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Making charitable giving more accessible and intimate is a great thing. Kiva has been standard bearer for changing the way we give. In recent months I’ve seen some family members become enthusiastic about being able to connect much more directly with people and issues. It may well be that start of a revolution in charity. Over the holidays one of my best sources for interesting content, Fred Smith of The Gathering, posted a fascinating article about this new development. It leads me to a few questions: (and I’d love to see your thoughts as comments) -How convenient should philanthropy be? What obligation is there for givers to take the time to understand charities more deeply? -What will the impact of new technology options be on charity in the next decade? IS there a risk that flashy tools will outweigh quality work? -How can (or should) “professional philanthropists” use our increased time, experience, and insight to help inform common givers? Should we post both positive and negative reviews of those we’ve worked with? -What organizations are already exemplary in their use of technology to maintain connection with donors? -What qualifies as a “major donor” in the future and what additional information or contact should they expect? -How does this impact the power imbalance inherent in the donor/charity relationship?
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Nonprofit guru Peter Brinckerhoff just posted his thoughts on what he hopes the future of nonprofits could hold. Here are a couple from him:
3. I want funders of all kinds (foundations, corporations, government, individuals) to accept the fact that when they fund nonprofits, they purchase services, they don’t get to control the nonprofits in ways that don’t benefit the mission. This means much less silly micromanagement. 4. I want everyone to be more transparent, both inside and outside their organizations. This means both nonprofits but also the funders. 5. I either want foundations and government to stop worrying about administrative percentages or start living by a 10-12% admin share themselves.
I haven’t asked him, but I bet Mark Petersen would agree with these, even as he leads us in this direction through Bridgeway. Their commitment to transparency, like that of the gang at Maclellan in the US is exemplary.
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I’ve always been something of a jargon junkie. When I enter a new subculture I quickly seek to understand and adopt the particular language that marks one as a member. That has also been true in Philanthropy. The most difficult word to parse has been “Partner” as I blogged about months ago. In our society the word is used to describe business arrangements, romantic relationships (same sex and straight), friendships, and numerous other aspects of human interaction with varying degrees of formality. In philanthropy it seems to indicate the relationship between donor and charity, but this can have so many different aspects. When we identify what we call Strategic Partners for Catalyst we intend that the relationship extend beyond the merely mechanical exchange of finances, but also incorporate something more involved. But it has been difficult to define what that involvement might be. Here’s a draft list of aspects that might become a part of a Strategic Partnership Agreement as we continue forward: 1. Site Visit by Catalyst staff or principals to field work of the organization. 2. Informal Consulting between organization’s leadership and Catalyst 3. Promotion of partner through Catalyst website, blog, newsletter, and other materials, as well as personal advocacy 4. Annual Leadership Event with other Catalyst contacts 5. Catalyst Bonus Awards applications available to reward superior performance by staff 6. Catalyst Mentoring Program made available for a small cohort of staff and/or volunteers at no cost 7. Board Consideration for Catalyst director or principals to join partner’s board of directors 8. Strive/CCCC/Catalyst board development teleseminars could be made available 9. Referrals through the developing Catalyst menu of leadership development opportunities 10. Volunteer Involvement by Catalyst at programs or events 11. Fund Raiser participation/promotion through Catalyst channels What could you add to the list? Where are the landmines?
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Seth Godin again. This time passing on someone else’s writing. I got a nice thank you today from a fundraiser at a great organization in Toronto; which was interesting because we didn’t send them any funds. Instead they appreciated that I’d taken an hour recently to talk with them about how Catalyst prefers to be approached and what I’d like to experience when requests are made. Everyone who gathers resources for a meaningful purpose should read and re-read this post from Seth. Here’s a taste: How good is your idea? How important is your cause? Important enough that you’ve given up another life to lead this life. You’ve given up another job, another steady paycheck, another bigger paycheck to do this all day long, every day, for years if not for decades, to make a change in the world and to right a wrong.
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As the world of small scale loans to developing world entrepreneurs continues to seek increasingly effective ways to engage new donors and take advantage of the potential of the internet and the decentralized nature of a digital world there continue to be new possibilities opening up. Thanks to Mark Petersen at Bridgeway I can let you know that the relatively intimate and immediate philanthropy that Kiva has pioneered has now been adopted by my favourite microfinance organization. Check this out, and opt in. Well done Opportunity!
