The Value (And Challenge) Of Microgrants

In the philanthropy world, much of the attention is given to larger grants—leaving many smaller nonprofits searching for their big break in the form of a generous donor. However, smaller grants can fill a niche for organizations to supplement their other sources of funding. Additionally, nonprofits that are just starting out can find value in little donations.

 

The unfortunate side of microgrants is that, while they are easy to raise and solicit from donors, they are often tightly restricted. Reporting on these donations can also eat up time and overhead better spent putting funds to good use. However, savvy nonprofits can learn to implement them to the best of their ability and come out ahead.

 

The easy acquisition of microgrants allows for more niche nonprofits to arise. These organizations might deal with a very specific community issue or assist in underserved populations without having to worry “making it big” with sizable donations.

 

One such example is the Sparkgrants program, which provides microgrants to individuals working toward social and community change in Pierce County, Tacoma. The brainchild of a 2011 community gathering, Sparkgrants focuses on individual funding but can often lead to early-stage nonprofits getting off of the ground. These sorts of initiatives can be valuable not only for the actual money but for introducing small-scale philanthropic efforts to larger communities.

 

For smaller nonprofits, microgrants can help organizations expand their reach and scale in a manageable way. Oftentimes, these programs can expose like-minded philanthropists to each other and foster the creation of joint efforts that can better serve specific interests. Nonprofit alliances, though not often discussed, are a great way to circumvent the competitive environment of the industry. Though many organizations fight for the attention of donors, using microgrants to build these connections can allow for all to reach a wider audience and to address weak points in the scope of partners.

 

Microgrants can also be leveraged to help a specific mission, given to organizations and businesses that contribute. For instance, a food waste initiative promoted by the New York Department of Sanitation offered funds and other incentives to businesses that addressed this specific problem. This approach is beneficial in that it allows for direct change on part of those that can make the most impact without the need for the “middleman” of a nonprofit.

 

Even so, don’t expect nonprofits to go away when it comes to providing direct support. And microgrants can serve as a way to fill in the niche needs of nonprofits and cause the rise of new organizations for which there is a need. While it can be challenging for nonprofits to survive solely on microgrants, they provide a strategic need that any savvy professional in the industry should recognize.

How A Local Nonprofit Can Scale

Lazar Finker—How A Local Nonprofit Can Scale

Expanding your nonprofit can be an exciting process. Of course, there are certainly challenges that accompany the prospect as well. Depending on your needs and goals, your nonprofit can scale in different ways. Below are a few areas to consider when scaling your nonprofit.

 

Goals

From the time you started your nonprofit to its current standing, it is safe to say that many things have changed. Whether your overall mission had shifted its focus or the intricacies of your objectives have deviated, taking time to reconsider the purpose of your nonprofit is a great idea.

Scaling your organization by rewriting bylaws and other doctrines as well as conducting meetings with community members to address new or worsening concerns could be productive. This is also a great time to broaden your perspective and extend your ideas to a larger audience.

 

Leadership

As your nonprofit has grown, chances are your needs for strong leadership have grown, too. Whether you scale by hiring additional leaders to manage the operations and staff of your organization or by striving to improve the effectiveness of your current leadership through educational opportunities, change is essential for growth. Leaders directly impact the productivity and success of an organization and ensure that progress continues beyond their own efforts.

 

Finances

Perhaps the most obvious choice is to scale your nonprofit financially. With the additional money collected from donations, fundraising, or other means, you will be able to organize events, rent (or buy) a larger space, and acquire better equipment or supplies for your organization. In scaling your nonprofit financially, you may also consider devoting time to financial education, so as to provide your volunteers and employees with an ongoing education of proper budgeting, strong financial management, and a better understanding of your organization’s expenses.

 

Community

Cultivating healthy relationships and creating a strong network are essential parts of establishing and growing an organization. When you decide you want to scale your nonprofit, consider taking additional steps toward increased community outreach. This course of action could include posting advertisements, providing more opportunities for engagement and education, connecting with other nonprofits (both new and old!), or hiring more staff.

