Fish with the right worm

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I remember going down to Oaks’s Pond with my buddies to go fishing.

We had a coffee can stuffed with grass and a handful of big, juicy worms. Green willow switches for poles, a few yards of Mom’s yarn, and an arsenal of bent straight pins and safety pins for hooks. The 8-year-old fishing team was on the move!

Our worms were bigger than anything in the pond, but we had dreams.

Now imagine we had our whole village to really feed. How long would it take before the grownups came alongside, pat us on our little uncombed heads, and showed us how to fish? Actually, they would take over and do it right. Right? People have to eat.

Now here’s the really weird part. Imagine a village that praised us for not spending money on real hooks, boats to go out where the big fish swim, and called us “bad boys” if we ate enough fish to keep up our strength for fishing. And especially if they told us, “Do Not let real fishermen into the game to teach us anything.”

How many people would we feed that way? It’s not a trick question. The answer is none.

That’s why this week your Jamestown Gazette is challenging all of us to rethink our attitudes about how to fish. The fish in this week’s story are not trout, or perch, or muskies. The fish are called Dollars. 

This week’s fishing team is the United Way of Southern Chautauqua County and the dozens of civic organizations and partners who put their hearts, time, and energy into catching as many of those fish as possible. They help feed, clothe shelter, educate, and doctor those among us who are simply not able to catch enough fish of our own.

But, after studying how fishing is done, I wonder why we penalize our charitable organizations for spending money to fish. For no good reason at all, we hate “Administrative costs.” We think it is a virtue to limit spending on hooks, bait and poles.

Consider this. In a mere 15 years, a college frat boys’ prank intended to embarrass as many young ladies as possible turned into a company worth nearly 1 trillion dollars by investing hundreds of billions of dollars to make more. Today, it’s called Facebook. Microsoft, Amazon, General Motors and the NFL all spend big on fishing for dollars, too, and it works.

Yet, we seem to praise our non-profits for fishing with bent pins, otherwise known as “Low administrative costs.” The paradox is heightened when we realize that Americans are generous, caring people who want to help our neighbors. Why not praise the people who know how to fish in that pond?

The return on investment will amaze everybody if we stop praising charitable organizations for spending as little as possible on their life-changing, life-saving jobs.

The myth of “Low Overhead” is a dangerous straight jacket in a world where everybody knows “You have to spend money to make money.”

The administrators and leaders in the non-profit world are some of the most passionate, intelligent, and resourceful people anyone can imagine. Why do we insist they structure their campaigns and organizations “on the cheap?”

In the commercial world, advertising and salaries, communications and machines, are famous for earning profits in multiples of their cost. Doing the same in a non-profit company, a charity, is mistakenly considered bad, even though the need is even more urgent than it is for Facebook or the Bills.

Please consider the work of The United Way and their dozens of local partners and programs this week. Ask them to spend as much as they need of your generous contributions on catching more fish. The price of hooks, poles, and fishing line – Administration – is Not wasted money. It brings in more so they can do what they do best, give more where it is most needed. Return on investment need not be a dirty word among charities and non-profits.

Enjoy the read.

Walt Pickut

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Walt Pickut
Walt Pickut’s writing career began with publishing medical research in1971 while working at the Jersey City Medical Center and the NYU Hospital and School of Medicine. Walt holds board registries in respiratory care and sleep technology as well as bachelor's degrees in biology and communication, and a master's degrees in physiology from Fairleigh-Dickinson University in New Jersey, with additional graduate work in mass communication completed at SUNY Amherst. He currently teaches Presentational Speaking in the Houghton College PACE program at JCC and holds memberships in the Society of Professional Journalists and the American Society of Business Publication Editors. He lives in Jamestown with his wife Nancy, an MSW social worker, and has three children: Dr. Cait Lamberton in Pittsburgh, Bill Pickut, a marketing executive in Chicago, and Rev. Matt Pickut in Plymouth, IN.