Inside Philanthropy

A blog on philanthropy and nonprofit news and issues. A publication of Philanthropy Journal.

November 19, 2007

Charity faces big challenges

Nonprofits and the givers who support them with their time, know-how and money are society’s unsung heroes, working to fix what is wrong in our communities.

It is important during Nonprofit Awareness month to celebrate nonprofits and givers, and the pivotal social role they play.

But this concentrated focus on the charitable marketplace also represents a rare opportunity for those on both the supply and demand sides of philanthropy to be brutally honest about the work they do and the organizational challenges they face.

Those problems are serious and nonprofits need to do more to address and raise awareness about them.

Too often operating with limited resources and little recognition, nonprofits must move quickly to strengthen their organizations, improve their programs, build their boards, engage their givers, advocate their cause more actively, and work more aggressively to fix flawed public policies.

They also need to move beyond mere talk about collaboration and form partnerships in which each partner is willing to truly sacrifice some control in order to work together more effectively on common problems.

And nonprofits must be honest about the role government and grantmakers play, or fail to play, and the barriers they create to social progress.

Devoting themselves to courting voters and powerful interest groups, for example, politicians look for ways to cut support for nonprofits and the programs that serve their clients.

Politicians lack the vision and the will needed to address immediate problems and attack their underlying causes, and nonprofits need to push politicians to stop blocking progress and instead work to make it happen.

For their part, foundations can be smug, acting as if the influence they exercise because of the wealth they control, often inherited, gives them the right to bully nonprofits and force them to dance to whatever tune foundations decide to play at any given time.

Instead of providing funds to help nonprofits strengthen their operations and effectiveness, foundations prefer to fund programs, and nonprofits often are only too willing to create new programs simply to secure available funding, even though what they desperately need is operating support.

Foundations also are quick to preach about the need for openness, change and collaboration but slow to put that preaching into practice in their own organizations.

And too few corporations, while increasingly working to build their philanthropy into efforts to become more socially responsible, are willing to push goverment to fix flawed public policies that do not at first glance directly affect the company's business focus and bottom line.

During Nonprofit Awareness Month, nonprofits need to get their houses in order, starting with an effort to help their boards play the governance role they should be playing in setting strategic direction, managing risk, providing oversight, reporting to funders, measuring performance and raising money.

Nonprofits also should help government, foundations and corporations better understand and provide the kind of support nonprofits need, and walk the way they talk.

Next: Nonprofits strength lies in diversity


  • At 6:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    As an employee of a non-profit myself, I agree that more focus needs to be put on operations and effectiveness. Organizations often lack professional depth and experience because they are unable to pay qualified employees OR they do have qualified employees, but they are overworked because of a staffing deficit. I used to aspire to have my own non-profit one day, but now I realize there are a plethora of charities that do the same thing. The problem is that they are not effective due to the natural dissension. My challenge now is to find a charity that aligns with my values and has the ability to pay me a competitive salary and is open to my ideas.


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