I sometimes hear nonprofits lament that summertime is so “slow.” Nothing is happening. Most donors and prospective donors are out of town on vacation, they tell me. But in my experience, summertime is a busy time for development.
I have discovered quite a few grant deadlines occur during the summer and that requires attention. I have also found some donors actually have a bit more time to spend on their favorite nonprofit projects during the summer. Brainstorming meetings, planning for the fall, “asking” for support, database house cleaning and expansion, research, case statement drafting and year-end fundraising campaign development are all things I have done during the summer months. Don’t forget, many corporations budget late summer for social good projects they will underwrite next year. Summer is a great time to visit with your favorite corporate sponsors.
Earlier this year, I was asked to help the Port Aransas Art Center part-time. As you may know, Hurricane Harvey battered Port Aransas last year, but as the Instagram photo above from Coffee Waves suggests, the community is back on track and working hard to recover. It is well on its way.
As for me, I am helping to establish a new development program, I have been modernizing the website, enhancing social media, creating new e-newsletters so that we have regular monthly e-communication with constituents, securing a GuideStar gold seal and more. It has taken a lot of time, but when you work with a dedicated group of volunteers and staff, your work is enjoyable and inspiring.
I added a new section in the margin of Carolyn’s Nonprofit Blog for “Quick Updates” with handy links. Please peruse my article on social media stewardship for the Association of Donor Relations Professionals’ monthly newsletter, The Hub. You might also enjoy reviewing the slide decks for my webinar and public presentations this year.
I have always been a “hands-on” learner and I readily adopt new technologies that enable me to become even more self-sufficient. Still today, I do most all work myself. This, plus years of experience in major gift fundraising make me a good teacher for those new to the fundraising profession, for startups with big ambitions, and for nonprofits that are perhaps a bit, “overweight” that need to streamline.
Another new section of my Carolyn’s Nonprofit Blog is called, “A Brief Account: Short Stories.” There I share personal experiences with leading philanthropists. Some of my stories are humorous, some heart warming, but always, I try to be insightful and to share what it takes to work successfully in the field of nonprofit fundraising. Fundraising – especially major gifts – scares some nonprofit professionals. I came to the field via volunteering and a Master’s Degree in Art History. Ultimately, I hope by sharing my stories that fear will be lessened, and more interested professionals will enter our field.
Have a good summer. And now for me it is time to get, “back to work.”
Don’t forget to “refresh” your browser now and again while reading Carolyn’s Nonprofit Blog. I have added a new series of photo “headers” from my work over the past several years.
This sculpture came to mind when I began writing this blog post urging my readers to think carefully about nonprofit fundraising. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
I am as guilty as anyone of assuming everyone knows about and understands what is involved in philanthropy and fundraising. But the truth is, most people are not well informed.
I wanted to share a few of my favorite assumptions – or infamous assumptions as the case may be – in the hope you will avoid them.
“It would be great for our nonprofit if you would agree to be paid a percentage of what you raise.”
Doing so is considered unethical by every professional nonprofit support organization and association today. It seems like a marvelous idea to some nonprofits not to pay their professional fundraiser(s) until the money comes in, despite the outlay of their time, experience, connections and personal finances. And if the fundraiser does not know the history of the organization and its prior challenges, they can be blind sighted when seeking charitable donations. In the drop-down menu of this blog (at the top), you will find a section of ethical resources that will help you steer clear of this unethical assumption. I also want to say to the uninitiated – those new to nonprofit fundraising – don’t feel bad. People ask me about percentage-based fundraising weekly, particularly those from the for-profit sector. Just do your research before you ask.
“We raised the money and we no longer need a fundraising professional on staff. Done!”
