A couple of days ago I posted on the plight of small charities contending in a limited fundraising market with an over-sized competitor — Dealing With An 800 Pound Gorilla.

In the situation described, the ‘gorilla’ was a local healthcare charity raising a bit over $1 million in Maine, where there are about 6,500 registered charities. Let’s examine the small charity fundraising context a bit using this report, The Maine Nonprofit Sector Impact, 2013.

Amazingly, the nonprofit sector is the second largest industry in Maine, employing 1 in 7 of the state’s workers in 2011 and generating $3.5 billion in wages.

But 92% of the charities had annual budgets less than $1 million, 88% less than $500,000, 75% less than $100,000, and 56% less than $50,000.

This is life in the real fundraising world.

I’ll bet virtually none of Maine’s nonprofits with budgets less than $500,000 (remember, that’s 88% of the total) have even a single staffer entirely dedicated to fundraising. Those groups are lucky to get any sliver of Maine’s donor pie. And remember, we’re not even considering the donations extracted from Maine donors that flow far beyond Maine’s borders!

Who in those 5,720 organizations might be reading The Agitator’s harangues on donor retention?! Or Jeff Brooks ranting about wasting money on awareness campaigns?! Who might be watching fundraising webinars or going to the conferences in New York or Amsterdam?

Maybe most of the 12% of Maine nonprofits with $500,000+ budget do have a dedicated fundraising staffer. That might translate to 780 fundraisers assuming an average of one per organization. How many of those have any significant training in the art and science of fundraising?

I’m not knockin’ Maine nonprofits or their fundraising and fundraisers. I’m just saying it’s a tough job being the little guy, no matter how noble your cause … no matter how earnest you might be about improving your tactics.

In reading the comments on my Gorilla post, some spoke of small nonprofits as basically needing to simply grit their teeth, not blame ‘external’ factors, and just ‘get on with it’. Some others, like Gayle Gifford, were a bit more sympathetic and lamented the stagnant size of the US philanthropic pie and its concentration in fewer and fewer hands.

I lean toward the latter comments, but realize those are conditions outside the ability (or priority, given the imperatives of daily survival) of individual nonprofits to influence. Yes indeed, they have no choice but to just get on with it, or cease to exist.

Speaking of ceasing to exist, keep in mind that in Maine’s case, only 3% of charities have budgets greater than $5 million per year. That’s 195 organizations — the sharks amidst the minnows. One wonders how secure even some of those sharks might be?

As this video illustrates, even the occasional shark gets swallowed by the grouper!





This article was posted in: Fundraising philosophy/profession, Nonprofit management.
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