(This post is from Celeste E. Terry, assistant executive director and acting grants manager at the United Black Fund of Greater Cleveland, Inc. and guest contributor to our column, In the Black. See her other posts, here.)
There are many layers to the nonprofit sector. The Chronicle of Philanthropy and other publications routinely share information about game-changing activities of large, majority foundations and nonprofits, but I'm often left wondering, where do small, black or other organizations of color fit into the philanthropic ecosystem and how do they remain relevant?
According to The Chronicle of Philanthropy, Americans are generous contributors to philanthropic causes. Each year, we give about 2% of our GDP to nonprofit organizations, nearly twice as much as the U.K., the next closest nation in giving. With so much giving, this raises the question, how many of the social problems that the nonprofit sector addresses in its daily work have been slowed or solved? Are our results to-date adequate and worthy of further investment? Perhaps it is time to view the work of nonprofits differently.
I read a great article written by Dan Pallotta in the Wall Street Journal, "Why Can't We Sell Charity Like We Sell Perfume" (September 14, 2012) in which he states:It's time to change how society thinks about charity and social reform. The donating public is obsessed with restrictions—nonprofits shouldn't pay executives too much, or spend a lot on overhead or take risks with donated dollars. It should be asking whether these organizations have what they need to actually solve problems. The conventional wisdom is that low costs serve the higher good. But this view is killing the ability of nonprofits to make progress against our most pressing problems. Long-term solutions require investment in things that don't show results in the short term.
For small black and other charities of color to navigate change and compete for dollars, they have to get on a new and accelerated learning curve around business modeling and marketing, network and coalition building, and the vision guiding their organizations. Pallotta goes on to say:
We are asking nonprofit groups to deal with social problems whose scale is beyond easy comprehension, while denying those groups the tools they need to build any meaningful scale themselves. Something is wrong when Coca-Cola and Burger King have a potential for growth that we deny, on principle, to the Boys & Girls Clubs and the National Breast Cancer Coalition. If we allowed the nonprofit sector to build the kind of demand for philanthropy that Hollywood builds for movies, we would be on our way to the necessary scale.
For small black and other nonprofit organizations of color, I am suggesting that the time for change is now. It is essential to learn concepts of entrepreneurship to help drive fundraising and revenue generation, identify new opportunities to address our most entrenched social problems, develop new solutions built on metrics that easily demonstrate results. Organizations must prove that they can solve problems. Building a demand for philanthropy in our community is essential and organizations need to improve their ability to connect the dots for donors between the work of the nonprofit and the vibrancy of the community. If organizations can get on this path, they will be in a stronger position to get the attention and funding needed to thrive.
Celeste E. Terry, MSSA