In part 7 of our ongoing blog series, Financing Not Fundraising, we are discussing finding and employing new types of money in the financial mix of your nonprofit.
If you are new to this series, our Financing Not Fundraising blog series argues that fundraising in the nonprofit sector is broken. 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. The nonprofit sector needs a financing strategy, not a fundraising one. 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. You can read the entire series here.
Many nonprofit leaders are worn out by finding money to create social impact because their view of potential money options is too narrow. Nonprofits no longer have to rely solely on fundraising to finance the impact they want to create. There are several new financial tools available, and hopefully more will continue to be developed so that eventually nonprofits will gain access to a similar breadth and depth of financial tools that for-profit entrepreneurs enjoy.
Below are some of the new financial tools available to nonprofits. As a nonprofit leader you should explore these options and determine whether any of them could be integrated into your organization’s financing plan:
- Growth Capital. The nonprofit equivalent to equity in the for-profit world is “philanthropic equity” or “growth capital.” It is essentially money that builds the organization so that it can deliver significantly more services. It can support things like infrastructure, staffing, technology, systems. If the solution that your nonprofit provides could significantly expand to more people, your organization could benefit from a plan for growth. And in order to finance that growth, you will need growth capital.
- Capacity Capital. Also a form of equity, capacity capital enables a nonprofit to strengthen their organization in order to achieve more impact. In this case the capital pays for technology, staffing, infrastructure that allows the nonprofit to achieve more, more sustainably. The most obvious case is when a nonprofit raises money to invest in their revenue function (donor database, qualified development staff, materials, etc) which sets them on a road towards financial sustainability, ultimately allowing them to achieve more social impact.
- Loans. Nonprofits have been shy about loans because they are so unsure of future cash flows that loans can be too risky. However, program-related investments (PRIs), a fairly underused tool that foundations possess, are essentially loans to nonprofits at low or no interest rates that can be forgiven at the end of the loan period. This ability to forgive and the lower interest rate makes PRIs a real opportunity for nonprofits. But since few foundations employ PRIs, it is up to nonprofits to encourage their foundation donors to explore this potential.
- Social Impact Bonds. In President Obama’s proposed 2012 budget he has included a fairly radical idea imported from the United Kingdom: social impact bonds. The idea is that government agencies can issue bonds which are bought by private investors. The money raised would be used to finance projects with social impact goals. The investors would be repaid, or even make a profit, if the projects achieve certain outcomes agreed to in advance, for example getting kids into college, reducing the high school drop out rate or decreasing teen pregnancies. This is still a very new idea, and it remains to be seen if it will actually become a reality in America, but the precedent is there. It could even happen on the local government level. A city could raise a bond to fund the work of local nonprofits, which would be tied to specific outcomes.
These financial tools are new and with innovation comes risk. Not all of these vehicles will work for all nonprofits. But the idea is that the nonprofit sector needs alternative financing options. These options are just a start. My hope is that there will continue to be financial innovations in the nonprofit sector. And it is up to the nonprofits themselves to educate, cajole, inspire and encourage their donors, government leaders, lenders and others to employ some of these new tools to finance their work.
If you’ve heard about or used additional new nonprofit financing tools, I’d love to hear about it in the comments.
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: Jon Sullivan
Part 6 of our ongoing blog series, Financing Not Fundraising, demonstrates the critical importance of money for building nonprofit capacity and describes how to find it.
There must be a recognition in the nonprofit sector, and among the philanthropy that funds it, that nonprofits need money to support not only their direct services, but also the infrastructure (technology, systems, evaluation, training, fundraising) of the organization. Nonprofits will only get better at creating social change if they have a strong and effective organization behind their work.
In case you’re new to this series, our Financing Not Fundraising blog series seeks to address the reality that fundraising in the nonprofit sector is broken. 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. The nonprofit sector needs a financing strategy, not a fundraising one. 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. You can read the entire series here.
George Overholser, from the Nonprofit Finance Fund, is the pioneer of this critical distinction in the nonprofit sector between money to BUY services and money to BUILD organizations. The idea is simple. There are two types of dollars in the nonprofit sector. Those that BUY nonprofit direct services (dollars for more beds for the homeless, more hours of ESL instruction) and those that BUILD a stronger nonprofit organization (dollars for technology, systems, fundraising staff, etc).
