The Man Who Has (Raised) More Money Than You.And Everybody Else.

We can all learn from the ultimate fundraiser himself… by Ryan Ulbrich


So, you think you’re a charitable person, a philanthropist even? Well, meet Dan Pallotta, inventor of the entire multi-day charitable event industry, which, oh by the way, has grossed $1.5 billion in multiple countries since its inception. He’s also the single founder of Advertising for Humanity, the Charity Defense Council, and Pallotta Teamworks.  Fundraiser, author, contributor to HBR, distinguished lecturer, you name it. In the short talk at the bottom titled “The Way We Think About Charity is Dead Wrong,” Pallotta turns our conventional wisdom about giving on its head.

In his own words: “…the things we’ve been taught to think about giving, and about charity, and about the non-profit sector are actually undermining the causes we love and our profound yearning to change the world.”

And the guy knows a little bit about charity and giving and the non-profit sector, having raised $582 million in just under a decade by way of the AIDS Ride, Breast Cancer 3-days, and other benefit happenings.  That’s more loot than any private event operation for charity in history, and at a faster pace, too. Three million people donated. Three. million. people.

All the while, according to Pallotta, there are a plethora of reasons why the real potential for philanthropy isn’t being realized. Five to be exact, and you’ll have to tune in to the TED talk for more on those.

But the one that resonated most with me is this: the non-profit sector follows a different set of rules than the rest of the economic world. As such, non-profits are disadvantaged, plain and simple, and their big potential for growth and impact are being held back. They’re very small outfits compared to the magnitude and complexity of the problems they alleviate.

At a micro-level, think about it in terms of compensation.

People who make money for themselves by helping others are often stigmatized, while those who create humdrum goods and services often go forth and prosper, and do so without any questioning or scrutiny.

Here’s a great example he provides:

“We have a visceral reaction to the idea that anyone would make very much money helping other people…you wanna make $50 million selling vinyl and videogames to kids, go for it, we’ll put you on the cover of Wired Magazine, but you wanna make half a million dollars trying to cure kids of malaria and you’re considered a parasite yourself.”

I can vouch for this anecdotally.

About a year ago, myself and a dear friend co-founded a fundraising venture off the side of our consulting desks that exclusively serves hyper-local, resource-strained non-profits in DC.  It started as a fulfilling creative outlet and soon got some real momentum going, so we finally incorporated as an LLC. But the second we went the for-profit route, we got rows of raised eyebrows and waves of skepticism from people.

How come?

I found myself rummaging online for some insight, only to read white paper after white paper by trade groups and social enterprise scholars about the ethical implications of fundraisers making profits.  To some, the idea just didn’t sit well with them, and soon, with me. And so I stayed up and mulled over the idea in my head time and again.

But why?

In Dan’s words, “philanthropy is the market for love. It is the market for all those people for which there is no other market coming.”

That message right there is how I find the energy to work tirelessly in my free time to build an organization from scratch to raise money to drive progress around me.  Selfishly, it’s a project to fulfill a personal quest for civic engagement.  But un-selfishly, it’s not a personal quest for padding my own pockets, I can assure you of that.

So I’ll admit, I want to see some real systemic change happen in this sector before I (and we) lose steam doing what I (and we) do to give back a little.

-Ryan Ulbrich

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