All of these steps can help advance your nonprofit’s reputation while expanding your community network and allowing your work to reach more people.

 

Scaling a nonprofit can be challenging and costly, but identifying which areas will be the most beneficial and productive for your organization can help you limit the stress of undertaking this process of growth and development.

The Growth of Sustainable Philanthropy

Philanthropy has become a significant field in today’s society and has not shown any signs of slowing down. In 2012 alone, Americans donated a total of $316.23 billion to charitable efforts around the country, indicating their passion for helping those around them. In recent years, a significant amount of donations have begun to support sustainability.

 

It is not difficult to understand why this has slowly moved to the forefront of many people’s minds, with growing concern about how much humans continue to harm the environment. As a result of this concern, more nonprofit organizations and philanthropy efforts are dedicated to developing more sustainable practices. With this in mind, I’d like to recognize some of the organizations that are dedicated to sustainability.

 

Sierra Club

The Sierra Club has been responsible for spearheading some of the largest Acts to protect the environment. The Acts that Sierra Club helped pass include the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and Endangered Species Act, to name a few. Sierra Club is currently focused on finding a renewable source of energy that can replace coal plants for good.

 

The Environmental Defense Fund

The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) is another organization that focuses on issues that continue to plague our environment. They focus on issues that range from pollution and climate change to creating sustainable food production. In addition, the EDF is working to create cleaner energy in an effort to reduce the amount of waste that non-renewable energy has on the environment. These efforts can include solar energy and wind energy.

 

The World Resources Institute

The World Resources Institute (WRI) focuses primarily on preserving the natural resources that humans have been using. By having a stronger understanding of how many resources we use and its effect on the planet, WRI can work to create more sustainable practices moving forward. Some of their initiatives focus on finding clean energy sources, reducing the amount of waste generated by humans, and creating plans to help preserve and protect forests and bodies of water. Like Sierra Club and the Environmental Defense Fund, WRI is actively working to find renewable forms of energy in an effort to preserve the world’s natural resources.

 

Each of the organizations that were discussed is actively working to find more sustainable practices in order to reduce long-term environmental damage. While sustainability is not a worldwide initiative right now, with the help of organizations like the ones we discussed, we can become a more sustainable population.

 

What Crowdfunding Means For Philanthropy

Lazar Finker—Crowdfunding and Philanthropy

Whether it’s for medical expenses or to produce an aspiring artist’s new album, the impact of crowdfunding cannot be ignored. The “traditional” avenues of philanthropy—soliciting donations and support through a nonprofit—seem far less effective when individuals can easily set up a page on a site such as GoFundMe and immediately reach an audience. Nonprofits have worked to not only help individuals but the causes of issues that affect them as well, whereas crowdfunding gives interested donors an avenue directly to an individual.

 

It’s certainly noteworthy, but to what extent will these new platforms change existing charitable efforts?

 

I believe that, rather than supplanting traditional philanthropy, crowdfunding fills a distinct niche that can coexist alongside nonprofits. It’s not hard to see why crowdfunding is popular. For decades, nonprofits have struggled to reach potential donors and make them inclined to donate, with initiatives that have sometimes come across as tone-deaf or condescending. Overall, it’s not just about selling the idea of a noble cause, but about the stories that make the cause worth contributing to.

 

Humanizing the people that benefit from philanthropy has become especially important in recent years, something that crowdfunding platforms do well. Nothing is more authentic than an individual personally coming forward to tell their story and request assistance. Add in the power of social media and an instant audience in the form of online connections, and we have a formula that has already raised billions of dollars.

 

With nonprofits, missions don’t always include provisions for individual support. These initiatives are highly impactful, but leave some people seeking other options. Crowdfunding turns this on its head, giving the beneficiaries the oversight over where the money goes and changes the narrative about what donations can accomplish. However, nonprofits aren’t experiencing fewer donations; the numbers have more or less stayed the same. This is a pain point for many of these organizations given that the industry as a whole has not made significant gains in recent years, despite a recent surge of funding.

