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
Of all the self help tips I’ve read, all the leadership lessons that have been passed along to me, all the nuggets of life advice I’ve been given, I can sum everything up in one word:
We’re all different people coming to situations with different perspectives. We all have something to offer a situation and a good leader understands that. A good leader can listen to everyone that comes across their path and distill order out of chaos. But before they can make sense of anything, they must do just that: listen.
Listening isn’t something to be done passively. In fact, meaningful listening takes more effort and energy than speaking. Listening doesn’t just mean hearing – it means understanding where the person is coming from, what matters to them, and how they feel about a situation. It means hearing what they are saying but also perceiving their body language, tone, and passion. It takes unique abilities to listen well, and it just may be the secret to becoming a great leader.
Today, consider the situations you find yourself in. When communicating with others, are you truly actively listening, or coming to the conversation with your own agenda? It’s great to maintain focus when it comes to getting what you want, but be open to understanding other people’s perspectives as well. You never know, what you thought you wanted just might not have been the best thing for you or your organization.
I’m currently participating in a six week series on Metta, or loving-kindness meditation. Lately we’ve been focusing on self-love and last week we reviewed the very important concept of forgiving yourself.
This is such an important thing to remember in the workplace too. As Millennials in the nonprofit sector, we have a trend to be too hard on ourselves. We know the good we want to do in the world and the potential our energy, skills, and insight brings to the table. We want to change the world and we know we can.
So when we slip up, we get very frustrated and mad at ourselves. We worry about how it looks to our colleagues – looking like we don’t know what we’re doing might be the worst thing we can imagine. Our professional reputation is extremely important to us. We feel it dictates our entire future. It defines us.
The truth is, everyone makes mistakes. Mistakes are what make us human and teach us how to deal with issues as they come up. Getting through a slip up can cause you to learn so much and be a better person. It can teach you resilience and professionalism. It can teach you how to be a better employee and a better manager.
So, this is a call that we must forgive ourselves. Forgive ourselves for any mistakes we have made at work. Ten years from now, none of this will matter. Will it matter ten months from now? Ten days from now? Likely not. Forgive yourself and let go of the past. It will liberate you to move forward with your work in a brand new way. Don’t worry: you’re still changing the world.
Last week, Delaware signed into law the creation of a new corporate form called the public benefit corporation. Delaware is the 19th state to enact such legislation. Public benefit corporations are sort of like nonprofit/for profit hybrids: they allow business leaders to consider public interest and societal impact in addition to profit. Well-known public benefit corporations include Patagonia, Method Soap, and Warby Parker.
While many other states have already adopted this legislation, Delaware is critical because of its unique guidelines for incorporation, for businesses or nonprofits. In layman’s terms, they are more loose than other states. And because of that, more than half of all U.S. public companies are incorporated in Delaware.
I am thrilled with the movement toward this type of thinking. I think we all need to think outside the box about structure and mission of for profit corporations, nonprofits, government, and anything in between. In fact, I want us to think even more broadly about what that in between could be. I’m not just talking collaboration, but I’m talking about new types of corporations that can really make a difference. There are such creative ways to think about the difference that a corporation can make, whether it involve profit or not. And I think public benefit corporations are a great way to start.
The founders of B Lab expressed their belief in this legislation very nicely:
“The benefit corporation legal structure is a new and useful tool for everyone. For policy makers and the public interest, it combats the plague of short termism. For business leaders, it helps attract the best talent and turn customers into evangelists. For customers, it offers greater transparency to protect against pretenders. For employees, it promises higher quality jobs where they can bring their whole selves to work every day. And for investors, it mitigates risk, reduces transaction costs, creates additional rights to hold management accountable, and accelerates the growth of a big market opportunity to meet the needs of people who want to invest to both make money and make a difference.”
Couldn’t agree more.
As a nonprofit staffer, no one’s going to give you a formula to achieve your professional goals. While most bosses have the best of intentions to help you formulate goals, they often get caught up in their own work. They are focused on the important work they have to do and are trying to figure out the quickest way to get it done. Nonprofit staffers, as you might know, don’t have the luxury of time.
That’s why it’s so important for you to take the bull by the horns and do what you need to advance your career. This means tapping into some self-awareness about what you want. Here are a few steps you can take to learn what you want and understand how you can get it.
- Figure out where you are: Before you understand what you need you must understand where you are. Think about how you feel every morning when you get up for work or every Sunday night when the work week is creeping up on you. Think about the elements of your job that make you happy or you avoid like the plague. Take stock of where you are currently to form your goals for the future.
- Think about where you want to be: After you’ve taken stock, think about the elements of your job that you love. What type of role will allow you to do that all day, every day? From there, think about what your ideal professional life looks like. Take some liberty to dream a little bit here. Are you part of the management team? Are you a nonprofit ED? A consultant? Don’t think about where you are now, think about where you’d be if nothing else mattered.
- Consider how to get there: Now it’s time to connect the dots. What are some steps to take to get from where you are now closer to where you want to be? Don’t get overwhelmed by the number of steps it might take or how unattainable things may seem. Create some steps that you can do tomorrow or next week or in this month. Don’t worry about when you’ll get there, worry about getting closer.
How are you going to achieve your professional goals if you don’t have them on paper? After writing them down and taking stock of your current position, you can understand how the two might connect. Maybe there are educational trainings you’d like to attend. Maybe you want to improve on your public speaking or leadership skills and want to do periodic presentations at meetings. After you identify these things, present them to your boss. Chances are she’ll support you. Anyway, what do you have to lose? But you have so much to gain.