Philanthropy Sucks, Pt 3: 5 Immediate Ways Nonprofit Leaders Can Fix It

As we’ve shared, philanthropy (as a percentage of U.S. GDP) hasn’t increased in 50 years. All the while, there are more nonprofits, more wealth, a professionalizing sector and more. This is all in response to the recent Growing Philanthropy Report released last week.  We’ve discussed what donors and fundraisers can do. As a nonprofit leader you have a duty to turn things around. For the benefit of your own organization, career and the sector. Start now.

1. Be certifiably weary

As the report shares, there are a growing number of nonprofit management and fundraising ‘certifications’ available around the U.S. from groups looking to profit off the growth of the sector. If you look closely, many of them do not include any formal assessment, testing, curriculum or any of the normal indicators of true education. They simply give you the certificate if you sit through the course.  If someone has a ‘certificate’ – do your own homework and make sure it’s a legit program that has prepared the individual to truly help your organization. Don’t be won over by the flashy language or confusing rhetoric.

2. Improve measures of program assessment & employee performance

If we’re going to actually make progress towards social problems, we need to start measuring our organizational performance in those terms.  If you’re a full-service community center, don’t just share how many people went to your ‘resume development workshop’, tell us how many people got jobs.  Don’t tell us how many bags of dog food you went through, tell us how many animals are now safe and comfortable at home with loving families.  The same hold true for your staff’s performance. Don’t measure performance on how many hours someone was in their seat – determine the deliverables and consider a results only work environment (ROWE).

3. Keep your fundraising talent

Have you hugged your fundraiser today? (Bumper stickers coming)

Research shows that fundraisers are not fully productive until they’ve been in their position for 18 months.  It takes that long to build donor relationships, understand and update systems, implement appropriate changes and more.  The problem is, the average fundraiser stays at an organization for 2 years! That’s 18 months of investment for only 6 months of true impact.

Most fundraisers leave their position because the board and CEO value their own ‘gut instinct’ over the entire body of fundraising knowledge and education.  Do whatever you need to in order to show your fundraiser you value them. Invest in their professional development, give them the tools, resources and people to be successful. The returns will surprise you.

4. Develop strong feedback loops

As part of improving your assessment, develop 360 degree feedback processes. Real. Good. Ones.  Pull together focus groups of those that sit in the trenches of your programs. Track your clients for long-term behavior changes.  If you do training, quit asking if I liked the presenter. Instead, ask me what I’ll do differently once I leave the room.  Share these results with supporters – it’ll go a long way.

5. Educate your board on fundraising

Taking a direct quote from the report, “Boards lack both an understanding of the process of fundraising and their own role within it. As a consequence poor investment decisions are taken, supporter relationships are neglected, and the high level of turnover within the fundraising profession continues.”  Develop your development committee and talk about appropriate ways to make introductions, engage their networks and making requests.  Set them up for success but also reinforce the relationship-based fundraising efforts by giving examples of those introductions they made that turned into financial support, and those that didn’t.  Most importantly, listen when they share hesitancy about their comfort with the task. Encourage courage. And keep the communication lines open.

Do you think these things, along with the challenges made to donors and fundraisers, will help grow philanthropy in the U.S.? What else will it take?

4 thoughts on “Philanthropy Sucks, Pt 3: 5 Immediate Ways Nonprofit Leaders Can Fix It

  1. Hey Nate – can you share with me the research about fundraisers not being fully productive until they’re on the job 18 months? My one-year performance review is coming up and I need to deflect… 😉

  2. I certainly appreciate all of these perspectives. We also know from the Study of High Net Worth Donors, funded by Bank of America, that donors often turn to their professional advisors for advice on giving. Perhaps you could share some thoughts about 1) ways professional advisors can become better educated on philanthroy and 2) how nonprofit professionals can best work with these advisors. Thanks!

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