559 posts categorized "Nonprofits"

Social issues are getting personal

April 21, 2021

I’ve talked in this space about how social issue engagement builds from what interests and engages us: we educate ourselves, get motivated to act, then look for like-minded people to join in pushing for change. In the recent past, research conducted by the Cause and Social Influence research team I lead has revealed that young Americans (ages 18-30) are concerned about social issues that impact others, including racial equity, climate change, hunger, and animal rights. But a third of the way into 2021, we're seeing a new twist.

Findings from the first Cause and Social Influence survey in 2021 reveal that the issues of most interest to young Americans right now are those that directly and personally affect them.

Empathy is a normal human trait

Being concerned about the well-being of others is the definition of empathy. Learning that countless number of our fellow Americans go to bed hungry each night motivates some of us to do what we can to address the immediate need and prompts others to do something to eliminate the root causes of hunger in America. Both reactions are normal and a necessary component of action for change.

Having empathy means we put ourselves in the place of another and try to share the feelings he or she is experiencing. But when an issue is relevant to our own situation — when we're the ones sharing, feeling, and experiencing the issue as our own — our empathy deepens to another level. We begin to understand what someone else is feeling because we've been or are in the same situation.

This is where many young people find themselves today. Previous research has shown that millennials and Gen Z are especially empathetic, and that their empathy leads them to be socially aware and active. In 2020, they (like many of us) took action on a range of social issues, including racial injustice, social isolation, and voting rights. Now, in 2021, they are finding that some of those issues have more personal relevance than others and have entered the stage of engagement where an issue's relevance to one's own situation is driving their engagement.

Empathy is directed inward

The biggest indicator of the shift? According to Influencing Young America to Act, Spring 2021, healthcare premiums now rank among the top three issues of interest to millennials and members of Gen Z. Given the pandemic's effect on healthcare systems, joblessness, and most every other aspect of life, that makes sense. And it certainly makes sense that it has raised concerns among young Americans about their own ability to be and stay healthy while financially supporting themselves.

Given that young people were already dealing with high levels of student debt and job insecurity, the pandemic and the health concerns it poses has underscored the precarity of their personal situations. And while healthcare premiums may not be a burning social issue, it is a very personal issue.

Fig.1.1_Cause and Influence_1Q201

Indeed, while healthcare reform as a general concept was of concern to young Americans in 2020, healthcare premiums only showed up in the top tier of issues for the first time in March 2021. Two weeks after President Biden expanded health insurance premium subsidies as part of the American Rescue Plan Act, 60 percent of our survey respondents said they believed the country was on track/totally on track -- though they were less hopeful about where things would be a year from now.

Fig.1.2_Cause and Influence_1Q201

Fig.1.3_Cause and Influence_1Q201

As young Americans look to a post-COVID economy, their own well-being and that of others appears to be top of mind. And while they are still deeply engaged in helping others, especially when it comes to racial equity and animal rights, their own changing health and economic situation cannot be ignored.

Causes must recognize how other issues affect them

Causes always have had to pay attention to how their issue can be made relevant to target audiences. Typically, they do this with campaigns featuring compelling images, videos, and stories crafted to help supporters and potential supporters feel what people most impacted by the issue are going through. So what does a cause do when its target audiences and people impacted by the issue are one and the same?

For starters, their campaigns need to encourage those who are impacted by the issue to talk to their peers about their own experiences while also standing up in support of the issue. This goes beyond people impacted or interested in an issue looking to recruit like-minded people to the cause. It means getting individuals with the same lived experience to join forces as a collective and share their hard-earned insights to bring about change.

It also means causes must intimately understand how they relate to the young people they’re trying to reach. The best way to do this is to interact with them and help them understand the interconnectedness of your particular issue with the issues young people are dealing with at the moment.

Finally, causes need to encourage supporters to elevate their voices in a way that directly and personally communicates the relevance of their individual experience. For example, while petitions continue to be popular, causes should start to think about augmenting them with personal stories. Rather than simply asking members of your target audience to sign a petition, package it with a story of someone impacted by the issue that potential signers of the petition can relate to.

The shift in how empathy is being channeled as the pandemic begins to wind down is something we all need to pay attention to. COVID impacted all of us, one way or another, and issues that once may have been seen as only involving certain groups or populations have changed and, in many cases, broadened out. As nonprofit leaders, we need to recognize that yesterday's supporter may also be today’s beneficiary.

Heashot_derrick_feldmannDerrick Feldmann (@derrickfeldmann) is the founder of the Millennial Impact Project, lead researcher at Cause and Social Influence, and the author of The Corporate Social Mind. For more by Derrick, click here.

The 7 Recruiting Principles of Highly Effective Nonprofit Boards

April 15, 2021

Board-member-serviceThe challenges of governing a nonprofit are often more complicated than those faced by board members of similar-sized for-profit entities. This is because nonprofit board members are called upon to be trustees of the public good, voices for their communities, advocates of their cause, and ambassadors eager to build a band of true believers, giving their organizations the best chance to create the greatest impact for the most people.

Attending to the seven principles of highly effective nonprofit boards can help your organization set the stage for success:

Principle #1: Culture. Every board has a culture — either by default or intention. Culture is the foundation on which sound governance is built. Healthy cultures are inquisitive and invite diverse perspectives and debate. They embrace generative and strategic thinking. Innovation is valued. In healthy cultures, board members work collaboratively and with humility to solve problems. Members understand their governance oversight responsibilities. They respect the role of management and form a constructive partnership with the CEO. They are intellectually and emotionally invested in the cause they serve and are its champions. Reorienting or reinventing a productive, conscious culture does not happen overnight. It requires board members to recognize the problematic culture and, once they recognize its consequences, accept that it must change and commit to implementing that change.

Principle #2: Character. The time to screen for character is before a board member is seated. Too often, assumptions are made about a person's character based on first impressions or just because they are willing to serve on your board. It's important, therefore, to screen for character during the board member recruitment process. Yet how many boards do? Asking sitting board members to assess character in the recruitment process may feel like too much of a hassle, or they may be embarrassed to check up on someone they know socially or through business. Nevertheless, it is a critical step in the process. When done well, investigating character won't upset a prospective member; instead, it communicates that serving on your board is serious business.

Principle #3: Competence. It is vital for a sitting board to genuinely examine the board member competencies it may be lacking and needs in order to become a highly effective board. There is a significant difference between competence and credentials. A credential is a certification of sorts for which an individual has successfully completed training or course work. The value of that credential is dependent on the credentialing agency, its reputation, and the rigor of the course work. But a credential on its own is not a guarantee  of competence. By contrast, competence is the mastery of knowledge and/or a skill that enables one to consistently deliver high-quality results. Competence is assessed by an individual's performance and success in the field in which he or she endeavors.

Principle #4: Connections. Being connected to your constituency is fundamental to a nonprofit's ability to achieve its mission. When organizations fail to achieve the levels of support they need to thrive, they often assume it's because they lack  visibility. The truth is, they need to develop a band of believers among a cross-section of constituencies. To thrive, nonprofits need to have healthy relationships with at least four types of constituencies: those served by the organization, those who are influential within the community, well-heeled philanthropists, and those who possess unique skills or insights that can fuel an organization's success.

Principle #5: Composition. Building strong boards that embody the character, competence, connections, and diversity organizations need to thrive is not a complicated process. Indeed, the process is pretty straightforward, but it takes time and discipline to do it right. To truly represent the communities they serve, nonprofits must have individuals on the board able to appreciate and artriculate the perspectives and concerns of the people who live in those communities. Diversity, inclusion, and equity are essential values for nonprofits — and boards are the trustees of those values. Even beyond the obligation to champion governance that is truly representative of a community, research shows that boards are more effective when diversity and inclusion are seated at the table along with competence and character.