How sad I have been to invite some of my most cherished donors to support a project, to have raised substantial sums, and to be told the nonprofit no longer needs help at the end of the fund drive. The donors often feel adrift when this happens, and they question both the nonprofit for such short-sighted decisions, and sadly, the successful fundraiser. In other words, the very person responsible for your financial success is kicked out. Those who could not do the job remain on staff. The logic of this assumption is questionable. Some nonprofits are also unaware that after building tremendous energy and enthusiasm for a cause, they can frequently keep on going and raise even more. Missed opportunities abound in these cases.
“The economy is in terrible shape and we should stop fundraising!”
This is a tough decision to be sure, and it should be considered thoughtfully. I have seen more than one persistent nonprofit with calm and determined leadership attain their seven-figure fundraising goals during very difficult financial times. I have also seen donors one thought would be gun-shy of tanking stock markets, make extraordinary leadership donations. One of my favorite foundation executives, the late Valleau Wilkie Jr. of Fort Worth, Texas once said to me, “if you get out of line, there will be dozens of other nonprofits stepping in to take your place.” Keep going.
“We must read the news to find donors for our project.”
More than once, I have visited with nonprofit Board members convinced someone in the news not affiliated in any way with their nonprofit is a natural candidate for solicitation. But most are not. Research online is essential to gain as much background information as you can about prospective donors. But simply because someone appears in the news often (and they appear to be “rich”), this does not qualify them to be your donor. If you read my article on high tech research, you will understand how sophisticated research can be game-changing, if and when you need it. But also, take time to review your own donor records, mailing and email lists. I have found “hidden gems” in those lists often, people well worth cultivating who have been receiving information from your nonprofit over time, but who have never been cultivated for a larger gift. One organization I worked with turned a $25 annual membership into a $5 million donation, for instance. Dig deeper.
“We have tried and tried. These prospects will not give. Don’t bother.”
This is a favorite. I have visited with prospective donors prior to submitting a grant request, discovered an issue about which they are concerned, addressed that issue head-on (often it is simply an honest report about prior activities, and the resumption of regular communications), and I have secured a grant. Sometimes, I have expedited more than one grant from the same source within a single fiscal year. But other staff members were vehemently convinced I was wasting my time. Never say never.
I have a positive, can-do attitude when it comes to nonprofit fundraising. I have seen the worst and turned around several “impossible” campaigns (by hand). The advice I share comes from, “the trenches.” While my two college degrees helped me learn how to conduct research, develop a convincing argument and write coherently, real life experience provided these insights. For those new to the profession, I suggest you attach yourselves to a seasoned professional as I did at the start, to gain more in-depth knowledge along these lines.
And I urge you not to fear challenges. If you believe in a cause but there are problems, fix them and raise the money you need. Think smarter. Anything is possible.
It is hard to imagine, but across the United States there are still many who have no idea how to use a computer. And while most people own mobile phones, access to wireless remains a constant challenge.
I don’t know about you, but I am highly cognizant of how most job applications are only available online today. Not knowing how to use email, Microsoft Word and the Internet (or simply not to have ready access to a wireless “hot spot”), prevents some from applying for jobs, pays bills, submitting inquiries for essential information, completing medical forms and the like. Even if “computer skills” are not part of the job description, to apply for them one must normally have access to a computer of some type. Time sheets, product inventories and cash registers are all connected to complex corporate networks, and they require employees to be competent – at least in a basic fashion – with using technology.
Austin Free-Net is a nonprofit organization with which I worked briefly a few years ago. This organization and others in Austin – including the City of Austin – are working to address these now-essential technology training needs. Executive Director Juanita Budd notes:
“When citizens cannot find work and families cannot support themselves, the repercussions echo throughout the community. Less people working means less tax revenue, while simultaneously there is an increased pressure on social services providers. A family might need an older child to quit school and go to work, which means the cycle of low-paying jobs continues for another generation. Improving the education and technical acumen of our residents will draw more businesses to Austin, increasing tax revenue and reducing unemployment. In short, a computer literate population makes a city stronger economically and makes us more attractive to new industry.”
