While it’s easy to put foundations and other funders on a pedestal, these are the institutions that need the most feedback, argues Phil Buchanan in the Chronicle of Philanthropy‘s Foundation CEOs Need Candid Feedback to Succeed in Driving Change. This … Continue reading
Last month in the Opinion section of The Chronicle of Philanthropy, two sector leaders wrote a brilliant piece: Keeping Quiet About Wrongdoing at Nonprofits Only Makes Matters Worse. The authors describe how nonprofit executives shy away from constructive criticism and healthy evaluation of wrongdoing in their organizations, and the reasons this has a negative impact on the sector.
Nonprofit organizations, just like any other organization, need to be consistently evaluating their operations and ensuring things are not only legal, but well-running. Nonprofits are essentially funded by the general public, and therefore have a responsibility to spend money in a fiscally prudent way. The leaders of these organizations have a responsibility to make sure this is happening.
Instead of shying away from wrongdoings, they should face them head on and talk about them publically. Being critical of ourselves in the nonprofit sector can only improve our position and respectability amongst our peers in the other sectors. If we don’t hold ourselves to a high standard, who will?
A recent piece in The Atlantic, Is For-Profit the Future of Non-Profit?, initially caught my eye because of its provocative title. As I started reading, it kept my attention with its message of individuals criticizing and downplaying the importance of the nonprofit sector.
The piece profiles a few people who believe that philanthropy is most effective when folded into consumerism. People behind companies like PRODUCT (RED) and FEED believe that human nature is to want to shop, not to donate. So if we want to get the most amount of money from people, we must go to the source of what they do the most often – shop.
What this piece illustrates, and I agree with, is that this argument and point of view cheapens the importance of philanthropy. The third sector, just like the for-profit sector or the government sector, has a place in our society and has its own successes and challenges. Just because it doesn’t look like the traditional big business money exchange doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have an important role in the lives of many. I can’t help but wonder if these people have ever made a large gift to a nonprofit or even understand what fundraising means. By making these sort of bold statements, they are undermining the value that philanthropy has – not just for the nonprofit or the people served by the nonprofit, but also for the donors themselves.
“Philanthropy should imply a categorically different relationship with money than the one we have a consumers: something we embark on because we want to participate in a larger goal of improving the world and linking our values, histories, and resources with the needs of other people.”
The feeling a donor gets when they give a donation is a completely different one than when a consumer buys a good. The donor gets to be part of the greater good and she gets to know she is making a difference in the lives of others who need her. That kind of feeling can’t be replicated by buying a shirt. That kind of feeling is because of the ripple effect that her money will make, ultimately changing the world.
I love this opinion piece from Sunday’s New York Times: Why Fund-Raising Is Fun. When I tell people I do nonprofit fundraising for a living, I usually get a reaction that is a mix of awe and respect. I’m told “that must be hard” and “I hate asking for money.”
Fundraising is not just “asking for money.” It’s not a one way street, not solely a “gimme” or “begging” job. There are a long list of benefits for donors, including everything from the benefits of acting altruistically, to tax benefits, to making new contacts. The most important benefit, the one that makes the biggest difference, the one that moves people to act, is that:
Through donating to a nonprofit, you are changing the world. Fundraisers make that happen.
Donating is your way to be part of something bigger than yourself. It’s your chance to make a difference in the world for people who need help. It’s how you can make an impact on nonprofit organizations that are doing important work.
So, fundraisers actually have a very fun job: we get to make things like this happen. We get to connect people to causes they believe in, and we get to ensure that people make a mark on the world. I love being a fundraiser, and I have no problem “asking for money.” In fact, instead of asking for a favor, I am demonstrating an opportunity for people to make a difference. I am grateful every day that I get to do so.
Yesterday marked three years since I started blogging here at Nonprofit Chapin. As you may have read in About Nonprofit Chapin, I started this blog because I had heard that blogging would be good for my professional development. Three years later, I can definitely say that’s the case.
Blogging causes me to think critically about my work and the nonprofit sector and communicate these thoughts in a concise, easy-to-understand way. It has helped me put my work and myself into the larger context of the sector and even the world. It has connected me with other like-minded bloggers. And it has given me the confidence that my opinions about important issues are valid and appreciated.
In the next year, I would like to focus my blogging on issues that pertain to the nonprofit sector but also may cross into other sectors. I would like to help us understand the ways we are all changing the world, no matter which sector we work in. For we all have an important role in making lasting change.
I’m looking forward to another great year of sharing my love for nonprofit issues. Thank you for being a part of the Nonprofit Chapin community – I appreciate you!
The Giving Pledge, a movement with the goal of encouraging the wealthiest individuals to give away a majority of their wealth to philanthropic causes, has been signed by more than 120 families in its nearly four years of existence. It has created some buzz about philanthropy amongst not only its target audience (the very wealthy) but also amongst general society. Whether praise or critique, people have talked about it.
A recent piece in the Chronicle of Philanthropy, Giving Pledge Donors Gave Big in 2013 but Not Much for Today’s Needs, is an interesting critique of the pledge and its participants. It lists several issues with the Giving Pledge, including the allowance of giving to private family foundations (where money isn’t necessarily given to nonprofits for several years or even lifetimes) and the lack of opportunity to discuss where or why the money is given. There are some interesting points, but I disagree with the heart of the piece.
