Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Making Outcomes Really Matter: Paying For Success

In the late 2000's, my nonprofit wrote a grant in response to a Request for Proposal (RFP) by our state human services agency to provide mentoring services to at risk youth for the purposes of juvenile delinquency prevention.  Youth eligible for the program were selected based on criteria that determined their at risk status. For 4 years we provided these services to hundreds of children in South Texas, and thousands across the state. We had amazing outcomes: 98% of youth served statewide stayed out of the juvenile justice system.

Then the RFP for year 5 came out and youth mentoring had been removed as an effective youth development approach.  Hmmm. The approach that was 98% successful was no longer conspired to be effective?  I was confused.*  It took a while, but I finally got a meeting with the department to ask them why mentoring had been removed as an effective approach:

"Did you take the outcomes into account?" I asked. 

"No," they replied. "That has nothing to do with the creation of the new RFP." 

I was speechless. I have a hazy, surreal memory of them describing the research the PHD they had hired to write the RFP had been doing on evidence based parenting programming that informed the new approaches they wanted to try out.

That was a low point in my nonprofit career.  I felt helpless and hopeless.  I came closer to quitting than at any other time I had had to deal with this kind of self defeating situation (which actually happens all the time in the nonprofit world, unfortunately).  So, I read some books, sought out mentors, and signed up to chair the Advocacy Committee for The Nonprofit Council.

The nonprofit sector struggles to identify, define, demonstrate, measure and prove outcomes.  For such great success to be so summarily dismissed was heart-rending. In the for-profit world it's so much easier. The more money you make, the more successful you are.  The more demand for your products and services, the more you grow.  Demand for nonprofit services may very well be an indication of success but by no means determines growth or impact.  A lot of the time it makes us less successful as we try to stretch already stretched revenue to do more.

I hear more than ever now about how we need to improve outcomes, and it always makes me think of that RFP.  No one cared about the outcomes in that situation and it became a microcosmic illustration of the problem for me. It was particularly frustrating because there didn't really seem to be any real solution on the horizon. 

And then I heard about Pay For Success: an innovative approach for addressing persistent social problems.

I am so excited about this program.  I first heard about it related to a program in the UK that aimed to reduce recidivism - keeping people from re-offending and going back to prison after they had served time and supposedly been rehabilitated.  An enormous amount of money is spent on rehabilitation and yet recidivism remains alarmingly high.  The Pay For Success concept is to invest only in proven effective approaches and programs and only pay for success.  If your program doesn't do what you said it would, you don't get reimbursed.  I am reminded of my favorite saying:  "Don't confuse activity with achievement."  The nonprofit sector is filled with well meaning people running around doing things. It has only been important to "do good work" regardless of outcomes.

In the Pay For Success Model, it works like this: 
  • The funder invests in the organizations with the most effective models.
  • The organizations with the most effective models implement their programs and services, with results.  
  • The government pays the funder back with revenue that was saved as a result of effective programs.  
A real world example is of the Friends of the Children (FOC) Program that is attempting to interrupt the cycle of generational poverty. One of the ways they are doing this, for example, is to reduce the number of days that a child spends in foster care, thus reducing the cost of foster care.  The savings can be put back into the FOC programming for additional outcomes, and additional savings. 

This is scary for a lot of people. As you can imagine, it's a hard sell to ask organizations to spend money and risk not getting reimbursed for it.  This post is a really simple explanation for a very complex program, but that's the gist of if.  We cant' afford to spend billion of dollars every year in the social sector and not solve any problems.  Pay for Success is the wave of the future and I for one am thrilled!  You can read more about the pay of pay for success here

I'll be writing more about this in 2017 since the annual Issue in Profile event put on by the Nonprofit Council in October will feature a keynote on this topic.  Stay tuned.  
*I was also very pissed off.

** and drank wine.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Marie Singer Wechsler

Having written 2 blog posts about granny over the last couple of years and then recently, her obituary, I thought it was going to be difficult for me to write about her again for her funeral. What else would I say? But it wasn't difficult at all. I guess that's because a lot can happen over 93 long years, so there's volumes of material. I could write a book. But for now I'll just have to share a few remembrances and anecdotes. Please forgive me if these memories are a bit disjointed at this point. The book is only just starting to take shape. 

