There was a great post in the Nonprofit Finance Fund’s Money and Mission blog last month debunking the myths around nonprofit endowments. An endowment is a corpus of money set aside by a nonprofit to generate long-term income for the organization’s operations. I can’t tell you how many times I hear nonprofits say that their money woes would be solved if they could just raise an endowment. Some even forgo easier, more reasonable forms of revenue generating activities in order to pursue pie in the sky endowment campaigns. That is crazy.
Today in this month’s post in the on-going Financing Not Fundraising blog series, I’m explaining why most nonprofits should kiss their endowment dreams goodbye and focus instead on finding a more realistic path to financial sustainability.
In case you are new to the series, it discusses how nonprofits must break out of the FUNDRAISING (individual donor appeals, events, foundation grants) box and instead create a broader, more strategic approach to securing the overall FINANCING necessary to create social change. You can read the entire series here.
I’m not suggesting that endowment campaigns are wrong for all nonprofits. But here’s why they don’t make sense for most:
- Endowment money is extremely difficult to raise. The majority of donors want their dollars to go directly to the day-to-day work of a nonprofit. It is hard enough to convince a donor to fund growth or capacity capital campaigns that strengthen the organization. But to convince a donor to give a nonprofit money to put in the bank so that the organization can be relieved of some of the burden of otherwise finding a sustainable revenue engine is a really hard sell.
- Endowments are an inefficient use of money. Let’s say a nonprofit was able to raise an endowment of $1 million and then enjoy an annual 5% return. This would give them $50,000 of operating revenue each year. Sounds great, right? Wrong. If instead the nonprofit could use ALL of that $1 million as capacity capital to build their infrastructure, staffing, technology, or systems, those transformations to the organizational structure could yield many times more than $50,000 per year in financial sustainability and/or social impact.
- Endowment campaigns require a major donor base. Most nonprofits have not yet figured out how to attract and retain major individual donors. Thinking that you can leap frog the donor cultivation process by going from a few small individual donors to large, endowment donors is crazy. It takes years of on-going cultivation of high capacity donors to secure endowment gifts. Nonprofits would be far better served by using their time and resources to create a solid annual individual donor campaign based on pull marketing efforts for smaller donors and one-on-one cultivation of larger major donors.
- There is no magic bullet for financial sustainability. When I hear nonprofits talking longingly of endowments it is with an unspoken assumption that once secured an endowment would solve all of their money problems. But the truth is that there is no magic bullet for sustainable nonprofit funding. The only way to create a sustainable funding engine for your nonprofit is to create a financial model that fully integrates with your mission and core competencies. I’ve found that the nonprofit leaders who are most interested in the endowment magic bullet theory are those who are most uncomfortable with money. Instead of fearing money, you must embrace it and learn how wield it to your advantage.
Instead of wasting time, effort, and resources on endowment campaign planning, move your nonprofit to true long-term sustainability by creating a financing plan for your organization. Stop trying to “solve” your money problems and instead embrace money as an incredibly useful tool for creating lasting social change.
If you want to learn more about applying the concepts of Financing Not Fundraising to your nonprofit, check out our Financing Not Fundraising Webinar Series, or download the 27-page Financing Not Fundraising e-book.
Photo Credit: Library of Congress Archive
In the world of social innovation, May was most definitely about innovations in philanthropy and funding of social change. From social impact bond experiments, to hybrid foundations, to impact investing, to the Giving Pledge 2.0, there was much discussion and debate about how funders of social change should and are innovating. And that is very exciting because it is not enough for social entrepreneurs to push things forward, we desperately need new financial vehicles to fund those social change efforts.
Below are my ten picks of the best reads in social innovation in May, but as always, please add what I missed in the comments. If you want to see other things that caught my eye, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or Pinterest. And if you want to read 10 Great Reads lists from past months, go here.
- First up is social impact bonds (or pay for success bonds), a very exciting, new way to fund nonprofits that achieve improved social outcomes that result in public sector savings. McKinsey released a new report on the potential for social impact bonds in the US. And Minnesota is one of the first states to experiment with these bonds with a $10 million pilot. Twin Cities Business magazine explores the idea and Kate Barr of Minnesota’s Nonprofit Assistance Fund gives an overview of the idea, resources and further conversation.
- This month’s second annual meeting of those wealthy individuals who signed Bill Gates’ Giving Pledge (a public promise to give at least half of their wealth to charity in their lifetime) showed some real interest in impact investing, or using their money to make money while creating social change at the same time. Laura Tomasko argues why their interest in impact investing (both mission-related investments and program-related investments) is such an exciting opportunity. And Lucy Bernholz takes their interest in impact investing in another direction arguing that “this century’s great philanthropists should aim not just to match history’s great givers in their largess, but also in the creation of mechanisms and institutions that serve the future as well as their predecessors served the past.”
- Finally, in a very exciting move, the Obama Administration has proposed an expansion to the rules about how foundations can use program-related investments (low or no interest loans to social change organizations) and some community foundations are already getting into the game.
- And from the nonprofit side of the financial equation comes the Nonprofit Finance Fund’s effort to debunk the myths around endowments as a road to nonprofit financial sustainability.
- Financial sustainability must always be on the mind of social change organizations, as this cautionary tale from the North Carolina YWCA that had to close its doors because of poor financial management and oversight demonstrates.
- Has the drum beat against judging a nonprofit based on overhead costs gone mainstream? An op-ed in the LA Times argues that administrative costs are “no way to judge a charity.”
- At the Social Earth blog Thien Nguyen-Trung cautions against an overemphasis on growth among social entrepreneurs and instead argues for “impact offtakers” or an exit strategy for social entrepreneurs to hand off their solution to government or another larger entity instead of trying to reach scale on their own.
- And Patrick Lester seems to agree in his argument that it’s not enough to fund social change solutions: “Foundations and philanthropists need to step forward and fund not just innovation, but advocacy too–only then will our best ideas be taken to scale.”
- There were several articles about exciting, innovative approaches to solving food problems. From a $125 million loan fund for healthy food outlets in California, to urban farming in Detroit, to a very successful nonprofit grocery store in Portland, Oregon.
- In the Stanford Social Innovation Review Matthew Forti offers 6 things nonprofits should avoid in their theory of change (their argument for what they exist to accomplish).
Photo Credit: C. Frank Starmer
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