Principle #6: Continuity. Knowledge of how a nonprofit is organized, functions, and performs over time is critical to sound governance and decision-making. In a nonprofit organization, staff are the fuel that make things go. They are the source of the passion (competence and commitment) and reputation (authority and action) all organizations need to function effectively. And they power every critical function of the organization, from program management to fundraising to administration.  So it's imperative that members of the governing board know how the organization is wired, and they have a special responsibility to ensure it continues to run, and run well, over time. While steering clear of meddling in day-to-day management of the organization, board members must understand how staff are deployed, how things work, and which policies guide them.

Principle #7: Collaboration. Collaboration is the mindset that enables people to work together cooperatively to advance a cause. A collaborative mindset also creates places where ideas can be shared and explored safely and environments that are conducive to respectful inquiry. It is a kind of give-and-take attitude grounded in trust and the pursuit of mutually satisfying goals. But true collaboration is difficult to achieve. Creating a truly collaborative mindset requires a constant, concrete commitment to the cause the nonprofit serves. And that commitment needs to resonate in the hearts and minds of the organization's leaders if they hope to overcome the hurdles and pain points that so often scuttle its realization.

Have a board member recruiting tip of your own? Feel free to share it in the comments section below.

Heashot_James Mueller

James Mueller is president of James Mueller & Associates and author of the new book Onboarding Champions: The Seven Recruiting Principles of Highly Effective Nonprofit Boards.

11 questions you should always ask a recruiter

April 06, 2021

Ask a recruiterRather than ignoring the next email or call you get from a recruiter, think of it as a learning opportunity — even if you aren’t seriously considering leaving your current position. In most cases, the experience will help you learn about yourself as a job prospect and give you a sense of what employers are looking for — insights that can be invaluable when it is time to make a move.

Time and again, I've seen job candidates who weren’t even beginning to think about a  career move completely change their perspective — and strategy — when presented with a compelling opportunity.

So, if you are contacted by a recruiter, consider asking the following:

Why is the position open? Find out whether it's a newly-created role or an existing position that has become vacant. If the latter, ask why the person who occupied the position previously left and how long the position has been open.

What are the skills and experiences the hiring manager is prioritizing? Ask the recruiter to list the desired skills and experiences for the position. Having such a list will make it a lot easier for you to compare the employer’s requirements to your own skillset and decide whether it is worth pursuing the opportunity.

What does the day-to-day of the job look like? Asking this is a great way to get beyond the boilerplate of a job description and to really start to understand what the role entails. Is it a meeting-heavy position? Does it require research and/or writing? How much? How closely supervised is the position? Ask questions that will help you understand how you would be spending most of your time.

What can you tell me about the person to whom I would report? Research shows that the biggest reason people leave their jobs is their manager, not the work itself. Your manager is critical to your success and level of satisfaction. Ask the recruiter to tell you what the person who will be managing you is like, what she values, and how she prefers to operate.

Why did you reach out to me? What in my background suggests I'd be a good fit for the position? The answer to this question can help you understand how people outside your organization view your work and accomplishments, as well as how diligently the recruiter did her homework, which might also be an indication of how well they understand the position they've been hired to fill.

Is there anything in my resume or background that could be a concern? This is a great way to get a sense of how competitive you are for the role, and it will also provide information you can use to map out a strategy for addressing any perceived gaps in your cover letter, resume, and during the interview process.

What is the compensation range for the position? Asking about compensation up front shouldn't impact your candidacy in any way. Indeed, the recruiter should be ready for this question and have no qualms about sharing a range. And remember, in many states it's illegal to ask a candidate for a job what her current salary is, so don’t feel you have to share it if asked.

What kind of flexible work arrangements does the job offer? This is especially important information in the era of COVID, when many people have gotten used to working from home and may want to continue to do so. Understanding the range of benefits that come with position more generally is also a good way to learn about the organization’s culture and values.

Tell me about the organization's culture? What are its values and how do they show up in the organization's work? For most people, organizational culture and values are critical factors in deciding whether to accept a position at a new organization. Ask the recruiter to provide details that go beyond what's on the organization's website or in a handbook and show how its values actually manifest themselves in its day-to-day activities. Ask, too, about professional development opportunities, its human resources practices, and all the other things that go into creating a vibrant organizational culture.

What work has the organization done to become more diverse, inclusive, and equitable? This is deeply important in 2021 to candidates who are seeking workplaces that are inclusive and equitable. Feel free to ask about the diversity of the staff, senior leadership team, and board of directors. Ask about diversity and equity-focused trainings and development opportunities. And don't be hesitant to ask how the organization has responded to external events that have put a spotlight on racial injustice and equity.

What are the steps in and timeline for the interview process? The answer to this question should give you a sense of how much of a time commitment you’ll be asked to make if you want to pursue the opportunity, and whether it is something that’s worth the investment of your time and energy.

The questions above are meant to be a starting point for determining whether a potential role may be a good fit and deciding whether you want to pursue an opportunity that a recruiter puts in front of you. Be creative and come up with some of your own. Moving to a new organization can be scary, but it's also a great way — maybe the best way — to advance your career. Gather as much information as you can before making a decision and act accordingly.

Headshot_moly_brennanMolly Brennan is founding partner at executive search firm Koya Partners, which is part of the Diversified Search Group, where she is also the nonprofit practice lead. A frequent contributor to Philanthropy News Digest and other publications, Brennan also authored The Governance Gap: Examining Diversity and Equity on Nonprofit Boards of Directors.

Jobs for America’s Graduates supports our nation’s most vulnerable students

March 29, 2021

Jobs for Americas GraduatesJobs for America's Graduates (JAG) was founded forty years ago to address the inequities experienced by too many young adults in America. Over those four decades, JAG participants have shown that a well-executed model can help those historically held back by discrimination, poverty, and other barriers achieve equal or greater success in high school, postsecondary education, and employment. As a national nonprofit with affiliates in 40 states operating across 1,450 communities, JAG reaches 76,000 of the most underserved youth in America each year, providing them with the essential skills they need for success.

As the country continues to grapple with the ongoing pandemic and renewed calls to address racial and social inequities, JAG continues to support young people who have been hardest hit — and are likely to be impacted the longest. JAG represents the diversity of America and serves people of color, those with disabilities, the economically disadvantaged, and other underserved populations with programs that help them achieve equality in outcomes and opportunities.

During the past year – and throughout its forty-year history — JAG has achieved remarkable outcomes. Consider the following:

  • JAG students achieved a 97 percent high school graduation rate in 2020, which is higher than the 84 percent national graduation rate. And JAG serves the lowest performing 20 percent to 40 percent of the high school population.
  • JAG graduates are 230 percent more likely to be employed full-time than their non-JAG peers, and for African-American participants the rate is nearly 290 percent.
  • JAG graduates are twice as likely to go on to postsecondary education as their non-JAG peers.
  • The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that as of May 31, 2020, the highest unemployment rates in the nation were experienced by youth 18 to 19 years old (30+ percent). But for the JAG Class of 2019, the rate was less than 11 percent — a third that of the national average for all youth in that age group, not just the most vulnerable students served by JAG.

JAG achieves these kinds of outcomes thanks to a "village" of supporters, including governors, nineteen thousand employer partners, donors, legislators, school administrators, and other champions and advocates. Fourteen of the nation's acting governors serve on the JAG board of directors — the largest number of governors serving on any board in the country. The board is chaired by Gov. John Bel Edwards (D-LA), with support from vice chair Kim Reynolds (R-IA). Indeed, JAG has benefited from bipartisan support since its inception, while legislatures in twenty-four states have continued their support for the organization, recognizing that the most underserved populations need our services today more than ever.

Behind the scenes, JAG Specialists (teachers) are the key to student success, managing the day-to-day with their students, helping students master JAG’s 37 Employability Skills Competencies, and showing unwavering support for their kids.

