The following was presented by Sonya Campion as a speech to the Alliance of Eastside Agencies on June 7, 2017.
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a French philosopher and Jesuit priest said that not only do we live with responsibility for each other, but that “no evolutionary future awaits anyone except in association with everyone else.” He is saying that we can’t move forward as a species without being connected to each other, and that societal problems of isolation and marginalization are huge inhibitors of evolution.
Little did he ever imagine that we would have a society where we are connected more than ever, but at the same time, more isolated and alone than ever.
I am here because of your mission to expand your voice. Your work is too essential to sit on the sidelines of public discussions and decisions: We need the Alliance for Eastside Agencies to be stronger than ever.
I am also here because of each of you: Leaders in the human service sector. You are truly holding up the world. I am in awe of your daily balancing act: as Patsy Bullitt Collins of the Bullitt Foundation once said, “To be able to get past the daily dilemma of when people are falling off a cliff, having to decide whether to build a fence at the top or a hospital at the bottom.” And you do it with what my friend Tricia Raikes described as daily acts of tenacious grace.
So today I want to touch on two areas that I hope offer support to your balancing act:
- What it means to be a resilient organization
- Possible shifts in perspective you might need to consider
To start out today, I thought it might be useful to go back to the definition of philanthropy. We all know that the word itself is Greek – derived from phil, meaning to love, and anthropos meaning mankind. It is, simply, the love of humanity – the caring for what it means to be human.
Few of us know the first use of the term philanthropy. It is believed to have been in the Greek play Prometheus Bound (approx. 400 BC). In this tragedy, the primitive creatures that are to become humans live at first a fearful life, in utter darkness in caves. Zeus, the powerful and at times tyrannical King of the Gods, decides these creatures have no value and sets about to destroy them. Prometheus, however, possessing something referred to as philanthropos tropos or a humanity-loving character, decides to defend the defenseless.
He gives the poor cave dwellers two incredibly powerful gifts: fire (a.k.a. knowledge) and blind optimism (hope). The first philanthropic gifts ever described are knowledge and hope or fire and optimism.
Fire and hope: this is what I think is at the heart of every donation that comes our way. The donor is parting with their dollars, sending it off into our trust economy, hoping we are honest, hoping we are really going to do what we say we will do and most of all, that we will light a fire around our vision for a better world. What other transaction do we have in our lives that give us Fire and Hope?
We owe it to our mission to be as resilient as possible. We spend a lot of time thinking about this at our foundation, as we need our nonprofit partners to be as strong as possible for the massive goals we have undertaken – to end homelessness and preserve the largest remaining wilderness left in North America. We look at six areas of resiliency. We know that no organization can be strong in every area, but we find that the ones that survive and thrive have leaders who keep their finger on the pulse of these core competencies.
Overall, organizations that build their adaptive capacity, which is the ability to monitor, assess and respond to internal and external changes, are those that survive.
The first five capacities are familiar to you:
- Organizational vision and strategy
- Healthy Governance
- Effective Executive Director
- Sustainable Fund Development Program
- Sound Internal and Financial Management Systems
However, I would like to add one more – building capacity for advocacy. Never has it been more important to speak up than now.
Our sector has a close relationship with government: 32% of our income comes from government contracts and fees (over $ 532 billion nationally) and public policies affect not only our mission, but our survival. I learned the hard way about what can happen when advocacy and policy goals are kept separate from the rest of the mission. As a young board member of a social service agency, we unknowingly rode the organization into the ground as our primary source of revenue – government funds and contracts – kept shrinking. The beleaguered executive director kept the burden of advocating for those funds on her shoulders. I didn’t know that as a board member, I should be advocating, too. This all changed when the mayor at the time, Norm Rice, ran into me one afternoon after he has spent considerable time working with our executive director and other social service leaders on a budget. Mayor Rice asked me, “I am sticking my neck out for your organization. Where is the board in supporting your organization’s requests of the City? Do you even know what you are asking me to do for you?”
