Monday, April 30, 2012

Four Percent (Monday LINKS)

Long-time readers know that philanthropy is something I spend some time thinking about.  Not just "gimme the money", but more in terms of self-sustaining revenue (i.e, micro-finance) and widespread community support.  "Charity" is not just intended for the rich. 

Over the weekend, I attended two charity fundraisers, both wine events.  (If Choose Civility ever loses steam "Howard County: Philanthropists with a Wine Problem" may be next in line).  As much fun as both events were, I can't help but feel we are promoting a very inefficient way of funding the nonprofit causes we support.

  •  Nonprofit A needs money. 
  • Nonprofit A spends time, money and resources on creating an event, sinking $10,000 - $20,000 into costs.
  • Nonprofit A calls on its Board, volunteers, and friends to tap into (and exhaust) all available social contacts, friends, family, and strangers to "support Nonprofit A" by attending the event.
  • In order for Nonprofit A to pull in a 60%-70% return on each ticket, they must price the ticket at a level inaccessible to a large portion of the public, foreclosing any solicited contribution.
  • The event is maximized with additional gimmicks and solicitations for donation.
  • No matter how successful the event, the Board and Staff spend the evening head-counting to ease their concern that things "look a little bit light."

 All the while, the specter of coming out with a loss hangs over Nonprofit A's head, threatening the very existence of the organization on an annual basis.  This is the fine line upon which the vast majority of our nonprofit community exists.

That shouldn't be.  I will happily admit that a good amount of my "social life" (to the extent one exists) is found at these events: wine tasting, horse jumping, celebrity bartenders, happy hours, and restaurant nights.  It sounds glamorous, doesn't it?  But at the end of the day, aren't we just flattering ourselves into thinking we are the money balloons keeping this world afloat?

Can we give without the top hats and bow-ties?

Yesterday, while thinking this over, I was prompted to look up "Most Charitable Cities in the United States" and found this list from 2010.  It made me wonder what the percentages of earnings donated are in Columbia, Ellicott City, Laurel, Elkridge, Lisbon, Highland, etc., etc.  We're so accustomed to accolades in this part of the world, I thought it may be an idea to actually earn one.  What if we aspired to 4%?  Then we would really deserve a party.


The Maryland General Assembly passed a law last session (really!) that would require all donations over $500 to include the occupation and employer of the donor.  This is to interfere with the practice of having a corporate donation to the max, paired with individual donations from various employees with no apparent affiliation, but at the behest of the corporation.  The size of the donation is not the issue.  The issue is being able to track influence.  So long as we have shadowy LLC's with unknown partners dropping tens of thousands of dollars into local campaigns, and hundreds of thousands into state-wide campaigns, these laws are small steps, but appreciated all the same.

On a related subject, this article from Mother Jones looks into the effect that Super PACs could have on local elections, where $5,000 can be the difference in winning and losing, particularly in "crowded primaries."  Well if that doesn't sound like a spot on description of what we can expect in true-blue Maryland, I don't know what is. 

I love Frank Robinson's statue at Camden Yards.  It is the exact same pose as a signed photograph I have hanging in my basement.

I loved this piece by Jessica Anderson regarding additional funds for the Plan to End Homelessness in Howard County.  I think an untouched aspect of this Plan is the prospect of it saving money 5-10 years after implementation.  That's not the core focus, nor should it be, but I think it is an important selling point.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: This was a no-brainer.  You come out for an event supporting Voices for Children, you're going to be the Blog Post of the Day.  Dennis was kind enough to brave the overcast weather and enjoy some vino under the...See Thru Tent.  Jane and I spent the afternoon serving "Tincho" (an Argentinian cocktail) and enjoying the generous contributions from Heavy Seas Beer, La Palapa, and The Wine Bin.  Overall, a great way to spend the afternoon.

That's all for today.  Have a great Monday doing what you love!