Tag Archives: philanthropy

Excellence in Giving

Not too long ago I had the opportunity to listen to a wonderful speech that was given by Thomas Tierney, chairman and cofounder of Bridgespan, at the 2009 Philanthropy Roundtable Annual Meeting.  For those who have not had the opportunity to listen to it, the speech can now be found on the Philanthropy Roundtable’s website. It was a refreshing oration which I believe every donor (and nonprofit leader) would benefit from listening to. One of the focuses of the speech was to identify several brutal facts facing donors who are seeking to achieve greater impact through their contributions. Since this year, more than any other in recent memory, donors are interested in seeing their seeing their contributions stretched a little further to help more people, recognizing these facts is essential if you want to optimize the impact your philanthropy is having.  

The first brutal fact that Tierney identifies is that donors are only as good as the organizations they give to. This becomes particularly tricky when a donor considers the sheer number of nonprofits that are out there – more than a million at the latest count.

The second fact is that excellence in giving is self-imposed. It is very easy for a donor interested in average returns to stroke a check to the organization of his choice and continue on his or her merry way.  However, donors who want to see more children helped with their donation must raise the bar in their giving.  It was easy to appreciate his view that, unlike the for-profit sector, there are no predators in the nonprofit world.  In other words, if a charity underperforms, there is no larger charity that will come and absorb it. Underperformers, although often quite well-intentioned, abound in this sector.  It is left up to the donor to determine what nonprofits meet their high expectations.

The third fact that donors must face is that there are obstacles and handicaps that appear in the nonprofit sector, which are not present in the for-profit world that most donors are familiar with.  There are no capital markets for nonprofits, nor any sort of pipeline for identifying and promoting talent. Effective nonprofits must be repeatedly asking themselves the difficult questions about how they define success and how they are going to achieve that vision if they want to have the kind of impact that discerning donors are looking for.

Compound those brutal facts by this week’s press release issued by a collaborative of nonprofit watchdogs, including GuideStar and Charity Navigator, which essentially encouraged donors not to rely on overhead and fundraising ratios as a measurement of effectiveness in their favorite nonprofits: tools that have been historically used to determine a nonprofit’s efficiency.

I completely agree with what the press release had to say.  Overhead ratios do not relate to the impact that a nonprofit is having on its target population.  Not to mention these ratios encourage nonprofits to sacrifice investing in resources and talent that would increase their effectiveness but would negatively affect their ratio. On top of it all, I have never seen two nonprofits interpret the rules for determining overhead costs in the same way.

So what does that leave donors? Since excellence is self-imposed, how can donors interested in achieving more than average returns on their donation navigate the obstacles presented by the nonprofit world and find the partners that deliver the results the donor is looking for? It can be terribly overwhelming. The good news is…there is help. 

Our role at Operation Kids is to provide the research and resources necessary so that our clients can make informed giving decisions and achieve the impact they are hoping for – without taking any fees. We do this because we firmly believe that more donors giving to more effective charities results in more lives changed. If you are interested in raising the bar in your charitable giving this holiday season (or any time), contact us and see if we can help you.

 -Christopher Lindsay

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I give to charity, but I am not a philanthropist….or am I?

Several Thanksgivings ago, my wife and I found ourselves at Arlington National Cemetery.  As we stood conversing near Robert E. Lee’s old mansion, admiring the view of the Potomac below, we were approached by a woman.  She wished us a happy holiday and then went on to tell how she had traveled to DC the day before so that she could attend the funeral of a son who had been killed in action in Iraq and buried at Arlington.  I was surprised by the sudden appearance of the woman and by the recounting of her grief.  Not quite sure what to say, I expressed some generic statement of sympathy and we quietly parted ways.

Fast forward a few years and I find myself this Thanksgiving eagerly waiting for the return of a family member who is serving in Afghanistan. It has been an incredible year for our family as we have watched this young man transition to military life and depart on his first tour of duty. While his time with us on leave will be short, our Thanksgiving together this year will be particularly meaningful. But with his homecoming, I am reminded of that experience at Arlington. Looking back, there was definitely more that could and should have been said. I am not one to live in the past; I simply wish that I had understood the woman’s loss with the same clarity that I do now. If I had, I would have done more to share my sincerest gratitude for her son’s service and my heart-felt grief at his sacrifice.