If there was ever a life and a death to be celebrated, it's this one. We should all be so lucky to live such long, full, happy lives, blessed with love, family and good fortune. Blessed with relatively good health and all of our faculties. Granny was pretty healthy and pretty dang sharp all the way to the end. 

I remember a family reunion in St Pete Beach a few years ago when Granny fainted by the pool. She was probably just dehydrated but they ran every test in the book on her at the hospital trying to find something wrong with her. The last doctor to release her was a cardiologist and he basically came in and told her that his diagnosis was that she was just plain old. With all due respect, ma'am. The same thing happened in San Antonio this summer. She was trying to get cleared for an eye surgery but her echocardiogram kept showing abnormalities. The echo tech told her that her 92 year old heart looked better than most 50-60 year old hearts she saw every day. "Beautiful arteries, Mrs Wechsler," she said. And then another cardiologist said he could keep testing to try to find something wrong but basically her heart was 92 and probably a little tired. Were I more eloquent I could come up with a way to express how appropriate it is that Granny ultimately passed away because her well used heart wore out from being in use so much and so often. 

Many of you know that she survived a fire a couple years ago. She told us afterwards about how she was crawling in the hallway of her apt bldg and the smoke was so thick that she didn't know which way was her apartment or which way was the elevator. So she just sat back and looked up to the heavens and said "Lord this must be it, go ahead and take me," but then a fireman appeared and picked her up and carried her to safety. Rescued by a fireman. How many people can say that? 

I'm grateful that she was so present up til the very end. About three weeks ago my dad and sister and I were over at her place playing rummy and poker with her and drinking wine -she always seemed to win the first game whenever we played - and her fair share of others- more games than I won for sure. 

One of my most treasured childhood memories was of a night I spent in a hotel room with Granny and Grandpa and Granny's sister, Aunt Lula. We were on a road trip- no idea where to or from, but the hotel room was absolutely infested with mosquitoes. For some reason it just cracked granny and aunt Lula up to watch grandpa and I running around the room trying to kill all those mosquitoes with rolled up newspapers. I'm really not sure why it was so funny. I think it was just the joyousness of a good life. Granny was fortunate and she knew it. To be on a trip, with family members she loved, with hardly a care in the world --so much so that she could just enjoy life, and sit back and watch her crazy husband and grand daughter clowning around swatting at mosquitoes, leaving a trail of squishy mosquito smears all over the walls of your hotel room.  Life is funny. Life is good. If all life throws at you are a few pesky mosquitoes then you are  a fortunate being indeed.  Granny could hardly tell the story afterwards , and she told it again and again, without dissolving into uncontrollable giggling. 

Her laugh -another sign of her joy in life- Her laugh was wonderful. I recently watched a tape of her and grandpas 50th wedding anniversary and there's this part where she and grandpa are cutting the cake, and someone off camera says something to her - apparently funny- you can't tell what- but granny turns and cackles at them. I played it over like 5 times to hear her laugh again. 

No one was more instrumental in my early developmental years than granny. My career as a youth development professional has taught me that there is no time more critical in a child's life than birth to three. Once I was old enough to understand that, I loved her all the more for being there. I hope she knew it. And while I don't remember any of that time, from birth to 3, I've heard the stories and seen the pictures and felt the love that followed me after that, from age 3 to age 50 and I know how it shaped me and made me into the person I am today. And I was only the first of 9 grandchildren, 23 great grandchildren and 4 great great grandchildren. I know that those who came after me felt as cherished by granny as I did. I know there are a lot of people in this room who have memories of Granny as vivid as mine are. 

Granny was not only a loving family matriarch but she was also a career woman - priding herself on her membership in ABWA -the American Business Women's Association and also on her membership in the order of the Eastern Star  - an entity which was founded on teachings from the Bible and committed to charitable work for Alzheimer's and juvenile diabetes research as well as funding scholarships for students of theology and music. To this day I'm still so proud of her for this civic mindedness. She was quite the role model of how someone fortunate chooses to give back. 

