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.  

Thursday, October 6, 2016

New Home for Mentoring in San Antonio Opens Today!

The following is an updated version of a post from February 2016: 

After nearly 3 long years of planning and raising funds, Big Brothers Big Sisters is opening the new Harvey E. Najim South Texas Mentoring Resource Center today! Located in the center of town off Highway 281 near the airport, the Center is now home to over 40 professional Big Brothers Big Sisters staff as well as a place for all other mentoring organizations in the community to access mentoring resources.  Our mission is to provide children facing adversity with strong and enduring, professionally supported one-to-one mentoring relationships that change their lives for the better, forever, but we have been severely limited by space constraints since 2011.  The new facility, nearly 15,000 square feet, will triple our space.  We expect the move to lead to major increases in services.

We have been limited to working with only about 9,000 youth, parents and volunteers a year.  Our programs depend on the number of staff we can accommodate to recruit, screen, train and support volunteer mentors to pair with kids. We are excited to put the capital campaign behind us, move into the new space, and concentrate on growing the program. The demand for services is incredible and we want and need to be more responsive.

Space constraints combined with already existing funding constraints created long waiting lists for both youth and volunteers hoping to join the program.  Since 2012, thousands of volunteers and kids have waited an average of 6 months to be served. I worry all the time about the kids on the waiting list. 

We are also launching an in depth strategic planning process to map out how we plan to go from supporting 3,000 one to one mentoring relationships each year to 30,000.  Earlier this year we visited the Miami Mentoring Resource Center to learn about their successes.  The trip was funded by a capacity building grant from the San Antonio Area Foundation.  We are so thrilled about the Area Foundation's faith and investment in our program! We know that too many kids today don't have access to positive, caring role models, and this is why they fail. Our new mentoring center is a big step towards the creation of a strong  community of mentoring professionals with the capacity and knowledge to tackle this problem more effectively. I can't wait to get started!

The two ways to help are:
There are also still naming rights available in the new Center.  

Mentoring relationships created according to the Elements of Effective Practice have long been proven to stop the dysfunctional cycles of failure, abuse and incarceration that plague the families  served  by organizations like Big Brothers Big Sisters. There is no doubt that mentoring works.  We are very proud of the work we are already doing, but it's imperative that we bring the program to many, many more kids.