I was also pleased to attend the Social Solutions 2017 Impact Summit in September in Austin. During the event, Robert F. Smith of Vista Equity Partners spoke with Kristin Nimsger, CEO of Social Solutions. Part of the discussion is found below in my Facebook Live video (3 minutes). Robert discusses the need for effective use of data, the increasing digitization of business globally, and how everyone is struggling to keep up! This is certainly true for those who find themselves in low income and under served communities.
“In making this film I really began to understand the depths of the issue and the fact that there are over a million classrooms in this country that don’t have adequate broadband, a huge number of kids who don’t have access to computers, and the reality that 77 percent of jobs are going to require technology education and background by the year 2020.”
“As inclusive as the Web can seem, it’s not yet an equal playing field. More than half the world is still without it; emerging economies and marginalized communities are often the last to gain access. Far fewer women are using the Internet than men. And without diversity among its creators, the Web itself will reflect unconscious biases, while personalizing algorithms can reinforce our own.”
I urge you to find the organizations in your community working to alleviate the “digital divide” and support them today. People of every generation and nation need to be included, and the time to start is now!
A few nonprofits tackling digital inclusion in Central Texas:
Thanks to the Baltimore Sun for covering Texas Sealife Center in Corpus Christi, Texas (February 14, 2017).
When Hurricane Harvey began to threaten the Texas Coast, one of my foremost concerns was its potential impact on Texas Sealife Center. I met founder Dr. Tim Tristan before I moved from Corpus Christi about seven years ago. He shared his vision of a veterinarian-driven wildlife rescue and rehabilitation center to aid shorebirds, raptors and sea turtles with me back then, and I have never forgotten.
In 2011, Texas Sealife Center was established, and it has not looked back since. The Center is all-volunteer and it has been highly successful in helping animals caught in and injured by fishing lines, those that have ingested fishing lures, metal and plastic objects of all varieties, as well as those that have sustained physical injuries and contracted troublesome diseases.
Tim and I have kept up remotely on Facebook. This summer, I agreed to help with some grant research and writing. The Center’s goal is to secure new equipment to support its medical and rehabilitation activities, with an emphasis on sea turtles. Sadly, the number of stranded and injured animals in the Coastal Bend of South Texas continues to increase. And, more sea turtles require help than ever before.
Click to reach Texas Sealife Center’s Facebook page and more photos illustrating its work during Hurricane Harvey and more.
As the volunteers have done time and again, they made themselves available 24-7 to aid wildlife caught in Hurricane Harvey and its aftermath. One of the Center’s primary partners is the ARK, or the Animal Rehabilitation Keep of the Marine Science Institute of The University of Texas at Austin, located further north on the Texas Coast. The ARK was heavily damaged during Hurricane Harvey, and Texas Sealife Center gladly took-in injured wildlife that could not be successfully released there. They continue to provide critical medical care and a safe haven until the animals can heal and be released into their natural habitats. Facebook became a powerful platform for conveying the work of Texas Sealife Center during this challenging time.
Aside from researching and submitting proposals for the Center’s urgent equipment needs, one of the most important things I did for this relatively young nonprofit was to create a meaningful GuideStar profile and to obtain the gold seal for transparency. Quite a few nonprofits with which I have worked fear they must have raised a lot of money and have well-known Board members, for instance, before establishing a full profile on GuideStar.
But what GuideStar is about is not money as much as it is how transparent nonprofits are about their operations and programs, their tax statements, future plans and more. GuideStar is about trust and honesty. And hopefully, by taking the worthwhile step to secure the gold seal will inspire even greater confidence by prospective donors in the Center and its management, with the current capital campaign in mind.
I have worked with nonprofit organizations large and small. Many of the larger ones have accomplished less than the smaller ones! Donors must be wary that a well-known “name” and a list of prominent Board members does not guarantee professional operations, efficiency, and genuine dedication by the leadership and staff.
