Yep, it’s true, the nonprofit sector doesn’t have enough money. There are lots of reasons for that, but part of it stems from the taboos the nonprofit sector (and the staffs, boards and donors within it) perpetuates. But perhaps if we lay them bare, we can start to break free from them, which is the topic of today’s installment of the ongoing Financing Not Fundraising blog series.
If you are new to this series, the idea is that nonprofit fundraising is broken. Instead of continuing to hit their heads against the fundraising brick wall, nonprofit leaders must take a strategic approach to financing their work. You can read the entire Financing Not Fundraising blog series here.
Nonprofit taboos are so insidious because they are unwritten and unquestioned. But that has to stop. If we want to move the nonprofit sector forward, we must uncover certain taboos and determine whether they are really unacceptable anymore.
Here are the five most egregious taboos in the nonprofit sector:
- Nonprofits Shouldn’t Raise a Surplus
For some reason it is unseemly for a nonprofit to have more money than they immediately need. If a nonprofit is not just barely breaking even, it is somehow unworthy of raising more money. To the contrary, a nonprofit that has operating reserves can invest in a more sustainable organization, conduct R&D to make sure their solution is the best one, recruit a highly competent staff, and weather economic fluctuations. It is far better to invest in an organization that is well poised to attack a social problem than one that is barely able to keep the lights on.
- Nonprofits Shouldn’t Pay Market Rate Salaries
I won’t join the crazy controversy that surrounds nonprofit executive salary levels, but let me simply point out that nonprofits exist within a market economy, that is a fact. If someone is great at what they do, and they can make more money elsewhere, eventually they will do so. It is simple economics. I understand that mission is a driving force for people attracted to the nonprofit sector, but as competition in the social change space continues to grow, the best and brightest will be lured away by other nonprofits, government entities, or for-profit social enterprises. So if you want to attract and retain a really talented employee, you’ve got to pay them accordingly.
- Nonprofits Shouldn’t Demand Board Members Fundraise
Why not? Seriously, I don’t get this one at all. If your governing body is free to make strategic and programmatic decisions without understanding, first hand, the financial implications of those decisions, you are setting your nonprofit up for failure. Mission and money must be strategically aligned, and the first and most important place that alignment occurs is at the board level. There are plenty of ways for board members to get involved in the financial engine of their nonprofit. Let’s stop apologizing for having to make money in the nonprofit sector and start requiring every single board member get actively involved in the process.
- Nonprofits Shouldn’t Question Donors
Donors hold the purse strings so nonprofit leaders are unwilling to tell them how it really is. But if the sector continues to act like a grateful recipient of a wealthy person’s or institution’s largesse, that power imbalance will continue, as will the dysfunctions that accompany it. If instead nonprofits and funders were equal partners working together to solve a problem, maybe we could get somewhere. But this will only happen if nonprofit leaders become more confident at telling their donors (and board members) how it really is. And if nonprofit leaders are more strategic about diversifying their financial model so they are no longer beholden to a few funders.
- Nonprofits Shouldn’t Invest in Fundraising
In the nonprofit world the fundraising function is equivalent to the sales and marketing function of the business world. No one expects Apple to create amazing gadgets and then sit back and hope people show up and buy them. They have an extensive and well-financed marketing and sales function. But nonprofits are expected to spend as little as humanly possible on fundraising. Added to that, nonprofits are even more challenged because they have two, not just one, set of customers: 1) the clients they serve who often can’t pay for services, and 2) the funders who pay for those services. So we are telling nonprofits to recruit and serve two sets of customers on a shoestring. That’s crazy. We have to get over the idea that investing in fundraising (high quality staff, technology, expertise, planning, marketing) is a bad thing.
At the end of the day, we have to stop apologizing for the realities of the nonprofit sector. It’s time nonprofit leaders stand up and start demanding the end to some serious strictures that hold them back from doing their jobs. And, let’s remember, those jobs are to solve some of the most complex problems facing our communities. Those jobs are probably more easily and effectively done in the absence of crazy taboos.
If you want to learn more about moving your nonprofit from fundraising to financing, check out the Financing Not Fundraising page.
Photo Credit: wheat_in_your_hair
It used to be that a nonprofit leader receiving a check from a donor would smile politely, say a big “Thank You” and go on her way. But just as (seemingly) every aspect of the world as we know it is changing, so too is philanthropy. We are starting to question long-held assumptions about how money is given and how it should be spent.
As a nonprofit leader, if you want to start securing and using money in a more strategic way, if you want to move from fundraising to financing, you need to bring your donors along with you.
