Chronicle of Philanthropy
As I mentioned earlier this week, I participated in a Chronicle of Philanthropy Live Chat on Tuesday with Karina Mangu-Ward from ArtsFwd. We were talking about how to connect money and mission. The Live Chat was a lot of fun, and we got some great questions from the audience. Below is an excerpt from the Chat. If you want to see more you can read the entire transcript of the chat at the Chronicle site here.
Here’s an excerpt from the Chat:
TB Asks: How would you suggest starting to rein in an organization what has started to chase dollars vs. trying to fulfill it’s mission? In my organization’s case this includes having acquired multiple other programs and is looking to take over more. They are good programs, but the alignment to mission is marginal and that ability to be financially stable as an organization is threatened. The CEO is all in, the board is apathetic. As the development officer I’m not sure what I can do to get the train back on the tracks. Thoughts?
I would start by bringing everyone together with a theory of change…
A theory of change articulates how a nonprofit translates community resources into change to a social problem…
Without that you will just be chasing dollars and programs. A theory of change can also excite and inspire a disengaged board and staff…
It can serve as a rallying point for the organization to determine what they are trying to accomplish and what resources they need (financial model) to be able to accomplish those things.
TB – One of the things that I’ve seen organizations struggle with the most…
is having difficult conversations….
conversations that require staff and board to let go of the old way of doing things….
to challenge their assumptions about how much money they need and for what…
i completely agree with Nell that having a framework for change is essential…
change doesn’t happen quickly. It’s incredibly difficult work, and acknowledging that it’s a process that organizations must learn and get good at is essential.
You can read the transcript of the full chat here.
Photo Credit: Chronicle of Philanthropy
I’m excited to announce that I will be participating in a Chronicle of Philanthropy Live Chat on Tuesday, March 26th at 12 noon Eastern. Karina Mangu-Ward, from EmcArts will be joining me to answer questions from the audience about connecting mission and money. You may remember Karina from a past interview I did with her. She’s really amazing and is the Director of Activating Innovation at EmcArts, a social enterprise for innovation and adaptive change across the arts sector. She leads the strategy and development of ArtsFwd.org, an interactive online platform where arts leaders can learn from each other about the power of adaptive change and the practice of innovation.
Karina and I will be live chatting and answering questions from the audience, so I hope you can join us. It promises to be a fast-paced, interactive hour.
Here’s an excerpt from the Chronicle of Philanthropy description:
In the mad dash for donor dollars, nonprofits often take money for projects that distract them from their missions. Some donors pitch new programs but provide too little money to pay for a big enough staff to run it, so the charity ends up skimping on efforts that its clients really need. Other nonprofits might think holding a fancy gala will raise tons of money but don’t consider how the time spent planning the event will affect the group’s critical services. Join us on Tuesday, March 26, at noon U.S. Eastern time for a live online discussion about how to take a more strategic approach to fundraising. You’ll learn how to focus your fundraising efforts on your organization’s mission—and why saying no to some opportunities might actually help your nonprofit raise more money.
If you’re interested in participating, it’s easy. Just go to the Chronicle Live Chat page here at 12 Eastern on Tuesday, March 26th. You don’t need to RSVP or login, just show up.
I hope to see you there!
Photo Credit: wikimedia
In this month’s Social Velocity blog interview, I’m talking with Phil Buchanan. Phil is president of The Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP) and was the first chief executive of the organization. Under his leadership, the organization has grown into the leading provider of comparative performance data to large foundations and other grantmaking institutions. Phil also serves on the board of Great Nonprofits and is a columnist for The Chronicle of Philanthropy.
You can read past interviews in our Social Innovation Interview Series here.
Nell: At the Center for Effective Philanthropy you work to make philanthropists more effective at creating social change, but a large part of philanthropy is driven by emotion and passion as opposed to results and data. How do you reconcile a push towards more reasoned philanthropy with the emotional aspect that will always be present?
Phil: I understand that some people feel this tension, but to me, it’s hard to understand because I think emotion and passion and results and data can – and should – cohabitate very happily. The passionate, emotional desire to make change is what inspires the commitment to get results. If you believe deeply in helping people in need, but do it in a way that doesn’t help, what kind of emotional satisfaction do you get from that?