 

The question of impact also characterizes the differences between these two approaches. Donors, particularly younger donors, display a desire to see the immediate impact that their funds make. This is far more pronounced with crowdfunding, particularly when donation goals can illustrate the collective accomplishments of donors. Savvy nonprofits will take note of these changes and find ways to demonstrate the value of a contribution to their audience.

 

Crowdfunding has also called into question whether these donations should be considered tax deductible. Some people believe that this makes donating more appealing, as any funds will not be filtered through a charity’s ecosystem before being put to use. Others believe that the lack of rules around crowdfunding opens the door for fraud.

 

Whatever the case, the instant support network created by crowdfunding provides a new type of philanthropy, one centered around grassroots movements and the notion that people should give back to their neighbors. This coming at a time when nonprofits try to reinvent themselves indicates that, perhaps, these organizations should focus on their stories—as well as providing transparency about where their funds go. There’s still a place for nonprofits, but this dichotomy of giving may only become more pronounced as time goes on.

 

Finker-Frenkel Family Foundation Partners With Bascom Palmer

The Bascom Palmer Eye Institute, based out of the University of Miami Health System, is an organization dedicated to furthering ophthalmic care, research, and education. The Finker-Frenkel Family Foundation, through its partnership with Bascom Palmer, looks to further the Institute’s medical research.

The Finker-Frenkel Family Foundation is considered part of the Norton Society for its continued support. The vision research conducted with their assistance involves the study and analysis of the eye-brain signatures of the retina. Through this work, Bascom Palmer hopes to improve patient outcomes by detecting Alzheimer’s years before diagnosis.

“We are proud to partner with Bascom Palmer,” says Eugene Frenkel. “Our family-run foundation is committed to funding the research, treatment and eventual eradication of neurological diseases. What better way to accomplish our family’s mission than to help give the gift of sight?”

The Finker-Frenkel Family Foundation is a family-run non-profit that strives to bring together like-minded philanthropists to promote giving across generations. The Foundation is also dedicated to helping causes such as children’s welfare, religious development, and education.

Learn more about the Foundation at legacyf.com, or read the Bascom-Palmer newsletter below!

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Corporate Philanthropy: It’s Not For Your Business, But It Certainly Doesn’t Hurt

The modern corporation is not just a faceless entity any more. Business leaders are expected to mold their companies into global citizens, forces for good in addition to benefitting their own interests. Part of a company’s brand is its charitable efforts, and corporate decision making should be made with this in mind. For many hardline businesspeople, it can be hard to justify spending that does not quantifiably affect a business’s revenue. However, philanthropy doesn’t just do good for others; it has the potential to elevate value in a variety of ways.

Building a Community

It is up to corporations to not only coexist with a community, but to create a mutually beneficial relationship. Investing in community outreach programs can be a great way to foster goodwill and build relationships for the future. Employees volunteering their time at local organizations is one great way to do this. Outreach is especially important if the business gains some of their revenue from the surrounding community, taking “giving back” to its most literal. Projects that benefit an area’s overall economic success can not only be positive with public relations, but create new markets with individuals that have been won over by a company’s efforts.

Strong Branding

Of course, a business’s efforts shouldn’t just be motivated by the potential to open up a new market. Philanthropy should be, as I’ve mentioned before, authentic, and this is something that matters to talent figuring out where to work. Philanthropic efforts should be deeply tied to company values and a way for an organization to prove that it practices what it preaches. These values should be maintained internally as well. And ignoring social responsibility can be harmful for corporations; it shouldn’t just be something done to look good, but an authentic part of a company. With increased access to information, the public will know if a company is not committed to their stated values.

Happier Employees

Plus, employees want to know that they’re working for a company committed to good social values. There are plenty of ways to improve job satisfaction, but getting employees involved in the good work that a company does is one of the less obvious ways to improve faith in the workplace. In this case, they’re not just hearing about a company’s values, they’re living them, something that can improve morale and reduce churn rates.

Networking

Part of building out a strong business isn’t just doing well, it’s about who a leader knows that can boost their bid for success. Corporate philanthropy is a great way to connect with other companies that share values and build trust between organizations. It’s no coincidence that many of the most prominent business leaders are also famed for their philanthropy; working to benefit others builds bridges and gets people noticed for their hard work.