It is up to you to enlighten your major donors about how they can use money more effectively. So that instead of being merely the recipient of your donors’ largesse, you become a true partner in putting their money to work for real social change, which is today’s topic in the ongoing Financing Not Fundraising blog series.
The Financing Not Fundraising blog series encourages nonprofits to move from the exhausting hamster wheel of fundraising to a long-term, sustainable financing strategy for their work. You can read the entire series here.
We simply can’t sit around and wait for philanthropists to suddenly understand the hurdles nonprofits face. So the next time you meet with a major donor (an individual, foundation or corporate donor with whom you have a one-on-one relationship), make time to have a deeper, different conversation aimed at enlightening them about the realities you face.
Here are some ways to start that conversation with your donors:
“Overhead Isn’t a Dirty Word Anymore.”
The notion that “overhead” expenses, like administrative and fundraising costs, are unseemly in the nonprofit sector is becoming antiquated. Instead there is a growing effort to evaluate nonprofits based on the results they achieve, not the way they spend their money. And effective nonprofits need strong organizations behind their work. Take some time to educate your closest donors about this growing movement to support all aspects (including staffing, systems, technology) of a nonprofit organization.
“These Are The Hurdles Standing In Our Way.”
Let’s face it, most nonprofits struggle with some key organizational challenges. Perhaps you struggle to secure sustainable funding; or you can’t recruit and engage an effective board; or you want to grow, but lack an effective growth plan. Whatever your challenges are, start being more open with your funders about those challenges. It is a risky conversation, to be sure. But I bet that your long-term funders have probably already recognized some of those roadblocks, and your open and honest approach to facing them might start a new conversation about solutions.
“Here Are Some Solutions to Those Hurdles.”
You don’t want simply to tell your donors a laundry list of woes. As my mother always said “Don’t come to me with your problems, come to me with your solutions.” So before you tell your close donors what is holding you back, do your research about how you might overcome those hurdles. If you struggle to bring enough money in the door, perhaps a Financial Model Assessment could help. If you can’t effectively track and communicate with donors, you may need new technology and systems. If you don’t have enough staff to grow your programs, analyze the additional expertise you need and calculate how much it would cost. Put together a thoughtful plan for how you can overcome the obstacles you face.
“Here is How You Can Help.”
Which brings me to the key conversation you need to have to enlighten your donors. You cannot execute on a change plan if you don’t have the resources to do so. That’s where your key donors come in. If you’ve spent the time educating them about organization-building, the key obstacles in your way, and your plan for overcoming those obstacles, then the next logical step is to ask them for help. If you have invested them in the need and direction for change, you are ready to ask them to invest in the solution.
I know it’s difficult for nonprofits and their major donors to have open and honest conversations. But we will never move forward if nonprofit leaders don’t start initiating some difficult, but potentially game-changing conversations with their donors. Indeed, effective social change depends on it.
There is a growing drumbeat lately (for starters here, here and here) that nonprofits must be more bold. I couldn’t agree more and have argued that nonprofit fear and small thinking sometimes hold them back. But it is becoming increasingly obvious to me that if we want to get better at solving social problems, we have to ask philanthropist to be more bold too.
And I’m heartened to see this conversation starting to emerge. The Letter to the Donors of America, the Donor Forum’s Real Talk About Real Costs effort, Dan Cardinali’s request that philanthropists fund the “unsexy” work of nonprofit capacity building, Rebecca Thomas encouraging funders to support nonprofit resilience, and Ben Powell’s idea that philanthropy provide more start-up capital all add to the philanthropy reform discussion. I love it!
But I want to see the idea that philanthropy can be so much more move beyond talk.
There is a huge disconnect between what nonprofits really, truly need to solve social problems and how funding currently flows. We are locked in a chicken or the egg scenario where often a nonprofit working to solve a social problem encounters some major capacity constraints. For example, a nonprofit doesn’t know how to:
- Create a sustainable financial model
- Effectively grow their solution
- Structure their board and staff for success
- Strategically filter opportunities
- Engage key outside elements in the change effort
And quite often they don’t know how to move past these capacity constraints.
At the same time, philanthropists may recognize that a grantee is encountering some significant hurdles, but doesn’t know how (or is unwilling) to invest in overcoming those hurdles. So the constraints remain unmoved.
But what if nonprofits and philanthropists could start working together to move those hurdles?
What if instead of getting in the way, philanthropists started paving the way?
Philanthropy could provide the critical infusion of the right kind of organization-building money at the right time thereby allowing a great solution to grow.
