A fundraising horror story (Part one)

publication date: Feb 14, 2018
author/source: Jim Allen, ACFRE

In the early 1980's I was Director of Development for a four-year liberal arts college in Ohio. Like many small colleges at the time it was mired in financial problems. The President of the college was very flamboyant and was willing to involve himself in "off the wall "activities that he thought would help solve the college's financial problems. His middle initials were EP and behind his back he was referred to as Evil Prince.

As an example one of the first tasks he assigned me was to start a weekly BINGO game in competition with the local Catholic Churches because he felt we could net over $100,000 a year. In our first year we netted over $100,000 and for 8 months I called the BINGO Games. While we did indeed reach his projected goal, we did so by taking money from the most vulnerable people in our community, most of them retired and on fixed income.

Shortly after this he met a gentleman at an auction who said he wanted to help him raise money for the college. Over the next 12 months I spent a good deal of my time keeping the college out of financial trouble, because of activities in which this gentleman involved the President and the college. The President set this gentleman up with an office in the college and the free use of a Lincoln Town Car. The following is a chronicle of some of the gentleman's more serious activities.

The Rolls Royce Raffle He arranged for a donor to sell the college a 20 year old Rolls Royce for half the appraised value, with the college giving him a tax receipt for the unpaid value. The President then allowed the donor to sell tickets on behalf of the raffle. Then the President allowed the donor to buy 2 tickets for himself and his wife. A total of 284 tickets out of 500 were sold at $100 each. I had all the ticket stubs under lock and key and I handled the public draw, so I knew the draw was on the up and up. Well guess what, on the night of the draw the donor's wife's ticket was drawn. There is a reason that when corporations run raffles or draws they don't allow employees and their families to participate. The owner got his car back, the money he was paid and the tax receipt. A few of my Rotary Club Members contemplated buying an old junk car and having it towed to the bottom of the steps to the main administration building to protest their concerns. In the end they didn't do this as they figured the college had gotten enough punishment from all the bad press.

The lesson for all of us remember is if it looks too good to be true it is too good to be true.

Jim Allen was awarded the AFP Barbara Marion Award for Outstanding Leadership in 2017. Allen, currently philanthropy officer for The Living City Foundation, has been in fundraising since 1970 and has been a member of AFP since 1980, serving in a variety of leadership positions and remaining a staunch champion for continuing education, certification and research. Allen has been involved in the formation of two AFP chapters, serving as a founding board member of both the Greater Cleveland Chapter in 1980 (where he served as president from 1982-1984) and then the Greater Toronto Chapter in 1994 (where he served as secretary), now the largest AFP chapter in the world with over 1,200 members. He served on the board of AFP (then known as the National Society of Fund Raising Executives) from 1980 – 1984, as well as in 2011. Allen was one of the first fundraisers in the world to receive the Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE) credential as part of the inaugural class in 1981. He earned his Advanced Certified Fund Raising Executive (ACFRE) credential in 2004, just the fourth Canadian and one of 100 fundraisers around the world to possess that credential.

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