A nonprofit that wants to get out of the vicious fundraising cycle needs to make a commitment to building their organization and finding, and convincing, donors to fund that building effort.
Let’s take fundraising infrastructure for example. Most nonprofit organizations lack sufficient infrastructure to bring enough money in the door. They don’t have enough money to hire experienced fundraisers, buy efficient and effective technology to track donors, create compelling messaging and collateral, train their board in fundraising, and so on. But with dollars to invest in staff, technology, planning and expertise, the organization could transform their fundraising function into one that raises many more times the amount of money that they currently do.
So how does a nonprofit organization find money to build their organization? Here are the steps:
- Create a Plan. Develop a road map for the future that includes a budget for the real costs of the real infrastructure and capacity you need to get there.
- Determine the Ask. Split the overall cost for these infrastructure elements into reasonable ask amounts given the relative capacity of your donors.
- Create the Pitch. Create a compelling capacity funding pitch that connects these infrastructure elements to an increase in your ability to create impact in the community. A more seasoned development director means that you can raise more money, more effectively, more quickly. With that additional revenue, your services can reach more people.
- Analyze your Donors. Look for the individuals, foundations, and corporations who love what your organization does, have the ability to give at the ask levels you determined in #2, and could be made to understand the argument that money to build can allow your organization to do so much more.
- Explore Alternative Funding. Find new ways to fund capacity building. For example, PRIs, or program-related investments, (essentially loans to nonprofits) could be used to build fundraising infrastructure because once a nonprofit’s capacity to raise money has been increased, the loan could be paid back out of the additional revenue. Explore creative options like this with funders.
- Make the Ask. Present your plan and pitch to the donors you have identified and educate them about the critical importance of capacity capital.
Money to build nonprofit organizations isn’t just lying around. Indeed, most donors claim that they aren’t interested in funding anything beyond direct services. But with a compelling argument for how money to build an organization can result in much greater impact, many more donors can become builders.
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: y_katsuuu
Despite my frustration in an earlier post about this year’s Social Capital Markets Conference inability to fully integrate philanthropic and government capital into the discussion, I was reminded by a friend that we have actually come a long way in three short years. A keynoter at the first SoCap conference in 2008 noted that “we aren’t here to talk about nonprofits.” The fact is that just two years later not only were nonprofits and their philanthropic and government funders present in large numbers at the conference, but they had their own track. It was a huge step forward to have a devoted track focusing on the philanthropic capital market with Sean Stannard-Stockton at its head this year. The track brought some great work to light and started some important conversations.
In the spirit of continuing and expanding that conversation, here are the conversations/sessions I’d like to see at SoCap 2011:
- More case studies like the Evergreen Cooperatives in Cleveland and the Evergreen Lodge in Yosemite (not related) that demonstrate innovative collaborations of capital across the philanthropic, government and private sectors
- A working session that looks to compare/combine the nonprofit rating systems and GIIRS (Global Impact Investing Rating System)
- Case studies of nonprofits who have crafted a growth or capacity capital campaign to unlock philanthropic capital for scale and change
- A discussion about venture philanthropy. New Profit, Venture Philanthropy Partners and others pioneered the nonprofit capital space. Where are they now, what have they learned, and what are they doing to revamp the venture philanthropy model?
- An update on the Social Innovation Fund (SIF), what they’ve learned, what the government’s plans are to revamp and scale it.
- Beyond SIF, examples of what local, state and federal governments are doing to partner with philanthropists to expand capital for social entrepreneurs. Council of Foundation’s Public/Philanthropic Partnership is a place to start.
- Stacked deals involving philanthropic and private capital are very tricky to create, as Julie Sunderland and others have argued, but what can we do or develop to make this less difficult? What sorts of terms are people playing around with? What’s working and what isn’t and how can we evolve this?
- Donor-Advised Funds hold tremendous opportunity to unlock philanthropic capital, but are underused currently. What can we do to unlock that potential?
- Where do community foundations fit into all of this? Often the nexus of a city’s philanthropic activity, they have been slow to climb aboard the social capital market train. How can we unlock this potential capital for social impact?