It is amazing how age and life experience can deepen our understanding of the value of people and blessings in our lives. And it has been my experience that with that self-reflective discernment comes an enhanced capacity to take action.  There is certainly reason enough this year for us to be particularly grateful for blessings that we might have taken, more or less, for granted in years past.  You don’t have to look far to find many that have lost jobs, lost homes and lost hope. Unfortunately, at the same time, the nonprofit sector finds itself in an interesting predicament.  While the needs of many have grown, corporations and foundations have had to cut back their funding to accommodate their own financial losses.

This year, more than ever, we need philanthropists – individuals who value clarity, effectiveness, and significance in their giving.  And philanthropy is not something reserved for only those of high net worth.  It is the distinction granted to individuals who are grateful for their material capacities, who personally identify with the needs of people and causes that parallel their own experience, and who wholeheartedly pursue their self-perceived charitable duty. So this year, as charitable opportunities abound, take a moment to reflect on what inspires your giving and volunteering. In doing so, not only will you have a much more rewarding experience, but you will also ameliorate the circumstances of those around you.

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The Only Difference is Zeros

10 Steps to Improved Nonprofit Development and Fundraising

In 1984, as part of the first real job of my career, I had just come to New York City and joined NBA Properties, the official licensing arm of the National Basketball Association. In Denver that year, we were about to introduce to the basketball world a new concept—the NBA All-Star Weekend. Back then it was to include two showcase events—the Slam-Dunk Championship and what we called then, the Old Timers Game. (Soon after we found that our participants in that game preferred we call it the Legends Game!).

My responsibilities that year included putting together a shoe deal for those participating in the Old Timers Game. We identified a provider and put a deal together that, at the time, seemed like huge dollars. The shoe provider would provide the shoes and $5,000! But, if more than 13 of the 24 participants would actually wear the sneakers during the game, NBA Properties would be paid $7,500. As only 11 of the players actually wore the shoes in the first half, I actually went into both locker rooms at halftime and aggressively campaigned for two more players to wear the shoes the second half—thus earning us an additional $2,500! Days not soon forgotten.

Flash forward to 1997, and I am now serving as the managing director of marketing for the 2002 Olympic Winter Games in Salt Lake City. I am now participating in sponsorship presentations where the asking price is $50,000,000. Many times it was not lost on me that certainly some things had changed from the $5,000 asks to now the $50,000,000 asks. And yet, in taking a closer look, the development/fundraising process was, for both asks, very, very similar. The only difference is the zeros!

Over the coming weeks, now having spent over 25 years in the fundraising/development/sponsorship world, I will be sharing what I have come to see as 10 Steps to Improved Nonprofit Development and Fundraising. Steps that I have come to trust and use along the way, and which have served me well—from the NBA to Children’s Miracle Network to the Massachusetts Sports & Film Partnership to Operation Kids. Hopefully this list of steps will be of value to you as you pursue development and fundraising activities for the organization you represent.

Step #1: Love what you do and love who you represent!

Before you embark on any capital campaign, annual fundraising effort, donor program or revenue-generating activity, make sure you are passionate about the organization you represent, energized about the services and impact your organization provides, and that you flat-out love what you are doing. With so much competition for individual or family donor dollars, foundation dollars, or corporate dollars, the very first impression that the person you are presenting to needs to know and feel, is that you, as a representative of your organization, has a true passion and burning emotion for that which you are presenting and offering.

If you don’t truly care about the mission and purpose of the organization you are representing, and the services and assistance they provide, why should the person you are presenting to care either?

You have to have it inside of you. It needs to burn…not real hot some days and cooler other days. That passion for your organization and what it stands for and provides must burn steady, and burn bright. That passion for what you do and who you represent must be that “special sauce” that gets you out of bed everyday, and inspires you, day in and day out, to work hard, to prepare and to compete.

Without it, potential donors partners will see through you and will likely share in your transparent disinterest. With it, potential donors will say to themselves, “There is something deeper going on here and I need to find out more.” Before a person believes in your organization and your mission, they first must believe in you.

Next Week:    Step #2: Define who you are, what you are, what you can provide, and what you are offering!

