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I’m very proud of my son’s friend Mackenzie. See why. One of the challenges for many philanthropic families is in seeing the values of generosity extended to succeeding generations. It’s not easy to do. We are inviting the children of our principals to explore the things we are doing now at Catalyst, present us with new possibilities, and participate to the extent of their interest. They are much older than Mackenzie; hopefully they will share her heart.
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Why can’t the organizations I meet with each week tell me the real cost of their programming? Time and time again I have conversations in which people who are hoping to receive support from Catalyst explain their desire to offset some of the fees required by their participants, but need to be prompted to explain the difference between those fees and the total cost of providing their services. This is a problem for several reasons. While it is admirable to minimize the charge for helping people (though discerning the appropriate limits of that will be the subject of several future posts), it is often a path to unnecessary difficulties. In our contemporary North American culture the value of most things is determined by the amount someone will pay for them. Charging less for a workshop or program than it actually costs to provide practically diminishes the worth. The examples of this are numerous. If we want people to respond to our efforts we are generally better off making them aware of the expense involved in providing them. Fundraising is one of the most demanding and time consuming aspects of most nonprofits. Time, strategy, and effort invested in this area is exhaustive and frequently exhausting. Failure in this area can spell the untimely end of otherwise outstanding organizations. Dealing in the real costs of our programs is beneficial here. When approaching possible funders, telling us your program charges (for example) $700/participant gives us that as a benchmark wheen we consider potential grants. If your real cost is $1000/participant you’ve potentially decreased the scale of your grant by 30%. (Please note: foundations also have operating and administration costs and like you we try to minimize them. We aren’t surprised or offended when you acknowledge them as part of your needs). The more difficult matter when it comes to fundraising is one of scale. Most effective nonprofits are in some way interested in growing. But if we are operating at a deficit for every participant than every bit of expansion creates a larger hole for funding to fill. That may be a legitimate approach, if it is acknowledged properly, but a failure to deal in real costs makes this more challenging. Determining real costs can be quite simple. Dividing the organization’s total operating budget by the total number of participants gives a workable figure. None of this is to suggest that we must charge participants the full cost of the program. Our suggestion is to openly reference the real cost of providing our services and the amount that is being subsidized (regardless of whether that subsidy is through a direct sponsorship or through the fundraising efforts of the organization). Those who are able to pay the full cost of their program can do so, those requiring assistance can receive it. This is a strategy that may add an additional administrative loop, but may also provide additional funds through increased program funds. Most importantly, dealing in real costs is simply honest. It allows all the stakeholders (funders, staff, participants, etc.) to know and respond to the full story of our work. There is great value in what we’re providing to society, let’s not be bashful about it.
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The real measure of an organization’s strategy is often not found in the results when they have their best people performing, but when the human resources are below the desired level. Top notch people can overcome the deficiencies of almost any structure. Mediocre people need the advantages of developed approaches to be effective. You can see this throughout our society. As a former pastor I’ve seen many churches with below average leaders who are still able to sustain the parishioners; though they ultimately produce little advancement. The same can be true of health care, education, counselling, or many other fields. The most honest professionals in these fields will admit that just following the basic standards and expectations of those served will usually work, even if the practicioner is far from perfect. Catalyst is passionate about leadership. We are convinced of the importance of having the highest possible performance from those who are most responsible for outcomes. We invest a significant amount of our time and resources in developing leaders towards their potential. We believe that better leaders produce better results. Our ideal scenario is working with leaders who are involved in organizations that have effective systems that can provide a functional foundation for the work. By investing in the leaders of those organizations we expect to see results that multiply and expand outcomes.
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One of our highest values at Catalyst is synergy. We love to see compatible organizations and people drawn together to multiply their impact. Our hope is that as we become familiar with various aspects of ministry, relief, and development work we can help to make some of those connections; truly serving as a catalyst to make things happen. Of course it isn’t always that easy. Most organizations have a few stories of failed attempts to work in harmony with others. In many cases best intentions fell apart either because there wasn’t enough time taken to carefully define the roles and responsibilities of the partners, or the shared project functionally required one or both groups to move outside of their mandate and strength. Noticing and suggesting collaborative possibilities is relatively simple. Bringing the parties together is a valuable step. But the real work comes in working to develop synergies that don’t diminish the values and purposes of anyone involved. If we can figure out how to do that, we’ll really be doing something significant.
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mmi-monte-plata-2008-013Ten days with Medical Ministry International in the Dominican Republic was both enjoyable and informative. Having two days of discussions with Executive Director Willie Hunter and his wife Janice (who is the administrator of their permanent hospital in Santo Domingo) gave me a much stronger understanding of the goals and philosophy that drive the organization. Briefly, I was deeply impressed.mmi-monte-plata-2008-057 Not only were the Hunter’s gracious hosts and generous with their time and home, they were also pleasingly honest and open in our discussions. Willie clearly fits the category of visionary leader. He is thoughtful and articulate, able to share the dream and strategy of MMI in compelling fashion. The Hunter’s are largely the ones who have borne responsibility for setting the direction and opening up new ground. mmi-monte-plata-2008-055The week we spent with a medical team in the villages around Monte Plata was also valuable. Being able to see the kind of work that provides the core efforts of MMI up close is useful perspective.preaching-in-monte-plata I’ll be able to share some of my more detailed thoughts with MMI Canada Director, Leanne Graham, in the near future. A final thought; I am very glad that Catalyst is associated with Medical Ministry International. They are an inspiring organization with a solid model for their work and a dream that is bold and meaningful.
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