Fay Twersky of the Hewlett Foundation articulated this very well in an essay in Alliance Magazine. She says impact should be pursued with “a warm heart and a hard head.” I like this way of thinking about it.
Nell: One of the the things you promote at CEP is a move from evaluating nonprofits based on overhead spending to evaluating them based on achievement of results. But sadly most funders haven’t yet embraced this distinction. What will it take for funders and the general public to recognize that overhead percentages are meaningless and destructive to the nonprofit sector?
Phil: I think the adoption of better nonprofit performance assessment practices is part of the answer. The more data nonprofits can point to that can show what they achieved with their total budgets, the less relevant how that budget was divided will feel to donors.
Look, I think people tend to gravitate toward that which is available, quantifiable, and comparative. Overhead percentages are all of those things, so they become the default performance measure even those they don’t tell you anything about performance. Caroline Fiennes of the U.K. has a great new book called It Ain’t What You Give, It’s the Way You Give It, and one of the best parts is that she really slays the argument for looking at administrative costs, while also providing guidance on how to approach performance measurement.
The rub is that the only way we’ll get better overall nonprofit performance assessment practices is if funders support that work. In our research, we have seen that, contrary to the stereotypes, nonprofits care about assessment and are working on it. But they want and need much more support – financial and non-financial – from their funders. I hope that funders embrace this and support better assessment practices in service of better outcomes.
I think Mario Morino has been a powerful voice on this topic and I recommend his book, Leap of Reason, to everyone I can. I hope people are listening to Mario because measuring effectiveness isn’t some academic issue. People who work at nonprofits deeply want to be effective. Foundations want to be effective. The people we help desperately need us to be effective. So we should – and we must – figure it out and get beyond empty measures. And many have. There are some fantastic exemplars when it comes to nonprofit performance assessment. But there are not enough.
Nell: In addition to leading CEP, you also serve on the board of GreatNonprofits, which allows individuals (clients, donors, volunteers) to review nonprofits. How does the idea of individual consumer reviews of nonprofits fit into the larger movement to evaluate nonprofits based on outcomes when the average person doesn’t yet understand or embrace the idea of nonprofit performance measurement?
Phil: In some ways I think it’s very easy for anyone to grasp. You’re trying to help someone; shouldn’t you ask whether they feel they have been helped? GreatNonprofits can provide that read on whether individuals served by a nonprofit feel they’ve been helped. I think GreatNonprofits, which Perla Ni founded and leads, is really important and I also think we need other kinds of efforts to collect and analyze beneficiary perception data. We need both the kind of open, web-based opportunity GreatNonprofits offers as well as rigorous, survey-based efforts such as the Center for Effective Philanthropy’s YouthTruth initiative, which helps schools, districts, and funders hear from middle school and high school students. We’re debating school reform in this country yet many of those with power and resources don’t understand the students’ experiences. We know that those experiences correlate to outcomes, so this kind of perceptual data could be a vitally important “leading indicator” of progress.
Nell: Philanthropy tends to be fairly risk averse and focused on program funding, as opposed to the organization-building capital investments (money to build organizations rather than buy services) the nonprofit sector so desperately needs. What do you think it will take to get more philanthropists to make riskier, longer-term, organization-building investments?
Phil: I think there needs to be a greater recognition that we count on organizations to get the work done. Sounds obvious, I know, but I think funders sometimes forget.
It is stunning, and sobering, that despite the valiant advocacy of Paul Brest, Paul Shoemaker, GEO, NCRP, and others, there has been no increase in the provision of general operating support over recent years. But we also need to be careful not to pretend operating support alone is the answer. Our research demonstrates that what really matters to grantees is operating support that is multi-year and a decent chunk of change – six figures or up in annual support, ideally. So the problem isn’t just one of grant type, it’s also one of grant size.
This comes back to assessment, too, in my view. If, as a funder, you know what you’re going after, and there is an organization that is focused on the same goal and can show that it’s delivering results, why would you not provide significant, long-term, unrestricted support? And, if you can’t find organizations delivering results toward your shared goal, why wouldn’t you fund in a way that would allow them to build that capacity?
Nell: You recently wrote a fairly scathing critique of Dan Pallotta’s new book, Charity Case because you thought his approach to advocating for the nonprofit sector was misguided. Yet the nonprofit sector is largely underfunded, undervalued, and dismissed in the broader regulatory and political environment. What do you think it will take to change that reality?