A tiny part of me kind of felt like she just might live forever. She's always been there and it was too hard to imagine her not being there. But 4 years ago when I visited her at Christmas time in Ohio, I could see that she was fading. When we moved her to Texas a year after that I watched her start to fade even more right before my eyes. And a few months ago she started dropping hints about being ready to go. Again, we should all be so lucky to go this way. 

I can tell you that she was hilarious to the end. I spent a good amount of time with her at hospitals and doctors offices. There was the time she tried to hook me up with her cardiologist -"isn't he good looking?" Granny asked. "Do you think he's single," she wondered? "He isn't wearing a ring." "I don't know, Granny. He's a doctor - it's common that they don't wear wedding rings."  I had to practically restrain her from grilling him on his marital status when he came back into the room. He was pretty cute though- she was totally right. But probably married. 

And then there was the time she complained about all the viagra commercials on the hospital tv. The nurses were dying over that one. 

My last moment with her will always be a sweet memory. She was asleep when I got to her room but woke up when I sat next to her on the bed. She told me that she was so sleepy and wasn't being rude, she just couldn't keep her eyes open. I played her video messages from the birthday party she was too sick to attend and opened her presents for her. Her nephew had brought her a tin of baked goodies and as soon as I popped open the lid her eyes popped open at the smell of sugar that came wafting out. She propped herself up on her elbow and started rooting around in the tin, settling on this ball of sugar - and she ate the whole thing. Just relishing the sweet taste of it. And then she laid back down and fell back asleep. I told her I'd see her later, but then 2 days later she was gone. 

I like to think of her with grandpa now. They were apart for 13 years, but now they are together. I will miss her dearly but always cherish her memory. Granny, Marie, Ree Ree- you rocked your life - and by association so many others lives too. Well done. Now Rest In Peace. 

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Blog Update

I fear that I won't be blogging very much anymore because the Blogger app on my phone is longer no longer supported. Which means it crashes every time I try to use it and there's no update. I've tried to find out if it's ever going to be updated in the future, but my inquiries have mostly been met with radio silence. Over the past three years, about 95% of the 99 blog posts I've published have been created through this app. I don't have a lot of time to blog but the handy phone app made creating posts accessible in my spare time. I once wrote a whole post waiting for my oil to be changed, and I worked on countless other posts in airports and waiting in line at stores. I half-heartedly looked into finding another vehicle for my blog but it doesn't look very easy to port over 99 posts to Wordpress or Medium, and I have less time for that than writing. My daughter Lacey recently revealed that she has her own website, so maybe she will help me create a mobile friendly webpage for my blog. I've got a draft post about how my life is a musical when the children are around to finish. 

Friday, November 25, 2016

I'm Thankful I'm not a Bully

I don't know if it happened before or after social work school but my gut reaction whenever someone screws up or says something stupid is to wonder why? Why do they act or feel that way? Where are they coming from? My gut reaction is not to attack.

When I see see a Facebook post asking me to like something I find absolutely abhorrent I wonder why my Facebook friend posted it. I wonder about her feelings or her experience or her perspective.  I don't unfriend her.

When I see a cop kick and punch and beat a young black man I wonder how that cop reached that point. What led him to such violence and anger? Was he afraid? I don't condemn him. I don't scream for his suspension.

When I hear that a cop has been murdered I wonder how could his murderer be driven to that horrendous action. What kind of life did he lead? How could he commit such an act?  I don't rush to judge him.  I don't want to kill him in retaliation.

When I hear a 15 year old child has committed murder I wonder what circumstances led to that. I imagine that she must regret it. I wonder what kind of childhood she must have had.  I don't condemn her. I don't judge her. I don't want to try her as an adult.

When I see that a student is grieving over the election and has missed a test I hope she's ok. I hope it gets better for her.  I don't tell her she's a whiny baby.

When a young teen gets pregnant I wonder who failed her. Who got her pregnant? Does she know what's ahead for her? I don't tell her that she's a slut.

When a woman gets an abortion I simply grieve. For her and her unborn child. I do not question her choice. I know I have no right.