I have found small nonprofits and startups work exceedingly hard, and their volunteers are often more dedicated than those supporting organizations with ample budgets and long tenures. After a long career in major gift fundraising, some of my most fulfilling projects have involved helping small groups build the credibility necessary to inspire significant donations. With this in mind, I urge you to support Texas Sealife Center, and please follow its progress on Facebook. Thank you!
You might enjoy reading my LinkedIn blog post from 2014, #2030NOW, which addresses startups and innovative young nonprofit concepts, and my hope more “Boomers” will fund them.
Carolyn’s Nonprofit Blog is focused on nonprofit fundraising and communications. It does not address political issues often if all all, but I feel compelled to do so now.
I am an Independent voter, and I have found friends on both sides of the aisle over the years. I respect the opinions of others, and I hope they respect mine.
Our nation finds itself at a ethical crossroads. Even as our nation’s economy has begun to improve – a process that began before the current Administration took office – I find it perplexing that we struggle with even greater fervor over equal rights and treatment for all citizens, regardless of race, religion or sexual orientation. Nature – as it does for all species on Earth – makes us diverse. Why do we ignorantly cling to the idea that one human being is less equal than another because of their physical traits or beliefs (within the bounds of law, of course). Why do we fear diversity?
Last but not least, I am saddened that a speech by our nation’s chief executive before thousands of young Boy Scouts at a national event should include political jabs at prior opponents. Harkening back to my comments about our shared natural resources, the Boy Scout “outdoor code” reads as follows:
“As an American, I will do my best to –
Be clean in my outdoor manners
Be careful with fire
Be considerate in the outdoors, and
Be conservation minded.”
Many have criticized the Boy Scouts of America over the years, and indeed the organization has evolved (that’s a good thing). But keep in mind, many of our nation’s finest leaders were trained within its ranks. The Boy Scout Law requires Scouts to be:
Let us ask ourselves, do our current national leaders demonstrate these qualities? If they do not, should we make changes? Should we demand more from them? Voter turnout in the United States is lower today than other developed countries. Voter apathy is not the answer to making positive, ethical change.
“By practicing and demonstrating the use of ethical, honest and unselfish behavior … ethical leaders may begin to earn the respect of their peers. People may be more likely to follow a leader who respects others and shows integrity.”
Stand up and hold our leaders at every level accountable, including our chief executive. We must expect higher standards, and smarter thinking. Be courageous. Do not stand back and just, “take it.” Speak up.
Bridges make connections possible. Bridges facilitate the crossing of people, “from one side to the other.” Shown is the breathtaking Pennybacker Bridge, a “through-arch bridge” located on the west side of Austin in the scenic hill country. Click on the photograph to learn more about it.
I have always thought of nonprofit fundraisers as “bridges” between their organizations and donors. Development professionals must constantly make connections and translate their nonprofit’s mission and needs to individuals, families, foundations, corporations and governments in such a way that funding is provided.
Nonprofit programmatic staff and some board members sometimes lack the skills (or the inclination) to speak with potential donors, and often they do not enjoy asking for financial support. This is where development staff shine, of course.
When I lived in Dallas in the 1990s, I worked on a variety of nonprofit fundraising campaigns, some in their entirety (from start to finish), others for more limited engagements (only for grant research, writing, solicitation, publications and the like). Once, I came across a nonprofit board chairman who was highly regarded in the community, but he had an abiding fear of asking anyone for a donation. A fundraising consulting firm his nonprofit had hired felt the board, including this noteworthy volunteer, were generally useless. Everyone involved had become frustrated. But, I knew there was a way to turn this situation around.
I assured the volunteer that during our forthcoming meeting – which happened to be with one of the leading bank trust departments in Dallas – that he only needed to speak about his passion for the nonprofit and the good it was accomplishing in the community. I promised to pick up the conversation once he was finished, to handle the request for funding and how best to follow-up. Luckily he trusted me and our meeting went very well. Together, we lined the nonprofit up for a six figure donation, which was ultimately received.