- Discussions about how we educate philanthropists about the need for capacity and growth capital in the nonprofit world. How do we make more philanthropists builders instead of buyers?
- How do we get more foundations to use Program Related Investments and Mission Related Investments?
SoCap10 did a great job of starting the conversation, now I’d like to see that conversation move to the tactical. Let’s create new structures, incentives, partnerships, tools to unlock philanthropic and government capital for social impact.
What do you want to see at SoCap11? Add to the list in the comments.
Photo Credit: paratiger
Day 2 of SoCap was by far my favorite. It started with an interesting keynote from Julie Sunderland of the Gates Foundation. She offered a perhaps more realistic, bordering on the pessimistic, view of the social capital market space. She said that Gates struggles to find entities that can absorb the size investments they want to make. They get excited about the idea of bringing together foundation, government and private dollars in stacked deals, but that the work is complicated and hard and they have yet to craft one of these deals simply because it is extremely difficult to determine the terms. All of this underlines what I’ve said in a previous post: in the nonprofit, philanthropic and government worlds there is still much work to be done to unlock capital.
The first session of the day for me was “Lessons of Behavioral Finance: Understanding and Overcoming Barriers to Impact Investing” with Hope Neighbor and her ground-breaking research, Money for Good, released earlier this year calculating a $120 billion pool of potential impact investing money that is sitting on the sidelines. Hope said that despite our desires to the contrary, people still very much think of their charitable giving as separate from their impact investing, “the reality is that people compartmentalize their money.” And only 3% of the population uses data to compare the organizations they give to.
My favorite session of the day, by far, was “Deep Dive Into the Evergreen Cooperative Initiative.” This session was exactly what I was hoping to see more of at SoCap this year. A group of leaders in Cleveland realized that the heart of their city was quickly deteriorating and no one was doing anything about it. They formed a coalition of the anchor institutions in Cleveland (Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland Clinic, etc), foundations, city leaders and others to create the Evergreen Cooperatives that brings career-track jobs and green, employee-owned businesses to the inner city, transforming a city that has lost 50% of its population in the last 50 years. Beyond the fascinating coalition, business model and results this project is achieving, lies its impressive financing. A combination of bonds, foundation grants, loans, HUD money and others launched this project and financed the 3 businesses they currently operate (a green laundry, an organic greenhouse, and a solar power company). According to Evergreen leaders, “Cleveland wants to be where the world is going, not where the world is.”
To scale this project to create 5,000 jobs (the area needs 46,000 jobs), which will be the impetus to truly transform the inner city economy, they are creating a CDFI and looking to use PRIs and MRIs. What excites me so much about this project is not the spirit of collaboration and tremendous results, but how they are bringing public, private and philanthropic money together in a truly innovative convergence. THIS is the kind of social capital market I’m talking about. Impact investing is great, but it is only ONE piece of the puzzle. I would love to see more examples like Evergreen at SoCap.
The last breakout session I attended for the day was “Nonprofit Analysis: Beyond Metrics,” which gave a great overview of the growing nonprofit evaluators market through the lens of rating one nonprofit, DC Central Kitchen. It was interesting to see how Charity Navigator, the most well-known nonprofit evaluator, has evolved from a system driven purely by IRS 990 form overhead ratios to a three-pronged review including transparency and impact evaluations.
The end of the session gave me serious pause, however, when a member of the audience asked whether any of the evaluators might use the GIIRS system coming out of the impact investing world to rate nonprofit impact. Ken Berger admitted he wasn’t familiar with GIIRS and Tim Ogden of GiveWell said he was skeptical of social return on investment (SROI) calculations in general. Again, my point that the philanthropic and impact investing worlds aren’t communicating and collaborating becomes apparent. Wouldn’t that be amazing if impact in both the philanthropic and impact investing worlds could be measured in a comparable way? That would be truly innovative!
So, although Day 2 of SoCap provided much more conversation and examples of how the philanthropic and government capital markets are evolving, there is still much work to be done to bring both capital fully into the social capital market. Perhaps at SoCap 2011?