When a young family goes on welfare I don't ask them why they had so many children they can't afford. I just hope they get the help they need. I don't want to make their lives even harder. I want to provide them information and knowledge. I want to empower them. 

When I see that someone is protesting I don't sneer with derision. I imagine the circumstances that led to them being at that rally, or on that street, holding that sign. I'm happy they care. I'm glad they are standing up.

When a protest turns violent I am sad. I don't presume to know what it's like to have walked in their shoes. I research and listen. How can they be doing those things? Feeling that rage? Where did that powerlessness come from?

When someone leaves their baby in a hot car and it dies I know they must be grieving. Filled with regret.  Going over it again and again in their mind. Thinking about how their baby must have felt. I don't viciously call for their arrest. I want to cry.

When a texting teen or drunk driver kills someone else I am filled with anguish for them and their victims. I know they made mistakes. I'm sure they know they've made mistakes. I know they'll face the consequences. I know it all sucks and nothing can make it better now. I don't waste any time talking about how horrible they are.

There is room in my heart for all of this and more, but of course that doesn’t matter. Not one bit. My heart, my compassion, my pity, my forgiveness, won't help anyone after the mistakes have been made. But, maybe, if everyone could be a little more kind, a little more tolerant, more compassionate, less angry, less sitting in judgement, less poised to vote someone off the island as soon as possible, maybe we’d be able to more effectively help out our fellow man, and keep them from screwing up, avoiding their mistakes and more. Maybe.

There but for the grace of God go I.  I think that if you don't try to understand, if you just call for the drawing and quartering of every wrong-doer, then you're kind of a bully. This is my 99th blog post. One of my very first posts back in 2012 was about how reality TV was exposing what bullies Americans are. Most reality TV show make me squirm and wince. All the humiliation, the rejection, the gloating. I can't watch.  I think it's mean. 

So I wonder - what makes a bully? Why are you so mean? So unkind? So ready and willing to judge and condemn. I'm sorry for you and I wish I could help you, but you probably don't want my help.

I am thankful I am not a bully.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Granny Rocks her Vote

Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, voting champions 
Three years before my Granny was born, women did not have the right to vote. Granny came into this world in 1923, nearly 93 years ago. 4 months before she was born, President Warren Harding died unexpectedly of a cerebral hemorrhage, shocking the nation. Granny was born into the Presidency of former Vice President Calvin Coolidge who took over for Harding. Lots of crazy stuff happened during Harding's presidency ("History's most scandal plagued president"), perhaps even rivaling the crazy stuff going on during today's campaigns. 

I asked Granny if she knew if her mother ever voted. Considering my great grandmother bore 10 children, Granny coming in at #6, between 1912 and 1934, I'd be surprised if the poll booth was on her things to do list. The only time I didn't vote was when my kids were young. I remember driving to what I thought was my polling place in the rain, at night in the dark, on the last night of voting only to find out I was in the wrong place. After standing in line. I remember crying in my car. In all honesty it was more about being a young parent than losing the chance to vote. I can't even remember who I wanted to vote for. Children are a blessing and a curse. 

Granny prefers to believe that her mother did vote but she can't remember for sure. My Dad, her son, says probably not. It's sad to ponder that kind of past but today we celebrate because Granny has just voted in the 2016 election. Ushering in the 16th President in Granny's lifetime in January 2017 will be a huge milestone, but I wanted her to be able to actually vote. Especially since she is a life-long Democrat and willing and able to vote for the first female President in our 227 year country's history.  She's only lived in Texas for a few years and registering to vote has not been high up on her to-do list. So many doctor appointments!  But I managed to get her registered and apply for a mail in ballot over the past month or so, and my mom mailed the ballot yesterday. 

I asked Granny if she remembered the first election she voted in and from what I can tell it would had to have been during World War II. If her memory is accurate* it was probably in 1944 when FDR ran against Dewey. The only thing I remember about Dewey is that he did not beat Truman 4 years later despite one of the biggest journalistic snafus in history. Granny does not remember this. 