Conclusion

Investing in a community or other philanthropic causes can seem like a drain on money and time for a business. However, the modern culture of giving back is now a central part of how any savvy business leader should conduct their operations. It’s no longer about ROI, it’s about being cognizant of the ways that a corporation has the power to make a difference in an authentic manner.

Don’t Give More, Give Smarter

Philanthropy is often seen as a pastime of the wealthy, with benefactors giving millions of dollars to causes of their choice with the intent to make a difference. From the outside, it can be easy to praise this sort of behavior—after all, with that much money being donated, some kind of difference is being made, right?

Well, yes and no. Despite good intentions, the fact remains that managing massive amounts of money is a logistically difficult process. Leaks in the system cause a large portion of funds to fall by the wayside with things like consulting and management. Often, just a donation is not enough; a more specific effort is required.

And even that can go wrong. An essay on effective altruism cites the Playpump, a carousel-like device intended to pump water while children play, as an example of philanthropy gone wrong. The Playpump was lauded and widely supported by celebrities and subsequently built in poor communities. However, the effort required by the pump took what would otherwise be a piece of playground equipment and unwittingly turned it into a device that necessitated manual labor. In addition, the water it produced was nowhere near enough to provide for an entire village. The Playpump is a cautionary tale in wasted resources, and illustrates the need to determine what any philanthropic effort will cost.

This problem stems from a lack of research on the part of individuals that attempt to give back. While financial decisions are often made with regard to ROI, this kind of thinking is often abandoned when engaging in philanthropy. To many, it’s less about the tangible impact and more about the amount given.

The first step is for donors to figure out what cause their money would best serve. It can be difficult to assess this with our own cognitive biases in place; a cause that may seem relevant to a donor may, in practice, do less good than one that they had not previously considered. Part of it is a matter of what is readily visible; the vast majority of large philanthropic donations go toward developed countries. This leads to missed opportunities in countries that actively require assistance. Part of the problem is that there is little research on the efficacy of different causes. While many charities have been scrutinized for their use of funds, I believe that an approach that goes beyond this to assess impact would be valuable to educate future donors.

Caroline Fiennes is a firm believer in establishing a scientific approach to philanthropy. Fiennes conducting a decade-long analysis with surprising findings about philanthropic impact, including the discovery that success of donation efforts did not hinge on the size of the donation, with the implication that managing funds is more important than spending a lot of money. For instance, Oprah Winfrey’s efforts to open a $4 million school in South Africa are certainly laudable, but the amount of money spent could be used to open hundreds of schools in other countries. It’s not just about the size of the donation, it’s about making the most difference possible.

It is my firm belief that philanthropic efforts should be treated the same way as business efforts in that any initiative is thoroughly analyzed from start to finish, tracking metrics about the extent to which funding meets goals. Budgeting is also crucial to measure how much of a donation is spent on activities unrelated to these end goals.

Research on philanthropic projects seems in of itself an unrelated use of resources, but in the long term, it can ensure that money and time does not go to waste. Many charitable programs cause little to no effect on the causes that they ostensibly support, but the better programs, as evidenced by this study on participation in impoverished schools, can produce 10 times the average impact.

Until this research can be conducted, it is up to donors to evaluate their own methods of giving. All philanthropists have the responsibility to turn a critical eye to their own efforts, and focus on not only making donations, but applying knowledge of causes and financial practices in a smart way.

Passing on Philanthropy: Teaching the Next Generating to Care

Passing On Philanthropy_Lazar Finker

Today, being aware of the world around us and finding ways to help other people is easier than ever, but many people remain oblivious to ways they can participate in philanthropy throughout their lives. To truly pass on the values of philanthropy, we need to teach youth to care for others from a young age. The more young people are exposed to philanthropy and the importance of helping others, the more likely it is that these values will be instilled in them and remain present throughout their lives.