-Don Stirling

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Teaching Children to Give

Our founder and board chair Dennis Webb addressed an audience in Connecticut this past week hosted by the Family Office Association. The conference was designed for the benefit of high net-worth families, but Dennis addressed an issue that we should all consider, regardless of income level.

Whether we are wealthy or just getting by, it is quite typical that we as parents or perhaps grandparents, experienced struggles that our children have not. When parents or grandparents make the necessary sacrifices for education or to build wealth and security, the children and grandchildren are the beneficiaries without a full perspective of the efforts made on their behalf. Without dismissing the challenges of youth, many kids today live lives of relative ease, complete with cell phones, cars and laptops – sometimes failing to understand what it takes to be productive and independent or to act for the welfare of others. They are often spared the struggle and experience only the fruits.

A wise quote says, “We work so hard to give our children everything we didn’t have, that we sometimes forget to give them what we did have.” Dennis addressed this concept of instilling in our children the values that created the lives they now live. This includes a work ethic, a sense of caring and an ability to sacrifice for others. He spoke of personal experiences in taking his children on humanitarian aid missions and the differences in their lives as they experienced real need first-hand. As one of his then teen-aged sons said on a flight back from one such mission, “I had to go half way around the world to understand how blessed I am.”

There is hardly a parent who, in an effort to get a young child to finish their vegetables, has not used this line: “There are starving children who would love to have that food.” The fact is, there really are. About a third of all the children in the world would give anything for the leftovers we discard from our tables. Our children may know this, they may read about these things, but it is very easy to miss the point unless they have seen it first-hand.

The point is this: we have a great deal in this nation. Even if we are struggling at times, we are, relatively speaking, rich. I had the distinct privilege of spending some time with Marc Lubner, a gentleman and philanthropist in the truest sense of the word, from South Africa. As he so powerfully stated, “I have seen people in South Africa who are desperately poor, reach out to help others who are even poorer. That is their wealth; that is their method of coping – to reach out to another in even greater need.”

Wherever you may fall on the income spectrum, you and your children live better than most. We have so much, and while the current credit crunch may round some edges off of our self-indulgent society, we need to dig a little deeper and live with gratitude and awareness of those who have less. We need to teach this to our children so that we can have a hope of changing things. Not only is it the right thing to do, it is also the key to changing the circumstances of the less-fortunate. We would do well to teach our children that caring for others is less about “helping the poor” in the abstract, but more about our global community.

Lila Watson, part of an Australian Aboriginal group said (although she resists taking credit for a thought she claims was born of a collaborative process),

“If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, the let us work together.”

An interesting thought as we approach the Thanksgiving season.

-Rick Larsen

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The OK List of America’s Best

As we congratulate Bill and Kathy Magee and Senator Orrin Hatch on their well-deserved recognition in November’s U.S. News & World Report, we are mindful of other great leaders with whom we have had the privilege of working during the past year. With that, I’d like to contribute an “Operation Kids: America’s Best Leaders in 2009” by highlighting additional leaders who have made an enormous impact in their communities and, due to their commitment and influence, the world.

Anthony Kennedy Shriver: In 1989 Anthony created a mentoring program on his college campus. That project turned into a life’s work. Today, through his stewardship and entrepreneurial spirit, Best Buddies® has grown into a leading nonprofit entity with increasingly international reach across six continents. It has established a global volunteer movement that creates opportunities for one-to-one friendships, integrated employment and leadership development for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. They positively impact more than 400,000 participants every year.  The organization is active in each of the 50 United States, and operates accredited international programs in 44 countries.

Drew Brees:   When Drew left the San Diego Chargers and signed with the New Orleans Saints in 2006, he and his wife Brittany took a higher view of the situation. They believed that they were directed to New Orleans for a reason, and committed to become part of the community. They immediately sought way to help rebuild post-Katrina. Today, Drew and Brittany have rebuilt nearly a dozen successful projects including athletic facilities, day care centers and critical education programs. Their adopted city of New Orleans have hailed them as true “Saints” in the city.

Steve Young: With an NFL Hall of Fame career behind him, Steve maintains a broadcast career, participates in a private equity firm, and continues to provide leadership of the Forever Young Foundation. Forever Young Foundation is a non-profit organization that serves children facing significant physical, emotional, and financial challenges. They focus on efforts to provide academic, athletic, and therapeutic opportunities to at-risk youth. They have expanded beyond their historical focus on Northern California, Arizona and Utah, to include development projects like the Forever Young Zones, Youth Education Town Centers (YET Centers) in each Super Bowl city and now, international initiatives including the building and expansion of schools in Ghana, Africa.