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Years ago I interviewed for a job and during the process I was told the salary was based on the pay grid of school teachers in the region. That was quite appealing, but the actual salary offered was quite a bit less. It seems the salary grid was a basis only in terms of being something they looked at, cut down by 25%, and then modified by several other factors. It was a disappointing aspect of an otherwise very exciting opportunity. In the years since that event I have encouraged many young adults when they pursue work in nonprofit and ministry roles that the taboo discussion about compensation should be surfaced very early in the process and with frank openness. Not doing that creates the potential for people to invest significant time and energy in a recruiting process that ultimately becomes pointless and frustrating when something so simple as dollars is finally revealed. One of the causes is a cultural expectation in church circles that is someone is “called” to a role they will trust God to provide for them. To even ask the salary is somehow inappropriate and unspiritual. After all, we don’t do this kind of work for the money… Just once I’d love to hear a candidate turn that around and ask the search committee if they are willing to be the ones to act in faith and place a generous full year’s salary in a designated account because they trust God to provide the needed resources. This does relate to Catalyst. When we are approached by leaders and organizations who are interested in applying for our funding there is some risk that I can give the impression that we are likely to offer support when we really are not. I realize that in our current funding cycle I may have done this inadvertently, simply because our strategies are becoming more apparent as we work through applications. Today in a conversation with a new contact I was complimented for my honesty when I explained that I thought it unlikely that we would be interested in supporting the projects under discussion. Apparently it isn’t common for donors to do this. It should be.
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This from Fred Smith (who posts a lot of interesting articles on Facebook). It raises some excellent questions about the role of foundations relative to those we desire to help. Obviously there is bound to be some question about the quality of the work done by the Gates Foundation. Just as there is criticism of Bono’s work. Regardless of scale all philanthropists need to consider how we use our leverage of research and resources wisely. In one of my former roles, as a youth pastor, I used to tell the parents of the teens I worked with that I expected them to know their own child better than I did (which was true more often than not); but I was generally more knowledgeable about teens in general than most parents were (also usually the case). The same may be true in this world. Over time I expect to become quite informed about the issues of nonprofits, relief and development, and particularly the role of leaders and leadership in those organizations. But I will never be more aware of the specifics of any of our resources or partners than they are. I need to bear that in mind.
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In my role with Catalyst I am responsible for the distribution of a much larger budget than most people or families will give over decades. In my private life the scale is much more modest. In both cases, I want to make the most impact with the resources I have. For smaller private donors there is often a belief that the only option is to give a tiny drop into a large bucket where you might have an interest, but little meaningful influence and personal connection. That is no longer the case. Givers of all scales can choose to give to causes that are very intimate. In many cases this may be through giving to local charities in their own community. there are churches, political groups, neighbourhood associations, schools, libraries, advocacy groups, shelters, food banks, seniors supports, and many more possibilities probably within your postal code. Beyond that, there are ways to give to needs further afield that are just as specific. North American philanthropy guru Fred Smith (he won’t appreciate me referring to him that way), pointed me to a fascinating article about one man’s efforts to help with easily manageable donations to individuals with key short term needs. You may want to check out Modest Needs. If your interests tend to something more international you might appreciate the work of Kiva, a lending organization that allows average people to donate to a specific. pre-approved project for someone in the developing world to start on the path to sustainability. One of the pleasures of these types of donations is how close we can feel to those who are being helped. Charity no longer needs to be corporate and distant. (And as an aside, some traditional charities are going to struggle if they don’t learn to engage donors at this level.
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A telemarketing call made me feel guilty last night. About 8:20pm yesterday Kristen was finishing up bedtime with my sons and I was tidying up the kitchen when the phone rang. I grabbed it quick (don’t disturb bedtime) and was greeted by a friendly voice who identified herself as from the Cerebral Palsy foundation, calling to see if we had anything to donate for their next local pick up sometime next week. Like most of you, I am generally annoyed by telemarketing, but this was different. For one thing there was no pseudo-survey or other strategy to catch me off guard. The request was brief, specific, and right at the start of the call. The caller was bright and spoke clearly, and seemed sincere in asking for our help, but neither rushed or trying to engage me in unnecessary conversation. And I know that we have given to this cause before (which I believe is why we’re on their list). It was actually a pleasant experience and I said “yes” happily, confirmed our address, and hung up the phone. Then the guilt set in. Not because the caller made any effort to make me feel guilty, but because I suddenly remembered that I am a board member for another organization that also gathers clothing donations, and I rarely think to bring a bag of stuff there. It got me thinking about how our giving, even to causes we genuinely support, often needs a little prompting. I like having the little envelopes from our church in my drawer to remind me to give weekly. Simple nudges that get my attention briefly are quite appreciated; and a lot more effective than a fridge magnet or coaster that quickly blends into the landscape. It doesn’t feel intrusive to be encouraged quickly to do something I sincerely want to do; that’s why my laptop and iPhone buzz me when I need to prepare for my next meeting. I’m curious. What kinds of reminders for giving do you appreciate? What seems intrusive or causes the wrong kind of guilt? How do you remember to do the good you’ve decided to do? And, does anyone want me to come by and get some gently used clothing to take to my next board meeting to help me overcome my guilt?
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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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