Make it a normal part of life

If you want youth to truly value philanthropy, you need to make it something they recognize as part of their lives. Parents should have a conversation with kids when they’re young and explain what philanthropy is, then begin getting them involved with simple opportunities where they can begin experiencing what it means to give back. Take used clothes to a charity, donate food, or have them save up some money to give to a charity of their choosing. It is up to parents to find child-friendly opportunities, but the foundation is out there. Showing kids the little ways they can be philanthropic will help them make giving a habit.

Teach lessons about philanthropy

After explaining philanthropy and sharing ways to participate in it, give deeper explanations to your children and teach them lessons about the different issues that nonprofit organizations help to address. Explain that there are people in the world who need help with lots of different issues and that it falls to these organizations to help them out, which can be done in various ways. Teach them to be thankful that your family is in a position to be philanthropic and educate them on different events and causes they can focus their philanthropy on.

Set a positive example

If you want your child to understand philanthropy, you need to get them involved. The best way to accomplish this goal is by taking them with you to volunteer or do something philanthropic. Make these activities a regular part of their young lives and they will soon be the norm to them. As they see you being philanthropic in daily activities, they’ll feel inspired to do the same and consider philanthropy a part of family life rather than an activity only done on occasion.

Let them take the lead

Once you feel that your child is old enough to make good decisions or volunteer on their own, let them take the lead. Ask them where they’d like to volunteer and what they feel passionate about, then either encourage their interests and take them to volunteer for that organization or even go with them and make it a family event. If your child thinks of new ways to work on their philanthropic pursuits, support their ideas and work with them to accomplish this goal.

The Problem With Raising Awareness

The Problem With Raising Awareness—Lazar Finker

What are you passionate about? There’s a lot worth standing up for, and as an individual on the Internet, you may find yourself bombarded with messages claiming that a particular cause is important enough to warrant further action on your part. Sometimes, you won’t even get that. Plus, depending on what the message is, the way an audience is addressed may change; would you make an anti-smoking PSA the same way you’d make an anti-cancer PSA? You’d be hard pressed to find anybody that is pro-cancer, but for the target audience of a hypothetical anti-smoking ad, you may need to use some measure of persuasion. However, regardless of the cause, the recent trend is to strive to raise awareness regardless of cause or message. While raising awareness isn’t necessarily a bad thing, this trend in activism is worth examining to analyze the good and bad that it is capable of doing.

It’s worth mentioning the sheer number of “awareness” campaigns that occur yearly in the United States. The American Journal of Public Health lists almost 200 health awareness days over the course of the year, not counting the time ostensibly set aside for promoting other causes. So, any citizen hoping to be more informed certainly has their work cut out for them.

Let me be clear that I’m not deriding awareness as a concept; it’s often a vital first step to making a change. Sometimes, it’s one of the few steps necessary; in the case of some diseases, education about signs and symptoms can lead to earlier treatment and save lives. Beyond this, some causes can escape the notice of individuals until awareness campaigns bring them to the forefront; for instance, the issue of racially-rooted police brutality would likely have flew under the radar of the public eye if not for the #blacklivesmatter movement. The trouble comes when organizations focus solely on the nebulous goal of awareness without a concrete goal or next step in mind. Charities dedicate large portions of their funding to “education,” something which has earned them the ire of groups that feel that they are addressing problems without providing solutions.

The start to leveraging awareness campaigns to do good in the world is the aforementioned call to action. Promoting discussion is a good start, but the social gestalt is likely to move on to the next issue without affecting meaningful change unless charities turn that interest into action. In order to do this, they must clearly define their desired outcomes for a campaign. For instance, if they are hoping to encourage people to get tested for or inoculate themselves against a disease, it would be wise to give them instructions on how to do so. If an organization is collecting donations, they should strive to be transparent about where the money’s going and the good it can do. Many nonprofit organizations try to quantify the benefit provided by a donation, citing specific progress made to spur on potential donors and make them feel that their money is well spent.

