Nonprofits should get stuff for free? Are You Kidding Me?


It happens. In fact, some of us are even encouraged to ask for deals on the part of our nonprofits.

“Can you give us a nonprofit discount?” we wheedle into the phone. Or, “What do you mean you’re charging $100 an hour! We can’t afford that! We’re a nonprofit! Give us a discount!”

Sure girl, I’ve been there too. Before I knew better, anyway.

Well, now, today, you know better too.

Pamela Grow has written extensively on nonprofits who have the “free” mindset“.

Here’s what the unspoken dialogue is.

“Help us because you believe in the mission, not because you want money! What do you mean you want money? How SELFISH of you!”

I’ve got news for you. We all care about your mission. We do. Whether you’re ending hunger or helping the homeless. We care. And we still need to make sure we eat and have a place to sleep too. If that makes me selfish, then I’m fine with that. My starving does not serve the world. My thriving, continuing to teach fundraising, give webinars, workshops, and speaking engagements, WILL serve the world.

Dr. Laura Otten wrote a post on the Nonprofit University Blog, and it went a little something like this:

“As a nonprofit, I would never presume to ask someone for something for free.  I respect the hard work that others do.  And no matter how nice I might be and no matter how much someone might “like” me, I know that others are running a business on which they depend for paying bills, supporting family, paying other employees, etc.  Am I more important than all of that that I should presume upon their time and business model?  And do so simply because I am a nonprofit? Hardly!”

Our staff has repeatedly encountered rather irate people who don’t understand why we won’t help them for free.  What is wrong with us, they ask, directly or indirectly?  Why won’t we help them?  Truth is, by this point, we’ve more often than not already given them hundreds of dollars of free consulting.  Funders have told me of applicants yelling at them if they don’t like the answers they are getting from the funder, are turned down for money, and more.  What is wrong with these pictures?

The truly disturbing part of this sense of entitlement is that more often than not it leads to nonprofits trying to take advantage of other nonprofits, imposing on other nonprofits or those whose career it is to help nonprofits. 

And lately, it happened to Pam again. Someone got so irate with her that she wanted to charge $50 for an ebook, that she had the AUDACITY to ask someone to pay for her knowledge, painstaking research, graphic design, and energy and time she put into making the book. I know. CRAZY, right? It’s almost like she’s a single mom, with a business to run, bills to pay, and two daughters in college.

My story: When I moved to Austin, I was approached by a church to fundraise for them. But even though they had an executive director, they didn’t seem to think they needed to hire a fundraising consultant. No, they’d rather have someone fundraise for free. It was interesting to me that they saw the need for someone to administrate their church, as a full-time paid director, but not to fundraise for them. So I asked them, “Do I ask you to be a medical administrator for free? No? Then don’t ask me to do MY job for free, okay?”

Now, when people ask me to fundraise for them for a percentage of the proceeds, or for free, I simply tell them, “You can read my blog and subscribe to my e-newsletter.”

Fundraising isn’t easy. It isn’t intuitive. Dollars don’t just come rolling into your lap. It takes

  • Time.
  • Relationship building.
  • Training for your staff.
  • Training for your board members.
  • Training for your executives.
  • Continuity.
  • Processes.
  • A good development plan.
  • Outreach, CONSTANT outreach to your community.

And then, after a few years, you start to get real money.

You’re getting this advice for free. This is hard won knowledge. And I’m giving it to you, for free. I blog every week, for free, to help the nonprofit community. To help charities understand fundraising, or their nonprofit careers, or workplace rights. I also have a free newsletter. Some people have paid newsletters. I give out tons of free advice. And resources on Scribd, and even here, on my store page. I give out fundraising checklists for PRACTICALLY free for Android phones. I don’t give away everything for free, because I need to eat too.

What do you say to a nonprofit who wants everything for free?

If you are part of a nonprofit that expects you to get everything for free, how do you push back?

If you liked this post, you might also like:

Are You Consulting For Free? ORLY?

Do you have any thought-terminating Cliches? Are you sure?

Why are Nonprofits Asked to Fight with One Hand Tied Behind Their Backs?

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