Follow Your Heart, But Take Your Head With You

I saw some folks promoting an event “for charity” last week on Twitter. I had to ask – which charity? Why that one? It led to quite a long conversation, eventually drawing in the event organizer.

She was able to report that deaths resulting from the disease they’re fundraising for (a form of cancer) have dropped significantly in the past several years. That’s a great answer, but I asked for more detail about the impact of the specific organization she’s fundraising for.

Her reply:

“If I was a Dr., I’d be able to say all of the above. I’m just an Auntie of a 7 year old… survivor. #lovemyjob.”

First let me say that being the auntie of a cancer survivor is a great reason to choose to work on that particular cancer. I’m an auntie, too – I can only imagine the emotion involved.

But if I understand it right, this woman is telling me that because she has an emotional connection to it, she shouldn’t have to answer tough questions about progress in fighting this disease, or about why her organization is the best at that.

Clearly, she’s passionate about this issue, and works very hard on raising funds for her organization of choice.

But the minute she decided to support a particular organization, she became more than an auntie. She became a partner in the process of change and took on a certain amount of responsibility for being informed about how that works and who she partners with.

And the minute she decided to become a fundraiser and start asking other people to support this organization with their limited funds and time, she became directly and significantly responsible for everything they do.

She is no longer just an auntie – she is now the representative of a charity. That means she has to either be able to answer hard questions, or direct people to those who can. That means that having her heart in the right place isn’t enough anymore. Her head needs to get in the game, too.

Note: She did provide me with stats on how much money goes ‘directly to the cause’. Many people consider that a good barometer of an organization’s worthiness.  I’ve written and spoken about why I disagree at length in the past.


  1. Mildred Thill August 15, 2012 at 4:05 pm - Reply

    I am a three-time cancer survivor and its been over 20 years since I had my last cancer diagnosis. You would think then that I would be a strong supporter of cancer charities.
    I used to be. Now I think that a number of them have become complacent, wealthy organizations given to wasteful programing-sort of like a government but with a bigger budget and less oversight.
    Yes, they do give money to research. However, what are they doing on the cancer prevention side? Most of the research money ends up in the pockets of big Pharma.
    We all get emotional over cancer. It is a big seller because everyone has a friend or family member with cancer, or who died of cancer, or who has cancer now.

    Why is it acceptable that these cancers exist in the first place? Why don’t some or these huge organization advertise or put pressure on municipalities, government regulators,etc. to reduce the pollution that cause blue-green algae blooms, as and example?

    Maybe they don’t want to lose their big corporate and governmental friends. At the very least though, they might start by funding studies that look at stress reducing techniques such as yoga, exercise, and meditation. drug companies don’t support these studies because they can’t be packaged up in pills and sold to desperate people wanting to be saved.

    Now, I focus my charitable dollar on less popular charities, such as Brain injury support groups, and I direct any cancer related funds to go towards lung cancer prevention and treatment. This even though I don’t smoke. But lung cancer is still the bad boy of cancers, since it is 98% preventable -just don’t smoke. The corollary of this is that most people who have lung cancer have only themselves to blame.

    As an aside, I think people smoke for many reasons, and that smokers should be treated with the same compassion and care as diabetics and other people with chronic conditions.

    • nriopel August 17, 2012 at 8:41 am - Reply

      Mildred, thank you so much for sharing your very compelling story. Experiences like yours are the reason I believe a lot of people suffer from donor fatigue. Congratulations on not just turning away from doing good altogether. Kudos for adjusting your strategy, becoming more discriminating, and looking for a way that will actually work.

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