Photo Credit: Markets for Good
One of the sessions of the RISE Social Entrepreneurship track was a panel of investors who fund social entrepreneurs (both nonprofit and for-profit). One of the panelists was Scott Collier, Managing Director of Triton Ventures. Scott has been a venture capital investor since 1991, serves on the board of the Entrepreneurs Foundation of Central Texas, and is working to engage Austin’s funding community in social innovation. In the RISE panel Scott was on, a conversation began around mission-related investing, the missed opportunity currently facing foundations, and how a new move by the Gates Foundation may be opening up a whole new pool of funds to social entrepreneurs. I asked him to write a post on this. It follows here.
I was recently fortunate to be on a RISE panel with a great mix of entrepreneurs and venture investors turned philanthropists, private foundation founders and social investors, all talking about investment in social enterprises. The discussion emphasized the grant-making functions of the foundations represented on the panel and the exciting ventures that these grants were supporting. However, as often happens, there was no discussion about the potential for social impact investing by the investment functions of these organizations if they were to allocate a portion of their investment capital to activities that could produce both a financial return and a social impact.
I mentioned that this seemed to be a missed opportunity since the investment function of U.S. foundations manages about $550 billion whereas the grant-making function manages a much smaller amount: about $45 billion a year. This would seem to imply that small program-related or mission-related investment allocations out of the $550 billion under management could represent much greater impact investing potential than would similar allocations of grant funds. I also mentioned a cautionary tale as revealed in an LA Times article in 2007, where it was pointed out that the Gates Foundation, the world’s largest private foundation, was investing for a financial return in companies whose business practices were causing harm to individuals that were at the same time receiving benefits from NGOs supported by Gates Foundation grant funding. Given that investment dollars comprise such a much larger sum, such returns-only investment practices could be undermining the value of grants, resulting in questionable net positive impact if viewed holistically.
What I failed to add to this conundrum is that the Gates Foundation has now recognized the opportunity to be a thought leader in making social enterprise investments out of their investment capital. Below is an excerpt from the Gates Foundation website explaining features of their pilot $400 million PRI initiative.
Q. What is the [Gates] foundation’s new approach to Program-Related Investments?
A. We are working with a range of partners to use Program-Related Investments (PRIs) to deepen the impact of our work. We believe that investments are the right instruments to use in situations in which our program strategies are best served by partnering with revenue-generating enterprises, such as NGOs, financial institutions or companies. These entities may not be able to access investment capital from the private markets because the markets or entities that serve the poor may be perceived as too risky or costly to serve, or investors don’t have good information to assess the opportunities. By providing investment capital directly or by reducing risk to investors, we can help our partners access the capital they need to grow and demonstrate to the market that financially viable opportunities exist that serve the needs of poor or otherwise disadvantaged persons. We know we can’t solve all problems with these types of investments – grant-making remains critical for those sectors that can never generate revenues or be addressed by market forces.
We have established a pilot program with an envelope of $400 million to invest in a range of investment opportunities. The capital for PRI investments or guarantees will be provided by this special $400M pool which will be managed by the CFO’s office of the foundation. Out of this pool, we will invest in PRIs that directly and meaningfully contribute to the achievement of the foundation’s charitable purposes.
Q. What types of investments will the foundation do?
A. We will evaluate a full range of investment opportunities that could include:
- Debt investments such as loans to NGOs, financial institutions or companies;
- Equity investments such as investments in venture capital funds or (less commonly) purchases of shares in companies;
- Guaranty investments such as bond back-stops, credit guarantees, or insurance.
- Any PRI opportunity must closely align with our program strategies, from increasing financing for agricultural smallholders in Africa, to supporting charter school facilities expansion, to increasing investment in global health technologies.
I spoke with a colleague who is close to Gates Foundation CFO Alex Friedman, who launched this PRI program, and he told me that a key part of the pilot launch was to organize a new group whose financial returns would not impact the performance objectives of the office of the CIO. This was intended to free the new PRI group to focus more on social return than on financial return.
