In part 11 of our ongoing blog series, Financing Not Fundraising, we are talking about being brutally honest with your donors. If nonprofits are going to truly break free from the vicious fundraising cycle, they must find the courage to tell funders how it really is. And since board members are a nonprofit’s closest supporters and (I hope) donors, you need to stop telling them these lies as well.
If you are new to our Financing Not Fundraising blog series, the series is about how nonprofits must break out of the narrow view that traditional FUNDRAISING (individual donor appeals, events, foundation grants) will completely fund all of their activities. Instead, they must create a broader, more strategic approach to securing the overall FINANCING necessary to create social change. You can read the entire series here.
If you want to learn more about how to apply the concepts of Financing Not Fundraising to your nonprofit, check out our Financing Not Fundraising Webinar Series
If you want to break free of the exhausting cycle of fundraising, a key step is to start being brutally honest with funders. Here are the top 5 lies you have to stop telling donors:
- X% of your donation goes to the program
The distinction between “program expenses” and “overhead” is, at best, meaningless and, at worst, destructive. You cannot have a program without staff, technology, space, systems, evaluation, research and development. It is magical thinking to say that you can separate money spent on programs from money spent on the support of programs. Donors need to understand, and you need to explain to them, that “overhead” is not a dirty word. A nonprofit exists to deliver programs. And everything the organization does helps to make those programs better, stronger, bigger, more effective.
- We can do the same program with less money
No you can’t. You know you can’t. You are already scraping by. Don’t accept a check from a donor who wants all the bells and whistles you explained in your pitch, but at a lower cost. Explain the true costs, including administrative costs, of getting results. Politely, but firmly, explain to them that an inferior investment will yield an inferior result. If they simply can’t afford the price tag, then encourage them to find fellow funders to co-invest with.
- We can start a new program that doesn’t fit with our mission or strategy
Yes that big, fat check a donor is holding in front of you looks very appealing. But if it takes your organization in a different direction than your strategy or your core competencies require, accepting it is a huge mistake. Nonprofits must constantly ensure that money and mission are aligned. Otherwise the organization will be scattered in countless directions with an exhausted staff and confused donor base. Don’t let a donor take you down that road.
- We can grow without additional staff or other resources
Nonprofit staff truly excel at working endless hours with very few resources. They have perfected the concept of doing more and more with less and less. But someday that road must end. Nonprofit leaders have to be honest with donors when their staff and resources are at capacity. Because eventually program results will suffer and the donor will receive little in return for their investment.
- 100% of our board is committed to our organization
If that’s true, then you are a true minority in the nonprofit sector. Every nonprofit board I know has some dead wood. Members who ignore fundraising duties, don’t contribute to meetings, miss meetings, take the organization on tangents are always present. It’s a fact that funders want to see every board member contributing. But instead of perpetuating the myth that 100% is an achievable reality, be honest with funders. Tell them that you continually analyze each individual board member’s contributions (financial, intellectual, time) and have a clear plan for addressing deficiency, including: coaching, peer pressure, training, asking for resignations. Getting to 100% is probably never realistic, it is far better to demonstrate that you are tirelessly working toward 90%.
Stop the madness. We need to stop telling funders what they want to hear and then cursing them behind their backs when they set unrealistic expectations. Funders must be made to understand the harsh realities of the nonprofit sector if they are ever to be expected to help bring 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.
If you’ve been a fan of our popular, ongoing blog series, Financing Not Fundraising, you’ll want to participate in our upcoming Financing Not Fundraising webinar. The webinar will give you the tactical steps for breaking free of the unrelenting fundraisng handcuffs and bringing more money in the door.
Fundraising in the nonprofit sector doesn’t work anymore. In fact, traditional fundraising is holding the sector back by keeping nonprofits in the starvation cycle of trying to do more and more with less and less. What nonprofits need is a financing strategy, not a fundraising strategy. That means that nonprofits have to break out of the narrow view that traditional FUNDRAISING (individual donor appeals, events, foundation grants) will completely fund all of their activities. Instead, nonprofits must work to create a broader approach to securing the overall FINANCING necessary to create social change.
This webinar will show nonprofits what this financing approach looks like, including:
- How to align your nonprofit’s mission with the money needed to deliver on it
- Why a message of impact results in more money
- How to understand the critical difference between revenue and capital
- Why overhead isn’t a dirty word anymore
- How and why to calculate the net revenue of money raising activities
- When to explore new revenue streams
If your staff, your board, and your donors are worn out, if you’ve been following the Social Velocity Financing Not Fundraising blog series and you want to learn more, or if you want to put this new approach in motion, join us for this webinar.