Phil: Pallotta’s book doesn’t advocate for the nonprofit sector that I know – or for one that I would ever hope to see. He wants the sector to become something entirely different, something a lot more like business, something that ultimately might not be discernible at all as a distinct sector. His take on the sector is both ahistorical (he demonstrates almost no understanding of the sector’s past contributions) and ideological (he has written that “the free market is a self-correcting system” that supports our “natural desire to help each other” and “only stops working when it is interfered with”). He is infatuated with free market analogies, believes financial incentives are the key to motivating people despite research demonstrating that they are not, insists that public trust in charities is lower than in other sectors when all credible research shows the opposite, and does not seem to understand that many nonprofits work to address the problems that exist as a result of market failures. His book is a disservice to the nonprofit sector.
So, then, what do we need to do to increase the appreciation of public and government officials for the nonprofit sector?
We need to start by standing up and asserting our value as a sector separate and distinct from business and government. We need to stop buying into the fiction that being effective means being “like a business,” whatever that even means. We need to stop praising the “blurring of the boundaries” and start articulating why we need organizations that pursue mission alone rather than profit for their shareholders. We need to explain why the sector is good for our society, good for business, good for government, good for citizens: we all need the nonprofit sector to be its best for us to be our best. And we need to re-learn our history – Olivier Zunz’s recent book on U.S. philanthropy would be a good place to start.
Yes, of course there is much work to do to improve the sector, but that doesn’t mean we need to tear it down. I wrote a series of blog posts for Duke University’s Center for Strategic Philanthropy and Civil Society a few years ago and argued that just as it is possible to walk and chew gum at the same time, it is possible to believe both that the nonprofit sector is and has been a defining strength of this country and that it must dramatically improve its effectiveness. It is possible to both celebrate the diversity of the sector and its various organizations and push for greater clarity of organizational goals, strategies, and performance indicators. It is possible both to applaud initiatives fostering “social innovation” and the government’s embrace of this push and also recognize what has worked in the past.
We need not tear down the sector to improve it. We need not disparage all that has come before in order to chart a better future.
I’m excited to announce that I have a new post up at the Chronicle of Philanthropy’s Mission:Innovation blog. It is reprinted below. The Chronicle’s Mission:Innovation blog is one of my favorites and was launched last year. Nicole Wallace, a senior writer at the Chronicle, manages the blog, which “reports on nonprofits that are taking bold, new approaches to the way they work, explores what charities can learn from other disciplines, and provides advice from experts on how organizations can better foster new ideas.”
I’m honored to contribute to the blog. Here is the article:
“Innovation” has become such a buzzword lately, particularly among people working on social change. But let’s take a step back and talk about what the word could really mean. Innovation is more than just new ideas. To me, it means taking a completely new approach to how we finance, structure, and prove social change.
The nonprofit world has never lacked new ideas to address problems. In fact, you could argue that nonprofits are innately entrepreneurial, being borne out of a recognized market failing and a new idea to remedy it.
The need, then, is not more new ideas. Rather, true innovation lies in reinventing a field built on social change.
Here are some ways that is starting to happen:
New support mechanisms. The avenues for sending money to social-change efforts are increasing significantly. What started 10 years ago with venture philanthropy has now expanded into nonprofit campaigns to raise growth capital, foundation loans and other investments in organizations, social-impact bonds, and investments that seek both financial and social returns. And that creates an opportunity for social-change efforts to be much more flexible and (we hope) successful, because access to enough and the right kind of money can often make or break a great idea.
A converging economy. We used to suffer from pretty strict delineations among the public (government), private (business), and nonprofit sectors, but that is changing. True innovation is happening where those lines blur—like businesses that make a profit solving social problems. Or governments developing new mechanisms to finance and evaluate nonprofit efforts, such as the Department of Justice’s Pay for Success program.
Proof of social change. Nonprofits used to be viewed as benevolent charities that received donations to support their good work. That’s not enough anymore. Nonprofit donors and social investors are increasingly demanding a social return on investment—proof that the organization is making a difference—in exchange for their money. And nonprofits are now competing not only with other nonprofits but also with for-profit social entrepreneurs. So nonprofits can no longer focus on how many children they’ve read to, meals they’ve served, or animals they’ve saved. They must track and prove how they have changed lives, changed systems, or changed communities.