It is certainly exciting news that this $400 million, representing roughly 1% of the Gates Foundation’s capital under management, is now available for both financial and social return when invested in partnership with social entrepreneurs. However, what may be even more exciting is that the intention of the move is to encourage other private foundations to do likewise and for Gates to thus be a catalyst for multiples of the $400 million to show up in the market as risk capital for social enterprises. Could this be the beginning of large pools of capital available for direct impact investing, social venture funds and private equity funds, and the creation of a true continuum of capital availability in what is today a very nascent social capital market?
Lucy Bernholz is hosting a great conversation on her Blueprint Research and Design website called “What Capital When?” As part of their work with the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation in their Digital Media & Learning initiative, Blueprint is hosting this online conversation around the theories and strategies of program-related and mission investing to advance knowledge and research in the field. They asked that I do a guest post on using PRIs (program related investments) to improve the fundraising effectiveness of nonprofit organizations. Below is that post. You can also read the post on their What Capital When site here, and you can read the whole series here.
I think there is a tremendous opportunity that most foundations and nonprofits are missing. PRIs (program-related investments) are an under-used tool that could provide much needed capital for nonprofits to transform how they finance social impact.
PRIs are loans that foundations make to nonprofits at low, or no interest. At the end of the loan period (typically 3-7 years) the loan is repaid, or forgiven. PRIs are usually used for capital projects or land purchases in the nonprofit world. But they could also be used to increase the fundraising capacity of a nonprofit organization, through increased fundraising knowledge, planning, tools and staffing. The current economic climate seems like the perfect opportunity for this new use of PRIs when foundations are trying to hold on to their dwindling corpus while maintaining their past level of community support.
A nonprofit could use a PRI to improve their fundraising infrastructure in several ways:
- Create a strategic development plan. Many nonprofits don’t have the expertise or time to put together a strategy for how they will bring money in the door. With funding to hire an outside consultant to put together such a plan, the nonprofit would have a much better chance of increasing their fundraising revenue.
- Get fundraising training for their staff and board. If a nonprofit staff and board have the tools and expertise for successfully raising money, they will be more likely to do so.
- Hire a seasoned Development Director. Many nonprofit organizations can only afford to pay the bare minimum for a Development Director, which means that they are often forced to hire someone with little experience who must learn on the job. If instead they had enough funding to pay a market rate salary for a seasoned fundraiser, they could hit the ground running, increasing the likelihood of fundraising success.
- Purchase a new donor database. A key element to success in individual donor fundraising is an organization’s ability to capture and use data about donors and prospects. A good donor database makes this effort easier and more successful.
- Upgrade their website, email marketing, social media efforts. As direct mail appeals (a nonprofit fundraiser’s traditional standby) continues to become less and less effective, nonprofits need to move effectively into the online world. Funds for technology upgrades and staff could help them do this.
- Launch a major gifts campaign. The vast majority of private funding in the nonprofit sector comes from individuals (80+%), so to stay competitive nonprofits need to move into the world of major gift solicitation. But that takes expertise, staff, collateral and other infrastructure elements.
These are just a few examples of how nonprofits could make investments to strengthen their fundraising efforts. But currently it is difficult to find funding to support things like this.
But a PRI could provide an initial investment that sets the nonprofit on a path toward more diversified, more sustainable fundraising for the social impact they are working to create.
There are tremendous benefits to a PRI program like this. First, for the foundation:
- Increases their ability to meet past levels of giving, despite any losses they might have found in the market, because the loaned money will eventually come back to them.
- Encourages their nonprofit grantees to be proactive in creating fundraising streams that will make them more sustainable. Thus, increasing the likelihood that their nonprofit grantees a) won’t have to come back to them year after year for ongoing support and b) will become more sustainable and thus achieve greater social impact.
- Stretches their capacity-building dollars further. Because PRI money eventually comes back to the foundation, they can increase their level of impact by helping more nonprofits improve their capacity than they could with grants alone.
- Increases the level of accountability among nonprofit recipients because of the expectation of repayment.
And second, for the nonprofit:
- More diversified and sustainable fundraising streams.
- Increased fundraising knowledge and experience.
- Increased ability to work towards social impact.
Although PRIs used in this new way seems, at least to me, to be an obvious win-win, very few foundations are doing it. PRIs in general are used (according to the Foundation Center) by only a few hundred of the thousands of grantmaking foundations in the country. And I know of only one example of a foundation using a PRI to upgrade the fundraisng capacity of a nonprofit (the KDK Harman Foundation in Austin just launched a program like this last Fall, but does not yet have any participants).
