I “bookmarked” a wonderful article by Chris Addy for Forbes from February, 2016, “Wall Street Philanthropy: The 6 Do’s And Don’ts From The Trading Floor.” I urge you to read it.
Nonprofit organizations often fail to put themselves in the shoes of the donor. They know their own story well, of course, and why they deserve charitable donations. But if nonprofit staff would take the time to consider their proposals from the perspectives of their potential supporters, they could improve their “pitch” for funding, and their chances of success.
Chris Addy’s refreshing perspectives – from Forbes, one of titans corporate media – are helpful to both donors and nonprofits. For instance, as a longtime nonprofit executive I appreciated his remarks, “Negotiating the size of a grant or earmarking funds to avoid paying overhead only means that the nonprofit you wish to help won’t have adequate resources to achieve the impact that you and they aspire to over time.” Overhead is much-maligned but truly essential to well-functioning programs. They do not exist apart from one another.
I am a fan of data and documenting an organization’s work and success in the short-term and over the long-haul. But data is not everything. Chris wisely observes,
“Donors should use data to inform their giving as much as possible. They should also recognize that social change involves a lot of complexity that, if ignored, can lead to failure. Nonprofits have staff, boards, donors and clients. They pursue layered goals: helping individuals, engaging communities, achieving outcomes for societies. These sometimes conflicting constituencies and interests need to be engaged, and this kind of engagement can’t always be quantified.”
You see, nonprofits, we have friends in high places who do understand.
As Presidential campaigners of all political persuasions made their claims for office during 2016, there was much criticism of “Wall Street,” as if Wall Street were one terrible monolith. Using “Wall Street” as a badge of shame is a popular thing for politicians to do.
But I would argue that America is Wall Street. This is how our economy works, and why it is as strong as it is.
Yes, some businesses have skirted the law and taken their investors and the public for granted. Oversight is necessary. But great good can and does come from Wall Street, which includes our nation’s financial markets and financial institutions, corporate executives, financial professionals, stockbrokers and corporations. In fact, many of our nonprofit charitable donations are made possible by profitable investments made on Wall Street.
Here in Austin, I am a regular attendee of TechBreakfast (an Instagram photo from a prior TechBreakfast is shown at the top of this page). I enjoy learning about new business concepts and social good projects with a tech twist, from animal shelter management to veteran employment, from cloud and personal health management systems to improved online donation and event management platforms. I never cease to be amazed by the creativity of the startup sector and the problems innovators – i.e., capitalists – have identified and seek to solve.
With this in mind, I was heartened to read Chris’ closing statement,
“There are many exceptional nonprofits out there getting tremendous results, yet starving for funds to expand their impact. By bringing with them the right investment disciplines, and leaving others on the Street, veterans of the financial and investment worlds can have a deep and lasting impact on the causes they care most about.”
I urge any and all donors who read this article to stray occasionally from the tried-and-true nonprofit (especially the larger, supposedly “safer” organizations that receive the vast majority of donations today). Consider “startups” and younger organizations when giving. I have worked for large universities and well-funded national and international conservation organizations. But some of my most rewarding assignments have been with young, struggling organizations that are changing the world in creative and effective ways. Seek them out, and invest!
And to my nonprofit colleagues, think twice before attacking Wall Street. Certainly nonprofits should be careful about the companies and investors with which they partner. You might conduct advance research by reviewing Fortune’s 2017 Change The World list, for instance. Adequate information exists that shows many companies are interested in social good and they are eager to support it.
Andrew Blackman in The Wall Street Journal, “The Surprising Relationship Between Taxes and Charitable Giving” (December 12, 2015).
This article was once a post under, “Recent Thoughts” (2016). I felt it merited its own page.