In this way, I acted as a bridge between the nonprofit and the prospective donor, but also between my distinguished volunteer and the trust department staff. I understood intuitively that in order to get this critical job done, we had to build a few bridges before arriving at the desired destination.
There is another factor I have discovered in working with major gift donors and nonprofit organizations seeking support, one that reminds me of being a “bridge.” This concerns the donors themselves.
Nonprofit staff (and the general public) sometimes assume that sophisticated, affluent donors are experts in every topic under the sun. But the truth is, they are experts in the fields where they have excelled and thrived. This may or may not include understanding how your nonprofit works and what it is accomplishing (or what it hopes to accomplish).
Nonprofit development staff can be of invaluable help by translating organizational information to donors and prospective donors in an easy-to-understand fashion, and vice versa. Yes, sometimes translating the donor’s needs and perceptions to fellow staff is required. This enables you to continue forward with a successful partnership negotiation, for example.
Development professionals are indispensable links between their organizations and funding partners. This often takes both verbal and written forms, as the case may be. Development staff must be able to translate in an understandable fashion critical information, and in both directions: internally and externally. This is truly an essential role that should not be taken for granted!
For me, Taylor Shea’s article for Reader’s Digest nails my experiences with affluent donors, “How Rich People Think: 25+ Things They Won’t Tell You” (N.D.). “Anytime the newspaper lists my name among the 100 top-paid executives in the area, I get a ton of requests from people asking for money. It happened so much that I had to come up with a strategy to deal with it. Now I say, ‘I’m happy to give. I’ll match however much you raise yourself.’”
Some of you might also enjoy my article, “Ph.D.s and Fundraising.” There I discuss the pitfalls of working with very bright programmatic staff who are hopeless when it comes to explaining what they are accomplishing to the public and/or to donors. I’ve been a “bridge” for many years; I find Ph.D.s to be among the most difficult to work with in a development context (although I find their research and discoveries fascinating).
I have wanted to discuss this topic for a long time, but I have struggled with how best to go about it. I have not known a nonprofit support organization to tackle this topic in a realistic way, yet it is especially important for new staff, especially those in development. I do think some acknowledgement by leaders in our sector would be helpful, as would developing some “mindset” training into our industry’s regular regimen of educational conferences.
When I obtained my first nonprofit position, I bonded with the organization, its image and mission totally. To my mind, we were inseparably linked. The two did not exist apart from one another! I was young, learning at a fast pace, and I absolutely loved the organization. It felt like a perfect fit.
Four years later, two supervisory changes and a decline in our local economic climate meant I had become frustrated. I started looking for a new position. Eventually I moved on (and up) with my career. But mentally, this was a tough change. My entire self worth was bonded to the nonprofit; once I departed, I felt adrift. I had also gotten to know many of the leading donors and volunteers as well. They felt like family. But I had to learn how to separate myself from that environment and those closely associated with it, and to “let go.”
Now, it is true that some of those same philanthropists are friends and professional colleagues today, more than twenty five years later. But the pain of leaving my first nonprofit family and friends was hard. But something important happened. I underwent a crucial mental change.
I acknowledged I had to move on for my own reasons;
I realized those donors still loved the nonprofit I was leaving (even though I no longer did);
I acknowledged that I should respect that loyalty (how could they get along without me?); and
I looked ahead, recognizing that it was entirely possible I would interact with my former nonprofit donors in future jobs.
Those realizations marked a significant change in attitude and helped me succeed in my future positions. The moment this shift occurred, it became possible for me to be friends with many of the philanthropists with whom I worked over the years in the sense we became comfortable talking about philanthropy more broadly, we shared general advice and personal life experiences. Mutual respect had been established. “Letting go” was a mature step forward that I needed to take.