Among other things, they:

  • Serve as a lifeline for their students. JAG Specialists often are the most consistently present adult in their students' lives, offering guidance that helps disadvantaged young people stay in school, graduate on time, and pursue postsecondary education and/or a career. In addition, because JAG is a trauma-informed organization, JAG Specialists have been able to help their students overcome feelings of anxiety, depression, and isolation stemming from the COVID crisis.
  • Go above and beyond for their students. JAG students (and their families) have been disproportionally impacted by job losses during the pandemic, with many no longer able to depend on regular paychecks to cover their basic expenses. During the pandemic, JAG Specialists have delivered groceries to food-insecure families that might otherwise not eat, laundered students’ uniforms to ensure they have clean clothes to wear to work, and provided masks and cleaning supplies to students and families in need as well as learning materials where Internet access is not available.
  • Have worked tirelessly with school districts, our corporate partners, and other supporters to provide much-needed tech equipment and connectivity during the pandemic. The sudden, unplanned switch to remote and/or hybrid learning in many school districts spotlighted the homework gap: students without access to technology are at a distinct disadvantage. For vulnerable youth who already faced economic and academic challenges, this leads to a growing risk that they will wind up a lost generation. JAG has partnered with companies like T-Mobile and AT&T to provide computers and connectivity to JAG students so they can stay engaged and involved with school, jobs, and support systems.
  • Provide virtual job-readiness training. JAG Specialists have always trained their students in the organization's thirty-seven job-readiness skills (e.g., resume writing, interview prep, etc.). Now, they're doing it virtually, preparing students to enter one of the most daunting job markets in recent history.
  • Facilitate partnerships. JAG Specialists, working with JAG National, are securing employment and learning partnerships with companies like Adecco, McDonald’s, Honeywell, Synchrony, AT&T, and Entergy. These partners provide JAG students with real-world experience, mentoring, and — often — their first jobs.

While JAG has enjoyed overwhelming support during this difficult year from its partners, donors, legislators, administrators, and teachers, it’s also important to acknowledge the 76,000 JAG students who rose to the occasion, showing their resilience and determination in the face of adversity. They are the real heroes in this story.

Headshot_kenneth-m-smithKen Smith serves as president and CEO of Jobs for America's Graduates (JAG), the nation's largest dropout prevention and school-to-career transition program for young people of promise. He also serves as a trustee of the America's Promise Alliance, a cross-sector partnership of more than three hundred corporations, nonprofits, faith-based organizations, and advocacy groups that are passionate about improving lives and changing outcomes for children and young people.

To save lives, fund syringes

March 15, 2021

SyringesWhen COVID-19 struck, the United States was already facing a number of public health crises, with national rates of overdose, HIV, and viral hepatitis rising due to increases in substance use linked with a surge in prescription opioids.

The pandemic has converged with these crises, worsening health outcomes for people who use drugs — a crisis that is likely to persist unless we change our approach to drug use.

Take overdose deaths, which increased some 20 percent in the United States between June 2019 and June 2020, to more than 81,000, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That's the most fatal overdoses ever recorded in a single year.

And while national figures for new HIV and viral hepatitis cases are not yet available, it's likely they are growing, too, given reported spikes in injection-drug use. (Both diseases can be transmitted via the sharing of injection supplies.) From 2014 to 2018, HIV diagnoses increased 9 percent among Americans who use drugs overall, while some 2.4 million Americans had been diagnosed with hepatitis C as of 2016.

Such grim statistics underscore the need for the U.S. to adopt evidence-based drug policies that can save lives and improve outcomes for people who use drugs. The willingness of the Biden administration to think differently about national drug policy and the changing views of Americans present a critical opportunity to do that.

For decades, policy makers and medical professionals have addressed substance use in two main ways: demand reduction and supply reduction. Both approaches treat substance use as an immoral behavior to be eschewed, instead of as a personal response to social factors or difficult life circumstances.

Neither strategy has significantly reduced substance use or its associated harms. Even though drug arrests jumped 171 percent between 1980 and 2016, the price of most illicit drugs fell, while attempts to dismantle the international drug trade have resulted in extreme violence.

Indeed, America's War on Drugs has tyrannized countless numbers of Black and brown families with racialized policies like mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines. Such policies have resulted in the overcriminalization of minor drug offenses, the mass incarceration of Black and brown people, and fractured communities across the nation.

Meanwhile, Americans are still using drugs.

It is long past time for the U.S. to embrace the principle of harm reduction, which has proven to lower rates of substance use around the world. Harm reduction recognizes the humanity of people who use drugs, acknowledging that people's relationships with substances usually change over time, and aims to minimize the negative consequences of substance use by fostering the inclusion of those who use drugs in an ecosystem of interventions and services.

The most effective harm-reduction interventions are syringe-services programs (SSPs), which were introduced in the 1980s and '90s as a community-based response to injection-drug use amid the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

Today, they provide syringes, overdose-prevention education, syringe-litter cleanup, infectious-disease testing, and — crucially — naloxone, the lifesaving overdose antidote. SSPs also connect their clients to treatment for substance-use disorder, as well as primary care and social services.

Despite this vital work, U.S. laws have long constrained service providers. In 1988, bipartisan opponents of syringe services prohibited providers from receiving federal funds until the government determined they were safe and effective. The ban remains partially in effect, even as reams of research have shown the benefits of syringe services, from reducing emergency medical costs to lowering rates of HIV and hepatitis C. SSPs still cannot use federal funds to purchase syringes, which help prevent infectious disease among people who inject drugs.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, I've seen a dramatic spike in people receiving syringe services through my work managing AIDS United's Syringe Access Fund, which disburses about $1 million in philanthropic funds to SSPs annually. And it is happening at a time when public and private funding for harm-reduction services was already inadequate.

Although Congress has allocated billions of dollars to combat the opioid crisis, many of those programs stop short of addressing the complex health, psychosocial, and socioeconomic factors underlying chronic substance use. For instance, half of all State Opioid Response (SOR) grants — a major federal initiative designed to help states expand their opioid addiction treatment services over the course of two years — went unspent, a federal watchdog has found, by the time the program was wound down. At the same time, our Syringe Access Fund grantees are struggling to meet their clients' needs and pay their bills. This not only imperils lives and public health but strains local resources.

It is time Americans recognize that the best way to reduce the staggering number of lives lost to overdose each year is to invest in services that support people while they are using drugs. To do that, we need to reach people who use drugs where they are. Syringe services programs are a cost-effective way to serve communities that many see as hard to reach, but which actually are hardly reached, as well as an opportunity to invest in a more holistic and inclusive public health infrastructure.

Without greater investment in that infrastructure, hundreds of thousands of Americans are likely to slip through the cracks and die from overdose in the years to come. We have the tools to prevent these deaths, so long as we invest in the lives of people who use drugs.

Zachary_Ford_AIDS_United_philantopicZachary Ford is a senior program manager at AIDS United, where he oversees the Syringe Access Fund, a grantmaking initiative focused on improving health outcomes for people who use drugs.

What COVID-19 has taught us about investing in public health

March 12, 2021

2020_May_Ho Chi Minh City_screening_Operation_SmileCOVID-19 continues to pose novel challenges to health systems around the world. With the rapid depletion of stockpiles of personal protective equipment (PPE) and severe shortages of physical space in which to care for those affected by this perplexing and terrible disease, even well-resourced surgical health systems have been pushed to the brink of their capacity.

But in many low- and middle-income countries, the virus that emerged in late 2019 has exacerbated a problem that remains anything but novel in 2021. In places that lack the infrastructure, funding, and healthcare workforce able to cope with the pre-pandemic needs of its citizens, COVID-19 has further limited the ability of public health systems to provide essential surgical care to people who need it.

A study published in the British Journal of Surgery estimates that over a twelve-week period during the initial surge of COVID cases last spring, hospitals in low- and middle-income countries were forced to cancel more than 15.5 million surgical procedures as they prioritized patients infected with the virus. The ripple effect caused by these cancellations has had costly consequences in terms of avoidable human suffering. People who need surgery for trauma, cancer, burns, or congenital conditions such as cleft lip and cleft palate have been forced to wait and grapple with the debilitating effects of their conditions. Lives have been lost.

On a personal level, the coronavirus pandemic has brought back memories of my experience in Liberia leading Africare's response to the 2014-15 Ebola epidemic. During that emergency, all essential and emergency public health services were suspended as the healthcare system struggled to respond to the surge in Ebola cases. As a result of insufficient investment over many years, the country was ill prepared to address the highly infectious nature of the disease, and its response was further weakened by the dearth of critical medical equipment, testing and diagnostic capabilities, healthcare workers with the training needed to respond to the disease, and adequate PPE.