Another experience helped solidify this for me. As fundraising counsel for the YWCA’s Family Village at Issaquah, I watched as several policies that the YWCA worked on for over a decade made the $40 million project possible, including:
- King County Comprehensive Plan
- Growth Management Act
- Moving to Work and Section 8
- Tax exempt bonds
- Housing Tax Credit allocation
- Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness
As our foundation began working to build the political will necessary to end homelessness, we noticed a powerful group sitting on the sidelines — nonprofit board members. When important decisions were being made in our state capitol, the voices of influential board members would have been incredibly helpful; but — with a few exceptions — they were missing from the conversation. There are approximately 1,000 nonprofit organizations working on the continuum of issues related to housing and homelessness in Washington state, and an estimated 10,000 – 15,000 board members leading them.
We realized that it was a major culture change for nonprofits to not only embrace advocacy, but to leverage their board leadership to take it on. There was too much confusion and misinformation out there on what nonprofits can and can’t do, and whether or not board members should be involved. So we went to the standard bearer and national board governance organization – BoardSource.
BoardSource is dedicated to advancing the public good by building exceptional nonprofit boards and inspiring board service. They set the standards and provide the resources to develop high performing boards. In 2014, we scaled our local Board Advocacy Campaign to join forces with BoardSource to launch a national campaign to establish advocacy as an essential part of high performing boards. In the early days of our partnership, we challenged ourselves to think about what our real goal is and we realized that it was to permanently change the culture of the nonprofit sector. Our missions were too important to sit on a board; we need to “Stand for Your Mission.”
This is a core strategic change for BoardSource – to shift from being mainly a publishing resource to defining governance as both solid core governing principles and expecting activism and external leadership.
The goal of the campaign is to change the “norms” of nonprofit and philanthropic board culture and firmly establish advocacy as an expectation for engaged and effective board leadership. We are doing this in three ways:
- Bring about a sustainable shift in the understanding and expectations around board engagement in advocacy
- Move advocacy from an ancillary to an essential role for all board members
- Strengthen our collective ability to advance the public good
BoardSource has a website full of resources for you on advocacy, and changed its training curriculum, standards, and annual governance index evaluation of the sector. It updated the Ten Basic Responsibilities of Board Members to include advocacy as a core expectation. Instead of adding an 11th or 12th responsibility, it is woven into three of the ten responsibilities:
- The Board’s responsibility to advocate is about fulfilling your organizational mission
- Each board member should be an ambassador for the mission
While advocacy as an organizational strategy pertains to the full board, it is individual board members whose voices matter the most. Board members have a unique and important voice that decision makers need to hear from. The voice of an unpaid, volunteer board member acting or speaking out of altruism and passion for a worthy cause is potentially much more influential than the highest paid lobbyist.
Stand for Your Mission has taken on a sense of urgency these days. BoardSource’s CEO Anne Wallestad, outlined their rational in an editorial last summer with four reasons:
- We have more power and influence than we think.
There are an estimated 20 million board members in the U.S. alone and we represent our communities most connected and influential leaders.
- Our Missions are too important to important to sit on the sidelines.
Decisions are being made every day that affect us, and basically, if we aren’t at the table, we will soon be on the menu.
- The need is too great to ignore.
We can’t be naïve that the nonprofit sector is extremely vulnerable to shifts in public funding priorities. We need to advocate for the government funds that support our work, or they may disappear.
- We are the people decision makers need to hear from.
Policymakers are hungry for information and education from community leaders and constituencies. Board member’s motivations and intentions are perceived differently than those of paid lobbyists or even nonprofit staff. We can surrender to big money in politics and K Street lobbyists, or we can mobilize our greatest asset, which is our leadership.
I have witnessed Senators walk off the floor of Congress to check in with their offices to see if anyone has called in on an issue with the belief that “In Democracy, silence is equivalent to consent.“ I am excited about the future of governance: in future boards, when advocacy is embedded into the culture, the power of 20 million board members speaking up will strengthen our impact more than ever.
Resiliency – what it takes
Finally, I would like to revisit resiliency, and taking time to pay attention to the six areas I referenced earlier will prepare you for change and allow you to be open to opportunities. I know what you are thinking – I have enough on my plate, and now she wants me to take on 6 more areas? When I was a capital campaign consultant, I paid special attention to making sure the executive directors took time to reflect and take care of themselves. I encourage you to do the same – perhaps join forces with a peer from another organization to take time and to think through these six areas and how to naturally incorporate them into your organization.
