The Nonprofiteer has begun tweeting under the name of KellyNFP. (A.A.Milne: “Winnie the Pooh lived in the forest under the name of Sanders.” “What does that mean?” asked Christopher Robin. “It means he kept a sign saying “Sanders,” and he made his home underneath it.”) Many of the tweets are about nonprofits; some are about politics. If you just can’t get enough of her/me, please “follow.” Thanks!
Another day, another idiotic Top 5 list, this one purporting to identify marketing trends in philanthropy. As it turns out, the list actually identifies what its author believes to be methods of fostering planned giving. Faced with this basic lack of clarity, the Nonprofiteer refrains from making snarky comments about the content. Instead, she translates it into English.
[N]onprofits in the new year [are] advised just to be themselves. “People expect exaggeration in marketing. They don’t expect a matter-of-fact voice that addresses people’s reservations about buying or donating,” says [someone getting paid for spouting content-free advice, who]. . . . calls this first trend “humanvertising” . . . . [and] suggests a pitch might go like this: “Your gift won’t be used to pay the utility bills or marketing expenses. It will be used to advance our important mission through remarkable programs such as…” “Humanvertising,” as opposed to the messages nonprofits so frequently direct at paramecia and ferns. From context the word appears to mean, Sound like every other agency; pretend not to have any operating expenses.
Story Superpowers: “Nothing can generate emotions or stimulate behavioral responses like stories,” [genius] says. And, he says, these stories need to be not only educational, but also inspirational. Mention that you serve people and they benefit.
Photo Assembling: “Photos are an evolutionary preference for consuming information in a short amount of time[.]” A picture is worth a thousand words.
Crowdsourced Inspiration: “For 2013, you should ask more of your dedicated supporters,” [he] says. “Ask them for their voice.” When you want money, ask for advice and pretend to listen.
Stigma-Free Singledom: A record 100 million Americans are not married. . . . So why are singles almost ignored in the [planned giving] world? People without families are losers but they also have nowhere else to leave their money.
Now, aren’t you better off for knowing all that?
There’s an old joke about a man who asks a woman to sleep with him for $1 million. She agrees, whereupon he asks her to sleep with him for $1. “What kind of a girl do you think I am?” asks the woman indignantly. “We’ve settled that,” replies the man, “We’re just arguing about the price.”
This came to the Nonprofiteer’s mind in response to this story about the price of the Broad Foundation’s generosity to the schools of New Jersey. A recent Broad Foundation grant stipulates that it will be available only as long as Chris Christie remains governor.
The Nonprofiteer has often argued that private philanthropy in education (and other areas) is at best a mixed blessing, because it reflects approval of the notion that public assets should be run according to private preferences. But she never imagined any philanthropy would go this far, offering its generosity only on condition that the public sacrifice its right to choose its own leaders. The question isn’t whether or not Chris Christie is a good governor; the question is whether the Broad Foundation—as opposed to the voters of New Jersey—should get to decide that.
Sure, you can say that no voter is likely to sacrifice his or her rights for a grant of $430,000, but then we’re just arguing about the price. And sure, in form, the voters of New Jersey still hold the power, but the Broad Foundation grant gives them to understand that the cost of exercising their power is losing a lot of money—or, put another way, that the cost of the money is their democratic rights. By comparison, “the vig” (excessive interest rates) charged by organized crime look like a bargain.
Not content with specifying the outcome of an election, the grant’s terms also exempt from disclosure anything having to do with the grant, purporting to provide it with immunity from application of the Federal Freedom of Information Act. Perhaps this was intended to minimize the impact of the grant on voters: What they don’t know can’t influence them. But when the subject of the grant is the most public of concerns—the education of the next generation—a commendable motive doesn’t excuse unacceptable means. Voters need to know on what basis decisions are being made about their schools so that they can change the decision-makers if they disagree. The grant terms are an effort to protect the foundation and its direct beneficiary, the current Republican government of New Jersey, from that straightforward democratic notion.
Defenders of charter schools and other forms of privatization of public schools argue that such restructuring attracts private philanthropy that would not otherwise be available to those schools. That’s probably true, but is that a cost or a benefit? It’s a slippery slope, from good-willed private philanthropy in support of public goals to a system in which private goals predominate—specifically the private goal of eliminating public input (or even public knowledge) from the governance of the public schools.
We could argue about whether the loss of public input would be worth it if the donation were $430 million. But under the current circumstances, just what kind of girl is New Jersey?
A cheap date, apparently.
I serve on the board of a nonprofit. 100% of our board gives in some form monetarily throughout the year through event sponsorship, general giving, donations at events, etc. With all the year-round giving, many of us were not making a gift to the annual appeal. Recently, we were informed that funders look at what percentage of our organization’s annual appeal total comes from board members. This has the board scrambling to make sure everyone gives a significant sum here at year’s end. It also has many of us questioning the timing of our gifts for the next year. Do we not sponsor the gala or give to summer programs, but instead save that donation for the annual appeal? There is only so much to give for many of us.
While I know that funders want 100% of board members to give, the desire for that giving to come in the form of the annual appeal is new to me. I find it especially surprising that they would ask what percentage of the annual appeal comes from board members. Have you heard about this stipulation? Is it widespread?
