Halfway to strategy

The Nonprofiteer spoke to a very smart Executive Director a few days ago who said, “[Our agency] doesn’t need to be any particular size.  Once we accept that we can’t provide services to every one of the million poor people in Cook County, we can concentrate on doing what we do best for as many people as our resources will allow.”

Seven or eight months ago an equally smart Executive Director responded to the Nonprofiteer’s question about the cost of fully funding every financial aid request the agency receives by saying (very slowly, so her listener could keep up), “Not.  The.  Point.  What we have to do is provide what services we can while building public support to repeal the Hyde Amendment,” which prohibits public funding of abortions.

So here’s the problem with trying to be a fundraising consultant and a strategic planning consultant at the same time: it’s easy to forget that certain strategic questions cannot be answered with fundraising.  A provider of legal services doesn’t need to grow its private funding base nearly as much as it needs to prick the conscience of the Congress to supply public funding for the defense of poor people’s legal rights.  A provider of abortion services doesn’t need to find patrons who will pay for abortions nearly as much as it needs to restore reproductive health services to parity with other kinds of medical care in the public mind, and therefore in the public fisc.

More succinctly: from a strategic standpoint raising money matters, but raising consciousness (and/or hell) matters more.


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4 Responses to “Halfway to strategy”

  1. Anita Bernstein Says:

    Nitpick: The Hyde Amendment should certainly be repealed, but it doesn’t prohibit public funding of abortions. It prohibits spending federal money on abortions. The ACLU has a useful summary of what some states are doing to provide this medical service to their low-income residents. I’ll paste the link but I’m afraid it may break: http://www.aclu.org/reproductiverights/lowincome/16393res20040721.html

  2. Ellen Wadey Says:

    I agree that advocacy and raising public awareness are critical to all non-profit organizations, but I think where it fits on the priority list depends on the arena. Advocacy just doesn’t seem to build/sustain its momentum when you’re talking about the arts. You can advocate until the cows come home for the arts — how the arts develop critical thinking skills, how students who have been enrolled in arts education do better across the board in school, how the arts is the reservoir of our culture and usually the first place where voices of dissent arise (which hopefully will be seen as a good thing for democracy again in the next four years), how the arts are free speech — but the arts will always get the first cuts when funding gets tight or some artist creates a piece that some politician doesn’t like — and then we all have to wear our Scarlet A (artist) letter. We just don’t value art and artists here in the States the way the rest of the world always has and always will. So, if I can get a little bit of money to keep one talented artist to keep making work — on the side of their day job, of course — I’m going to go for it. I respect and support organizations that house people and feed them and make sure women have reproductive choices — that should go without saying — but my advocacy, because of the field that I’ve chosen, translates to one dollar at a time.

  3. Nonprofiteer Says:

    About the Hyde Amendment: not a nitpick but an important correction to my report; thanks. The work certain states have done in this area–like the advances certain states have made in public funding for health care for children–shows the way for the entire nation.

  4. Nonprofiteer Says:

    About the arts: you’re absolutely right, an arts administrator’s time is better spent raising private money than advocating for public money. I would argue, though, that that’s less because people don’t understand the case for public funding for the arts than because they understand it and don’t agree with it! The Nonprofiteer, for instance, thinks that free speech stops being free when it’s paid for by the sovereign, and that therefore you have a choice: have a lively arts scene, or one that slops at the public trough. (With friends like these, who needs Jesse Helms?)

    But your central point is well-taken: the importance of advocacy for a piece of the public pie depends entirely on the importance of public money to the work that you do. And the arts in the United States–for good or ill–have learned to survive with a very tiny piece of public largesse; no point in going backwards and fostering dependence on such a capricious patron.

    In my view, by the way, the non-American world’s attitudes towards public funding for the arts are based less on a superior understanding of the value of the arts than on an inferior understanding of the value of autonomous individualism (as a complete non-libertarian, I can’t believe I just wrote that). Europe and its one-time colonies share an historical tie to a system of state patronage of the arts. In the United States, there’s an equally strong historical tradition holding that s/he who eats the king’s bread must speak the king’s truth and that speaking the king’s truth is not the business of the artist.

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