Running a not-for-profit (aka a charity that isn’t a registered charity so you can’t go around calling it a charity though I would often refer to us as a “charitable organization” which I’ll admit would usually lead to me having to immediately qualify that we weren’t actually a registered charity*) is rife with hassles, chores, and disappointments but the reward makes it all (pretty much) worthwhile. Most people assume that in this case the reward comes when I distribute donated instruments to kids and their teachers on-the-ground in Africa. Nope, for a thousands reasons I shan’t bore you with here I don’t find that a rewarding experience at all.
In fact, the true reward that I have been receiving ever since day one of Instruments For Africa is the shock and awe I have for every single person who offers help. Everyone who donated an instrument or some money, everyone who offered to help out in one way or another…every single instance surprised me to my very core. It’s something I’ve never gotten used to. Every time someone donates something to Instruments For Africa I shake my head in wonder at their kindness and my spirit fluffs up in pride for my tribe.
I don’t know why it surprises me so. It’s not like I don’t have a positive opinion of my fellow humans…I do. I tend to assume all people are good, helpful, and friendly unless I’m shown otherwise And yet, whenever someone hands me a trumpet or a guitar they seem to glow, and that glow lights me up inside. Being completely honest, I think I’ve received more positivity out of IFA than any of the young musicians we are trying to help. A thousand times my soul has been set alight by the kindness of others.
On the other hand, another thing that really, really surprised me was that there is an entire network of offshoot organizations out there that rely on charitable groups like IFA to boost their own bottom line. Aside from an email I once received that was a well-presented Nigerian prince type of scam directed specifically at small not-for-profits like ourselves, these were generally not despicable attempts at fraud. I’m talking more about the many “partnership opportunities” that consistently come our way.
Instruments For Africa has been approached by countless entities that offer to “support” us by getting us to sell their product for them in exchange for a royalty. Kind of like when you used to sell overpriced chocolate bars to raise money for your school. These offers came in all the time, so often that I quickly learned avoid them.
Just before I learned this lesson the Perth Theatre Festival offered Instruments For Africa the chance to be one of the recipient organizations of their 2014 season. Though musical instruments came to us with great regularity financial donations did not, so I jumped at the opportunity to collect $5 for every ticket sold for “IFA Night at the Perth Theatre Festival”.
What? Oh, that’s $5 for every ticket that we sell? Oh, we’re supposed to encourage IFA’s supporters to buy tickets from us? And you’re sending us a hundred tickets?
We sold three tickets. One was to me, one to m’lady, and the other went to one of my former profs from Carleton U. who had a cottage in Perth. So me and m’lady were out $66 but at least IFA was up $15.
And then on July 18th, 2014 Instruments For Africa Night at the Perth Theatre Festival was upon us. M’lady and I set up a booth by the entrance with our fancy-schmancy pop-up banners, photos, and glossy 3×5 handbills and stood there with smiles plastered on our faces as Dr. Piper and two strangers walked through the door. When the lights dimmed for the performance of Neil Simon’s Come Blow Your Horn we left our lonely booth and took our seats, nearly doubling up the crowd size to a total of five.
As the curtain rose, the only thing that felt worse than wasting all of this time and energy was the added gutpunch of feeling that we had let the Theatre Festival down.
The play was standard Neil Simon ’60’s chic comedy and it seemed to be well-acted, but I was too distracted to truly enjoy it.
But when weighing a night like this (of which there were few) against the sunshine rainbow bursts of shining, glowing humanity that came with every kind gesture (of which there were thousands), things come out decidedly in my favour.
*”Well, why didn’t you just apply to be a charity?” you might be asking. (I did, twice.) To which I could retort with: “Why didn’t you score a 1600 on your SAT?” but I won’t. That would be snarky. Instead let me just tell you: it’s hard to get charitable status. To obtain the power to disperse tax-exempt donation receipts one must literally wrench tax dollars directly from the hands of the federal government, and if you think that’s easy you must be Jeff Bezos.