Moving in the New York Metro area requires, at some point, a no good, very bad, terrible experience with movers. Who hasn’t been extorted by a mover at some point, right? My Worst Experience with a Mover did, however, reconfirm a basic belief that the nonprofit sector is more resilient than most, and certainly tougher than a guy with a fleet of 6 trucks who boasts of 1,700 moves.
Two weeks ago my husband and I moved within our town—throw a stone, or our possessions, and you could probably reach point A to B. A friend recommended a moving company run by Joe, who showed up the morning of the move grumbling and twisted up in his man-with-a-truck emotions. Joe felt he underbid the job. He wasn’t haggled. We took the price he gave and booked the job. Joe was given clear instruction, including a walk-through of our house and dimensions of our storage area. My husband works in engineering and construction in NYC. He knows a thing or two about what is needed for any one man-with-a-truck project. This was a basic job. We have a house of stuff. This is our stuff. Move it. Joe wasn’t having it – he decided that his mistake in underbidding was our mistake.
By 6 PM, the job still wasn’t finished and the day grew grim. Joe locked his truck, our possessions inside, and demanded that he be paid in full before the job was finished or else he’d drive away with our possessions. The moment of tension escalated because the crew hadn’t finished collecting everything from the house, but Joe deemed the job done. He reasoned that extortion was the next best step. My husband is one of the most thoughtful and reasonable people I know, but he doesn’t play well with bullies. He’s adept at negotiating with NYC’s toughest crew: developers, contractors, construction workers…men with much larger trucks and a few of which are much more facile with extortion.
There was a moment, upon witnessing my husband’s hellfire fury of expletives and damnations, that I considered how I would spend the better part of that evening hiding a body in our new backyard. I tried to remember exactly which chemical white powder Snoop used in The Wire to quickly decompose bodies in the empty buildings. I also considered the best “we’re not bad people” gift I would have to bestow upon our neighbors, whose children most likely overheard the negotiations. Cookies seemed wholesome enough, but wine might be more realistic for the situation…or an assorted gift basket of rum, vodka, gin and whiskey.
By 6:30, Joe had his check and my husband sent me a link to the Better Business Bureau. At some point, he realized that my ability to flame Joe via social media channels was more prudent than living out the rest of his days at Rikers. He may have also looked around and realized that he had no idea where we packed our shovel.
At 6:45, I was posted outside the van to direct the crew for the remaining 2 hours. Everyone was quiet and moved quickly and I thought about the amount that caused Joe to spend a day dissolving in animosity, bad decision making and ultimately to abandon part of the job: $2,500.
$2,500 is not an insignificant amount in fundraising. For some organizations it’s a major gift, and for most nonprofits it’s a signal of potentially greater wealth if cultivated and accessed correctly. Moreover, if, let’s say, an organization is expecting $4,000 (going by Joe’s calculations), but only receives $2,500, the work still gets done.
Setting aside the more complicated grant-based negotiations of a lesser gift, a straight GOS gift, particularly at this level, does not alter the critical, daily work of the average mid-size nonprofit organization. Where I work, if we don’t secure X grant, or Y gift, our clinic stays open. Homeless mothers and children still receive medical services. Our providers don’t quit. I, fundraiser, don’t quit. In fact, I may spend an entire YEAR cultivating a donor or company only to receive $2,500, and I don’t quit the relationship because I was perhaps expecting more. I’ve spent several years on some relationships with $0 as the count-up, knowing that I could receive tenfold and more (of $2,500) with a little patience, friendship and considerate courting.
And THIS is the daily work of nonprofits. We do more with less and sometimes nothing. As a fundraiser, I experience the joy of securing exactly what is needed and more about 30% of the time. The rest is a tough, grinding slog of difficult donor expectations, limited resources, smallish gifts and the faint promise of something more.
In the communities and cities impacted by Irma and Harvey, there will be nonprofits that won’t receive enough funding to do the necessary work of sheltering, feeding, providing medical care and basic necessities, cleaning, rebuilding, and more. I am confident that those nonprofits won’t quit. They will work long hours; they will be exhausted; they will sacrifice time with their own families to help another; they won’t be paid; they will give their own personal money; they will make sure the job gets done; they will feel like the job is too big, the need is too huge and their contribution is too little. In many ways it will be, because those communities will need a coordinated effort with government support. Trump only hired the Director of FEMA in June, and his 2018 budget plan includes $667M in cuts to help cities and states prepare for these disasters.
One thing I’m pretty sure of, government ain’t helping anytime soon and not in any sort of substantive capacity that is needed.
I am proud to work in an industry that doesn’t quit, but, frankly, I’m also exhausted, watching us continually do more with less. And despite my meandering sidebar/headliner personal story, it was that moment, in my driveway, in the final quiet moments of our move that I wasn’t calm. I was white hot mad. I was angry that, for Joe, his indignity came from one bad bid and he was hell-bent on getting his take. For me, underbidding and doing the job is my everyday. And I put out the best prayer an atheist can to all the nonprofits out there that will spend the coming months and years trying to rebuild Texas and Florida. They will get underbid everyday. And they won’t leave. They won’t quit.
In the meantime, I’ll continue to work through project Q with less and somehow manage to attribute some amount of success to the daily slog. I will also deeply enjoy writing Joe’s Better Business Bureau review.