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Sunday, April 26, 2020

What We Should Really Fear Right Now



Nearly everyone on the planet is currently a part of something that has already changed the world. The global experience of the COVID-19 pandemic is something everyone is sharing. It is changing our communities, our culture, and each of us individually. The world we return to will not be the same as the one we had. Some of those changes will be painful, and others will improve our world. Not everyone sees that. I’ve been thinking a lot about how different people are coping with their circumstances. I’ve also been angry about how unethical people are profiteering and fearful about how others are using this crisis as an excuse to take actions they’ve always wanted to take.

A few years ago, I was confronted with an organization that I felt was taking improper advantage of inexperienced fundraisers, specifically targeting those working at religious organizations. While I am not religious myself, I thought that this was unethical. Their actions seemed purely profit-driven, cloaked in philanthropy. It led me to coin one of my “Jimisms” which is a thought or concept I have that becomes a regular saying or quote. This one was, “The only things nonprofit organizations have to fear are the charlatans, the ignorant, and the angry.” I’ve thought about that a lot as I’ve seen people reacting to or using the COVID-19 crisis for personal benefit.


During this crisis, nonprofit fundraisers should be fearful of the charlatans. These individuals are profiteering off of the fear people have during this stressful time. Every person who becomes the victim of someone selling false cures or solutions loses a bit of trust, and that will harm all of us. Trust is the most important relationship we have with our donors. If they are trusting less, our work will be increasingly difficult.

The ignorant in this situation are those individuals who genuinely don’t understand what we are facing and who want to immediately force us back into risky activities that will lead to
further infections and deaths. The ignorant are also those who do not understand how a nonprofit organization works. They might think that you should work only as a volunteer. They do not know that each nonprofit is a business; instead of profits going to the few in power, financial gains are invested in the organization. Of course, there are exceptions to this. Some unethical people are running nonprofit organizations. But for the most part, the vast majority of money raised is reinvested in serving our communities.

Finally, we have the angry. They are furious about, well, everything. They are angry that their regular routines are disrupted. They are angry because they have to follow “someone else’s rules.” They are angry because they often perceive that some in our society are getting a free ride while they have to work so hard. They also tend to be very selfish and do not understand service or philanthropy. 

The three groups of people I just described were probably very much like this before COVID-19. A person doesn’t become a jerk because of a crisis. However, those emotions and attitudes are being amplified and revealed more clearly.

I’d like to add one more thing nonprofit fundraisers should fear. That is the people in decision making positions who are using the challenges we are facing as an excuse to take actions they wanted to take in the first place. They are using the crisis as a shield to fire or furlough people, to cut services and benefits, or to close facilities. These actions may be genuinely required in some circumstances. But I have already seen many examples of people taking such steps when they are not necessary. That person merely desires them. Anyone who falls into this category and makes such decisions is quite unethical and bordering on morally corrupt.

While there are a lot of concerns, fears, and uncertainties at this time, I’m optimistic that the kind, generous and compassionate people in the world far outnumber the “charlatans, the ignorant and the angry.” You just have to do your part to help some find the confidence to prove it. Remember, “you should be fundraising now!” If your mission was valuable to the people you served before this crisis, it is likely more important now. People need arts, social service, mental health, a clean environment, and all the other types of nonprofit organizations. If they loved you before, they love you now. If you serve people, pets, or the planet, you are providing an essential service.

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