Although these innovations are encouraging, there is room for so much more. What if:
- The best and the brightest of Generation Y worked to remake existing organizations from the inside out instead of just starting their own social-change groups?
- The social-capital market that’s emerging to provide financial vehicles for budding social businesses also included support for social entrepreneurs in the nonprofit world?
- Venture-philanthropy funds (growth capital for nonprofits) shared investor prospects with social-venture funds (growth capital for social businesses) and vice versa?
- All nonprofits interested in growth and with a proven model for success had access to enough capital and management expertise to expand?
- A nonprofit that solves social problems received as many resources and as much respect and attention as a business that solves a consumer need?
These things require sweeping, fundamental changes to the current structures of the nonprofit, government, and private sectors. To me, that’s real innovation.
Photo Credit: mademoiselle lavender
If this recession has any silver lining it could be that it’s forcing nonprofits to completely re-evaluate how they use money. There is a tendency in the sector to shy away from, ignore, fear or dismiss money. But when there is less of it, you are forced to learn how to use it more effectively.
And it is up to the board, who has a legally-defined fiduciary duty, to step up to the plate and provide a strategy for how money is used. But because boards are such a bizarre mingling of volunteer strangers it can be difficult for the group as a whole to take a leadership role, especially in the taboo area of money. The solution lies in encouraging a single individual board member to rise up.
Several recent articles have illustrated the need for nonprofit boards to become better financial managers. From Jan Masaoka’s (Blue Avocado) call for boards to use a budget more strategically, to Rick Moyer’s argument in the Chronicle of Philanthropy that boards need to find “crystal clarity about their financial situations,” to Bob Carlson’s warning that poor nonprofit financial management can end up with legal nightmares.
But what all of these articles fail to address is that boards are ineffective fiscal managers largely because of their group dynamics. Countless times have I seen a nonprofit board of directors suffer from group think, head off in tangents, or avoid difficult conversations.
The opportunity lies in getting a single board member to play a leadership role. A nonprofit’s executive director can be instrumental in encouraging this coup d’etat by finding an individual board member who:
- Is passionate about the cause and the organization
- Has the respect of the majority of the other board members
- Understands, or is willing to be educated about, the basics of financial management
- Is confident enough not to be easily dismissed or swayed
And what does it look like when an individual board member takes a stand to move the board towards better financial management?
- Interrupting the annual rubber-stamping budget approval meeting to ask how the budget fully finances the overall strategic plan of the organization
- Asking for, and ensuring creation of, monthly financial statements that are understandable
- Ensuring basic nonprofit financial management training for board and key staff so everyone speaks the same language and understands the key ratios they should be analyzing
- Standing up to board members and staff who dismiss or discourage deeper conversations about how the nonprofit budgets, uses financial vehicles, handles financial reporting
- Interjecting, cajoling, persuading, and inspiring fellow board members to USE money to strengthen the work of the organization
As David Bornstein said, social change is often driven by “one obsessive individual who sees a problem and envisions a new solution.” So, too, in the world of the sometimes intractable nonprofit board. It may require a single board member to stand up and demand that financial business as usual doesn’t work anymore. If it takes a recession to make money a true tool for social change, so be it.
Photo Credit: faungg
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Sean is a visionary leading the charge to transform philanthropy. He is CEO of Tactical Philanthropy Advisors, a philanthropy advisory firm. He is also the author of the very popular Tactical Philanthropy blog and writes a monthly column for the Chronicle of Philanthropy. He is a member of the World Economic Forum’s Council on Philanthropy & Social Investing and his insights on philanthropy have been referenced in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, and Financial Times.
Nell: At the first Social Capital Markets Conference (SoCap) in 2008 one of the keynoters said “we’re not here to talk about nonprofits.” We’ve come a long way from there to this year’s devoted track around philanthropic capital and the nonprofit space at SoCap. Where do you think the initial hesitance to connect philanthropic and impact investing came from? And how do we continue to integrate the two worlds?