The simple fact is that the Giving Pledge means people are talking about giving. The buck stops there and that should be enough for us in the sector to celebrate it. As much as we fundraisers would like to believe the word philanthropy is widespread and well known, it simply isn’t true. And while it would be wonderful if the very wealthy were having discussions about giving strategically and collaborating with their peers, I’m just happy they are talking about giving at all. I understand the points in this piece, and I appreciate many of the critiques, but I believe that at the end of the day, the Giving Pledge is a positive thing for the sector.
Let’s continue talking about giving. Once it’s a standard in everyone’s language, let’s then discuss the ways we can improve. For now, there’s more work to be done at the heart of this conversation.
Bill and Melinda Gates published their 2014 Gates Annual Letter last month and it’s a great read. They dive deep into three myths they believe block progress for the poor – poor countries are doomed to stay poor, foreign aid is a big waste, and saving lives leads to overpopulation. I’ll let you read the letter on your own – it has some thought-provoking, insightful content – but the letter’s content isn’t what I want to focus on.
I applaud the Gates’ for not only the important work they are doing with their foundation, but for the way they present it. They are passionate about certain issues and they bring them to the forefront of their communication. And, the world is listening to them. Our society has deemed them as worthy for us to listen to, because of their background, money, or otherwise. The Gates’ have a platform to use to advance whatever they would like to (or not at all), and they have chosen the work they do with their foundation as the work to shout about.
Not only do I like the fact the Gates’ do great work and talk about their great work, I appreciate the way they talk about the issues they are working to solve and the cross-sector work they represent. They don’t put types of people (or types of sectors) in a box or category, siloed and helpless. They talk about the issues and tell everyone there is work to be done. Whether you’re a nonprofit, for profit, or government, there is poverty in the world and it must be eradicated.
I encourage you to take a look at the 2014 Gates Annual Letter. Don’t worry about reading the entire thing for content (unless of course you’re curious about it), but pay attention to the tone of the letter and the way they are communicating. We need many more public figures to talk about issues that we can, and should, all be working on. Whether or not they wanted it, they have immense responsibility to address important issues.
My sister, me, and my mother after my graduation ceremony
On December 13, I participated in the graduation ceremony for my Masters in Nonprofit Administration at University of San Francisco. The 27-month program is designed for people working full time. I, along with my cohort of around 25 people, attended class after work, on Tuesday nights from 6:30-10:30. After 36 units and coursework in a variety of subjects, I completed my Masters.
Participating in the program certainly had its pros and cons. Other aspects of my life were put on hold while I focused on work and school. Living with constant reading, assignments, or papers hanging over my head was certainly exhausting. But all in all, I learned a great deal about a wide variety of subjects that I come across in my day to day work now and certainly will in the future. I had a smart, forward-thinking cohort, and I feel confident in the future of the sector because of them. I’m proud to have been one of them.
While my direct career path is unclear, one thing’s for certain – I will work in or around the nonprofit sector for a very long time. I believe so strongly in the work we do and the change we can and do make every day.
I want to say thank you to everyone who supported me while I was working on this Masters, including friends and family. But that also includes all of you reading this blog post right now, whether or not we’ve ever met. Please know that by reading, you are participating in the ongoing conversation about the nonprofit sector that we will continue. You have an important role to play in making sure the sector continues to get the respect it deserves. And for that, I say thank you!
Thrilled to share that my third guest blog post, Story Time: Not Just for Babies, was published last week on Nancy Schwartz’s Getting Attention! Helping Nonprofits Succeed through Effective Marketing. I had a great time writing about the importance of telling stories in nonprofit marketing. People aren’t moved by numbers or data, they are moved by relating to someone. I don’t discount the importance of data and the integral role it should play in nonprofit marketing. But to get someone to act, they must feel. And to get someone to feel, they must understand.
Check it out!
There are many ways to define success for a nonprofit. At the heart of a nonprofit’s operations are, of course, its mission. How many people are being cured? How many trees are being saved? Kids being taught? Lives being changed?
There are so many more components to the success of a nonprofit. Lately, there has been great discussion in the sector surrounding overhead costs. Aptly called the overhead myth, this conversation points out the narrow-minded nature of assuming that overhead costs don’t equate to productivity. Of course we can all agree that super high overhead costs that are out of control are inappropriate, we should also all agree that some administrative costs are essential for nonprofit organizations to run efficiently and effectively. In order for an organization to succeed, it must have good systems and processes, no matter whether nonprofit or for-profit. It’s a balancing act. I whole-heartedly agree.
I recently came across this blog post on Philanthropy News Digest (a service of the Foundation Center) that takes the argument to the next level. The author states that while it is important for us to continue the overhead myth conversation, it’s essential to also consider what she calls “nonprofit resiliency.” She makes the bold statements that not only must nonprofits do good work and have efficient operations, but they also must take risks and develop innovative new approaches. I absolutely love the suggestions and points she makes in the post, and I strongly recommend it.
“While nonprofits bear responsibility for communicating their true, comprehensive financial resource needs, funders can lead by encouraging business models that reliably cover full costs and supporting capital structures that are sufficiently liquid. Our sector’s ability to truly solve pressing social challenges hangs in the balance.” – Rebecca Thomas, Nonprofit Finance Fund