Obviously we all want what is in the best interest for our organization to be positioned for future funding. However, I don’t want to lose the help and momentum the organization gets from year-round board giving if it isn’t necessary.
Signed, Surprised and Scrambling
First, let the Nonprofiteer congratulate you on having a Board that gives 100%. It’s bizarre to imagine that some additional hurdle should be placed in the way of a Board which has already cleared that one. Institutional funders are notorious for always asking for one more thing; but this hoop is a brand-new one.
The Nonprofiteer suspects that what we have here is a failure to communicate*—that is, a misunderstanding of what the funder actually wants to know. If the program officer asks (or the guidelines say) “What percentage of your annual fund comes from your Board members?” the English translation is most likely, “What percentage of your annual donated income comes from your Board members?” NOT “Which appeal do your Board members respond to?”
The funder’s concern may be for institutions whose Boards donate 75% of the group’s contributed income, reflecting a failure to reach out into the broader stakeholder community. Conversely, the funder—which mostly doesn’t deal with Boards as generous and active as yours—wants to know if Board member donations are significant or merely pro forma: if every single member of the Board gave $1, that wouldn’t be the kind of Board participation the foundation wants to see, or intends to spark through its inquiry.
If in fact the funder cares about the Board’s response rate to the annual appeal, meaning the end-of-year solicitation letter, this is a classic example of a wider problem in the nonprofit community: the “it doesn’t count” syndrome. Oh, members of your Board buy and sell tickets to the benefit event? “It doesn’t count” because there might be something involved in the transaction beyond a straightforward check and tax receipt. “It doesn’t count” syndrome leaves Board members feeling unappreciated and nonprofit executives feeling unsupported; so repeat after the Nonprofiteer: money is fungible; IT ALL COUNTS.
And if the funder disagrees: so the funder is stupid! Having money is no guarantee of having brains, and that’s as true in the philanthropic sector as anywhere else, though it’s harder to remember when we’re spending all our time trying to please people with money.
The Nonprofiteer’s advice: call the program officer and say, “Do I understand you want to know what percentage of the response to our end-of-year solicitation letter—what we call the annual appeal—comes from the Board, or do you just want to know what percentage of our annual contribution income is donated by the Board?” If s/he really means the former, then yes, just shift the timing of your contributions in future years.
“Teach your funders well . . . . just look at them and sigh, and know they” don’t understand you at all.**
*Cool Hand Luke
**Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young: “Teach Your Children”
This is glorious: someone figuring out how to divert some of that pointless holiday shopping into social good. Go bust some charity’s door today!
Making the rounds at law schools for Good Counsel: Meeting the Legal Needs of Nonprofits, I’m heartened to meet so many students interested in serving on charities boards in their communities. My recent talk at Harvard Law School about how law students and young lawyers can start preparing for the trustee role is available here.
Dear Nonprofiteer, How do we reach consensus on our Executive Director’s performance while preserving every Board member’s perspective?November 20, 2012
What is the best way for a Board to review its Executive Director? Our current review process involves each Board member’s completing a review of the ED and then our Board president’s “averaging” the reviews (without further debate or discussion from the Board) into the final document. While this is an effort at broad input, in reality it results in producing only the most general review, with minority viewpoints often dropped.
As Board treasurer I work with the staff and Executive Director often in different ways than other Board members and this give me the opportunity to see areas of weakness and strength others may not see. Likewise I’m sure other Board members, due to their unique positions of involvement, are seeing still different weaknesses and strengths but because their observations may not be those of the majority, they never make it into the final report.
Signed, Minority Report
You’ve put your finger on an important but oft-neglected aspect of nonprofit management: the need (as in the wider political arena) to protect the rights of the minority while preserving democratic governance by a majority. Nonprofit Board members are often so averse to conflict that they unintentionally shut down opposition—even their own—to preserve the illusion of unity, or at least consensus.
But it’s not consensus if it doesn’t include acknowledgement of minority opinions, particularly when those opinions are informed by special expertise. Board members are charged with governing agencies, which largely means overseeing the work of the Executive Director. Many Board members ask how that’s possible when everything they know about the agency comes from that selfsame Executive Director; and the only good answer is to secure information from within the Board itself.
As Treasurer, you know whether the ED is a spendthrift or a penny-pincher; whether s/he manages cash flow well or whether every month is a festival of white knuckles; whether s/he is carrying the appropriate share (or much more, or much less) of the fundraising burden. If you don’t share these data with the rest of the Board, all the other members are operating in needless dark.
The Nonprofiteer suggests that you propose to the Board president a relatively minor modification of the current approach: that after s/he’s crafted what’s designed to be a consensus report on the Board’s behalf, s/he bring it back to the Board for final approval. At that time, every Board member should get to see the comments of every other Board member, which enhances the likelihood that someone will say, “Wait a minute–we can’t gloss over these comments about how the Executive Director abuses the staff in public.”
The Board president probably wants to make sure that the ED isn’t getting feedback from all directions, because that sort of cacophony is to no one’s benefit. That’s a fine goal, but it should be balanced with the goal of making the ED’s review as comprehensive and nuanced as possible. Your agency’s decision to gather all the Board feedback gets you half the distance to the goal line; sharing and incorporating that input as a group will earn you a touchdown.