Last Thursday I was a guest on Michael Chatman’s The Giving Show, a weekly radio show about philanthropy. I was delighted to talk with Michael and his listeners about how nonprofits need to rethink the ways they bring money in the door. If you missed the show, you can still listen to the podcast here.
Michael and I talk about:
- How nonprofits need to finance, not fundraise for, their social impact
- The difference between revenue and capital, and why it’s such an important distinction for nonprofits
- When earned income is right for a nonprofit
- The opportunity the recession poses for nonprofits
- Why nonprofits must let go of the status quo
- How to educate donors to be organization builders
- Where innovation is happening in the nonprofit sector
- The convergence of the nonprofit, for-profit and government sectors
- Why overhead is NOT a dirty word
And much more. You can listen here.
In this month’s Social Velocity blog interview, we’re talking with Mario Morino. Mario is co-founder and chairman of Venture Philanthropy Partners, one of the oldest venture philanthropy funds, and chairman of the Morino Institute, a nonprofit focused on technology for social change. His career spans more than 45 years as entrepreneur, technologist, and civic and business leader. He also recently wrote Leap of Reason: Managing to Outcomes in an Era of Scarcity, which I recently reviewed here on the blog.
You can read past interviews in our Social Innovation Interview Series here.
Nell: In your book Leap of Reason, you tell the leaders of the nonprofit sector that they need to make a fundamental shift in how they conduct business. Have you gotten any push back from nonprofits or philanthropists? Or has all of the response to the book been positive?
Mario: We are pushing for some hard changes, so we expected some hard reactions. But to our surprise, the response from nonprofit, for-profit, and public-sector leaders alike has been overwhelmingly positive.
We’ve asked ourselves why we’re not getting more push back. There are probably several factors at work. For one thing, the people who have taken the time to read the book are probably those who are more inclined to be receptive to this message. Those who are natural critics—for instance, those who believe mission and metrics are mutually exclusive or that discipline inhibits charismatic, entrepreneurial leadership—may not have read it. And so that shoe may drop at some point. The more we push beyond those already singing in the choir, the more constructive push back we’ll get.
I’d like to think that another factor is the way we presented the case. We made a forceful case, but we weren’t strident in our tone. We have a strong appreciation for the reasons why these management approaches have not been more widely adopted in the social sector. We sought to focus on what to do versus placing blame.
Nell: Do you think the majority of nonprofits will adopt an outcomes-management approach? And if so, when? What will be the tipping point?
Mario: Even when you take into account all of the work on outcomes, accountability, and mission-effectiveness over the past 15+ years, only a small slice of nonprofits (or government agencies, for that matter) have adopted an outcomes-management approach. So I fear that we’re in for only incremental adoption, unless our sector finds a way to seize the opportunity in this era of scarcity. This funding crisis can enervate or energize us. I really hope it’s the latter. In other words, I really hope this crisis will lead people to look much harder at what they do and how they can do it more efficiently and effectively. I hope it will cause them to go beyond incremental improvement and fine-tuning to rework fundamentally what it is they do.
Nell: It seems that this is a charge you are very much willing to lead. Beyond writing the book, what are you doing to lead the effort to create this fundamental shift in the nonprofit sector?
Mario: I would certainly like to join others in advancing this shift in the social sector and even lead in some areas. But I don’t think I’ve earned the stature to be the leader of a movement of this type. Even with 15+ years in the social sector, some still see me as a newbie!
As I said in the book, to help kick things off I would welcome helping to convene a select group of early adopters who have “been there and done that” and those most instrumental in helping them. I hope that a collective leadership will emerge and offer the beginning of an effort that could put our sector on a different and much more rapid trajectory.
As others began to follow their example, the network effect might well start to take hold. Imagine universities incorporating the outcomes-management mindset and discipline into nonprofit leadership curricula. Imagine funders offering outcomes-management grants to nonprofit leaders who show a real predisposition to use information well, and hiring seasoned staff members who have the expertise to provide strategic counsel and assistance to grantees. Imagine nonprofit leaders and staff joining together in peer-learning networks to share, learn, and push one another. Imagine government funders encouraging and rewarding successful outcomes management through new types of contracts and awards. A cadre of leaders and doers could help spark all of these things—and in doing so, spark a real movement.