John A. (Jack) Calhoun: In his “retirement,” Jack manages the 13-California City Gang Prevention Network for the National League of Cities Institute for Youth, Education and Families. In 2007 and has published a book, Hope Matters: The Untold Story of How Faith Works in America. He has spent a lifetime attempting to improve the lot of children and families and the communities in which they live. President Carter appointed Jack to the nation’s top children’s job, Commissioner of the Administration for Children, Youth and Families, where he oversaw such programs as Head Start, Child Welfare, The Center to Prevent Child Abuse and Neglect, the Office of Domestic Violence and the Office for Families. For 20 years he served at the National Crime Prevention Council as its President and CEO. He also has served as Vice President of the Child Welfare League of America, was the Massachusetts Commissioner of the Department of Youth Services, and chair of both the Adolescent and the State of the Family Task Forces.

We give our deepest gratitude and respect to these great Americans who have truly made an enormous impact on their communities and the world around them.

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Filed under Initiative: Thought Leadership

Giving to China? Here’s What You Should Know

Planning on becoming involved in the philanthropic sector in China? Here are two things you should know before you start.

The National Intelligence Council’s 2008 report states that “China is poised to have more impact on the world over the next 20 years than any other country”. China’s impressive rise on the world stage has created intense international interest, both politically and economically. This interest has only strengthened amidst the turmoil of the recent financial crisis: in 2008 alone, China received $82.7 billion in foreign direct investment, a 13.8% increase since 2006. It makes sense that many individuals and corporations with interests in China would also be interested in becoming involved in philanthropic work in China.  Becoming involved in philanthropy in China is, however, subject to many of the same issues and complexities that are faced by those seeking to make a profit there. Here are two key points that anyone hoping to work in the philanthropic sector in China should know:

Government relations are the key

While having a good relationship with the government is important for charitable organizations everywhere, in China it is absolutely vital. You cannot successfully operate in any way in China without the full approval of both central and local government officials. After the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake in Sichuan province, the non-government organizations that were able to have the greatest impact in the relief efforts were not the groups with the most international funding or the best organizations but rather those with the closest ties to government. This is a consequence not only of the stricter regulations in place in China relating to philanthropic activity and organizations, but also to the dominance of the Chinese government in the economy. While the private sector has grown significantly in China during the last 30 years of economic reform, the government continues to make up 60-70% of the whole economy. Even in the private sector, nearly a third of the funding comes from the government.

The Chinese government, in sum, not only exercises political dominance but economic dominance as well. Thus individuals or groups who fail to cultivate good relationships with government officials not only risk being shut down but also are losing access to the largest sector of the Chinese economy. It is also important to understand the surprisingly heterogeneous nature of the government in China. Policies and regulations may differ significantly from city to city, and may sometimes even be in conflict with policies of the central government. Be aware also of the potential ethical issues this point may raise, as gaining the confidence of some local officials may involve practices that are viewed as inappropriate by US standards.

Politics and philanthropy don’t mix

It is vital for charitable organizations and individuals to have a thorough understanding of the political boundaries which exist in China. Failure to grasp the political realities can completely derail even the best intended programs.  Consider the example of a philanthropic group that wanted to hold an event to benefit children orphaned in the Sichuan earthquake. As well intentioned as the group was, they failed to consider that the involvement of a well-known personality who was critical of the Chinese government would make it difficult or even impossible for the money to be accepted in China. As a consequence, the group was unable to accomplish its goals.

The Chinese government places a premium on maintaining social harmony and invariably takes strong measures against that any organization or individual that seems to threaten that goal. Political matters to avoid include obvious issues like Tibetan, Taiwanese or Uyghur separatism or the 1989 Tiananmen protests but also may include seemingly innocuous issues like poverty or education. Philanthropic groups and individuals interested in working in China today should take great care not to be involved with any activities or individuals that even appear to threaten social order, the Chinese Communist Party’s legitimacy, or have an adverse impact the influence of the government. It is just as important for philanthropic groups or individuals to gain the trust of local officials and show that that they plan on working as a complement, not a substitute, for government.