So what is holding foundations back from launching a PRI program like this? A number of things:
- Nonprofits lack the expertise to put a plan together and pitch it to foundations. This is where Social Velocity comes in to help nonprofits create a plan to upgrade their revenue function and pitch that plan to foundations and other funders.
- Most foundations have an aversion to capacity building funding and prefer that their money go to direct program service. However, as more nonprofits can demonstrate to funders that capacity building actually results in even more impact, this aversion can be alleviated.
- Foundations lack awareness of or experience with PRIs. However, this is changing, especially in the last year when the poor economy has made foundations increasingly interested in finding alternative ways to maintain community investment levels.
- Foundations that are experienced with PRIs are not aware of using them to improve a nonprofit’s fundraising function.
So there is a disconnect. But I am optimistic that as nonprofits learn to put a plan together to upgrade their fundraising function and articulate to funders how PRI’s could finance it, more examples of this new use of PRIs will surface.
I am so excited I can hardly contain myself. There is something pretty amazing going on in the world of philanthropy in Austin, Texas. I have been talking for awhile about how PRIs (Program Related Investments) could be used by foundations in new ways to build the revenue sustainability of a nonprofit organization.
Just to recap, PRIs are loans that foundations make to nonprofits at low, or no interest. At the end of the loan period (typically 2-3 years) the loan is repaid, or forgiven. PRIs are usually used for capital projects or land purchases, among other things. But they could also be used to increase the revenue-generating capacity of a nonprofit organization, through improved fundraising function or launch of an earned income enterprise. The current economic climate seems like the perfect opportunity for this new use of PRIs when foundations are trying to hold on to their dwindling corpus while maintaining their past level of community support.
As I wrote in an earlier post here’s how it could work:
What if a foundation, or a wealthy individual, loaned a nonprofit $100K+ for a 2-3 year term. Then, the nonprofit could use that capital to invest in their fundraising infrastructure in order to diversify and be more strategic in raising unrestricted dollars. They could hire a seasoned Development Director, purchase a new donor database, upgrade their website and email marketing efforts, launch a major gifts campaign, train their board, and so on. The idea is that all of these investments would pay for themselves in 2 or 3 years, at which time the nonprofit could pay back the individual or the foundation.
Well, the KDK Harman Foundation, an Austin foundation started by Janet Harman, who has been on the cutting-edge of Austin philanthropy before, just launched a PRI program to do just this. According to their website:
KDK-Harman Foundation is seeking proposals from current grantees for Program-Related Investments (PRI) for its August and November board meetings…to (1) develop or expand their social enterprise efforts; or (2) expand their development and fundraising team. Although PRIs are used primarily for real estate loans for affordable housing or community facilities, the KDK-Harman Foundation will utilize PRIs to support loans to established, financially strong nonprofit organizations within the Foundation’s program areas to help grantees expand their scope of services and/or to become more sustainable. Specifically, the Foundation is seeking ways in which grantees could embrace social enterprise as a means to financial stability. Through a loan from KDK-Harman, the grantee could develop or expand its revenue generating operations and within three years repay the loan. Another example is to enhance the development team whereby the Foundation loans funds to hire additional fundraising staff. Within three years, the loan can be repaid through the additional funds raised. Over time, the organization should be much more financially secure with either a financially successful revenue stream or a larger development team.
I love it. KDK Harman is doing two things with this new program. First, they are increasing their ability to meet past levels of giving, despite any losses they might have met in the market, because the loaned money will eventually come back to them. And second, they are encouraging nonprofit organizations to be proactive in creating revenue streams that will make them more sustainable. Did I mention I was excited about this?
PRIs are used by other foundations (although according to the Foundation Center only a few hundred of the thousands of grantmaking foundations in the country use them), but I haven’t seen PRIs used in exactly this way before. If you know of other examples of PRI programs elsewhere in the country that are used to increase a nonprofit’s revenue-generating ability, let me know. But in the meantime, I’m so impressed with KDK-Harman. They are seizing the opportunity of challenging times to create a more sustainable nonprofit sector.
