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Nonprofits Are Not a Reality Show

Television shows can be a great source of entertainment. You might enjoy a suspenseful drama, a documentary, or a comedy. I love competition shows like Forged in Fire where one person is declared the winner at the end of each episode.

Reality TV gives the viewers the impression that we are seeing the “real deal” behind the scenes or a glimpse of other lifestyles. Many of these reality shows are competitions such as The Bachelor and The Great British Bake-Off. There’s a certain thrill in seeing if your favorite competitor will emerge as the best talent, best chef, or best knife maker.

The reality show is a newer genre that caught the viewers’ attention in the early 2000’s. This type of programming now dominates our channels and streaming services with 750 “unscripted series” (source: National Geographic Channel). So, there are plenty of entertain options.

I’ve noticed there seems to be an element of reality shows in many popular nonprofit fundraisers. Does the funder want to measure you against other organizations? Who is the best at this type of nonprofit work? Do you have a large following to vote for you?

Regional giving campaigns such as our popular North Texas Giving Day is an example of creating friendly, yet competitive spirit among nonprofits. Spreading the word and asking your donors to give their donation on a specific date is a form of competition and the “votes” are the dollars raised. A little competition can be fun, but the nonprofit sector and the people we serve face real life challenges every day for dollars and resources.

Adding a voting challenge or competitive element to a grant application is also more common these days, especially from corporations like Tom’s of Maine and John Deere Corporation. If a nonprofit organization decides to apply and compete in this type of funding, they must have a robust social media presence and the staff or volunteers to coordinate the online campaign.

Having that strong and positive online presence is very important along with having a good number of followers on various platforms. Asking your board members, donors, and volunteers to vote for your organization can be an easy way to ask for support.

Fundraising can be like a reality show with great results and more chances to build awareness for your mission. The question becomes balancing your nonprofit’s resources against the extra requirements of these fundraising challenges.

So, before deciding to commit to a competitive fundraising opportunity, be careful to weigh the challenges against the capacity of your organization. Overcommitting your nonprofit’s limited resources and having stressed out staff members is not the reality show ideal ending.


Michelle Crim, CFRE

Dynamic Development Strategies can help. We offer coaching and fundraising services for our nonprofit clients. We specialize in startup and smaller nonprofits because we understand your challenges. Please contact us for more information.

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