-Britton

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Lessons from Ghana: Making a Difference

My recent trip to Africa reminded me of some of the finer points of delivering assistance and support in areas of great need. These are lessons learned from many years of being involved in areas like Thailand, New Orleans and other areas of unique and extraordinary need.

It is my experience and observation that generous people are drawn to certain areas and certain types of need. The conditions in many regions of Africa are a perfect example: Celebrity focus, news headlines and other media reports has created an awareness of living conditions in parts of Africa. That is good. However, awareness does not always represent a solution: sometimes action does not even represent a solution.  As we like to say within our organization, “Generosity is not the issue, effectiveness is.” Part of being effective is delivering what is truly needed in the eyes of the beneficiary.  

When delivering aid to a people, regions and cultures we may not fully understand, there are things to be aware of that, in context, easily explain why so many efforts do not work. I am going to try to articulate a couple of these important details and perhaps spark deeper thought and discussion when it comes to international giving.

Truthfully, we cannot underestimate cultural differences. We frequently see aid delivered in the form that the donor feels appropriate, rather than what the community in need really desires and recognizes. We saw this after the deadly Southeast Asian tsunami in 2004 when well-meaning groups shipped large quantities of coats and scarves to a hot, humid region of southern Thailand; the intentions were good, but the effort was lost on people with very different and specific needs. We see a similar dynamic in many international efforts: housing development for people who culturally would not live in the types of shelter being constructed; a failure to involve appropriate and respected leaders who can be the lubricant between those who want to help and those in need; Last but not least, trying to jump ahead of the process and bring people to a point we as donors feel they need to be, rather than a point they desire to be.

As donors, we need to consider the culture we seek to aid from a perspective of dignity and sustainability. Anthony Oliver-Smith writes,

“The best outcomes imaginable [are] systems in which people can materially sustain themselves while beginning their own process of social reconstruction.” 

Essentially his is the “Teach a man to fish …” philosophy. The sound bites and clips we see in the media, which serve a great purpose by bringing public attention to global need, often abbreviate the situations to the point where a generous and prosperous nation like the U.S. is compelled to react immediately. Again, it is with the best of intentions, but in ways that we see as appropriate from our perspective.

The fact is that when people are in desperate circumstances, you usually find that some sort of displacement is at the heart of the situation. Whether it is caused by political unrest or natural or man-made disasters, there is almost always a dual sense of disconnect from the things they hold dear and at the same time a pride in what they consider to be their heritage. In these stressful times, many look to religious tradition for identity; they seek to reestablish what is meaningful to them. They depend on those they trust the most. That is the starting point.  

We as donors and as caring global neighbors need to remember this. Again, quoting Oliver-Smith,

“We should approach the goals of reconstructing and reconstituting community with a certain humility and realism about the limits of our abilities. Such humility and realism have not characterized to any major extent, the planners dealing with uprooted peoples to date.”

Our usual American-driven focus on cost-containment and efficiency must be maintained to be sure, but not to the point of excluding the needs and wants of the very people we are trying to help. I cannot say it any better than Oliver-Smith:

“Donor-driven …designs [can] endanger the connection that people establish with their built environment, violate cultural norms of space and place, inhibit the reweaving of social networks and discourage the re-emergence of community identity.”

With this backdrop, the Forever Young School in Ghana (the dedication of which was my reason for traveling to Ghana in the first place) is a model. It was created in partnership with local leaders. It was built by local artisans. It is staffed by local teachers who received training from outside sources, but are allowed to teach in a manner relevant to their local community. The dignity and autonomy of tribal leaders is recognized and respected. Local culture was not considered an obstacle, but an asset from which to build. The project is well-designed and takes into account details in a variety of areas, including transportation needs, recreation, academics, health and medical support. It has become the cause of community celebration!

The day we arrived for a special ceremony opening the school, families and local leaders assembled at 4:00 am to prepare for our visit, which was not scheduled until 2:00 that afternoon! They sang for us, they danced, they provided food … the sense of gratitude was at a level that can only been seen when a proud and deserving community is helped to achieve what they need in a manner meaningful to them.

As a result, I left feeling like the donors and organizations that supported this school had created something they could feel proud of – both from a relief-of-needs perspective and a donor efficiency perspective.

It was truly inspiring.

-Rick

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