A Tale of Two Letters, and Two Sectors

[Note: A version of this post was published in the opinion pages of The Chronicle of Philanthropy on November 2, 2017.]

Here’s an idea: Let’s agree to stop referring to “the nonprofit sector.”

That’s because, in reality, there are two nonprofit sectors.

The first is comprised of the hundreds of thousands of charitable organizations that provide actual services. The second is made up of funders: foundations, donor-advised fund sponsors, and corporate and individual donors.

The priorities of these two nonprofit sectors are different. The first nonprofit sector – I’ll call them “the charities” for short – is focused on meeting mission: feeding, housing, educating, and counseling people; saving the earth and animals; curing diseases and healing the sick; producing community theater and running art classes; rescuing, feeding, and supporting families displaced from natural disaster; and generally doing what they can to keep this frayed and fragmented society of ours from falling to pieces.

The second nonprofit sector – “the funders” – genuinely cares about all of that. But the funders are also concerned with their own institutions’ and donors’ well-being, tax advantages, budgets, and privileges. And the interests of the funders are often in conflict with those of the charities. Continue reading

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Do More

[This article was co-published on October 4, 2017, by the Maine Association of Nonprofits]

When I was a 27-year-old, freshly promoted, and utterly under-qualified executive director (back in 1985 we didn’t think to call ourselves “CEO” or “President”), I met with a man named Richard who had raised tens of millions of dollars in his nonprofit career. My goal in setting up the meeting was to pick Richard’s brain about nonprofit management in general, and fundraising in particular.

Richard must have been 45 at the time, which seemed venerable to me then. After a few minutes of getting to know one another, Richard, who was as friendly and welcoming as he was knowledgeable, asked me how often the board of my organization met. “Monthly!” I responded, thinking it was a pretty obvious and logical answer.

Richard scowled – well, no, he didn’t scowl, he was too polite for that, but he grimaced just enough to make his disagreement known. “I think that’s a problem,” he said. “Meet less. Do more!”

I think of Richard – and how right he was – nearly every week. Continue reading

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