The Washington Post, along with many other newspapers across the country, continues to use November as its annual opportunity to explore philanthropy and giving in the community. In today’s Business Section I read a great article that profiled 11 leaders from various fields here in the Greater Washington, DC region. (Yes, I actually read the paper; I still get the print edition!) It asked each of the leaders some frank questions about their giving, such as how much did they give, had the focus of their philanthropy changed recently, how they set their priorities and how they gauged impact. It was very enlightening, both in the thoughtfulness of their responses, but also in the general similarity of their responses.
Many of them either had kept or actually increased their giving during the economy. Most were focused on “safety net” issues, but not all. Some did remind readers that arts and culture organizations need funding as well. Many emphasized the importance of giving locally, of helping those in their own home communities or the communities in which their employees/customers worked. And the importance of demonstrated impact continued to crop up as an important factor in their decision to support various organizations. These are all themes we hear repeated again and again, but it was encouraging to see such a diverse range of community leaders reinforce them in such a way.
So what’s the lesson here?
Nonprofits – are you paying attention? You want to know what’s motivating donors to give? Here it is right here! Go read this article.
Get into the habit of being in regular conversation with your donors, especially your major donors. Fundraisers should be able to link their ask to a donor’s passion. And the only way we’re going to know that is by listening. “Why do you feel so strongly about helping others in need?” “Why is it so important to you to help our local community stay vibrant and strong?” If you look at the questions posed in The Post article, you should have a general answer for each of those questions for each of your top-level donors. Imagine the tailored impact you could have, the truly meaningful conversations that could take place if you understood what was driving your donors!
Have a look. What lessons do you take away from this piece? Let us know what you think.
The Washington Post – On Giving 2011
CompassPoint Nonprofit Services in California and the Meyer Foundation here in Washington have released a follow-up study report as part of their “Daring to Lead” series.
This report raises some serious issues – issues that still amaze me that we continue to talk about them. More than 3,000 nonprofit executives participated in the survey from which the report was developed, and it is absolutely worth your time and attention.
Their big findings are some critical takeaways. Basically they are:
- Executive turnover is going to remain steady if not increase, and board are basically NOT prepared for that reality.
- The tried-and-true financial models for running a nonprofit are just not sustainable anymore, and that’s leading to serious frustration and anxiety.
- Even with all of these big problems out there, executives are staying resolved and energized!
Download this report. Read it. Share it with your board. Share it with your colleagues. Share it with your top funders. Start a conversation about what implications these findings have for your nonprofit.
Visit the new website www.daringtolead.org to learn more and to join in a broader conversation about leadership and its role in the nonprofit sector.
Feel free to share your thoughts here as well.
The 2010-11 Catalogue for Philanthropy was released late last year. Published by the Harman Family Foundation in cooperation with a number of local partners and volunteers, it’s a specialized resource for nonprofits and donors here in the DC area. It highlights the work of more than 300 small community-based nonprofits AND provides donors an opportunity to undertake high-impact giving right in their own back yard. Since 2003, the Catalogue has helped to raise more than $12 million to featured nonprofits here in the area.
For more information, visit www.cfp-dc.org
I know we are all very busy, but it’s important to take the time to read some of the really good research and commentary that’s out there. Organizations and individuals are putting out useful information and perspectives that can help us in our daily work, in our interactions with funders and donors, and in thinking strategically about our organizations.
Last week I read an amazing article in the Standford Social Innovation Review, “The Nonprofit Starvation Cycle.” I cannot recommend this enough, and it goes right to the heart of a critical issue nonprofits are facing today. Written by Ann Gregory and Don Howard from Bridgespan, it lays out the details of the vicious cycle that’s leaving nonprofits of all sizes starved for critical operating funds. This ongoing cycle of deprivation erodes organizations’ ability to function as well as to accomplish their mission. To break it down, here are the three components of this cycle:
- Nonprofits neglect infrastructure and misrepresent data (about expenditures)
- Funders have unrealistic expectations (regarding what it costs to run a nonprofit)
- Nonprofits feel pressure to conform (to the funders’ paradigm)
It is a chronic problem, and it is resulting in poorly performing organizations, burnt out staff and frustrated donors. It is also resulting in beneficiaries’ not getting the services that they deserve and need.
The solution lies equally with both nonprofits as well as with the funders. Nonprofits need to be courageous and tell their donors and funders what it really takes to accomplish their mission effectively. Nonprofits also need to resist the urge to “hide” fundraising and other administrative expenses. Funders, for their part, need to increase their interaction with their grantees. They need to work more closely with these organizations and increase their understanding of the real-life challenges (and expenses) of running an effective nonprofit. Funders need to challenge their old assumptions. Both funders and organizations need to collaborate more closely if the cycle is ever to be broken.
Check this article out. Use it to start a lively discussion at your next board meeting or staff meeting. Ask your donors how they evaluate these issues. Learn from this conversation.
It’s time to stop starving.