6.1 What Happens When Real Fundraisers, Do Real?

Unless you’ve been living north of the Arctic Circle, you have probably witnessed the spectacle masquerading as reality and bombarding the airwaves these days. Now I do know some people that only watch world news and some who have no television at all…otherwise, like I said: north of the Arctic Circle.

Over the past couple of years there have been several shows that focus on individuals giving away money, or sharing their time and talents; in fact, I have witnessed the rewards of such giving first hand and I wish more people would do it without the cameras. For instance, a couple of years an Ujamaa board member and his family were blessed with a special gift: their home got a makeover thanks to a group of volunteers, a rambunctious celebrity, and a primetime showing. I can’t begin to share with you the joy and happiness his family experienced, after “that bus was moved,” but it was the behind the scenes that meant the most.

Yes, the bombardment of what’s being called Reality TV got me thinking about what group of people would be the least likely to get involved in silly weekly challenges and heartbreaking elimination rounds. You guessed it! Grassroots fundraisers. The life of a fundraiser is not a glamorous one, so I figured the last place you would find any of us would be in front of some camera talking about how one of our teammates blew the challenge of making “The Ask.” Or would we?

Right now somewhere, some well skilled, media savvy, major gift consultant is pitching a comical script for the fall release of a reality TV show centered on FUNDRAISING! As a title they would probably use something catchy like “Don’t Stop Until You Get Enough” or “Root Raisers” or “Just Raise It.” Can’t you just see a tiny patch of green grass popping up with shiny dollar bills, in High Definition? The subtext might be something like; “Raise it quick, raise it slick, but Just Raise It!”

Who do you think the primary characters will be? Remember we’re talking fundraisers, not golfers or chefs. I’m convinced the house wouldn’t be complete without the charismatic and emotionally manipulative powerbroker, a socially intelligent program officer, and maybe an amusing storytelling artist. Of course the show would have to include a middle-aged, often condescending know-it-all who is transitioning from corporate America to progressive fundraising. Then there’s the passive community organizer turned fundraiser whose inexperience is challenging but the attitude is authentic.

On the other side of the house would be the politically engaged vegan who just graduated from the school of social work, the sympathetic middle-class militant scholar and, last but not least, the Birkenstock wearing, technology savvy, social venture philanthropist. They would be a motley crew of change-makers sharing a cabin on the edge of some snowcapped Colorado mountaintop. They would really impress me if the “real” location and the “real” challenges were located down in low country South Carolina or Jackson Mississippi or East Side Detroit.

The overall goal of the show each week would be to complete some wacky fundraising challenge like creating a special event in less than 24 hours or cultivating five strangers off a busy street and turning them into major gift donors. The judge’s panel would include a former executive from Enron, a grassroots fundraising guru, a giving circle organizer, and the person who convinced Obama to raise money on the World Wide Web. Of course what’s interesting and might even make the show bearable would be seeing how race, class, privilege, power, and gender differences play out. Would the “real” layers of cultural issues float to the surface for all of America to see? I wonder which personalities would build alliances first?

I think we should put an Oprah spin on it and say every time someone gets eliminated their organization or their favorite charity would get a $10,000 contribution from the Buffett-Gates billionaires pledge club. Perhaps a national foundation could offer up $1,000,000 if the group could work together each week, to develop a long-term strategic plan for developing a strategic plan to figure out how to work together in the “real” world. “Yo’ for real dog,” would that make you want to play the game…or just sit back and watch the show?