Nell: What role can and should philanthropists, both foundations and individual donors, play in the effort to shift the nonprofit sector toward an outcomes approach?
Mario: Funders generally don’t provide the kind of financial support and strategic assistance that nonprofits need to make the leap to the outcomes-management discipline. While a lack of funding is by no means the only barrier, I know many nonprofit leaders who would take up the challenge in a heartbeat if funding, advice, and encouragement were available. The hard truth is that far too many funders have been conditioned to insist that every dollar “support the cause” through funding for programs. They don’t want “overhead” to dilute their grants.
To make the leap to outcomes management, nonprofits need creative funders, like the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation, that are willing to help them manage smarter through greater use of information on performance and impact—rather than forcing them to meet myriad evaluation and reporting requirements that too often do little to help the organization learn and improve. They need funders who understand that making the leap requires more than program funding, and more than the typical “capacity-building” grant. They need funders who are willing to make multi-year investments and offer strategic assistance to help nonprofit leaders strengthen their management muscle and rigor.
Nell: What does an outcomes approach look like for a social service nonprofit with an annual budget of $100,000? How does this approach apply across the sector?
Mario: It’s hard to adopt this approach if you’re in an organization that small. It would be folly to expect a nonprofit with that budget to have formal outcomes systems, metrics, and the like. That said, I’ve never thought quality and “goodness” were functions of size. Shouldn’t every nonprofit, regardless of its size and infrastructure, have a clear sense of what it’s trying to accomplish, a thoughtful strategy for how it’s going to do so, and some sense of how it will know if it gets there? It’s perfectly understandable that such a small organization may never have crafted a “theory of change” in a formal way, but the organization’s leader needs to have this framework embedded in his or her mind. If not, what’s the rationale for asking others to contribute time and money to support the nonprofit’s work? What’s the basis for asking intended beneficiaries to put faith and trust in the nonprofit’s services?
Nell: What do you think will happen to nonprofit organizations that don’t adopt a managing to outcomes approach? What does the future look like for them?
Mario: They will continue on as they have—at least for a while.
The fiasco with Greg Mortenson and the Central Asia Institute is a cautionary tale. Mortenson had a great story, and for a while his donors took it on faith that his organization was delivering on his grand promises in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Sadly, it appears the organization turned out to be better at fattening Mortenson’s book royalties than building quality programs.
I don’t mean to suggest that all nonprofits are like Mortenson’s! Far from it. But I do mean to suggest that in an era of scarcity, there will be more pressure on nonprofits to show that they are delivering on their promises. More public and private funders will finally look under the hood and ensure things are working well.
One of the things I love about my job is that I can spend some serious time reading and thinking about the many conversations happening in the evolving world of social innovation. I am continually amazed by the thought-provoking things that happen out there in philanthropy, nonprofit innovation, impact investing, social entrepreneurship. I think particularly because of the nascent nature of the social innovation movement, definitions and approaches are constantly evolving. People are constantly pushing the boundaries, stretching our world views, defining new territory as they go. It’s all very exciting.
I love to have my thinking challenged, especially by smart, articulate, thoughtful people. I’m assuming you do to, so to that end, here are the blog posts, reports, videos, and articles that have caught my eye, expanded my thinking, inspired me, or pushed the boundaries for me in the past several weeks:
- What Nonprofits Can Learn from Coca-Cola
- Foundations With a Limited Life
- Blackbaud’s State of the Nonprofit Industry Survey Results
- Exit Strategy and Exit Strategies for Social Entrepreneurs (two different takes on a similar topic)
- Txt if by Land, Tweet if by Sea
- Not Your Father’s Foundation
- Keep it Simple (Tips on simple nonprofit evaluation)
- A Different Kind of Philanthropy
- Straight Talk in Mixed Company: A Plea for Across the Aisle Conversations about Overhead
- Why Running an Effective Charity is Like Flying a Fighter Plane
- Four Questions to Determine if a Nonprofit is Ready to Change
- Transforming Failure Into Success
- 50 (More) Social Media Tactics for Nonprofits
- Voting to Donating: Social Psychology Reveals What Moves Us
That’s my list. What got you thinking this month? Add to the list in the comments.
- Download a free Financing
Not Fundraising e-book
when you sign up for email
updates from Social Velocity.
Sign Up Here
- Do You Want to Attract Major
Donors to Your Nonprofit?
Find Out How in the
Attract Major Donors