We see many of the same factors at work today, with predictable results, including an erosion of trust and confidence in health workers' capacity to provide adequate care and in patients' ability to receive care without risking their lives. As reported in a Journal of Public Health paper, patients in need of surgery are not seeking care for fear of contracting COVID while in hospital or a clinic. And this is in addition to preexisting structural, financial, and socioeconomic barriers that prevent tens of millions of people from accessing safe surgery.

We must and can do better.

If we are to care for the countless number of people in need of surgery while remaining responsive and resilient when faced with outbreaks of diseases such as COVID-19, the global health and international development communities must step up their capacity-building investments in both surgical ecosystems and public health systems.

Early on in the pandemic, Operation Smile made the difficult decision to put all its medical programs on pause. We knew hospitals and frontline health workers would soon be overwhelmed by an influx of desperately sick patients and that we needed to protect the people who turn to us for help, their families, and our staff and volunteers by suspending international travel indefinitely.

These measures resulted in surgery and dental care being delayed for thousands of Operation Smile patients. At the same time, we decided to increase our investment in public health systems in the countries where we work, both in response to the virus and to improve the quality of locally available care after the pandemic was over. To that end, we leveraged our longstanding relationships with various ministries of health and NGO partners to procure and donate PPE, respiratory equipment, COVID-19 test kits, and food and hygiene supplies to hospitals and communities hard hit by the virus.

What has been especially impressive about the global surgery community's response to COVID-19, however, has been its unity. Despite all the challenges posed by international travel restrictions, NGOs have turned to one another for help in overcoming their logistics and implementation hurdles. We experienced this firsthand in our work with organizations like the World Children Initiative, African Medical and Research Foundation, Kids Operating Room, Lifebox, and Medical Aid International, all of which have been instrumental in helping us procure and distribute PPE and medical supplies and equipment across Africa.

And the response extends beyond physical donations. Academic institutions, surgical societies, NGOs, and corporations have also come together to provide virtual training and education opportunities to frontline healthcare providers in resource-constrained settings. Operation Smile today partners with the United Nations Institute for Training and Research, the College of Surgeons of East Central and Southern Africa, and ministries of health in a number of countries to help thousands of health workers upgrade their skills and address the unique challenges they face.

At the end of the day, investments in public health systems help build confidence among patients, who can see that they will receive care that is safe and effective, as well as health workers, who are empowered with the knowledge, supplies, and skills they need to deliver relevant care safely and in a timely fashion. Indeed, World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus recently affirmed that the time for such investments is now: "Public health is more than medicine and science and it is bigger than any individual and there is hope that if we invest in health systems…we can bring this virus under control and go forward together to tackle other challenges of our times."

In the same essay, however, Tedros warned that the response to COVID-19 is not enough to "address the global under-investment in essential public health functions and resilient health systems, nor the urgent need for a 'One Health' approach that encompasses the health of humans, animals, and the planet we share. There is no vaccine for poverty, hunger, climate change or inequality."

At Operation Smile, we've learned that the time is always right to invest in systems with the aim of making them more resilient and responsive to the needs of the people they are intended to serve. But only a global response will yield the kind of impact we desperately need to stop COVID in its tracks and end the pandemic.

As the old saying goes, "to whom much is given much is required." Today, more than ever, global health stakeholders and international development actors must step up and provide the financial and human capital needed to build public health systems that can respond to emerging health needs efficiently and effectively. There's a not a moment to waste.

(Photo credit: Operation Smile)

Ernest Gaie_operation_smile_philantopicErnest Gaie serves as senior advisor for global business operations at Operation Smile.

Are you inspiring action for change with both a short- and long-term approach?

March 05, 2021

Protestors_holding_hands_Halfpoint_GettyImagesWhen I talk with organizations about what they are doing to inspire action for change, they often tell me how they use stories about impact to keep their most loyal donors and supporters motivated. Typically, this involves a communication plan that uses storytelling to help donors and supporters understand how their support for the organization positively impacts the lives of the organization's constituents.

But is it the kind of impact that every donor is looking to make with his or her dollars?

When I look at the kind of change that an organization or cause is trying to create, I tend to take a more expansive view informed by two simple questions:

  1. Does the work serve those in need of assistance in the short term? or
  2. Does it support an agenda or series of action that will create longer-term change in the lives of those being served?

In other words, is the organization reacting to a problem or issue or driving an agenda and being proactive with respect to the underlying causes of the issue or problem? The reactive approach is mostly focused on the here and now; the proactive approach is focused on driving progress over the longer term.

To do or not to do (now)

So much of the social issue work happening today is driven by real-world short-term concerns — and for good reason. But the fact of their existence doesn't necessarily mean that addressing them is going to be everyone's first priority — especially when one takes into account the differences in interests, age, and income of your donors and supporters.

The one thing most of your donors and supporters share is a vision of a better future for the people served by your organization, whether that comes to pass today, tomorrow, or both. That said, not every person you are trying to engage (or have already engaged) is as interested in what your organization is doing today as in what it is doing (or hopes to do) to create longer-term solutions to the problem. For this kind of donor and supporter, enthusiasm — and engagement — often is inversely correlated to an organization's focus on short-term needs. At the same time, while the focus on root causes historically has relied on significant investments in advocacy efforts and infrastructure, those kinds of activities often are pretty far removed from the immediate engagement sought by eager marketing and fundraising teams.

The simple fact is that both approaches are necessary.

Without a major investment in donor research and prospecting, who is to say which of your donors and supporters are interested in making a difference today and which will want to see their contributions create more sustainable social change over the longer term? It's a difference in perspective that we, as marketers and fundraisers, often overlook. Instead of segmenting donors and supporters by age or income, we need to pay more attention to their motivations and views with respect to short- and long-term change.

Again, it's no surprise that research — our own as well as research conducted by others — often finds that the campaigns which generate the highest engagement do so by clearly establishing a top-level agenda for a cause or issue while leaving plenty of room for donors, supporters, and the public to determine their own action steps. And by "top level," I mean four or five goals that are relevant and achievable, along with the core beliefs that underlie action in service to the cause or issue.

Black Lives Matter is a great example. The three entities under the BLM umbrella, the BLM Global Network Foundation, BLM PAC, and BLM Grassroots, use both approaches to engage constituents in real social change. Efforts by all three to mobilize protests, register voters, and mount educational campaigns are designed to engage supporters in addressing critical immediate needs and injustices. At the same time, BLM is working hard to advance legislation, policy reforms, and changes at the corporate governance level with an eye to permanently reshaping the political and economic landscape in the United States for Black people.

This isn't an "either/or" choice; it's a "both/and" approach. We need to serve constituents today and drive a longer-term agenda — an agenda that speaks to the current moment while keeping an eye on the bigger prize.

As someone leading a cause or issue, it's your job to define and articulate how your organization can use both approaches to achieve impact. And your planning and decisions should involve both the marketing and communications team as well as program staff in identifying and targeting the motivations of existing as well as potential donors and supporters.

The bottom line: not everyone will be interested in supporting your day-to-day work on behalf of constituents. Instead of increasing your pressure on them and/or writing them off, try to get them involved in your longer-term agenda by giving them opportunities focused on eliminating some of the root causes responsible for the challenges your organizations works hard to address on a daily basis.

And remember, as you tell the stories of what you and your donors and supporters are doing to change lives today, be sure to create an inspiring vision of a future in which your efforts will no longer be needed. You may be surprised at the response.

(Photo credit: Halfpoint/GettyImages)

Headshot_derrick_feldmann_2015Derrick Feldmann (@derrickfeldmann) is the founder of the Millennial Impact Project, lead researcher at Cause and Social Influence, and the author of The Corporate Social Mind. For more by Derrick, click here.

