Thursday, May 1, 2014

Growing Philanthropy Part 2: Developing Public Trust

The second finding that Sargeant and Shang suggested in their whitepaper, Growing Philanthropy in the United States, is the necessity to develop public trust and confidence in the fundraising sector. They state, “Organizations are the conduit by which donors fulfill their own aspirations. Donors don’t give to organizations but through organizations.” The disconnect that Sargeant and Shang see is that, as charities become more focused on removing financial risk, enhancing effectiveness, and employing more proven fundraising techniques, the process becomes more mechanistic. The donor can be viewed as, and feels like, a “piggy bank” rather than a partner in the cause. I believe some of this is the result of a rather corrosive, if initially well-meaning, emphasis by industry watchdog organizations on the percent of funds spent on program versus fundraising costs. I believe this puts undue pressure on nonprofits to squeeze as much revenue out of each transaction as possible.

Sargeant and Shang propose that nonprofits must see supporters as more than simply donors, but they should be regarded as “individuals with their own philanthropic aspirations and goals.” They suggest that donors may not even be aware of what their goals truly are and that it is the responsibility of the organization to “find new and creative ways through which individuals can discover and express their own philanthropic identity and thus experience the joy of giving.” They admit that this sort of identification on the charity’s part would require a greater degree of donor research and necessitate additional staff time, expertise and cost. All at a time when the aforementioned “program vs. fundraising” metric is being put forth as a litmus for what is a “good charity” worthy of donor investment.

Additional recommendations include:

Empower regulators to enforce 100 percent filing of Forms 990 and increase their utility.  Include more narrative that would focus on the outcomes achieved by the nonprofit thus shifting the emphasis from efficiency to effectiveness.

Blow the whistle on organizations claiming to have zero cost of fundraising. Recent research found that 59 percent of organizations did not claim any fundraising expenses. Come on! How can you believe anything a charity reports with this sort of blatant info manipulation?

Fund the development of a website in the United States to educate the public, boards, and other stakeholders. “There is gross misunderstanding in the public as to how nonprofits work. Many Americans still believe the sector is populated largely by volunteers, that managers are paid poorly (if at all), and that income can be generated at zero (or close to zero) cost.” It is critically important to communicate how nonprofits really work.

Encourage nonprofits to develop complaint schemes.  Many organizations are hesitant to create complaint schemes for fear of raising false expectations about their ability to resolve issues. Good complaint handling boosts loyalty. In fact, there is some indication that resolving a problem successfully creates greater loyalty than being problem free.

Fund the development of a website to facilitate peer-to-peer evaluations of nonprofits. Much like the comments and ranking sections on commercial online sites such as Amazon, providing a forum for donor commentary and evaluation may well inspire more people to give.

Develop new and more appropriate measures of performance. Watchdog groups such as Guidestar, Charity Navigator and Charity Watch place far too much emphasis on charities demonstrating what tends to be stifling efficiency standards rather than organizational effectiveness. Nonprofits need to be proactive and help define what is effective and better articulate the investment needed to achieve mission outcomes.

Develop the self-regulation of fundraising. The key concerns of the public appear to be:
  • A perception of an “excessive” volume of communication
  • The quality and tone of that communication
  • The use of enclosures in mail
  • The use of inappropriate or shocking imagery
  • Data errors in the communication
  • A sense of intrusion, created by the media employed for the message
Sargeant and Shang claim no one has yet addressed these issues properly. They recommend a greater focus on the development and promotion of professional standards or the creation of a body that would accredit good quality fundraising in a similar way that the Better Business Bureau accredits good business practices.

Wow! We have a lot of work to do. And we're not through all of Sargeant and Shang's recommendations or themes.

Next post I'll review their third theme, Identifying New Audiences, Channels, and Forms of Giving with Strong Potential for Growth.

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