To me, that’s bold philanthropy.
But how do we get there? Philanthropists need to change in some fundamental ways:
Move to Impact
Just as we are increasingly asking nonprofits to move to impact, philanthropists need to do the same. Instead of tracking outputs (# of grantees, $s given), foundations need to start tracking whether their investments result in change to 1) their grantees and 2) the problems those grantees address. Just as we are starting to ask nonprofits “To What End?” we need to ask funders the very same question.
Help Diagnose the Constraints
Once philanthropists start getting clear about what they want to change and whether their investments are actually resulting in change, they need to become cognizant of the hurdles standing in the way of that change. And I will tell you that there are some almost universal hurdles in the nonprofit sector (lack of management expertise, poor leadership development, board disengagement, financial instability). So if a philanthropist really wants to see change to a social problem, he needs to get clear about what those he is investing in need to make that change a reality.
Invest in Removing Those Constraints
But it simply is not enough for funders to recognize that those they fund have very specific and tangible organizational needs. Those funders then must put their money where their mouth is. More philanthropists need to invest in building stronger, more effective, more sustainable solutions. They need to provide more capacity capital, money to build an effective, sustainable nonprofit that can grow impact.
We have only scratched the surface on what philanthropy can do to solve social problems. But I am optimistic that we can fundamentally change philanthropy so that it increasingly provides the capacity capital the sector so desperately needs.
Photo Credit: Jeffrey Beall
One of the biggest challenges the nonprofit sector faces is the sometimes dysfunctional relationship between nonprofits and their funders. I’ve talked before about how nonprofits should stop lying to their donors. But now I want to discuss the flip side of the issue–how to respond to some of the crazy things donors demand.
I firmly believe that nonprofits should not sit idly by when donors make crazy demands or give impossible instructions. It is the responsibility of a strong nonprofit leader to stand up to their donors and help educate them about the realities of the sector.
So the next time one of your donors throws one of the below at you, here’s how you can respond:
When a donor says: “Don’t spend any of my money on fundraising or infrastructure.”
“It might seem more effective to have all of your gifts go to support direct services, but actually those services will be stronger and more sustainable if there is a healthy, effective organization behind them. That means our organization needs a capable, well-trained and paid staff; a sustainable financial engine; adequate equipment, systems and space; and efficient technology. Occasionally you might think about supporting those infrastructure items so that your program gifts can go even further.”
When a donor says “I want to know exactly how every penny of my money was spent.”
“I hope that you are investing in our program and our management team because you believe ours is the right solution to this social problem, and we are the right team to execute on that solution. We will be happy to provide you, on a regular basis, results about how the program grows and the impact it achieves, but the kind of extensive, detailed, and funder-specific reporting that you are requiring would take us away from delivering the program and creating impact, and I know you don’t want to do that.”
When a donor says “I won’t fund your program without proven results, but I won’t fund an evaluation study.”
“When you say that you are putting our organization into a catch-22 of needing a key element to get funding, but not having the funding to get the key element. It’s an unwinnable situation. We would love to be able to demonstrate the kind of results you are requesting. However, we have not yet identified a donor or group of donors who is willing to fund that kind of project. Would you be willing to lead an effort to get a small group of funders together to fund such an important evaluation study?”
When a donor says “I want your nonprofit to make huge changes from my $10,000 gift.”
“We agree that the change you would like to see is very exciting. We have done our research on the type of change you would like to see and it would cost approximately $100,000 [insert the correct figure] to bring to fruition. Is $100,000 a gift you would like to make to our organization? If not, would you be willing to identify a group of funders who could join you to fund this change? And if not, then we would gratefully accept your $10,000 gift to support our regular program operations.”
We have to create the nonprofit donors we want to see in the world. When a donor makes an unrealistic demand, use it as an opportunity to educate them about the reality of the nonprofits they support. In so doing, you are creating a better donor for the whole sector.
Photo Credit: Zach Klein
Could it be that philanthropists and nonprofits are starting to have real conversations about what nonprofits need? I was encouraged by GuideStar, Charity Navigator and BBB Wise Giving Alliance‘s open Letter to the Donors of America earlier this week asking donors to stop focusing on nonprofit overhead expenses.
It is so exciting to see a national conversation emerge about what donors can do differently.