2020: A year to remember

February 03, 2021

Social-media-engagementI've spoken often about how people get involved in social causes. And despite the turmoil we experienced in 2020 and the competing demands on our attention, I believe more strongly than ever that social issue engagement begins and deepens in predictable ways.

The steps look something like this:

 

1. We hear about a social issue or cause that intrigues or moves us and get to work learning everything we can about the issue;

2. Energized by what we've learned, we take a small action to demonstrate our support for the issue or cause

3. Now fully committed to the issue or cause, we look to band with others — in the real world, virtually, or both — to pressure stakeholders, industry, and/or government officials to act.

Because they represent a natural progression from initial interest to full engagement, each step is both a destination and a link to the step that follows.

Let's take a closer look.

Social Issue Engagement

You become aware of an issue and what others are saying. The first step toward having a position on any issue is to educate oneself about the issue. Whom does it affect? What are the possible positions I could take? What are people in and outside my networks saying about the issue? Is everything people are saying accurate? Do I have enough information to form a sound opinion?

As we've seen in our Cause and Social Influence research over the years, the sources and veracity of the information young Americans use to educate themselves about an issue are changing. With the racial equity protests in 2020, for instance, Black Americans responded more to statements and calls to action from organizations they already followed online or to comments in online forums by their peers than from broadcast news or social media advertising. During the presidential election, on the other hand, young Americans reported being most influenced by social media — even though 87 percent of respondents to our survey agreed with the statement that social media platforms "often" or "very often" propagate false or misleading information and statements.

There are 3.8 billion social media users in the world, a number that's increasing more than 9 percent a year. Yet according to the Digital 2020 report from We Are Social, social media penetration (users per capita) is still only 49 percent. Which, fake news concerns notwithstanding, means social media as a go-to source for information is here to stay.

You take a small action because it's easy. I've said this many times: In almost any situation, our natural inclination is to do the easy thing. Even when our empathy is triggered and we feel we must do something to help, we're usually happy to settle for the small, passive action; it doesn't take much to feel good about and convince ourselves we are helping the cause.

Our research bears this out. The top three actions young Americans took in 2020 to help others were to shop locally more than they had In the past, post or share content on a social media platform, and sign a petition. By performing these small acts, many young Americans felt they'd made their voice heard.

Band with others to pressure stakeholders, industry, and/or government officials to act. Although this deeper level of engagement is not for everyone, it is an opportunity for movement leaders, community organizers, and others to bring people from different backgrounds together to actively work to advance action on an issue or cause. For folks on the front lines of an issue, this is where real change happens.

The biggest takeaway from the research we conducted last year (see Cause and Social Influence 2020 Year in Review) was this: Young Americans believe the best way to bring about social change is to vote.

We also found that a high percentage of young Americans were donating to the issues and causes they support. Indeed, the giving participation rate for this cohort, which had held steady at 9 percent from 2017-19, doubled in 2020, with especially strong support for:

  • Animals/Animal Rights                             34%
  • COVID-19                                                     26%
  • Civil Rights/Racial Discrimination         25%
  • Healthcare Reform                                     23%
  • Climate Change                                           17%

Companies are on a similar journey

Companies and brands continue to take their own steps on the road to more robust civic engagement. Our finding that young Americans increasingly expect corporations to support issues and causes they care about and to be genuine in their support is echoed by the recent Social Trends 2021 report: "Being a purpose-driven brand isn’t something you can fake.... 60% of millennials and Gen Z plan on spending more money with businesses that take care of employees during the pandemic."

In other words, companies concerned about authenticity and transparency should look first to their own internal practices. Companies that want to be credited with socially aware and environmentally responsible policies should be sure they're walking the walk before they start talking the talk on social media or in their advertising campaigns.

After so many significant moments in 2020, some marketers began 2021 with lowered expectations; others are being extra careful not to say the wrong thing or strike the wrong tone. Nothing illustrates their concerns better than the decision by many brands to pull their Super Bowl advertising. Others, including teams at Pepsi, Budweiser, Ford, Olay, Hyundai, Coca-Cola, and Little Caesars, are starting the year with more of a corporate social responsibility mindset and planning to allocate some of their advertising dollars to boosting awareness of COVID-19 prevention measures and vaccination campaigns.

The more things change, the more they remain the same

Last February, before COVID was on most Americans' radar, I wrote about the many individuals who wished we could "return to a time when people knew right from wrong and were committed to liberty and justice for all." Little did I know what the months ahead had in store for us! But even then, I noted that levels of engagement shift based on a range of factors: individual perceptions of what is (and isn't) important, our understanding of the root causes of problems, and new ways to engage with issues and each other.

A year later, having witnessed any number of shattering moments and a fair amount of intense social upheaval, we find ourselves, in many ways, in the same place. Certainly, the way people engage with issues and causes hasn't changed. And the basic question remains: What have we learned from the past and how can we apply it to the future?

Headshot_derrick_feldmannDerrick Feldmann (@derrickfeldmann) is the founder of the Millennial Impact Project, lead researcher at Cause and Social Influence, and the author of the book The Corporate Social Mind. For more by Derrick, click here.

Fundraising learnings from social media

January 21, 2021

Social_Media_Platforms_PhilanTopicHanging out on social media can be a remarkable way to spend time, though I acknowledge the word remarkable has more than one definition. In fact, given the unprecedentedly disruptive nature of the past year, I’ve often found myself turning to social media either to brainstorm about fundraising with others or simply to see what other nonprofit fundraising professionals are up to. While there is a lot of clutter out there, there's also a good deal of wisdom to learn from and experience to share.

Here are a few things I've learned over these long months that may be useful for others involved in doing the good work of philanthropy. Please feel free to share lessons and tips of your own in the comments section below.

The meaning of $18 donations

An online fundraising community I follow recently was expressing confusion over a sudden barrage of $36 donations. If you've ever spent time going through your organization's giving history data, you may have come across donations of $18, $36, or other multiples of $18. In Judaism, the number eighteen stands for "chai" ("life"). The word "chai" is spelled with the eighth and tenth letters of the Hebrew alphabet, which of course equals eighteen, while thirty-six is "double chai." So people for whom Judaism is important often will make gifts in increments of eighteen. But organizations that don't provide services with or for the Jewish community may be unfamiliar with the practice. At an organization where I worked several years ago, we received an online donation of $18 from a donor who had never given before and apparently was not made in response to a recent direct-mail letter, email, or other communication. (Ours was also an organization whose mission was very broad and not centered around a particular religion or cultural identity.) When our database manager sent around a note asking if anyone knew anything about the donor, or why they had opted to donate that amount, I made a chancy assumption about the donor's surname and called to thank the donor personally for making a gift honoring life; suffice to say, the donor was not expecting such a response and, over time, increased their support from a one-time $18 donation to recurring, four-figure gifts — a lovely surprise.

When gratitude gets too tactical

Some readers may know of the anonymous, sometimes-hilarious Twitter personality The Whiny Donor. All we really know about Whiny is that she "used to chair the development committees at a couple of nonprofits" and has some serious opinions about the way philanthropy should, and shouldn't, work. As a fundraiser, I wince at some of her tweets, especially the ones that call out bad or arcane practices in our industry. Recently, for example, she tweeted about nonprofits including too much "mechanical" information in the body of their donor thank-you communications. Acknowledgements, she tweeted, "that include the date when they received my donation in the very first line of the letter stop the flow of gratitude cold. Can't you put that detail in the fine print at the bottom?"

Now, admittedly, this is something we do (or did) at our nonprofit, largely because the tax receipting is handled by a different department, and we always want our letters to be polite yet functional. So I wanted to call Whiny on it. But after a few moments I realized she had a point. If a donor, any donor, is put off by what is supposed to be a thoughtful note of appreciation being interrupted by bureaucratic tax-related information, then we do ourselves a service by moving those details to another, more appropriate part of the letter. Needless to say, the next day we updated our thank-you letter template to better reflect and improve the flow of our gratitude.

