“Lodge Fundraising and the “We Have Better Things To Do” Argument”
By. Bro. Ernesto Fernandez
I have often heard from Masons trying to improve their lodges that their initiatives to raise money for a particular project were shot down because it does not align with the priorities of a given member of their lodge. These critics will often cite other, more urgent needs that should take priority, even if they themselves have no intention of leading the effort to do anything about them. Now, to be clear, our first ideas are often naive or truly frivolous, and we would do well to hear others out. A reasonable and wise critic will adequately explain why your particular initiative is misguided. All too often, however, you just get the old “we have better things to do.”
The “we have better things to do” argument attempts to drown an initiative in the open water between what is urgent and what is interesting to the broader membership.
The fundamental challenge with reconciling the urgency of a project and it’s “fundability” is (from a fundraising perspective) that every cause is not equally important to every member.
The “we have better things to do” critics will typically assert that, in principle, the whatchamacallit is of paramount importance, and that those who do not want to contribute to it have their priorities wrong. If we take that position all the time, we are likely to often find ourselves “in the right” but also fund-less, because most people–while they may publicly concede that the boring old whatchamacallit is more important than the fun thingamabob–actually use the thingamabob all the time and may never even see or think about the whatchamacallit.
So, although the whatchamacallit is more important in principle, the thingamabob is actually fundable (in spite of being non-urgent) while the whatchamacallit is urgent but not fundable. People are just willing to ignore it. It’s the same principle which causes us in our personal lives to spend money on new TVs while deferring our bills or retirement contributions. But the reality of the situation, when one abandons sanctimoniousness, is that our lodges are in practice most often confronted by a choice between funding some specific thing(s) people want and funding nothing at all.
The advantage to funding the non-urgent something(s) versus nothing at all (besides that now you’ve actually accomplished something) is that it creates momentum for the eventual “ask” to fund the much less sexy whatchamacallit: your members are more likely to pony up because they’ve gotten lots of value from their fun thingamabob and are now ready to lay down for something that is boring but really important. Because of the thingamabob(s), they are now more literally and metaphorically invested in the organization overall.
Unfortunately, guilting/brow beating/lecturing people about how their priorities are wrong when you’re asking them to give you money is highly ineffective and will damage your fundraising efforts. This is an all-too-common approach in Masonic lodges. You’re not their mother; they’re grown men and will do whatever they want with their money, as they should.
Convincing people that your priorities should be theirs too works infinitely better, but is rarely undertaken, because it is harder to win people over than it is to dismiss or diminish their interests and/or priorities. Unfortunately, if your project is truly urgent but lacks the support it needs,convincing your members of it’s importance is the only viable option you have, and “we have better things to do” alone will not achieve that.
Therefore, when trying to raise money to improve your lodge, it is wise to start by asking around as to what people might collectively actually wantto do, rather than telling them what some people may individually believe they ought to want to do. Even when some convincing is necessary, you will find some things are much easier to sell to your members than others.
All this is why fundraising is a skill which, in spite of many people’s misconception, is ultimately the art and science of realizing groups’ most constructive impulses into meaningful action, and not just manipulative voodoo designed to separate people form their hard earned money for others to spend as they please.
So, the next time someone at lodge tells you “we have better things to do,” just ask them “Says who, exactly? And are they going to pay for it?”
Bro. Ernesto Fernandez is a Director of the Cambridge Masonic Temple and Treasurer of Amicable Lodge A. F. & A. M. in Cambridge, Mass., where he brings ten years’ experience fundraising for the smallest to the largest of not-for-profit institutions. He holds a Masters of Divinity and (as of May ’18) a Masters of Education in Higher Ed. Administration from Harvard University, where he also works as part of the university’s extensive fundraising operation. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Facebook.