To that end, I think there are 3 key things that philanthropists can do to move nonprofits forward:
- Create Financially Sustainable Nonprofits
The majority of nonprofits lack a sustainable financial engine that strategically and effectively supports their mission. Grantmakers could provide nonprofits the runway necessary to find the right financial model for their organizations. Two-phase capacity capital funding could do this. Phase one would be a capacity capital planning grant to analyze a nonprofit’s current money-raising activities and come up with a plan for transforming those into a sustainable financial model. Phase two would be a capacity capital grant to make the investments necessary (staffing, technology, systems) to revamp the nonprofit’s financial model. The end result would be that nonprofits with a great solution to offer suddenly have the ability to grow the solution in a sustainable way.
- Fund Management Expertise
Nonprofit leaders often come to their positions with a passion for the cause and specific program-related expertise, but a lack of critical management experience. As a result, nonprofit leaders often exist in a reactive, as opposed to strategic mode; are challenged by financial decision-making; struggle with poor board engagement; have limited external partnerships; can’t articulate their value proposition; and lack strategic filters to guide decisions about the future. Management coaching is often a given in the for-profit world, but nonprofit management coaching is only starting to be explored, even though it holds tremendous potential for the sector. It can provide desperately needed strategic perspective, problem solving and expertise that can supplement and ultimately build the management abilities of a program expert who would otherwise struggle to bring a great solution to scale. If more funders provided management support dollars, more nonprofit leaders could grow their solutions.
- Seek Real Conversations with Nonprofits
But these two hurdles will never be cleared if the communication impasse between grantors and grantees is not addressed. There is an often unspoken catch-22 in the nonprofit sector where nonprofit leaders are not comfortable asking funders for what they really need, while funders lack enough on-the-ground experience to recognize and address nonprofit challenges. This lack of honest, open conversation holds the sector back from producing effective funding partnerships and prevents grantors and grantees from marshaling resources to their highest and best use. There need to be many more conversations like the Donors Forum, hosted by intermediaries, where nonprofit leaders and philanthropists can come together to talk openly about what the sector really needs.
We suddenly have a real opportunity to address the obstacles standing in the way of more social change. But to get there, donors and nonprofits have to recognize and openly address what holds the sector back. More effective philanthropy stems from more productive partnerships between philanthropic and nonprofit leaders and a willingness to remedy together the hurdles in the way.
Photo Credit: applejan
The nonprofit sector and the philanthropy that funds it have been changing dramatically over the past several years, and there’s plenty more change to come. This month’s Social Velocity webinar, Embracing the Future of the Nonprofit Sector, will help nonprofit leaders and board members understand how the sector is changing and what they can do to keep up.
Here are some of the future trends facing the nonprofit sector that we’ll cover in this webinar:
- More Demand for Outcomes
There is a growing demand for nonprofits to 1) articulate what results they hope their work with achieve and 2) track whether those results are actually happening.
- Decreasing Emphasis on Nonprofit “Overhead”
More and more people are realizing that you can’t just invest in programs without the staff, infrastructure and fundraising to make those programs happen.
- More Advocacy for the Sector
as a Whole
The nonprofit sector has long been a fractured grouping of organizations of various sizes, business models, and issue areas. But that tide is starting to turn. We are starting to see the sector organize, mobilize and build the confidence necessary to claim its rightful place.
- Savvier Donors
Because nonprofits are getting more savvy, donors are as well. In addition to an increasing demand for proof of outcomes, donors are starting to realize that in such a stark economic environment those nonprofits that don’t have adequate infrastructure simply will not survive, let alone be able to adequately address the social problem they were organized to solve.
- Increased Efforts to Rate and Compare Nonprofits
We are increasingly evaluating nonprofits based on the results they achieve, not on how they spend their money. And to do that a whole infrastructure for evaluating and rating nonprofits is emerging and will continue to evolve as we get smarter about focusing resources on the most effective nonprofits.
These are exciting times for the nonprofit sector. This webinar will help you understand and embrace these trends.
Embracing the Future of the Nonprofit Sector
A Social Velocity On Demand Webinar
Photo Credit: Adolf de Meyer
April was all data, all the time. From big data, to performance data, to how donors use data to improve programs, to whether donors even care about data. It’s enough to make your head spin. But many people were cautioning to keep the end goal in mind. Data is only data, its ultimate use is to create social change.
Below are my 10 favorite social innovation reads in April. But let me know in the comments what I missed. And if you want to see my expanded list, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or my newest addition, Google+.
You can see the 10 Great Reads lists from past months here.
- Writing on the Full Contact Philanthropy blog, David Henderson argues that we must understand the limitations of data, as he says “Decisions we make should be informed by data, but data does not make decisions for us.”