Outcomes over outputs

For many of us whose fiscal years don't align with the calendar year, there are always a few conversations with leadership, accountants, and corporate-minded board volunteers that stumble over a question like, "Wait, are we talking about calendar year-end or fiscalyear-end?" On Twitter, the satirical account NonprofitsSay had some fun with the problem, posting: "These are our calendar year accomplishments, not to be confused with the fiscal year accomplishments in our annual report." I had to chuckle, because our organization is finalizing our 2020 (calendar year) annual report while at the same time thinking ahead to our 2020-21 (fiscal year) impact report.

When crafting our 2019-20 impact report, our team struggled with what we should call the document. For years the organization had gone back and forth between "Year in Review" and "Impacts and Benefits," both of which were always met with a mildly positive response from our donors. But given where we were in the middle of 2020 — with much of our work centered on pandemic response, equity, and resilience — we wanted to tip our hats to the donors whose generosity helped make those efforts possible.

Over on Joan Garry's "Your Thriving Nonprofit" Facebook group, I posed my question to the more than thirty-three thousand members of the group and was truly inspired by the responses. Many people suggested thinking less in terms of a catchy title and more about the vision behind the document. After some internal debate, we landed on "How You Helped Build a Better City" in bold letters. The response from our supporters was overwhelmingly positive.

I'll say it again: hanging out on social media can be a remarkable way to spend time. And with so many of us endlessly scrolling through our channels looking for information that can be used to refine our practices, respond to questions, or offer suggestions, there is indeed much to learn and share. Just remember to be patient and open to the views of your virtual colleagues.

Evan_Wildstein_PhilanTopicEvan Wildstein has served on the fundraising team at the Kinder Institute for Urban Research at Rice University since 2017.

How human services charities stepped up and filled the gap in 2020

January 18, 2021

Sharp_chula_vista_medical_centerHuman services charities provided an essential lifeline in 2020 to millions of Americans grappling with the economic and health impacts of COVID-19. Indeed, the unprecedented events of the year reinforced the deep-seated value and tangible impact of organizations that support populations in need, from nonprofits operating homeless shelters and food banks to those providing services to the disabled and elderly.

This was especially true of populations supported by the Gary Sinise Foundation, a 501(c)(3) serving veterans, first responders, service members, and their families.

When the economy cratered and the unemployment rate soared in the spring, the foundation quickly saw an uptick in requests for financial assistance — an uptick that became a tsunami by the fall. Their stories were heartbreaking: many had fallen behind on their rent, mortgage, or car payments and were facing eviction or repossession. For others, purchasing groceries for their families came at the expense of making payments on already-overdue bills.

The employment picture for many was similarly bleak. Some of the people we heard from had been furloughed indefinitely or let go from their job, while others were unable to enter the job market because of family obligations at home.

At the Gary Sinise Foundation, we responded to the growing number of requests for help by launching a campaign focused on our constituents.

During a four-month span beginning in April, the Emergency COVID-19 Combat Service campaign delivered 60,795 free meals to hospitals, Veterans Affairs medical centers, and military bases in the U.S. and overseas. At 313 locations across the country, including 273 hospitals and 145 Veterans Affairs sites, pre-packaged meals nourished overworked doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals on the front lines of the pandemic. American troops and their families stationed in Germany and Korea were among those who received meals.

Grant funding distributed through the campaign also provided a lifeline for first-responder departments — particularly those in rural America and volunteer departments supported by a small tax base — enabling them to purchase protective equipment, including N95 face masks, face shields, and gloves. All told, more than $480,000 in grant funding was distributed to fire and police departments in twenty-seven states.

In a relatively short period of time, more than $1.4 million was raised by the campaign despite a raging pandemic and a battered U.S. economy. And those weren't the only challenges. A polarizing U.S. presidential race and bitterly contested election saw donations to the campaign ebb and flow, much as they had in the summer in the wake of racial justice protests sparked by the killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd. Still, the campaign went on, enabling the foundation to consistently deliver financial aid and other forms of support to veterans, Gold Star families, first responders, and others impacted in one way or another by COVID-19.

No year in recent memory has presented as many challenges as 2020 to the institutions and core identity of the United States. And yet no year has been as rife with opportunity for human services charities to step up in new and creative ways to help millions of Americans who are struggling.

Given the critical role these organizations play in their communities and the void they fill when resources and funding at the local, state, and federal level are stretched, it's clear they must continue to adapt their services in 2021 to the economic and political realities stemming from the ongoing public health crisis. They will need our support to do so.

There really is no choice. Too many people are counting on us.

(Photo credit: Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center)

Brandon_black_gary_sinise_foundation_PhilanTopicBrandon Black is senior communications writer at the Gary Sinise Foundation.

Prioritize public education in our philanthropic COVID-19 response

January 12, 2021

Children_sky_square_GettyImagesWith the arrival of effective vaccines against COVID-19, the end of the pandemic may finally be in sight. Yet the crisis in public education, one deeply exacerbated by the virus, will continue to wreak havoc beyond 2021.

If they have taught us anything, the last ten months have taught us who and what is essential. As people who work in philanthropy, who care about the future of the country, and as moms, we know that our kids and those who teach them are essential. And yet we as a country are not paying nearly enough attention to the public education crisis unfolding before our eyes — or responding to it as the emergency it is.

Here is what we know: More than fifty thousand students in the Los Angeles Unified School District never logged in to online learning during the spring, and there was a dramatic increase in middle and high school students failing classes in the fall. In Montgomery County, Maryland, almost 40 percent of low-income ninth-grade students failed English in the fall, and McKinsey estimates that Black and Latinx students will lose an average of eleven to twelve months of learning by June if the current state of affairs persists.

Here's what else we know: While learning remotely is not easy for any child, the learning losses from school closures and distance learning are not evenly distributed. As working mothers, we've seen first-hand the difficulties distance learning imposes on children and families, even those with significant privilege in the form of economic security, reliable broadband Internet access, quiet(ish) spaces to study, and parents who are working at home and can help their kids with schoolwork. Most children are not so lucky.

Nationally, nearly sixteen million school children lack adequate Internet service or don't have a device that connects to the Internet. In Los Angeles, where we live and work, at least one in four children in high-poverty schools lacks reliable high-quality Internet access, making it functionally impossible for them to participate in a meaningful way in school. Parents who risk their health every day in essential low-wage jobs have no realistic way to support their children through the daily challenges of distance learning. Meanwhile, students from wealthy and upper-middle class home have been able to resume in-person schooling even as high-poverty schools in the same city remain shuttered. The result is that students from poor and working-class families — kids who deserve and most need quality public education — are falling ever further behind their more fortunate peers.

While this is not a problem that philanthropy alone can solve, those of us with access to resources must find creative and strategic ways to show up for kids. All kids.

In the early days of the pandemic, we saw the difference philanthropic dollars could make. While federal stimulus funds and federal emergency funds allocated to the states took weeks and, in some cases, months to reach those most in need, public-private partnerships in many places were able to move quickly and efficiently to distribute funds. Here in Los Angeles, a group of more than thirty nonprofit organizations came together to form One Family LA after it became clear that low-income and immigrant families would be the most vulnerable to both the health impacts and economic devastation caused by the virus. In the weeks after the One Family was created, and before federal stimulus funds were fully disbursed, the organization was able to move quickly and distribute over $2 million in emergency relief funds to more than forty-five hundred families in need.

But the emergency is far from over. So what can philanthropy do to make a meaningful difference? How can it encourage and support educators and school district leaders to take the longer view that will be needed to recover from the pandemic even as they struggle to manage a seemingly endless list of day-to-day challenges?

First, philanthropy can use its greatest assets — nimbleness, creativity, and the freedom to take risks — to amplify the bright spots that already exist in public education. Chicago Public Schools recently partnered with philanthropists and community organizations to launch a $50 million program aimed at bringing free, high-quality Internet access to every student who lacks it. We know that things like intensive tutoring reliably help students from lower-income households make major academic gains. Philanthropy should partner with schools and school systems to get tutoring pilot programs off the ground, and efforts like these should be replicated by local leaders in communities across the country, with philanthropy providing seed funding and helping to disseminate best practices across city and state lines.