What she does does remember is her father being instrumental in her decision to vote, which I think is pretty neat. She described herself sitting at the dining room table talking to him about going to vote a few years after she graduated from high school. Clearly it was a big deal. A few years later she was married and having children: my dad and my uncle. She doesn't remember much in particular about voting after that until she and my grandpa were "older" and used to "walk to the voting booth down the street" in Orange Park, Florida. 

Granny was my only role model Democrat in the family growing up. All the other adults I remember were declared Republicans or apolitical. There was a good deal of good-natured ribbing of Granny for her beliefs, but she stuck to her guns. I have a dim memory of wondering why she would want to be different than everyone else. Now I understand. 

I asked her what President she remembers the most over her lifetime and she immediately responded with "Nixon." It's not hard to fathom. We think some of the things Trump has done in this election are shocking but I can only imagine how truly horrified people were in 1974. Some of my first childhood memories are of Watergate and I was only 6 years old in 1974. It was absolutely all anyone could talk about.**

Granny was born in Lawrence County, Ohio. Her dad worked at the first power company in Chesapeake, Ohio, as I described in a post I wrote about Granny's life a few years ago. Ohio was the 6th state to ratify the 19th Amendment, paving the way for it to become national law in August 1920. And here we are today. My research says that 53% of voters in the 2012 election were women, which means that women determined the outcome of that election. Recently I saw that if only women voted in 2016, Hillary would beat Trump in a landslide vote. #girlpower #IJS 

Granny will be 93 in less than 2 months. In her lifetime there have been 15 presidents, including FDR who served for 12 years, and now she has voted for the 16th President, who will be our 45th commander in chief. Even if she didn't end up voting for the first female President, it's still a historic moment and I'm happy to have been a part of it. 

Rock that vote, Ladies. 



*She's pretty sharp. 

**Mostly I remember the complaining about nothing being on TV but "Watergate" and what a "damn liar" Nixon was. He was a Republican, which must have caused some cognitive dissonance in my family. Children are always watching. 

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Facebook knows the True Cost of Fundraising, Do You?

Facebook shut down our nonprofit's "Friend" Facebook page and forced us to go the "Business Page" route.  We are supremely annoyed.  There are so many (free) advantages to being a friend as opposed to being a business.  Friend posts are viewed and shared organically, communication is 2 way and you can see your actual reach.  All we see in our feed now are notifications to pay to "boost" our posts to achieve "reach" numbers that are clearly inflated.  Why does Facebook do this?  Why can't they cut nonprofits a break?  Because they know the true cost of fundraising and marketing, and they want us to pay for it. If only everyone understood this.

You get what you pay for
I learned a long time ago that you get what you pay for, and when you ask for nonprofit discounts, you get nonprofit discounted services and products--- which simply means not as good.  How can we expect for-profits to give up a portion of their profits for us, you ask?  Because we've been brainwashed to think this can work. We've been trained to ask for free stuff and as hard as it is for us to ask for things, it's just as hard for them to tell us no.  They risk being seen as uncharitable. So they promise us free stuff they really can't afford and try to follow through. It's a sucky conundrum, especially because our donors love to hear all about these in-kind transactions.

The same concept applies in fundraising.  It takes money to make money and if you don't invest in it, you wont be successful.  If your business model relies on fundraising, and you are not heavily investing in fundraising, it's unlikely you'll survive.  You may die a long, slow painful death, but you're still toast.  You will probably last longer than a badly run for-profit business because you are a nonprofit after all, and people will feel sorry for you and give you a pittance here and there which will only prolong the agony.  You will probably still do some good along the way, so there's that.

The need to invest in fundraising is integral from the start. If I wanted to start a new nonprofit* the first thing I would do is find donations.  Say I convinced 10 donors to give me $10,000 each.  I now have $100,000 which is a nice, healthy sum for a start up social services nonprofit. If I were a business, I would invest this money in strengthening my capacity and sustainability.  Probably none of my investors would expect me to be cranking out products and services yet.  But since I am a nonprofit, chances are that my donors want their investments to "go straight towards program" immediately. This is really the crux of the problem: the inability to consider fundraising, or other capacity building costs, as integral parts of the program or cause.  Say that all of my 10 donors refuse to allow any of their gifts to go towards fundraising.  This means that I and my new nonprofit are done.  We are not even going to die a long, slow painful death - we're not making payroll, our creditors are suing, and it is over.