Which is to say, nonprofit development professionals are not the sole spokespersons for the organizations with which they work. Directors, program officers, curators and even groundskeepers have their own relationships. Regrettably, I have experienced intense jealousy by other staff members when they see how comfortable I am with donors. Some have attempted to get rid of me entirely, feeling there is too much competition! But in truth, I have mentally separated myself in such a way that I fully understand the nonprofit with which I am currently working will go on long after I am gone. If I can make appropriate connections to benefit the project at hand, I definitely will. But I do not “own” any donor. The decision to become involved and to donate is entirely theirs.
Some staff can see you as a threat to their own (self) appointed position as, “the best friend of the donor.” I have discovered this with executive directors and department heads, for example. But I urge you, regardless and for your own well being, separate yourself from the organization mentally. You have your own life and are a person of value without or without the nonprofit.
Represent your organization in an absolutely first class fashion 24-7, even when you are not working. But also, step out of the picture if you become uncomfortable. I have discovered donors and volunteers (and the nonprofit organization) will appreciate you more if you follow this advice, and you will earn their trust for a lifetime.
Notes and Thoughts
Nonprofit work can inspire a stronger emotional attachment psychologically than corporate work, at least in my experience. This is especially true with those new to the nonprofit sector and in my case, with younger, inexperienced staff members. The organization’s leadership should be mindful of this dimension of their work and be sensitive to it. Today, employees change jobs fairly frequently and if you can part ways in a civil fashion, giving the less experienced staff a positive boost as they march out the door, everyone will be better off. That can be a tough assignment, but I believe it is a worthy one.
The Donor Relations Guru has posted a thoughtful article I enjoyed, “Team Player or Individual Contributor?” (April, 2017). I admit, I like the point of view conveyed. “They say in fundraising there’s an 80/20 rule, that 80% of the money comes from 20% of the donors. I have my own 80/20 rule for working and implementation and its one that may strike home for you too. 80 percent of the work gets done by 20 percent of the employees.” I have been hired a few times to do work the staff either tried to do and failed, or refused to do at all. I have also been hired to achieve “the impossible,” only to have other staff take my laurels when I am done with my work. I sometimes say in my mind, “if you could have done the job without me, why didn’t you?” I often wonder why these kinds of employees retain their jobs, but they always seem to.
Founder’s Syndrome is something I have encountered occasionally in my work over the years. Here is an article by Jeff Jowdy for NonProfitPRO (2013), “9 Ways for Nonprofits to Overcome ‘Founder’s Syndrome’.” Founder’s Syndrome is a bit more dangerous phenomenon than youthful attachment to an organization. “Founder’s Syndrome can be particularly devastating to fundraising. If a founder is not open to increased accountability as an organization grows, donors will become increasingly suspicious and may eventually flee.” This is where my personal “rub” has occurred in the past, when an Executive Director becomes threatened and unnecessarily jealous of my contacts and fundraising success. I have learned to step back, and if a resolution cannot be reached – despite my being the primary tie to the donors – I have removed myself from the situation. And a few times, the donors have gotten upset with me. But truly, I had no choice.
You might enjoy reading Oliver Burkeman for The Guardian, “Beware the Gravitational Pull of Mediocrity” (2015). Sometimes when people strive for excellence, organizational strife can result. Innovators can be viewed as dangerous! And sometimes, the one achieving excellence can be seen as a threat, and they may ultimately be pushed out. I have also seen mediocre employees remain on staff at nonprofit organizations, and for decades. They are neither terrible at their jobs, nor excellent. Go figure. Personally, I think mediocrity is an underappreciated survival skill.
Jennifer Verdolin Ph.D. wrote for Psychology Today, “Is It Only Natural for Us to Be Jealous?” (2014). “We humans not only have the tendency to become jealous over imagined threats, we also don’t often seem to take into account the ‘cost’ of certain behaviors.” I think educational programming for development professionals on dealing with jealousy would be an excellent idea.
