I guess I wanted you to know upfront that I’m writing this for my benefit, not for any impact it might have on you. This is not a donor appeal.
Every December I’ve written a simple year-end letter thanking our supporters for their faithfulness and inviting them to make a December donations to The Kindlings, the non-profit we started in 1999. We usually send only two, at the most three donor letters per year.
Like retailers hoping for a good Christmas, non-profit organizations have traditionally come to rely on end of year donations and this has been our situation too.
December is usually the bellwether for non-profits and for the past few years many non-profits have shut their doors because donations have dropped off to the point that there was no reasonable way to continue.
Thankfully, I don’t think we are in that situation, but this December has been, to be honest, frightening to me. Each day I go to the PO Box to see what donations have come in. Usually in December there is a steady stream of daily donations. Those bundles of envelopes are an encouragement and affirmation of the work we’re doing at the Kindlings. It has always been amazing to see how God has surprised us and there have been some good surprises this year too.
I can’t say I’m surprised that so far this year most days there have been no (zero) donations in our PO Box. I’ve been talking to leaders of other faith and arts non-profits and most of them are holding their breath in hopes that the next four days (by December 31st)* things will turn round because so far, when it comes to donations, December has been pretty grim.
On the other hand at The Kindlings, though there are fewer donations this year-end, gratefully a good number of them have been in the $1,000 to $5000 range, which taken along with some smaller donations will be enough, I think, to keep us going, but not enough to implement our overdue strategic plans.
What I want to wrestle with is my own emotions about this. Leading a movement like this requires positive optimistic hopefulness, and I’ve generally had a good supply of that. I believe in the importance of what we are doing and I am grateful for the many great people God has called into this journey with us.
But I’ll admit, opening an empty PO box (when other years it has been pretty full) is discouraging. My sense is that people support us because they agree with our mission, but even more importantly, because they feel they have been served well.
So what kinds of questions are rattling around in my brain?
• Is the drop off in giving just a matter of the economy? I know many friends are unemployed and some friends are working but with reduced incomes. My wife and I would like to donate more to the organizations we support, but every year tough choices have to be made. I know in that sense that we’re all in the same boat.
•• Is the drop off in giving an indication that we have not served our constituents well? (Kindlings Muse Podcast listeners? Kindlings Hearth Alum? KindlingsFest attendees? Are we doing things we shouldn’t be doing and not doing things we should? What can we do to improve? Self-examination is usually healthy for an organization and with our board we have time set aside in March to do just that.
••• Is the drop off in giving God’s way of sending us a message, and if so, what is it? This is the biggie. We’ve always tried to listen for God’s direction. As a bunch of recovering workaholics we’ve restrained ourselves from trying to “make things happen,” trying instead to let God unfold our direction. Way too many non-profits spend most of their time trying to stay alive and not enough time listening to God. We don’t want to be one of them.
•••• I wonder too if I prayed faithfully enough and exercised faith in those prayers? I never want to take God’s blessing for granted, and God does love to hear our prayers (and I really do love to pray).
So, if you are a supporter, please don’t panic or fear. We are confident that our mission is sound and our programs are good.
But when new data like empty PO Boxes is presented, it makes sense to step back and listen and ask, what does it mean and where do we go from here?
* All donations postmarked by December 31st, 2011 are tax-deductable in 2011. The Kindlings PO Box 729, Eastsound, WA 98245