But what if we had invested 50%, 60%, 70% or even more of that $100,000 in fundraising?  We could have doubled, tripled or quadrupled that initial investment. Sure, this means that our overhead percentages would be higher than we've been trained** to believe is acceptable, especially in the beginning, but it also means we will not fall prey to the deadly Nonprofit Starvation Cycle.  We might have a chance to go on to improve programs and outcomes to the point that we start to solve complex, social problems.  Imagine that.

If you find this subject as frustrating and fascinating as I do, the Nonprofit Council's Nonprofit Defense Committee is hosting a breakfast event featuring special guests from the national nonprofit "watch-dog" organizations Charity Navigator and Guidestar.  These guests will describe how they came to write an open letter to the donors of America, and what the next steps are to change the conversation in the sector to one where we are honest, open, realistic and effective around the true costs of marketing and fundraising. 

Now just to liven things up a little, I'm going to bring up the Wounded Warrior Project (WWP) because this organization was maligned in the media and by the public for doing exactly what I'm advocating for here. They've been cleared of any wrong-doing, but the uninformed court of public opinion is still strongly against them.  Anyone interested in getting the real story should watch this video and read this report.  I include the graph to the right to further make the point that when you invest in fundraising, you raise more funds, but you spend a lot on fundraising and this makes people uncomfortable. This graph shows how much money WWP invested in fundraising and how much revenue they were able to generate as a result of that investment - in comparison to other veteran's charities.  WWP was able to raise a lot more money and serve a lot more veterans, but sadly, if we don't change the conversation, they will not be able to continue or replicate this kind of success again, and the rest of us will also still be up a creek.

Come to the breakfast this Friday and find out how you can help change the conversation and change the world. 

*I would never start a new nonprofit because no matter what cause I chose, there would already be a nonprofit out there that could use my help.


Monday, October 17, 2016

Don't Dilute Your Impact

A Letter to the Future Donors of America

I meet a lot of caring young people who want to change the world. They're fresh on the scene, filled with energy and optimism.  It's inspiring, even to someone as old and jaded and cynical as I. So I've mostly refrained from saying anything that would dampen their enthusiasm. I'm just grateful that someone is willing carry on when I'm done working in nonprofits. The last thing I need to be doing is quashing that potential. I learned a huge lesson when I questioned why my now-23-year-old daughter wanted to support invisible children overseas in her sophomore year of high school.  "Don't you know that there are suffering kids in your own community you could actually help?" I asked her, like I was some kind of Charity Grinchy-Scrooge.  I don't know what was wrong with me. I think I had just read an article about overwhelming Child Protective Services caseloads and I was feeling helpless. She was sad and it was pointless, and so I learned. 

However, recent events compel me to speak up now.  Young people today are the future donors of tomorrow and there is an important concept they need to carefully consider:

Don't dilute the impact of your time and money in the charitable sector. 

Right now young people have more time to give and they're eager to do so.  They volunteer at the food bank, read to kids in classrooms, and make robots with middle-schoolers on weekends.  According to The Millennial Impact Report , 70% of those surveyed volunteered at least 1 hour to a cause they cared about.  But even more amazingly, the report also found that 84% of young people are donating.  In a world filled with stories of crushing student debt, this is truly wonderful news.  Presumably, they wouldn't want the hard earned dollars they give to charity and the time they spend volunteering to be wasted.*   If they're not careful though, it will be, so I have some advice. 

