February was another great month in the world of social innovation reading. As I mentioned last month, I’ve started a new monthly series on the Social Velocity blog highlighting my favorite 10 reads in the world of social innovation over the past month. You can read the January list here.
There are many more than 10 great reads out there, but these were the ones that really challenged me and got me thinking. I hope they do for you as well. As always, please add to the list in the comments. I’d love to hear what got you thinking this past month.
- Seedbeds for Social Innovation: The Echoing Green blog discusses a new Carnegie Mellon University report that details what it takes for a city to be a seedbed for social innovation.
- Nonprofits need to stop begging for scraps From the Chronicle of Philanthropy’s Money and Mission blog, authored by the Nonprofit Finance Fund, comes a great response to the Stanford Social Innovation Review article a couple of years ago about the nonprofit starvation cycle. This post discusses what nonprofits can do to break out of the cycle.
- A 10 Year Lesson in How Not To Spend $200 Million The Northwest Area Foundation in Minnesota has declared it’s ten year philanthropic experiment a failure. An interesting study in the less talked about side of innovation (failure) and transparency.
- Social Impact Bond Learning Group The Nonprofit Finance Fund has launched a learning and discussion group to explore the feasibility of social impact bonds (government bond funding for social impact organizations tied to outcomes) in the US. The UK has already experimented with similar kinds of bonds. If the US introduced these kinds of bonds it could be a revolutionary new tool for funding social innovation.
- Wired and Shrewd, Young Egyptians Guide Revolt A fascinating look from the New York Times into the structure and tactics of the small group of young innovators who brought Egypt’s ruling dictator to his knees. A real study in social innovation.
- To Collaborate or Compete? From New Philanthropy Capital comes a report studying when it makes sense for nonprofits to collaborate and when to compete. Such a framework could be a really helpful way to tackle to this burning question.
- Q&A With Middle East Entrepreneur Habib Haddad And another view of what happened in Egypt, a fascinating interview with a young entrepreneur who discusses the role of social media in the uprising.
- Stop Giving Donors What You Think They Want: Dan Pallotta challenges nonprofits to treat donors like adults and be upfront and honest with them.
- Rethinking the State of the Sector: The Deep Social Impact blog encourages the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors to focus on assets instead of challenges.
- Governmental “Crowding Out” in Philanthropy: Sean Stannard-Stockton argues that because of the arcane way nonprofit accounting is done, money from government sources might actually cripple the financial sustainability of a nonprofit.
In difficult economic times like these it can seem impossible and exhausting to raise money. It may appear that everyone is saying no, and raising enough to keep your nonprofit going is nearly impossible. You may grow angry at those who have wealth, but are unwilling to part with it because of fear and uncertainty.
In times like these it can be helpful to remember why people give and what motivates and demotivates giving. It is important to take a bigger picture view of what you are asking for. You are NOT asking for donors to keep your organization from shutting down. You are NOT asking them to save a sinking ship. You are NOT asking them to fix a deficit in your organization.
It has to be a much larger conversation. You are asking them to seize the opportunity to invest in a solution to a serious problem their community faces. You are asking them to make another person’s life better and by doing so they will make their own and their community’s lives better.
The Nonprofiteer, a blog on nonprofit issues, responded recently to a nonprofit Executive Director’s frustration at trying to raise money in this climate. The ED is fed up with the wealthy individuals she is trying to raise money from:
Here’s my problem: whenever I tell donors how desperate we are, I get a sob story about how desperate THEY are. (The next person who tells me he simply doesn’t read his 401K statement is getting a swift kick in the pants.) It’s obvious these people have money; they just don’t want to share it with us. What’s your advice?
The Nonprofiteer shows no pity for this ED and in fact demonstrates how wrong her approach is. Rather than viewing donors as selfish and out of touch with the needs of her organization, the ED needs to change the conversation and convince the donor how her organization is providing solutions. She needs to demonstrate that an investment from that donor will make a real impact in their community:
People don’t give to agencies they think are desperate; they give to agencies they think are successful…It may be accurate to say, “Without your $100, we won’t be able to house our clients tonight.” But it’s just as accurate, and twice as effective, to say, “With your $100, tonight Charles and David will have a place to sleep and access first thing tomorrow morning to telephones and computers to continue their search for a job.”
And I would take it even further. An investment in this organization will work towards getting Charles and David into successful jobs and housing so that they become self-sufficient and are no longer a burden on the community’s safety net. You as a donor will not just be helping them get a good night’s sleep you will be setting them and people like them on a path towards becoming fully contributing members of our community. And then their beds will be free for others to start their journey along the same path. In essence, you are investing in a trajectory where there are fewer burdens on our society, more contributing members and a stronger, healthier community.
The conversation completely changes from one about a narrow, short-sighted mentality, to one about investing in dramatic changes in our community and our society that inspire passion and commitment, energy and enthusiasm.
Sean Stannard-Stockton wrote earlier this year in the Stanford Social Innovation Review about why people give. He echoes this argument that people give from a desire to connect to and have impact on their communities:
I believe that giving is motivated by humans’ deeply held need to find meaning in life. For most people, meaning is deeply intertwined with community connections (defining community as narrowly as family and as broadly as the full community of life). Humans want to feel a sense of connection and a sense of purpose to life. Giving (time, money, and energy) is a central way that we strive to find meaning.
The more that nonprofit leaders, board members and Development Directors can demonstrate how an investment in their organization creates significant and meaningful change in the world and community around a donor, the more success nonprofits will have. People need to be excited, engaged, energized, passionate and committed in order to give in a significant way. To get to that you need to broaden the conversation.
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