“The mission of Great Promise for American Indians is to preserve the traditions, heritage and culture of American Indians, and to support the health and education needs of their youth and families. We do this to honor the past, and to ensure the future.”
I enjoyed attending the 25th annual Austin Powwow and American Indian Heritage Festival in November, 2016.
After a somewhat grueling but productive year in the trenches of nonprofit fundraising here in Texas, attending the event was refreshing. Young people and adults competed in colorful Native American dances. One of my favorite dances was the Inter Tribal, during which people of all “tribes” – including the audience – were invited down to the arena floor to dance together.
Did you know,
“Most of the various types of dances performed at a pow wow are descended from the dances of the Plains tribes of Canada and the United States. Besides those for the opening and closing of a pow wow session, the most common is the intertribal, where a Drum will sing a song and anyone who wants to can come and dance.”
I joined the dancers myself this year, and while marching along, I filmed one of my first Facebook Live videos. I enjoyed walking/dancing with people of all ages and cultural backgrounds in an impressive show of unity and community.
As the New Year gets underway, our nation as a whole needs an, “Inter Tribal.” I hope Americans will come together and work together to ensure that our nation remains the greatest on Earth.
In closing, I was inspired by an article on LinkedIn by Devin D. Thorpe, Forbes Contributor and social entrepreneur, “Democrats, Let’s Stand Shoulder-to-Shoulder with Donald Trump” (November 30, 2016). I am an Independent voter, but I agree with Devin who suggests we, “put policy above politics and country ahead of party. And let’s work harder than we ever have.”
This post was written at Thanksgiving 2016. Since then, I have continued to update it. I find the message to be timeless and increasingly important to America and the world.
My “Thanksgiving” wish is that all citizens of the United States will see diversity as a blessing. Recent years have been tumultuous for ethnic groups across America and the world. Tolerance seems to have taken a backseat to misunderstanding, irrational fear, emotional outbursts and occasional violence.
Among the many nonprofit organizations for which I have worked, those focusing on the environment have taught me that human beings are no different from other animals in the sense that they have developed physically in unique and interesting ways over tens of thousands of years.
Yet oddly enough, while we are endlessly fascinated by the physical diversity found in birds, mammals, fish and the like, when it comes to our own human species some of us are intolerant of those who look and behave differently from our own group. We sometimes fear those who hold religious beliefs dissimilar from our own, and those who maintain cultural traditions we do not understand.
“Ultimately, America’s answer to the intolerant man is diversity, the very diversity which our heritage of religious freedom has inspired.”
Robert Kennedy, American politician (1925-1968)
During SXSW a few years ago, I attended a series of sessions on Tech Inclusion. Hosted by Galvanize and the Clinton Foundation’s No Ceilings Initiative, panel discussions began early on a Sunday morning in downtown Austin at the then-new offices of Atlassian, and continued all day long. I learned about the challenges LGBTQIA citizens have securing and holding “regular” corporate jobs, about common issues military veterans re-entering the workforce face, how underrepresented minorities struggle in the workplace with the simplest accommodations and general perceptions, as do older generations and women in the workplace.
After listening for several hours of well-considered discussion and dialogue, I felt these Tech Inclusion presentations should be televised and made available to a much broader audience. Not only the tech industry but every industry – and the general populace – would benefit. They were outstanding.
“We need to help students and parents cherish and preserve the ethnic and cultural diversity that nourishes and strengthens this community – and this nation.”
Mike Hogan of the ONE Campaign Texas office and I were pleased to deliver a petition in favor of The Electrify Africa Act to Blaine Fulmer, formerly of U.S. Congressman Michael T. McCaul’s office in Austin a few years ago.
This post was written a few years ago, not long after I returned to Austin. I had become a ONE Campaign volunteer while waiting out the economic downtown in San Antonio. In summer 2013, I returned to Austin to work with a new nonprofit to help ramp-up its major gift fundraising activities.