Second, in the months ahead, philanthropy must use its platforms to promote and fund advocacy work that keeps education at the forefront of the state and federal funding conversation. If we believe that creating a more equitable education system is critical, we need to make investments that articulate and put that priority in front of our elected officials. With so many health and economic challenges facing the country, this year's elections barely touched on the topic of education. Public schools across the country are doing the best they can, but they can't shoulder it all on their own. Ignoring months of learning loss and looming budget crises at the state and district levels is asking educators to do too much with too little.

In his book Our Kids, writer and political scientist Robert Putnam explored the many ways in which housing segregation and growing economic inequality have dissolved the social fabric that used to support poor and working-class children. And while most communities used to have a sense of collective responsibility for all children in the community — all kids were "our kids" — now when we speak about "our kids" we usually mean only the kids in our nuclear families.

We will never build the public-school systems we need or the society we want to live in unless we recapture that sense of collective responsibility for all children. While philanthropy is not an appropriate long-term substitute for robust city, state, and federal funding, it needs, at this moment, to prioritize public education in its COVID-19 response investments. At Fundamental and Great Public Schools Now, we are doing just that, because we know it's the best investment we can make for our families, for society, and for all our kids.

(Photo credit: GettyImages)

Ana Ponce_Rachel Levin_philantopicAna Ponce is executive director of Great Public Schools Now, and Rachel Levin is president of Fundamental.

DAF donors showed us who they were in 2020 

January 11, 2021

Money_seedlingGrantmaking from donor-advised funds (DAFs) is up — and it's up enormously. At National Philanthropic Trust, our grant dollars doubled in 2020. Other DAF sponsors reported a similar pattern. What is it about DAF donors that makes them respond so robustly to a crisis? And is this pattern of giving sustainable?

Here are three important lessons we learned about DAF donors in 2020 and why they should matter to nonprofits in the coming years:

1. DAF donors mobilize quickly. Americans have always had a giving impulse; they want to help in the face of challenges such as natural disasters, community emergencies, and neighbors in need. Giving in 2020 was marked with a different kind of urgency and qualifies as the most widespread and sustained form of "disaster giving" I've witnessed over more than four decades working in philanthropy.

The first COVID-specific grant recommendation at NPT came in early March. Within days there were dozens more, and after a few weeks we'd sent out millions of dollars in grant checks. The ability to recommend grants quickly has made an enormous difference in our donors’ philanthropic response and their willingness to support more causes than ever before.

Why it matters to charities in 2021: Swift and impactful grantmaking is certainly a credit to our donors' generosity, but it's also a testament to the organizations that are effectively communicating and addressing critical community needs.  Anecdotally, we know that donors respond to appeals that help meet a specific need — the more hyper-local or hyper-targeted, the more donors understand the impact their support will have.

At the beginning of the pandemic, we saw unrestricted grants flowing to emergency funds at community foundations, hospitals, and research institutions. Those organizations were communicating specific needs: assisting out-of-work hospitality workers in the community, providing childcare for nurses, funding treatment and prevention research. The summer surge of grants in response to calls for social justice mirrored the same sense of urgency, whether it was bail funds at established organizations already engaged in social equity work or racial literacy programs in schools. Organizations large and small continue to communicate what they need and highlight the impact donor dollars are having, attracting even more of those dollars and earning donors' trust.

2. DAF donors are committed to the long-term viability of nonprofits. DAF donors are committed philanthropists. We see this in the grants they recommend. In the aggregate, DAF grant dollars have increased nearly 100 percent in the last five years. We also see it in the payout rate from DAFs. Grant payout, which is a function of how much donors grant from their DAFs relative to total assets, has been above 20 percent for the last fifteen-plus years. This means DAF donors give generously and consistently — across economic cycles, election cycles, and in the face of great challenges.

This was true in 2008 when charitable giving writ large dropped but DAF grantmaking increased, and we are seeing it again in 2020-21. Other signals of long-term commitment? More donors than ever plan recurring grants — whether monthly, quarterly, or annually — to their favorite organizations. Over 15 percent of grants from NPT in 2020 were part of a recurring grant structure, a 34 percent increase from 2019. Recurring grants are a sustainable and predictable way to support nonprofits over the long term. Donors are making unrestricted grants more than ever, too. The number of unrestricted grants  NPT made was up 56 percent in 2020 and the dollar value of those grants jumped a whopping 254 percent. These increases are elements of what is known as "trust-based philanthropy," in which donors understand that charities know their constituents and causes better than anyone and trust them to do what is best to meet their immediate needs.

Why it matters to charities in 2021: To keep those regular, unrestricted dollars flowing, charitable organizations have to continue making their case for support. Communicating with donors — not DAF sponsors — to thank them and keep them engaged is critical. Although DAFs can technically give anonymously, the vast majority (at NPT, it's 97 percent) are made with the donors' names included. It's also good practice to engage every DAF donor, regardless of the size of the grant you receive. The most recent data shows that the average DAF account size is around $166,000, meaning today's sustaining donors could be tomorrow's major-gift donors.

3. DAF donors are "AND type people." DAF donors don’t look at their philanthropy through an either/or lens. They don’t choose either their longstanding favorite charity or a new one; they tend to support both. They don't have to choose either giving today or leaving a legacy tomorrow, they recommend grants now and invest for more grantmaking later. This year has highlighted exactly how important flexibility in philanthropy can be. Instead of making trade-offs, our donors recommended more grants — by volume and dollar value — in every interest area.

Why it matters to charities in 2021: If DAF donors are part of your donor base already, keep them informed and continue to solicit them for support. If they’re not, include them in your regular communication. DAF donors are open to supporting new charities and are upping their grants dollars in the face of today's challenges. The two most important ways to appeal to DAF donors are:

Make it easy. Include DAF language on your website and in your appeals like "send a check or recommend a grant from your donor-advised fund." Not only does this remind donors that your organization is eligible for support from DAFs, but it also suggests sophisticated fundraising knowledge and strategy.

Don't feel constricted by time or season. DAF donors have already signaled their commitment to philanthropy just by having a DAF — every dollar in their fund must go to charitable purposes. They've also already received their tax deduction when they made a contribution to their DAF. This means you can appeal to them whenever your organization's need is greatest. They're positioned to respond and often do so quickly.

DAFs are sometimes called the "rainy day funds" of philanthropy because DAF donors actively use their DAFs to support today's charitable priorities while saving for future needs. Dominated by a global pandemic, a renewed and intensified fight for social justice, and a deeply polarized political environment, 2020 was a year of great need. DAF donors, once again, stepped up to address those simultaneous challenges in creative, generous ways.

Headshot_eileen_heismanEileen Heisman is the CEO of National Philanthropic Trust, the largest national, independent donor-advised fund public charity. Heisman is one of the authors of the annual DAF Report. More at NPTrust.org.

Most popular PhilanTopic posts in 2020

December 31, 2020

DownloadMost of us are beyond relieved that the end of 2020 is in sight, but when historians, artists and writers, and grandparents sharing stories of the good old days look back on it, this longest of years is likely to be remembered as one of the more consequential in American history.

In that spirit, we present the ten most popular posts on the blog posted over the last twelve months. A global pandemic, racial injustice and systemic racism, deepening inequality, climate change, democratic decay, the often timid response of philanthropy and the social sector to urgent challenges — they were the proverbial canaries in the coalmine and will continue to demand our attention and best thinking in 2021.

Enjoy and stay safe.

  1. Funding in the time of COVID-19: questions to deepen racial equity (April 4, 2020) — Michele Kumi Baer
  2. Remote onboarding: set up new hires for success (September 11, 2020) — Molly Brennan
  3. Silence in the social sector (June 24, 2020) — Maria Vertkin
  4. Women and the changing face of philanthropy (July 29, 2020) — Shira Ruderman
  5. Dismantling systemic racism requires philanthropic investment in AAPI communities (October 27, 2020) — Eddy Zheng
  6. The solution for saving mon-and-pop businesses (May 18, 2020) — John Hamilton
  7. The reinvention of the nonprofit (May 14, 2020) – Derrick Feldmann
  8. Leading in solidarity to reshape the nonprofit ecosystem (July 1, 2020) — Allandra Bulger, Shamyle Dobbs, Yodit Mesfin Johnson, Donna Murray-Brown, and Madhavi Reddy
  9. Philanthropy's moment: advocating for and funding what's essential (April 14, 2020) — Andrew Wolk
  10. What we can learn from the Sierra Club's moment of self-reckoning (August 31, 2020) — Garrett Zink

Happy New Year from PND and the folks at Candid. See you in 2021!

