A few years ago, I led a Vietnamese-community-focused nonprofit as a youthful executive director filled with equal parts optimism and adult acne. I remember though one time at a board meeting trying to get board members to donate. “Please,” I said, “just give something. Anything! Even $5! I just need us to be able to tell funders that we have 100% board giving!” The elders stared back blankly at me. I was desperate. “OK,” I said, “how about I give you each $10, then you donate $5 back, and you make a profit of $5!” I was joking, but also kind of not.
The idea of “100% board giving” is one of those concepts that somehow have become entrenched in our sector, an unwritten truth that we don’t question. To this day, I still see funders asking about it on grant applications. Fundraisers, meanwhile, whisper warnings to one another: “There was one organization that only achieved 50% board giving. Their donations eventually all dried up. If you walk by the office, you can hear faint ghostly echoes of weeping from the development team.”
Next week, 10/5 at 11am PT, we have the second part of the series, focused on solutions, including potential policy changes. Speakers include Farhad Ebrahimi, Founder and President of the Chorus Foundation; Ellen Dorsey, Executive Director of Wallace Global Fund; Assemblymember Buffy Wicks (D-Oakland). The legendary Jan Masaoka of CalNonprofits will be the moderator. It will be good! Register here.
What I am especially thankful for is the content Hub on the CCF website, which produces new thought-provoking articles, podcasts, and videos each week, curated by colleague Stacy Nguyen. Last week, I read “8 ways to make fundraising more accessible for people with disabilities” by Elizabeth Ralston. One of the tips was “Include a physical description when you first introduce yourself […] this can really help a person with low vision have an image of who is speaking and in turn make them feel included as part of the festivities.” This was something I had never considered before. Thanks to what I learned, I have started describing myself in virtual events: “Mid-age Asian man with short unkempt black hair, thick black glasses, wearing a blue button-down shirt, and surrounded by a pervasive aura of vegan sexiness.”
We need to be honest with ourselves (and no, not about the pervasive aura of vegan sexiness). The conversations we’ve been having in the field of fundraising need to change. They are dominated by topics along the lines of how to retain donors, show more gratitude, increase planned giving, write better grants, which CRM is the best, etc. Often these can be boiled down to the overarching topic of “Tactics to help you raise more money for your organization.”
Happy September, everyone. Holy hummus, it’s September! Fellow parents with school-age children, I hope you are doing ok. Hang in there. We’ll make it through this together. When things get tough with virtual schooling, just remember the old adage: “The days are long, but the years are—You better not be playing Minecraft again! Get back to your Zoom class this instant or no media the rest of the day! And you! Those loose fruit snacks you found under the couch are covered with dust! Throw them away, or at least rinse with water before eating!”
I know we all have a lot on our minds, and unfortunately I must add one more thing for us to think about. Three months ago, I wrote “Have nonprofit and philanthropy become and white moderate that Dr. King warned us about?” Since then, I have been grappling with the question of how effective our work is as a sector. Are we actually doing good in the world, or have we tricked ourselves into believing that we are while in reality we’re allowing inequity and injustice to proliferate? The reality is that we’re doing both, and it’s important for us to untangle these dynamics.
Recently, I read the Gilded Giving report by the Institute for Policy Studies. It examines the trends in giving in our sector and what it means. It paints a picture that is not pretty. Here are several points we should pay attention to:
Starting in 2010, a bunch of billionaires signed a pledge to give away half their wealth. Since then, their combined wealth has actually doubled. From $376 billion in 2010 to $734 billion as of July 18, 2020.
Over the first four months of the pandemic, when everyone has been struggling, the 100 living Pledgers who were billionaires in March actually INCREASED their wealth by $213.6 billion, or 28%, from 758B in March to 972B in July.
Small individual giving has been in decline over the past two decades. Between 2000 and 2016, the percentage of households giving to charity has dropped from 66 percent to 53 percent.
Large gifts, however, have been increasing. Households making over $1M claimed 33% of all charitable deductions in 2017, up from 12% in 1995.
The number of foundations in existence increased by 68% between 2005 and 2019, from 71, 097 to 119,791. During this period, their assets more than doubled, from $551 billion to $1.2 trillion
Donor-Advised Funds (DAFs) have grown even more rapidly in number and assets. DAFs have no legal mandate to pay out anything each year. Donors take tax breaks immediately when they transfer their wealth to DAFs, but they are not legally required to actually distribute those funds to nonprofits.
Hi everyone, real quick before I get into today’s topic—since the launching of the Community-Centric-Fundraising movement a month ago, the team in Seattle has been excited but also overwhelmed by the incredible response from you all! Thank you for your patience as we sort out the logistics. More is coming, including a meeting to discuss the creation of local CCF chapters (it’ll likely be on 8/20 at 12pm PT, sign up for the mailing list if you haven’t so we can send you more details).
A few months ago, I left my job after being an ED for 13 consecutive years across two organizations. “How does it feel to be retired?” people would ask. “I’m not retired,” I would joke, “I’m Financially Untethered, aka FU!” (This was before the pandemic, when I still had a sense of humor). It was a needed sabbatical, and I was looking forward to recharging by re-watching Avatar: The Last Airbender, Battlestar Galactica, and The Golden Girls.
One day, I got an email from Angie Kim, President & CEO of the Center for Cultural Innovation. “I’m wondering if you have a soft landing? Can our work (www.ambitio-us.org) potentially fund you, give you a business card, and act as a platform so that you continue to be in the field in ways that might work for you?”
Through our conversations over the following months, I got to understand what Angie meant by “soft landing.” This is what conservatives do for their leaders. They provide them with support to ensure that their work continues. If a right-wing pundit gets fired or leaves their position, you can be sure the conservative movement will rally around them, help them get a new job, a slot on Fox News, a post at a research institute, a book deal, a litigation lawyer, a spot on Dancing with the Stars, or whatever. They understand that their most effective leaders are their greatest weapon, so they do everything they can to protect and invest in them and their ideas.
I’ve been spending a lot of time flossing while thinking of how to categorize the challenges in our sector (What, like your quarantine activities are so much more interesting). Many of the stuff we deal with falls under the category of “well-meaning people inadvertently making nonprofits’ jobs harder.” Here are a nine. I’m going to call them paradoxes, though some of these are not paradoxes exactly, but are more like dilemmas, conundrums, or shenanigans. I’ve written about a few of them, but they keep coming up and remain a problem, so it’s good for us to review and have common language to push back. If we want our sector to succeed, we need to be aware of these paradoxes and control for them.