Sean: I think that one of the segments of people who are attracted to impact investing are people who think philanthropy doesn’t work. While I view philanthropic and for-profit social capital to be part of a single continuum of capital, many people seem to feel that they are fundamentally different. Like most new ideas, early adopters often think it is a silver bullet that will “change everything”. Some early adopters of impact investing or other forms of for-profit social capital wrongly believe that impact investing will replace philanthropy. I think this is a fundamental misunderstanding. Continuing to integrate the two worlds will require helping the various points on the capital spectrum better understand each other. At the end of the day, capital shouldn’t be viewed through an ideological lens, but should simply be deployed based on what sort of capital fits the situation.
Nell: The SoCap session on nonprofit rating systems like Charity Navigator and GiveWell demonstrated that there is still quite a divide between GIIRS (the impact investing rating system) and nonprofit rating systems. What is your sense of this? Do you think there is potential to somehow combine GIIRS (or something else) and nonprofit rating systems so that there is one comparable impact measurement system?
Sean: I would guess that any truly effective impact measurement system should be functional across both for-profit and nonprofit activity. A good impact assessment system wouldn’t care about the tax status of the entity producing results, it would just care about the results and the cost of obtaining them. That being said, I think evaluating a nonprofit organization is really quite different from evaluating a for-profit organization. So even if we have a unified impact assessment framework some day, I would guess that organizational assessment will utilize different systems and approaches for nonprofit and for-profit organizations.
Nell: How would you like to see the conversation about connecting philanthropy and impact investing evolve at SoCap11? What are your hopes for next year’s conference?
Sean: I’d like to work to profile more examples of ways that for-profit and philanthropic capital worked together to produce social impact. Our session on Evergreen Lodge at this year’s conference looked precisely at this question, but I’d like to see more examples. I’d also like to see examples of ways philanthropic entities have used for-profit investments or subsidiaries well or for-profits have effectively used philanthropic activities to drive profit and social results. However, one of the most important goals is simply getting the different players into the same room and getting them to come to understand each other better. While Kevin Jones and I had a good time talking about the Social Capital Markets as a meeting ground for the Barbarians and Byzantine, in reality none of us are barbarians.
Nell: Beyond SoCap where do you think the important conversations about unlocking philanthropic and government capital for social impact are happening?
Sean: This is an interesting question. SoCap is special because it is one of the only (the only?) conference that is specifically about capital for social impact without regard for sector. But versions of this conversation are happening around Grantmakers for Effective Organizations, The Social Innovation Fund, online and in a different sort of way at the PopTech conference.
Nell: At the last general session of SoCap Woody Tasch of the Slow Money movement said he doesn’t think mission-related investing will ever be adopted by the majority of foundations. What are your thoughts on that?
Sean: Social Responsible Investing, the practice of screening out stocks of tobacco companies, defense contractors and the like from investment portfolios, is not practiced by a majority of investors. Yet, SRI is very mainstream and has significantly altered the behavior of publicly traded companies. Today, SRI mutual funds are one of the fastest growing areas in money management. So I don’t think that the majority of funders have to adopt mission related investing for the concept to be deemed a success. It should be noted that SRI took a good 20 years or so to go mainstream. So it could be some time before mission related investing is considering mainstream.
Nell: And more broadly, what do you think it will take to change how philanthropists (both foundations and individual donors) use money to support social impact? How do we make more donors builders instead of just buyers?
Sean: Today, I think that very few people in the social sector really understand what “philanthropic equity” is and how capital differs from revenue. Nonprofit accounting does not acknowledge that capital even exists in the sector. Nonprofits can only book cash coming into their business as revenue or a loan. There’s no official way to account for equity-like capital. So I think that there needs to be a pretty major education effort to get the whole sector very clear on how fundamentally different it is for a funder/donor to “invest” philanthropic equity in a nonprofit vs paying a nonprofit revenue to execute programs. Personally, I don’t think much progress will be made until nonprofit accounting changes. Until that happens, it doesn’t matter much what we call “growth capital”, it is all just revenue to the nonprofit.
A new blog at the Chronicle of Philanthropy site launched this week that I’m pretty excited about. Written by Clara Miller and others at the Nonprofit Finance Fund, the Money and Mission blog will help nonprofits “understand and skillfully wield money as a tool.” What a revolutionary idea.
As Clara writes in the inaugural post:
Great ideas, deep caring for those in need, creativity, resourcefulness, a service ethic, and an expansive vision for the future are abundant in the nonprofit world. But we lack the financial capacity to meet these ideals, and our financial habits undermine efforts to build it. We need to think of finance as more than a muddle of fund raising, budget monitoring, and compliance with overhead rules. The current, tough economic environment is spurring needed change. Now, understanding money concepts like risk, leverage, and accounting, seems to be a moral imperative.