It also behooves any nonprofit to ensure that they’re reaching the correct audience. When an organization is passionate about a cause, it’s always tempting to adopt a shotgun approach to education, informing as many people as possible without regards to whether or not they’d be in a position to help. Additionally, nonprofits can fall into the trap of continually preaching to the choir, trying to raise awareness among individuals that are likely aware enough as it is. While there is value in leveraging an existing audience to take action, it takes careful planning to reach individuals that may not have had prior knowledge and persuade them of the value of a certain cause. The more segmented your audience, the more likely it is that they’ll be willing to act on your campaign. It’s a case of the bystander effect; the more a request for assistance is publicized, the less likely it is that any given person will answer it. Of course, if a campaign goes viral, so many will respond to it that this will seem a non-issue, but improper targeting can waste resources and even lead to backlash against a cause.

Additionally, when planning an awareness campaign, it’s important to create an engaging message that will last in the minds of an audience. This is a gross oversimplification; there’s no one-size-fits-all way for every nonprofit to effectively reach their audience. However, strong campaigns tend to share well-developed, overarching goals and act as a sort of vessel for a specific call to action.

This is perhaps the worst mistake that any nonprofit can make; assuming that a solution that works for one cause will also work for another. The days of fearmongering PSAs have largely passed, and what has developed is a mire of media competing to win the attention of a massive and often fickle audience. In this free-for-all of memes, fundraising drives, and “challenges,” the truly savvy nonprofit needs to recognize that the value of awareness only goes so far and that further steps must be taken to make a difference.

How Nonprofits Can Leverage Social Media

How Nonprofits Can Leverage Social Media—Lazar Finker

Changes in how information is spread have forced nonprofits to adapt or fall behind. To that end, may of these organizations have tried to create strong brands for themselves online, an endeavor which requires the creation of social media accounts and consistent delivery of content. There’s an audience for every cause; but not all nonprofits are created equal when it comes to generating support through social media.

With this in mind, I’d like to discuss a few of the factors to consider when running a social media account as a nonprofit.

What do you want to achieve?

Social media is an effective tool, but it’s not enough to just start an account and expect followers to come out of the woodwork. Before a nonprofit creates social media properties, it should consider the possible outcomes of their campaign and determine what they’re hoping to achieve. Part of this involves defining an audience; they will inevitably play a role in an organization’s outcomes and should be considered carefully.

Conducting surveys and crafting personas are both solid first steps when it comes to defining an audience; and segmenting it as much as possible can create a few different angles to consider when creating content.

What value do you provide through social media?

Once an audience has been established, nonprofits will need to consider methods to properly engage with them. Often, nonprofits will opt to establish themselves as authoritative figures in their subject of choice by crafting original content. This approach is the most useful for establishing brand recognition for a certain nonprofit and education, as it gives an organization control over the message they are sending.

Alternatively, a nonprofit can become a curator of content in their field of choice, a similar approach that allows for easy sharing of news and establishing relationships with other organizations. Lastly, nonprofits can use social media as a platform for bringing their community together, promoting an exchange of ideas and creating passion for the cause.

Really, all three of these have merit, and a balance of the three depending on objectives is the best way to provide value to an audience.

How do you deliver good content?

Part of prompting engagement and raising a strong audience is delivering solid content to stakeholders. Content should be regular, match an organization’s voice and brand, and, perhaps most importantly, be authentic. Don’t go into a social media endeavor with the open intent of leveraging an audience to accomplish something; provide them with answers, engage frequently, and help them as much as you can. This will keep followers coming back and make them more likely to spread the word on their own volition.

Additionally, organizations should ensure that anything posted is of solid quality; paying for stock images or leveraging existing video of charitable efforts can create interesting, visually-dynamic updates.

What to do with an active audience?

In the best case scenario, all a nonprofit need to do to turn a social media following into capital is ask for donations.

This is, however, only practical with an active and engaged following. For that matter, it helps if a nonprofit has an objective that they’re looking to accomplish; involving social media followers as closely as possible is great for generating further engagement.

In many ways, working with social media followers is fairly close to working with potential customers in a for-profit business. Measuring each step of the process is crucial, and involves monitoring outreach activity, page traffic, conversion rates, and retention rates. It’s all about building a relationship that works two ways, and although nonprofits seldom have time to interact with each and every social media follower, they can still be responsive and prolific enough to make meaningful connections through various networks.