Today marks four years that I’ve had this blog and let me tell you, my third year was definitely my hardest so far. As you may remember, I received my Masters in Nonprofit Administration in December 2013, right before my blog turned three. I was inspired and ready to tackle some important issues about nonprofit sector effectiveness. And then… life happened. I got wrapped up in the day to day happenings of being a Donor Relations Manager at a very busy nonprofit and almost all of my thought about nonprofit efficiencies switched to wondering how I could stay sane at my job. Then… things clicked.
I realized that while I still had passion and interest in sector-wide issues, the issues I was dealing with on a daily basis weren’t as pretty, and were just as important (or even more important) to talk about. As nonprofit employees, we have a very unique set of challenges and issues to deal with. In years one and two of this blog, I focused more on posting about that. Year three, as I hoped to continue my journey into academia related to the nonprofit sector, unfortunately fell short. But I want to make a renewed commitment to come back to this blog and talk about the nitty gritty of handling yourself as a nonprofit employee. How can we all work hard, thrive, and still go home with some energy? I’m still learning myself, but I hope I can start some dialogue here to get us on the path to some shared ideas.
So, thanks for being patient with me. In year four I hope to tackle some important issues that we all deal with, and bring to light some not-so-pretty subjects. That’s the only way we’ll all get through this journey alive, and at the end of the day, we all hope we get out better than alive! We hope to get out thriving!
P.S. I updated my layout, headshot, About Me blurb, and About Me page – what do you think?
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 great piece, taking inspiration from Ford Foundation’s president Darren Walker’s recently released letter on his first year in office, discusses the pressure that foundation heads are under to perform and the need for feedback to ensure they are doing their best work.
I couldn’t agree more, and would argue that this idea of the importance of candid feedback can translate to any entity or person in power. Whether it’s your boss, your organization’s CEO, your local government or the president of the United States, people in power need to hear about the ways their decisions affect the people around them.
In fact, the more power one has, the more influence they have, and often (especially in the nonprofit sector), the less people are inclined to give feedback. The nonprofit sector has a mistaken culture of niceness where confrontation is avoided for the sake of being “nice” – when, in fact, lack of feedback is actually unkind. If you really care about the success of someone in power, the nicest thing you can do for them is provide them with candid feedback. No one is perfect, no matter how much power she has. So the only way to improve is by hearing from others.
Today, give your boss a piece of candid feedback. More times than not, instead of reprimanding you, she will appreciate you.
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.