- Daryn McKeever from the Gates Foundation seems to agree arguing that we need to move from Big Data to Big Wisdom, using data to make better decisions. And David Brooks writing in the New York Times seems to fall into the same camp.
- The Stanford Social Innovation Review is celebrating their 10 year anniversary and as part of the festivities are running a series of essays about how social innovation has evolved and where it’s going. Part of that series is Tim Ogden’s controversial (I think) post claiming that contrary to growing belief donors don’t care about impact any more than they ever did.
- As a counterpoint, the recent NextGen study from the Johnson Center on Philanthropy found some pretty significant changes in how the newest donors, Millennials, do philanthropy. Michael Moody and Sharna Goldseker, authors of the report, break down how they think donors are changing.
- And adding to the conversation about whether donors care about outcomes, a debate raged between William Schambra from the Hudson Institute and Ken Berger from Charity Navigator. William argues that moving the nonprofit sector to outcomes measurement would lose other, more important and less tangible benefits (civic engagement, social bonds) that the sector promotes. But Ken argues that measuring outcomes is absolutely critical to helping the nonprofit sector create more change.
- During April’s annual Skoll World Forum a new Social Progress Index launched, a measure for comparing different countries abilities’ to “provide for the social and environmental needs of their citizens.” The hope is that the index will help guide social investment decisions. It will be interesting to watch how it evolves.
- For a really interesting case study on use of data, The National Center for Arts Research interviews Kate Levin, Commissioner of the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs about how they use data to make the case for investments in culture.
- I have been fascinated to watch New Orleans’ renaissance via social innovation in the years following Katrina. Two recent articles (here and here) highlight exactly how the city is coming back and the role social innovation is playing in that comeback.
- Albert Ruesga, Chair of Grantmakers for Effective Organizations and editor of the White Courtesy Telephone blog, writes a fairly scathing (but in a nice way) post about how philanthropists need to start having more difficult, honest conversations in order to move the sector forward. His post was in response to Caroline Preston’s February Chronicle of Philanthropy article in a similar vein and the impetus for a panel discussion in DC along the same lines. They promise to keep this conversation going. Let’s hope, because we need more cruelty, or at least honesty, in the sector.
- As I said last month, crowdfunding is apparently the next new shiny thing. And April continued the drumbeat with many more articles, the most interesting of which was Dowser’s list of 10 New Platforms for Crowdfunding.
Photo Credit: o5com
A big topic of conversation lately has been whether donors really care about impact, or whether they simply just give based on less scientific things like their emotions, or their friends recommendations. Which is why I’m excited to announce that I’ll be participating in a Google Hangout April 30th about using data to attract donors.
Writing in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, Tim Ogden claims that donors have never really been interested in impact. And Ken Berger from Charity Navigator and William Schambra of the Hudson Institute debate (here and here) whether moving the nonprofit sector toward performance management helps or hurts social change efforts.
To add to this conversation, David Henderson and I are hosting a Google Hangout, “How to Use Real Performance Data to Raise More Money,” on Tuesday, April 30th at 2pm Eastern. David is a super smart guy who runs Idealistics, a consultancy that helps nonprofits learn from their outcomes data, increase impact, and demonstrate results to funders and stakeholders. David’s professional focus is on improving the way social sector organizations use information to implement higher impact poverty interventions. He has been quoted in the Chronicle of Philanthropy and has written for Change.org and the Huffington Post. You can read my interview with him from a year and a half ago here.
David and I thought it would be interesting to host a conversation with nonprofit leaders about how nonprofits can use real performance data to raise more money. We’ll kick off the hour-long conversation with a couple of points and a case study or two of nonprofits that are using data to raise more money, but then we’ll open it up to you for questions. You can send us your questions ahead of time (via email to email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org) or simply post them to the Google Hangout here as you watch.
I hope you’ll join us!
How to Use Real Performance Data to Raise More Money
A Google Hangout with David Henderson and Nell Edgington
Tuesday, April 30th, 2013
Can nonprofits that use real performance data to raise more money? Are donor increasingly interested in impact data? How can nonprofits communicate their program data to donors? And how should nonprofits respond to questionable performance claims by other organizations? Join David Henderson from Idealistics and Nell Edgington from Social Velocity in a Google Hangout on Tuesday, April 30th at 2pm Eastern to discuss these and many more questions about how nonprofits can use real data to raise more money. We’d love to have you participate in the discussion, so send your questions ahead of time to Nell or David, or leave a comment at the Google Hangout here.
Photo Credit: 401(K) 2013