The 'stay interview': how an HR practice can help nonprofits engage their supporters

December 08, 2020

Allen-interviewMy primary responsibility at the nonprofit where I work is to raise philanthropic dollars for our work, though I've also become deeply interested in the concept of organizational development — what we can do as an organization to foster the professional growth of the people who lead our programs (and not just the programs themselves).

One of the techniques I've learned from my colleagues in human resources is the "stay interview," a sometimes transformative practice for staff that also works well when adapted to interactions with donors.

If you've ever left a job, you've probably been asked by HR to agree to an exit interview. The questions you're asked are familiar and expected: What did you like about working here? Which of the projects you were involved in were most impactful? What could we have done better as an organization? They're all fine questions but they share a fundamental problem: they're backward-looking. And when the interview is over, you — and your feedback — are gone.

Stay interviews, on the other hand, are active, present-tense dialogues that give employees a chance to talk about the things that keep them at the organization and that, when done well, can elicit valuable feedback with respect to systems, processes, and personnel — certainly not a novel or profound approach but far more useful, I would argue, than an exit interview.

Stay interviews and donors

Stay interviews are a great way to boost the morale of staff and improve organizational effectiveness, and for those of us in the business of managing relationships with external stakeholders, they can also be used to great effect with donors and funders. You can find several examples online, including interviews used by the Society for Human Resource Management, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Balance Careers, ALTRES simplicityHR, and TLNT.

If you've been involved with a capital or other large-scale campaign, you may have heard these types of inquiries referred to as "discovery" questions. Below, I've distilled a few examples that I've found to be useful in my own conversations. Feel free to build on them or look for others that better suit your organization's specific needs.

Why do you support our organization? This is an important question to ask early in the relationship — and equally important to continue asking. If it helps, think of your conversations with donors and potential donors as a developing relationship (friendly, romantic) in which the spark from your first few interactions/dates may be different (and better!) months or years down the road. People — and donors — change, as do their interests. Over time, their wealth and propensity to support may also deepen.

What do you like most about engaging with our organization? It's a positive frame, non-guiding, and I'm often surprised by what the answers reveal. One year, I learned that several donors loved calling the organization and interacting with our receptionist because he was so wonderfully helpful and kind. We knew this as a staff, but we had no idea of his impact on our supporters.

What might you suggest we enhance at our organization? I've found this to be more useful than asking "What can we do better?" because it's open and comes from a perspective of enhancing rather than fixing. Once, a donor made a suggestion that simply hadn't occurred to me — that we make our email signature text bigger and include our direct phone numbers, because as an older person she had a difficult time reading them and hated fishing around the website for contact information when she needed to reach us. The fundraising team shared an exasperated "Oh, my gosh..." because it was such a simple, useful, and logical thing for us to have done — but hadn't.

What might make the time you spend with our organization more meaningful? I can't tell you the number of times I've learned that a donor was a great fit to serve as a volunteer or board member after asking this question. While you might hear "Nothing, it's all great," often the responses can be surprising and even powerful. One important caveat: make sure you have a response ready for donors who say, "I love writing you all a check once a year, but is there a way I might be more useful?" Some of them might be a good volunteer or board prospect, while others might enjoy serving as an organizational ambassador and sharing news and program highlights with others.

How do you prefer to be recognized? For organizations that are in the habit of raising up supporters, this is a really important question. Donors (people, companies, foundations, other institutions) give for myriad reasons, and while some are perfectly fine simply making a gift, others are grateful to have their name, logo, or likeness shared with the public. But please, if you do ask this question, be prepared to take careful note of the response. I once worked with an organization that was recognizing a husband and wife in print materials as "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" — only to realize later that the couple had different last names. As soon as the couple became aware of the mistake, they stopped giving, and that was that. The organization never followed up, and its silence spoke loudly.

Who do you see as our biggest competitor(s) and/or potential collaborator/partner? This is a great question, though it should be asked of the right donor at the right time. By asking it, you can learn who your donors have on their radar when they survey the field and can also tell you where their support might go if, or when, they stop supporting your organization. You can then use that information to do an audit of your programs or other offerings to see how they compare and might be improved.

You may not be able to explore every one of these questions in your conversations with donors, but if you can ask a few, I'm confident that it, and having a stay interview mindset, will help encourage your funders and supporters to stick with you for the long haul.

(Photo credit: Christina @ wocintechchat.com via Unsplash)

Evan_Wildstein_PhilanTopicEvan Wildstein has served on the fundraising team at the Kinder Institute for Urban Research at Rice University since 2017.

Businesses must help nonprofits working to address COVID-related needs

December 07, 2020

Handshake_over_table_PhilanTopicjpgNonprofits are a key part of the U.S. economy — collectively, the third biggest employer by sector. And when the nonprofit sector is healthy and functioning, it benefits the for-profit sector as well. A recently published report found that nonprofits contribute more than $77 billion annually to the New York City economy — more than 9 percent of the city's total economic output.

But as we all know, the COVID-19 pandemic has dealt a devastating blow to the U.S. economy, and millions of Americans are suffering — especially Black and Latinx Americans. Despite the many challenges they face, nonprofits are stepping up to fill the gaps. Food banks are distributing 38 percent more food than they did in 2019. Charities are providing computers to students who need them. Unemployed Americans, many of them well aware of the kind of assistance ordinary Americans need and are not receiving, have founded nonprofits to bring volunteers together to meet those needs.

While there has been amazing progress on the vaccine development front, the crisis is likely to drag on for months and the outlook for additional federal assistance is uncertain. Complicating the situation, many of the newest nonprofits aren't eligible for support via the federal Paycheck Protection Program or other government programs. Business leaders can debate the extent of their ethical responsibilities, but in a crisis, putting aside any concerns they may have and doing the socially responsible thing almost always works to their advantage. All the more reason, then, for businesses and individuals to step up at this critical moment and support nonprofits that are being buffeted by the pandemic.

The situation is dire. Even as they scramble to ramp up their services to meet growing demand, many nonprofits are barely hanging on, and nearly a third are at risk of going under. A recent survey by BryteBridge found that among new nonprofits, 79 percent have experienced a drop in revenue, with 38 percent reporting revenue losses of 50 percent or more. Nonprofits established in the last five years are four times as likely to say they are close to not being able to cover their operating expenses than those in business for six or more years, while almost 60 percent of new nonprofits have had to furlough staff and more than 20 percent have had to implement layoffs.

As the president of BryteBridge, I've seen a dramatic increase in requests for support over the last ten months, whether it's help with fundraising, compliance issues, or newly formed organizations looking to apply for 501(c)(3) status.

If they aren't already doing so, businesses and individuals in a position to support nonprofits financially should look hard at where and how they can make the biggest impact with their donations. And they mustn't overlook grassroots and newly established nonprofits, which are less likely to have built up reserves for a rainy day. Supporting organizations that are struggling with capacity constraints — whether through employee volunteer programs or pro bono business support — also can make an enormous difference. By eliminating some of the burden of administrative and compliance requirements, we can ensure that nonprofits are better able to serve their constituents and focus on their mission.

The need for the services delivered by nonprofits right now is enormous, and many organizations are working creatively to rise to the challenge. Many more are running on fumes. It’s time for individuals, businesses, and the private sector to step up.

Brian_Davis_BryteBridge_philantopicBrian Davis is president of BryteBridge, a provider of nonprofit services.

Quote of the Week

  • "[L]et me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is...fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance...."


    — Franklin D. Roosevelt, 32nd president of the United States

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