You're sitting at your kitchen table sorting through several — or dozens — of letters of request or even full proposals for funding. They all fit your focus area. They all seem like good organizations. But you can't fund them all. How do you make a good decision?
In a previous entry I noted that crafting a set of decision-making criteria would enable you to make better, more effective choices. Once you've done that, you can read each appeal with those criteria in mind. You value people learning to help themselves? Then look for an organization offering proven training programs with clear pathways out of poverty. You want to help kids be successful in school and in college? Consider how long an organization tracks its clients and how it determines success. Make sure that the students aren't sent off to college only with great fanfare but also with on-going support. You believe in evidence-based activities? Search for success indicators that indicate the organization uses evidence-based practices. You get the idea.
By mid-September 2013, So You Want to Be a Philanthropist will be available on Amazon. This lively, jam-packed book will allow those thinking about setting up a family foundation to ask the questions they should — before they do. And for those with a foundation that isn't functioning as they'd hoped, this book can help get you back on the right track.
I'm excited about your reactions and look forward to hearing what you think!
In the arguments about nonprofits operating more like business, I sometimes find my feathers ruffled by the limitations of this seemingly black and white debate. There are differences between not and for-profit entities so not all typical business practice translates successfully into the nonprofit world, but there are business strategies that do help nonprofits be more successful. One of the proponents of nonprofits running like businesses, Dan Pallotta, wrote a piece I agree with on his “Free the Nonprofits” Blog at Harvard Business Publishing. Here he talks about “getting to scale” (another buzz phrase used a lot these days). It is not, as many seem to think, getting a nonprofit to the point of self-sustainability.
Instead, Pallotta defines scale as responding to the big problems with responses as large as what they need. “What good is it to have a bunch of nonprofits that are able to sustain themselves, if they are only large enough to address .001% of the problem?”, he asks.
A big, hairy audacious goal and organizations large enough to achieve those goals in ten, twenty years, are needed to address big, hairy problems like homelessness, hunger, racism, healthcare, poverty, and education. Getting to scale means changing the nonprofit community significantly, but changemakers are what both funders and nonprofit leaders should be.