The Electrify Africa Act of 2015 – “Helping sub-Saharan Africa increase modern electricity access will save lives, boost education, alleviate extreme poverty and accelerate growth.“
After many years of intense major gift fundraising work with a number of worthy nonprofit projects across the state of Texas, the economic downturn allowed me “quiet time” to return to some of my other life interests. From my grade school days, I was fascinated by Africa and the Middle East. I watched television programs and voraciously read Time Life books my parents had acquired for my sister and I. When I was in high school, my parents took our family on a month-long trip to the Middle East and North Africa, where my interests were deepened even further.
“ONE is a campaigning and advocacy organization of more than seven million people around the world taking action to end extreme poverty and preventable disease, particularly in Africa.
We believe the fight against poverty isn’t about charity, but about justice and equality.
Whether lobbying political leaders in world capitals or running cutting-edge grassroots campaigns, ONE pressures governments to do more to fight AIDS and other preventable, treatable diseases in the poorest places on the planet, to empower small-holder farmers, to expand access to energy, and to combat corruption so governments are accountable to their citizens. Cofounded by Bono and other activists, ONE is strictly nonpartisan.”
Why should someone like me support critical needs like electricity for Africa?
First, let me share an insight:
“This notion that we can be an island unto ourselves, I don’t think is realistic in the world we live in … But this notion that we should cut off all foreign aid, when it’s less than 1 percent of the budget and when it’ll isolate us from the world and hurt our national security – I don’t think that makes sense.” –Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, February 23, 2012
I believe Africa represents the future of our world. It has so much promise on every level! But also, allowing horrible living conditions, dire poverty, disease and ignorance to persist means many issues here at home like national security are negatively impacted. Problems overseas can quickly become our own problems, as we have seen time and time again. With relatively little expense, these international challenges can be alleviated for the benefit of the entire human race.
“In sub-Saharan Africa, more than 620 million people do not have access to electricity. Thirty seven countries in sub-Saharan Africa have a national electrification rate of below 50 percent. These endemic power shortages affect all aspects of life. The President and Congress are working with African leaders, civil society organizations, and the private sector to dramatically change this dire situation. We know energy access is one of the most urgent priorities for people in sub-Saharan Africa with one in five Africans citing infrastructure – including electricity – as their most pressing concern.
The lack of electricity impacts people’s lives in at least five major ways, with a disproportionately negative impact on girls and women.”
“Africa’s 900 million people use less energy than Spain’s 47 million. In sub-Saharan Africa, 621 million people have no electricity whatsoever. Each year, 600,000 Africans – half of them children – die from household air pollution, caused by fuelwood and charcoal used for cooking.”
Clearly, the world must support African leaders as they work to improve this dire situation.
When reading African literature, I was inspired by its grace and wisdom. As Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe said,
“Once you allow yourself to identify with the people in a story, then you might begin to see yourself in that story even if on the surface it’s far removed from your situation. This is what I try to tell my students: this is one great thing that literature can do – it can make us identify with situations and people far away.”
That is exactly what African literature did for me. You might consider African authors the next time you are seeking a good book to read.
Please support ONE Campaign and help release millions of Africans from the grip of extreme poverty. It costs you nothing but your voice.
In 2018, I undertook a DNA test with Ancestry.com. Our family has long suspected we have African roots on my mother’s side. That turned out to be true with 1% of my DNA being from Mali in West Africa. I was thrilled, and we were glad to have the mystery of our darker skin resolved. Now, I am an even greater advocate for ONE Campaign, and I am exploring that 1% online as often as I can.
You might also enjoy reading this Brookings analysis, Foresight Africa: Top Priorities for the Continent in 2019.“Africa is brimming with promise and, in some places, peril. With its array of contributions, this year’s edition reflects both the diversity of the continent and the common threads that bind it together. With that aim, we hope to promote and inform a dialogue that will generate sound practical strategies for achieving shared prosperity across the continent.”