SPLC – Some donors are “better” than others

**** Update, Feb., 23, 2013 **** A week and a half ago we noted the Southern Poverty Law Center’s continuing recruitment for its multi-million dollar fundraising juggernaut. A mere ten days has passed since the SPLC advertised for a “Development Associate” and now they’re looking for a “Planned Giving Officer” to scout out those elderly donors who are nearing death.

Click image to enlarge

Click image to enlarge

Six months ago they were recruiting for an “On-line Fundraising Coordinator” and before that it was for a “Regional Advancement Director.”

If only the SPLC’s civil rights division grew as reliably as its massive fundraising machine. When’s the last time they advertised for a civil rights attorney or an advocate for the homeless?

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[Original post Feb. 13, 2013] As we’ve mentioned frequently on this blog, the primary business of the Southern Poverty Law Center seems to raising cash, especially as reflected by the rather paltry endeavors documented in the SPLC’s case docket. Lots of low-hanging cases dealing with illegal aliens, underfunded schools in Mississippi and now even a copyright infringement and a consumer fraud case.

For the most part, “fighting hate” it ain’t, but the donors don’t seem to realize it. In 2011 they sent the SPLC more than $4,400 tax-free donor dollars each and every hour.

That kind of money requires a bit of effort to solicit, collect and count and so the SPLC recently placed a help wanted ad for a “Development Associate.”

SPLC Best Donors

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The job description states that the successful applicant: “Under general supervision, receives, screens, answers correspondence, and updates donor gift records,” which is pretty standard fare. A couple of the “Primary Job Functions” are worth noting:

“Provides friendly and courteous customer service to SPLC’s best donors”

Best donors“? Some SPLC donors are better than others? Hmmm. Makes you wonder what the criteria are to make the cut? Is there a lower-level flunky who deals with the second-rate donors?

“Maintains and updates donor demographic and gift records using a sophisticated database system”

Well, many “non-profits” gather donor demographics to try to distill out the “best donors,” so that’s nothing new, though you wonder if the donors realize that they’re being sorted and classified at the SPLC by their potential donor-dollar value?

It is also encouraging to see that the SPLC has finally scraped up enough to get a “sophisticated database.” Such was not always the case. A couple anecdotes regarding  direct-mail millionaire and SPLC founder Morris Dees’ less sophisticated methods are as entertaining as they are instructive:

“Dees’s fundraising tactics are as varied as they are creative. In a 1985 fundraising letter to zip codes where many Jewish residents lived, he made conspicuous use of his Jewish-sounding middle name, Seligman, in his signature at the end of the document.”

“Attorney Tom Turnipseed, a former Dees associate, recounts how, on another occasion, Dees distributed a fundraising letter with “about six different stamps” affixed to the return envelope, so as to make it appear that “they had to cobble them all together to come up with 35 cents.”

At the time, the SPLC had more than $65 million in cash reserves on hand.

Speaking of cash reserves, most donors are equally ignorant of just how much money the SPLC already has over and above the $106,000 a day they take in by taking in the donors (of all quality levels). The SPLC’s annual report notes that:

The SPLC builds for the future by setting aside a certain amount of its income for an endowment, a practice begun in 1974 to plan for the day when nonprofits like the SPLC can no longer afford to solicit support through the mail because of rising postage and printing costs.

In 1999, Mr. Dees predicted that when the SPLC’s “Endowment Fund,” (Recently renamed the “Morris Dees Legacy Fund”), reached the $100,000 million dollar mark he would cease all of that expensive fund raising (about 19% of his annual budget, on average) and “live off the interest.”

The fund reached $100 million in 2002, but the fund raising machine kept chugging away. The fund reached $200 million in 2007 but Mr. Dees is only expanding his fund raising department, as this most recent job opening indicates.

Meanwhile, the costs of soliciting money have decreased substantially due to the advent of the Internet and e-mail, though studies show that at least one donor demographic, the elderly, still prefer stamp-and-letter snail mail. No doubt these folks make up a substantial, though actuarially dwindling, segment of Mr. Dees’ “best donors.”

At last count, Mr. Dees’ legacy stood at just under $224 million. The SPLC will release its financial records for 2012 in a few weeks. It’s always interesting to see how much poverty there is at the law center.

Stay tuned for those numbers as they become available.

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