First, don't start your own non-profit.  I know how it feels to be passionate about a cause, wanting to make a difference. But at least once a week I hear that someone wants to start a new nonprofit, and I cringe.  Until about 6 or 7 years ago, I was like most people who thought that starting a nonprofit seemed like a reasonable thing to do. People who want to do that are usually motivated by the identification of an unmet need and the willingness and desire to address it. But chances are that there is already a nonprofit out there that's struggling to address that need and could really use some help. Starting a competing nonprofit will actually hurt both enterprises by diluting the resources each acquires. The temptation is strong, and I can hardly blame anyone for trying.  Millennials look out at the world and all its problems and wonder why the hell we couldn't figure anything out.  Youthful energy and optimism kicks in and the next thing they know they are applying for 501 c 3 status.  For anyone who has pondered/is pondering this path, consider these 2 facts: 

In 2008, I read a book called "Billions of Drops in Millions of Buckets," that created a huge shift in the way I thought about how charity works.  Not a week goes by since then that I don't think about this book in the course of my work in the nonprofit sector. The book's author, Steve Goldberg, describes a phenomenon he calls "funding fragmentation" that results when nonprofit funding is spread too thin across too many organizations thereby diluting its impact.  For example, if you raised $10,000 and wanted to help a lot of organizations, you could give $100 to 100 nonprofits.  But have you really helped any of them?  What can they really do with $100?  But if you gave 1 nonprofit - one you really believed in and that you knew did really great work, the full $10,000, chances are they could achieve something meaningful. 

My first a-ha moment while reading this book was around that $300 BILLION DOLLARS being spent EVERY 365 DAYS.  It's a whopping understatement to say that's a lot of money.  You'd think that we could make more progress with $300 billion dollars being used every 365 days.  You'd think we could solve a few problems.  You certainly can see why young people today might be a bit frustrated.  I think this is one of the factors that leads me to my second point:  

Be careful of the choice and freedom to donate to any organization.  All signs point to the fact that millennials really want to try to solve complex social problems.  But their giving practices demonstrate a lack of awareness of the dangers of funding fragmentation that could lead to dilution of impact.  A huge contributing factor here is the millennial's desire to donate to any organization they choose.  This also seems very reasonable on the surface.  For example, young people are moving away from employer giving campaigns because they feel too limited by the charity choices in these campaigns. The Millennial Impact Report notes that as few as 11% of young people are donating through their employer.  This is leading more and more employers to "open up" their campaigns, and increase the number of charities employees can choose to give to.   

In traditional giving campaigns, employees are offered a choice of several charities to give to through payroll deductions.  The charities are vetted through the employers themselves or organizations such as the United Way.** The benefit to this is that employers and employees can feel secure that the organizations they are investing in are good stewards of the donations.  The downsides were an over-reliance on overhead percentages as an indicator of charity effectiveness and diminishing donor confidence.  Millennials became skeptical of the vetting and increasingly felt limited by their choices.  They wanted to become personally involved in the organizations they were donating to and do the vetting themselves.  And as the number of nonprofits began to drastically increase, so did their choices.  Again, this all seems very reasonable from an individual's point of view.  But dilution of impact in this scenario is pretty much inevitable.  In my community for example, the United Way vets between 60 and 70 nonprofit organizations each year.  It raises over $50 million dollars, a majority of which goes to those nonprofits. For years, local employers have been inviting the United Way in and encouraging employees to give to these 60-70 charities.  As these employers get more and more feedback from younger employees that they want more freedom of choice to donate, they are opening up their campaigns to more and more nonprofits.  There are over 1,500 nonprofits in my community.  You can do the math.***

Because I don't like to present a problem without at least offering a potential solution, here are my suggested focus areas going forward:  
  • Since there are too many nonprofits already - focus on mergers, collaborations, collective impact efforts and reducing duplication of services.
  • There is a lot of money out there - focus on the huge challenge of demonstrating effectiveness through performance metrics so we know how to spend it to get the outcomes we need.  This is so much harder than it looks.****
Good luck!  I believe in you! 
*This is where many readers will expect me to go on about overhead and administrative costs, but since that measure has been thoroughly debunked, I don't have to waste anyone's time with it.  

**For the sake of transparency, my nonprofit is a United Way agency.  

***Before anyone accuses me of trying to limit any more nonprofits from becoming United Way organizations, let me dispel that assumption.  I am all for freedom of choice - but the United Way can't vet 1,500 nonprofits and no one would benefit if they tried to.  We need a new model, that moves the needle. 

****Interesting article I recently read on outcomes.