did a number of other things, then no, this event's cost only ought to include a portion of that salary. But if the Event Planner was paid $60,000 to put on this event, and this event only, then yes, the entire $60 k must be subtracted as a legitimate expense or it is, YES A LIE!!

My favorite fundraisers are the invitations that are sent out that tell us they're NOT going to have the dinner, just send the check for the same amount and feel good that all but the cost of printing and postage goes into the programs.

Trucha said...

Fuzzy math aside, I think the point is that people spend $140,000-$200,000 on themselves to give $0-$60,000 to some poor deaf kids. Even at the most generous math calculation (i.e., $60,000), only 30% of the money went directly to the people in need. It could certainly be argued that without the other $140,000, there would be no $60,000. But, to me, there's just something about this that gives me a sick feeling in my stomach. And if "Anonymous" doesn't get that, then shame on him/her.

Anonymous said...

What makes me a little sick to my stomach is the fact that someone can disregard the fact that as much as $60,000 may have been raised as if it were meaningless. Someone put their time and effort into bringing all these people together to raise this money. Sure, it would be great if this were a perfect world where people just donated their time and money with no strings attached, but it's not. Trucha, you may have missed my original point in that it wasn't a total waste of time. Some good may have come from that effort, and I for one wouldn't want to be the one that ignored that fact. Therefore, shame on you for standing on the sideline and forgetting that a group of people banded together to at least make an effort. It's more than most people do.

Anonymous said...

I work for a small non-profit and we make sure that everything associated with the event with the exception of staff and occasionally printing is donated. The food, the beverages, the restaurant or catering hall, the prizes. Much work is done by volunteers. We do a 150 mile, 9 day event and all the food and even the hotel rooms we stay in are donated. Our fundraisers are fundraisers and our income goes to research and patient services. For volunteers and/or donors who want to know where their money is going - this information is available and should be accessed

M said...

Most fundraisers (the people, not the events) will tell you, events are not really FUNDraisers, they are FRIENDraisers. Most events break even or raise a bit of money, but they may reach out to new constituents, bring in new donors, raise your media profile, keep volunteers involved, etc.

Brett Royal said...

IT is sort of like buying the biggest house you can afford with a huge mortage so you can spend a ton of money on interest to get a tax credit.