Indeed, the nonprofit sector has for too long been burdened by a lack of financial literacy and thus an inability to use money effectively. Sure there isn’t enough money in the sector, but if nonprofit leaders better understood the financial tools available to them and how to use them to their advantage, the results could be revolutionary. This is the argument in our Financing not Fundraising series.
Capital campaigns provide a great example of this. Nonprofits have used capital campaigns for years to raise money for a new building or, less often, an endowment. Capital campaign money is raised and used in a very different way from how general operating money is raised and used. A capital campaigns USES money raised to buy a building. An annual fundraising campaign USES money raised to buy additional services that the nonprofit provides (food for a food bank, mentors for kids). An annual fundraising campaign often RAISES money by cobbling together various activities (events, grant writing, some direct mail appeals) hoping that the sum will equal the expenses needed for the year. A capital campaign, however, RAISES money by conducting a feasibility study to determine how much they can likely raise, then creates a plan, budget, and case for support. Then potential donors are cultivated and solicited in a systematic way. This is a deliberate, strategic way to bring capital campaign investors in the door.
However, capital campaigns are often misguided attempts to grow the impact of an organization. A nonprofit thinks that in order to be taken seriously in the community and attract larger donors they need to build a new building. Enormous amounts of time, energy and money are spent to create a building they don’t need, burn out their development staff, and eventually shoulder new building maintenance fees for years to come.
What if nonprofits could pour those same desires–to do more, to make a bigger impact, to attract more resources, to build deeper networks–and that same time, effort and resources into a campaign that will actually help them build a more effective, more sustainable organization that delivers more impact? What if the methods of a capital campaign were instead employed to raise growth or capacity capital that allows the organization to provide more, better services to the community? That would be huge. Enormous.
The Nonprofit Finance Fund turned capital campaigns on their head with their SEGUE (Sustainable Enhancement Grant) program. It is essentially a capital campaign, but instead of buying a building, the nonprofit raises growth capital to scale the organization for greater social impact. NFF takes a concept nonprofits understand and are comfortable with, a capital campaign, and transforms it into a way to raise organization building money, a completely new idea. I’d love to see more nonprofits using financial tools already available to them to accelerate their ability to create social impact.
Like it or not, money is an incredible tool. If nonprofit leaders could better understand it, stop fearing it, and learn how to wield it effectively, the results could be transformative.
Photo Credit: Fr Lawrence Lew, O.P.
Seth Godin has gotten everyone talking (some are even yelling) about his latest post that chastises nonprofits for not embracing change and getting on the social media bandwagon. Godin is irritated at nonprofits for not embracing these new tools to “focus attention and galvanize action” around their cause. And the overwhelming amount of debate about the post (Beth Kanter, Chronicle of Philanthropy, Tom Watson, to name a few) , has focused on whether or not nonprofits have embraced social media, whether they are “deer in the headlights,” whether they are risk averse, whether they “blow people away,” and so on.
This is a good debate, to be sure, but what interests me in all of this is a bigger question about the role of social media in a nonprofit’s overall resource engine. Social media is just marketing, right? Some organizations have figured out how to tap into social media to spread the word, build a following and so on. Some businesses have even seen a spike in sales. That’s great. But marketing through social media, just like any kind of marketing, has to have a bigger goal in mind. You don’t market for marketing sake, and you don’t Tweet just because it’s cool and “everyone” is doing it. Rather, you have to understand how that marketing activity (whether it is “free” or not, it still takes resources) is going to contribute to, or perhaps detract from, your bigger goal, which for nonprofits is to raise resources to execute on their mission. So, in essence, nonprofits should be using social media to build donors, volunteers, advocates, supporters, right? And as such, their use of social media has to be part of a larger resource plan. Social media is another channel for the distribution of your message. You should not just go blindly into the social media world. But don’t sit on your hands either, I get it.