So while focusing on resiliency adds additional layers of responsibility to our work, we can make it a lot easier if we check in on our beliefs and approach to our mission. I want to challenge you to see if you are stuck in any of these traps:
First of all, believe in abundance and let go of scarcity thinking: Your mission deserves abundance thinking.
We need to let go of the nonprofit starvation cycle. In 2009, the Stanford Social Innovation Review identified the never-ending cycle nonprofits and funders are on. Nonprofits neglect their infrastructure and misrepresent data and funders have unrealistic expectations. Nonprofits feel pressure to perform and are back to cutting their budgets even more. The only way we will get out of this cycle is if we start having honest conversations between nonprofits and funders about true costs. Be bold. Run the real numbers and create a real business plan of what it takes to run a healthy, sustainable organization. The total will be scary, and might seem unattainable, but you can’t develop a plan to get there if you don’t have a clear north star. Enlist your board as allies to ask the tough questions about what the organization needs to succeed, where you are underinvesting, and what impact that is having. It will cost more. But If we can protect our government support through advocacy, I believe that philanthropic support has unlimited potential.
When it comes to philanthropy, I believe there is unlimited potential. When I was head of the Association of Professional Fundraisers some years back, I issued a “trillion dollar giving challenge.” We should be able to break past the stagnant 2% of national income that averages about $300-325 billion given annually and crack the $1 trillion mark in giving. I think it is possible for several reasons:
- The fastest growing charity is Fidelity Donor Advised Funds:
Lat year, Fidelity awarded over $3 Billion, which makes it the second largest grantmaker right behind the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. $3 Billion is a lot, but overall, there is over $80 Billion in assets sitting in donor advised funds across the country. The charitable impulse is alive and well: people are parting with their money, but often they are leaving it in donor advised funds and not passing it on to us.
- People aren’t giving what they could:
For example, we all know that over 80% of giving comes from individuals. Of those, 85% of all individual gifts made are coming from cash, with 15% coming from assets. Yet, most Americans are made up of opposite – 85% assets and only 15% cash. Donors aren’t making transformative gifts from their asset base to us.
- The transfer of wealth is passing us by, as we aren’t in estate plans.
When the assets of Americans 55 and older are accounted for, there is an estimated $41 Trillion transfer of wealth coming…and they only have three places to leave it to: family, the IRS, or charity. Again, a lot of money is floating out there, and more than half of us don’t even have wills. Of those that do, only 8% are leaving anything to the nonprofit sector.When over 80% of Americans give to charity during their lives, and then only 8% leave us in their will, do you think they suddenly hate us as they get closer to the end? I doubt it…but we probably forget about them at some point. One of the continual top indicators that people say influenced them to leave an organization in their will is time spent volunteering at the organization. In 2011, volunteers in the United States alone contributed a total of 7.9 billion hours of time. There is clearly a lot of potential out there, if we take time to get to know the volunteers and their families.
So I think the money is there, the charitable impulse is alive and well, but I don’t think we are speaking to this generation of donors with clear enough missions and bold enough visions. This brings me to my 2nd shift in thinking:
Remember, we aren’t giving to you, we are giving through you to community needs and values. As a young fundraiser, I happened upon Kay Sprinkel Grace, the author of Beyond Fundraising, at a conference. When she made the point that “Donors give to organizations because they meet needs, not because they have needs” – my entire understanding of what was happening in the process of raising money, and what my role was changed. I realized that donors aren’t giving to our individual organizations, they are giving through us to the community values they care about.
If you think about it, this is why we have a tax exempt status – to fulfill a critical human need. Yet, how many of us can describe the current need we are meeting? How we have changed in response to the community’s needs? Our niche in the ecosystem of the issue we work in? I go to your events, I read your newsletters, and I hear about what you are doing, but not why you are doing it?
We need you to be our translational leaders and guides. I think this is the biggest challenge of the human service sector’s approach to telling your story, as the issues you deal with are connected to much larger community challenges. I get it that you can’t claim you can end homelessness or completely prevent domestic violence on your own. But what you can do, is be our conduit to understanding the issue, why you do your work, provide context that educates us about our community issues and then what role you play in it.
