Wednesday, April 26, 2006
Friendship and Poverty
In a meeting I had this week with a very astute foundation executive, she made a comment that stuck with me. She observed just how "lean" our development department staffing is for the size of our annual budget. [Jeremy Gregg, you can't use this against me!]
I explained that we tried very hard to keep our administrative and fundraising costs as low as possible.
She said that she appreciated that and then she said, "I bet there are lots of people here in Dallas who would love to help you with your mission."
I responded that she was correct, there are lots of people who are eager to help us with our mission.
I also explained that raising funds for longterm responses to poverty is not easy work.
For many donors there is still the nagging suspicion that people are poor because of something they have done wrong or haven't done right. That poverty is somehow the fault of the poor.
Raising funds for children who are ill or for hospitals or universities or the arts. . .these funds just seem "cleaner" to many donors.
Raising funds for adults who are hungry, ill, addicted, unemployed and unskilled, homeless, in need of legal counsel or otherwise "indigent," is much harder.
The assessments that feed the difficulty behind the challenges of raising funds for community development among low-income persons can best be addressed by personally introducing donors to those who stand in need of the assistance of a hand up, as opposed to a hand out.
Part of the magic of our place is the simple fact that poor people become our friends. . .real, genuine friendships break out all around this place on a daily basis.
As a result of the understanding that naturally comes from friendships, we just don't regard the men, women and children who face poverty on a daily basis as somehow impositions on our over-booked schedules or nagging problems that won't go away.
Raising money to help in opportunity creation is the best and easiest work of my life.
But, that is not because of some romanticized view of poverty, nor is it because I believe the poor are without personal problems or never make mistakes, but because of my connection to lots of poor people who are simply put, just my friends.