I would argue that social media must be one component of a larger overall resource plan for a nonprofit, that brings dollars, volunteers, advocates, etc. in the door. But first we need to take a step back to understand that resource plan. Which brings me to a misunderstanding of fundraising in the nonprofit world and to my usual hero Dan Pallotta. Pallotta’s blog posts are wonderful, and usually I read them while silent “Right Ons” and “Amens” stream through my head. But his recent post on fundraising left me frustrated that Pallotta wasn’t stepping far enough out on the limb that he usually does.
Pallotta argues that fundraising is a dirty word in the nonprofit sector and organizations work as hard as possible to spend as little as possible on it:
Fundraising is the black sheep of the nonprofit sector. Charities spend as little as they possibly can on it. They talk as much as they possibly can about how little they spend on it. The watchdogs, the IRS, and donors deduct goody-two-shoes points from nonprofits in direct correlation to every dollar they spend on it. Institutional funders penalize charities for spending on it… By extension, fundraisers are the black sheep of the sector’s workforce; second-class citizens to the program staff who are in the trenches every day doing the real work of social change.
He laments this reality and suggests that we better integrate fundraising into the costs of the programs that nonprofits operate:
This is ass-backwards. Without fundraising there are no programs. The less we spend on it the less money there is for programs…We should make fundraising a program domain in and of itself — every bit as important as the medical research, social services, advocacy, and everything else it makes possible. We should consider all spending on it to be a critical “program” expense. Instead of disdaining it, we should invest in understanding and developing it, because unless we do, we’ll never have anywhere near the money we need to address the massive social problems we confront.
These are all valid points, but then I lose him at the end when he claims:
Institutional funders should take the lead…Fundraising should be every bit as prevalent on the lists of their program interests as health, human rights, and global poverty. And when they are, they won’t need to be giving program grants to health, human rights, or global poverty anymore, because the fundraising arms of the organizations they support will be able to fund them on their own.
Huh? I agree with Pallotta that there needs to be more risk and experimentation with fundraising. But I would take this much further. Fundraising isn’t just a “necessary expense,” rather a nonprofit’s resource engine must be fully integrated with and equal to its programs and operations. We have to move away from the term “fundraising,” which has come to mean galas, direct mail campaigns (which Godin abhors), and foundation grants that are conducted in a vaccuum completely separate from and organization’s programs and operations. Fundraising has become akin to a gerbil on a treadmill where nonprofits go from grant to grant, direct mail response to direct mail response, email campaign to email campaign, working their fundraisers to the bone trying to make the dollars coming in the door equal the dollars going out the door to run their programs.
That is “ass-backwards.” The only effective way for a nonprofit to achieve its mission, and ultimately social impact, is to fully integrate their programs (the social impact they are trying to achieve) with their core competencies (what they do better than anyone else) and their overall resource engine. This overall resource engine must be a diverse combination of activities that generate support for and work with, not detract from, the mission of the organization and the organization’s core competencies, like this:
I’ve written about this critical alignment before, and it seems to me that this integration of the three core activities of a nonprofit are rarely integrated effectively, or even recognized by those commenting on the sector, like Pallotta and Godin. Any marketing or revenue-generating activities that a nonprofit embarks on must be chosen and invested in–with resources like money, staff, board and volunteer time–in accordance with the organization’s mission and core competencies. And the marketing and revenue-generating activities from which a nonprofit can choose include things such as: individual donor cultivation, solicitation and stewardship; direct mail acquisition; online fundraising; foundation grants; earned income businesses; and yes, even social media. Just as nonprofits should not shy away from social media because they are afraid of risk and change, they also shouldn’t run towards it if it doesn’t make sense in the overall picture of how they can effectively integrate their mission and core competencies to create a sustainable resource engine.
Nonprofits shouldn’t fear social media, nor any other technological, social, or financial shift in our world. Nonprofits, just like any other entity, need to be aware of their environment and adapt their business to survive and thrive in that changing environment. But it all has to be based on an integrated strategy. Yes, be open to new things like social media and experiment to see how this new development might enhance or contribute to your mission, and your resource engine, while working with your core competencies. But don’t blindly go there without understanding how it fits.
The bottomline is that the pace of change is speeding up for all of us. Nonprofits have to be more open to change, yes, but any change still has to be digested and made part of an overall strategy that integrates mission, competency and resources. I think Godin would be the first to agree that we are nothing without an integrated strategy. So don’t jump on that bandwagon without one, just because Godin tells you that you are “paralyzed in fear.”