Look up from your daily work and tell us where you are going. To unlock strategic gifts, you need to convince me you are going places – with electric, strategic goals that are relevant to what the world needs and the courage to commit to a big vision. You are excited about where you are going, have a clear path to get there and are constantly updating your plan to be responsive to what the world needs. Your three plans – strategic, business and development – are clear, focused and you can actually explain them.
And most importantly, your strategic goals lead to a powerful vision, the kind that gives me spiritual goose bumps that I can only get from the nonprofit sector and my church. The kind that responds to the question my friend Bill Tolliver asks when he helps organizations write a fundraising manifesto. It starts with “Why is your issue worth my sacred time and money?”
I think that one of the main reasons people aren’t leaving our organizations in their wills is that we aren’t offering them an inspirational vision. People don’t want to leave their hard earned estates to be our rainy day funds, or to plug holes in the budget. We are talking about legacy here, and this is where our “Fire and Hope” is needed more than ever.
For example, I remember working with a small human service agency. The E.D. was getting ready to talk to a group of their founders about legacy gifts in their will. I asked her what she was going to say to them about what their investment will make possible. After some haggling back and forth about immediate needs, she finally said “I look forward to the day when we can move our resources from protecting women and children from violence and put it towards nurturing their potential. “ Bingo. A vision! 100% of the founders incorporated the YWCA into their estate plans. Vision is hope.
Finally, the last shift in thinking is in expanding the choir to tell your story. In healthy organizations, we hear about you from a variety of evangelists. Your board and everybody in your organization is behind the vision and empowered to play a role in making it happen. In the book Forces for Good, the authors evaluated high performing nonprofits, and one of the six traits they defined include organizations that inspire evangelists to tell their story for them.
This is called a philanthropic culture – everyone knows the business plan and the role philanthropy plays and what the organization needs from the community – whether it is money, resource, advocacy for public policy – whatever, your supporters are willing to ask for it.
One example that always touches me is when I made a small memorial gift to the Heart Association. The database manager called me up to make sure she was getting the spelling of my friend’s name who I wished to honor. When we cleared that up, she then asked me, “Is there anything else I can do for you?” I wasn’t sure what she meant – more memorial gifts? She then explained that heart disease is the second leading cause of death among women and they have several educational programs around the area that I might be interested in. My mom’s entire family suffered from heart disease. There is something the Heart Association can do for me, so I rounded up my sister and cousins and we all attended an educational session and I have stayed with them as a donor to this day.
When the culture is there, donors feel it. I remember being very touched seeing a panel from Wellspring Family Services made up of the CEO, Board Chair and development director. They were seamless in their clarity of roles, passion for the mission and respect for working together to leverage all of their strengths. When someone asked them their secret, they said “we have a “High trust/low ego” environment.
So what is your role in building a resilient organization all while changing the tires and driving 60 miles an hour?
Relax. You are already naturally doing what needs to be done, which is to trust yourself to love your mission. Love it. Want the best for it. Be proud to show it off and share it with the world. Think boldly about what your mission truly needs to be fulfilled and don’t be afraid to talk about it. You can’t ask for too much or aim too high if it is based in authentic passion, fire and hope. Thank you for having an organization like this that brings us together to leverage our voice and impact. We need you. And we need each other.
I will close with one final Greek term: Philotimo: President Obama’s last foreign trip on Nov. 16th, 2016 was in Athens, the birthplace of Democracy, where he talked about Philotimo when he said:
“In all of our communities, I still believe there’s more of what Greeks call philotimo—love, and respect, and kindness for family and community and country, and a sense that we’re all in this together, with obligations to each other. Philotimo—I see it every day and that gives me hope. Because in the end, it is up to us. It’s not somebody else’s job, it’s not somebody else’s responsibility, but it’s the citizens of our countries and the citizens of the world to bend that arc of history towards justice. And that’s what democracy allows us to do. It’s why the most important office in any country is not president or prime minister. The most important title is ‘citizen’—and in all our nations it will always be our citizens who decide the kind of countries we will be, the ideals that we will reach for, the values that will define us. In this great, imperfect, but necessary system of self-government, power and progress will always come from…’We, the people.'”
-President Obama speaking in Athens—the birthplace of democracy—during his final foreign trip, Nov. 16, 2016.