I teach a course for both wealth advisors and fundraisers on gift planning in a nonprofit context. After assignments on the three sectors, finding your funding model, board responsibilities, planned giving, gifts of noncash assets, marketing planned gifts and major gifts, stewardship, and ethics, I am considering an assignment on emerging trends. In that I want to teach how fundraisers can work with highest capacity funders who consider themselves venture-style funders, demanding metrics, accountability, dash boards, and proven results. (Give Smart: Giving that Gets Results, Leap of Reason, Money Well Spent, Giving 2.0, Creating Philanthropic Capital Markets, Do more than Give, are all excellent books in this business-inspired genre. Jim Collins' Good to Great in the Social Sectors is a classic. Stanford Social Enterprise Review is another gathering place.) What I am finding is that the central message of these books (high capacity, high performing, metrics-driven nonprofits deserve and will get funding, the rest may not) leaves fundraisers helpless. What role can a mere fundraiser play in reforming the entire organization as a precondition of raising funds? Whereas in market circles, you might have sales persons, or a road show to launch a venture, the intake of funds for nonprofits is delegated way down the gift planner, gift solicitor, fundraiser, major gift officer, planned gift person, or grant proposal writer. They can hear the message from the texts written by venture funder, but what are realistic action steps for the fundraiser?
It seems that these books are written with an implied audience of the Board or the Executive Director plus Board. The action step might be to hire an outside consultant from Mckinsey, FSG, or Bridgespan - as if the charity had the money! Hence the emphasis, perhaps, in these books on scale - get big enough to hire us as consultants or die. If these venturesome philanthropy books and philosophies are to have the catalytic, disruptive effect, they envision, and do net good (good created minus evils let loose) they will have to become integrated with Board and ED training, not just for the top 100 charities, but for many nonprofits, even the majority of them. I am not sure I see that happening. If anyone can point me to resources that address the issues raised in this post, I would appreciate it. (What do I say to fundraisers who ask, "What am I supposed to do with this venture philanthropy stuff? Why are you teaching it to me? I just raise money here, I don't run the freaking place!") I am asking, too, because so much has been written brilliantly in these books about a whole new way of looking at funding nonprofits, we are now at the point of having to ask how those insights (which are too clear to be ignored) can be applied to the fragile nonprofits which are in this era of austerity so near sinking. That the small will sink that the big may prosper is a chilling thought. I hope that Darwinism is not imported into our schools, homeless shelters, and religious organizations, from the culture of business. Market failure, broadly considered, includes the dehumanization of all concerned. Market failure unrecognized and un-alleviated is moral failure. How then, as a practical matter, with these business-inspired books, will we help the least among us, and those who raise funds on their behalf?