The news in the philanthropy world this week is not good. It seems that our fears about the effect of the economic downturn on philanthropy are being confirmed in spades. The Ford Foundation and Robert Wood Johnson Foundations, two of the largest in the country, are both reducing their staffs by 30%+ and making other cuts in expenses in order to maintain previous years’ giving levels. The report on 2008 charitable giving released by Giving USA last week shows the largest percentage decline on record, although as Sean Stannard-Stockton of the Tactical Philanthropy blog wisely points out:
Charitable giving behaved more or less as it normally does when the economy sours. This is, by most measures, the worst recession in a very long time and so we’re seeing charitable giving get hit. But it is only declining in line with the way it normally behaves. Things are tough, but there was no apocalypse.
Still, the news is troubling.
Although foundation giving makes up only 13% of the charitable giving pie, their reaction to an economic crisis can have a dramatic impact on charitable giving overall. Foundations are in some ways viewed as the philanthropic experts and can set trends that can transform the impact of philanthropy. Take the Gates Foundation for example. Last year they received $10.4 million in unsolicited donations simply because other philanthropists think that Gates is a philanthropic leader.
So now is the time for foundations to lead the way towards more effective philanthropy–philanthropy that builds and scales organizations rather than buys services, as Michael Selzer, writer, educator, nonprofit leader and PhilanTopic contributor, points out in his recent post. Michael argues that the economic crisis provides a natural impetus to foundations to become builders of organizations rather than buyers of services, and in fact he poses a provocative question:
A growing number of foundations are beginning to think of themselves as “builders” rather than “buyers”…buyers award grants with an eye to achieving specific programmatic outcomes, while builders, always mindful of outcomes, seek to help grantees strengthen their organizational capacity so as to achieve greater impact in the future. To the extent that “buying” is limited to a relatively short-term transaction rather than a longer-term interest in the organizational well-being of the grantee, it is not an especially productive activity. Which leads me to ask: What foundation would want to be a buyer rather than a builder in today’s environment?
Michael goes on to somewhat equate “building” funds with general operating support, pointing out that only 20% of all grants go to operating, whereas 50% of all grants go to specific programs or projects. He offers a list of ways for foundations to increase their “builder” funding while still supporting specific programs. His list includes giving grantees the latitude to adequately account for indirect costs, expediting grant approval processes, expanding grant periods to more than a year, and sharing responsibility with grantees for securing remaining program costs if the foundation is only funding part of the program. Michael calls these “extraordinary measures” for “building the capacity of the nonprofit sector for the long haul.”
I disagree. Nothing in his list seems extraordinary to me. The economic crisis and the resulting effects on philanthropy and the nonprofit sector does call for extraordinary measures, a resetting of both realms: the nonprofits and the philanthropists who fund them. And because foundations lead the charge in the philanthropic realm they have an obligation to take a hard look at how they do things and try some truly extraordinary measures. A list of truly extraordinary measures that foundations could take includes:
- Increasing the use of program-related investments (PRIs) to include capacity building projects like upgraded nonprofit fundraising functions.
- Exploring mission-related investing, investing part of a foundation’s corpus in social businesses that meet the foundation’s mission, to a much larger extent as a way to expand the reach and impact of the foundation.
- Increasing the percentage of capacity building and unrestricted grants that the foundation makes. Instead of 20%, let’s bump that number up to 40%.
- Exploring becoming a spend-down foundation that doesn’t exist in perpetuity, but rather spends their corpus in order to have a larger impact on social problems in this generation.
- Increasing growth capital investments–large ($500K+), 3-5 year investments that pay for the infrastructure required for a proven nonprofit to scale.
- Reducing the strings and reporting requirements placed on nonprofit grantees.
- Decreasing the push towards funding of new programs and investing more money and time in the infrastructure of proven programs that could grow to serve more people.
That’s not to say that there aren’t foundations out there that are doing these things. There absolutely are, but they are in the minority. Foundations as a group could help transform philanthropy by becoming builders more often than buyers. These are challenging, demanding, restructuring times. They call for bold, risky, extraordinary action. Foundations can lead that charge.
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