Are Your Trustees Satisfied?

I’m always interested in why donors choose different means of formalizing their giving and the ever-expanding set of options they have to do so. Because of that, I read the Center for Effective Philanthropy’s recent report What Donors Value: How Community Foundations Can Increase Donor Satisfaction, Referrals, and Future Givingand related blog posts.

In a survey of more than 6,000 donors of 47 community foundations, the Center found that:

  • The strongest predictors of donor satisfaction are donors’ sense of the foundation’s level of responsiveness when they need assistance and their perceptions of the foundation’s impact on the community. (The first predictor isn’t new information and the second one confirms community foundation’s hunches and hopes.)
  • 1 in 4 donors were “moderately satisfied” or less with their community foundation. (Oddly, the report glossed over this second point. I don’t know what good business manager would be happy with that metric.)
  • A donor’s level of engagement wasn’t a driver of her or his satisfaction. (This shouldn’t be a surprise, but likely was to many community foundation staff).

I steward a multi-generation family foundation and am writing this while attending a symposium by the National Center for Family Philanthropy. Family foundations don’t have the pressures that community foundations create for themselves to grow assets, grow the number of donors with funds, and grow the number of donors who give to the community foundation’s initiatives. However, the report surfaced important questions for those of us in the family philanthropy business.

Shouldn’t family foundation staff worry about the satisfaction of our board members and/or trustees? For the most part, they choose to participate in these roles, even if that choice is coerced by other family members.

  • What would customer satisfaction metrics look like for family foundation board members? How would those metrics be different from those for other nonprofit boards?
  • What if 25% of your family foundation’s board members weren’t very satisfied with their experience with the foundation? How would that damage family dynamics behind the scenes and harm discussions at the foundation? How would that change their description of their experience to their friends and colleagues who sit on nonprofit boards?

And, shouldn’t family foundations pay attention to the report’s third point about engagement? Community foundations often set metrics for increasing the level of engagement of donors. Those metrics are often drawn from university fundraising models. The community foundations falsely presume that success means more donors moving up a ladder of participation in the community foundation’s activities, communications tools, and goals. As the Center’s report notes, donors can be satisfied even when they have, or desire, little or no involvement from the foundation in their giving decisions.

The majority of family foundations (and many donor-advised funds) are established as vehicles for families to give together and learn together about giving. Ideally, the foundations are safe places to learn and grow together. But it is easy for staff and founders to fall into the same trap as community foundations – that all board and family members desire to be fully engaged in the foundation’s work.

  • How do we ensure that our family foundations are safe places to learn and don’t force a one-size-fits-all approach for participation?
  • How do we design customer-centric experiences that meet our volunteers where they are? Can we allow them to flexibly dive in or dial back over time, perhaps learning from techniques of good network management models?
  • How do we blend the engagement expectations of founders or other family leaders with trends in how younger people choose to interact with organizations and choose to give of their time and skills? Especially for endowed foundations, how do we ensure that institutional culture doesn’t automatically turn people away?

Unfortunately, I have more questions than answers at this point and NCFP’s forum didn’t have sessions addressing the topics. I’ll be doing my own research on the issues and hope that you’ll feel free to send me good ideas and your own experiences.

What Does Your Community’s Social Economy Look Like?

What if you convened a group as diverse as codefest winners, giving circle donors, librarians, start-up leaders, and fundraisers? And what if you asked them to describe all the ways they spend time and money for the public good? 

We did just that in Pittsburgh a couple weeks ago. The Philanthropy Forum at GSPIA and Grantmakers of Western Pennsylvania had invited scholar Dr. Lucy Bernholz to a two-day whirlwind of meetings related to her work on the social economy and digital civil society. Lucy’s brief definitions for those terms are:

  • Social economy – all the ways we use private resources to create public benefits or public good
  • Digital civil society – how we use private digital resources to organize, create, distribute and fund public benefits or public good

On the second day, Lucy met with a group of about 36 people who mostly work outside of the traditional grantmaking world. Many met each other for the first time, and we missed the voices of about 50 more invitees who weren’t able to attend. Lucy’s slide deck from the conversation is at http://www.scribd.com/doc/212758822/Social-Economy-Digital-Civil-Society-Bernholz.

Lucy asked the attendees to list and post: 1) all of the actions they took for the public good, and 2) all of the groups through which they took those actions.

BernholzPgh1

Pgh Social Economy Group

I used Wordle to create a summary of their actions for the public good (bigger words indicate a greater number of that response):

Pgh Social Economy Wordle

A majority of the attendees listed volunteering for a nonprofit organization, many serving as board members. A majority listed donating financially to causes. Those traditions remain strong, even with the younger attendees.

But, only about half of the activities listed were in the nonprofit sector and the attendees used the word giving without regard for receipt of a charitable deduction. A larger picture of philanthropy (defined as “voluntary action for the common good”) emerged to include social enterprises, political activities, and the uses of crowdfunding sites. The group also made a clear connection between achieving the common good and taking such actions as: buying a farm share, using sharing services such as Lyft and Airbnb, participating in Meetups, and activating their social networks for causes. They described how those actions built stronger relationships, trust, and sense of community (translated for grantmakers – “community building and social capital outcomes”).

Of course, humans volunteered together for the common good long before tax laws defined charitable giving and charitable organizations. But, Lucy noted that today’s technology and digital environments allow people to more quickly return to those roots of collective action – of sharing in community well-being. The Grassroots Grantmakers team recently wrote about this activity in Citizen-to-Citizen: Funding, Sharing, and Generating Ideas. (Translated again for grantmakers – “this is great stuff that we’ll avoid because we don’t want to deal with expenditure responsibility rules and/or it doesn’t meet our definition of strategic philanthropy.”)

What Does This Mean for Pittsburgh (or your City)?

Admittedly, the group of attendees wasn’t a random sample of Pittsburghers. They were purposely invited to develop Pittsburgh’s first glimpse into its social economy and digital civil society beyond grantmakers and nonprofits. (If someone wants to develop a more complete picture, let’s talk!)

Since the conversations, I’ve been wondering about the intersections between foundations and the wider array of social economy activity. As we look ahead, how will we…

  • Act together? – Will traditional philanthropy associations such as Grantmakers of Western PA successfully include this broader set of social good doers? Or are those associations so dominated by large funders and “grants as the main tool” thinking that others won’t feel welcome? Will an alternate set of social good associations (or meetups and/or political action groups…) rise up around regional grantmaker groups?
  • Lead together? – Many of the attendees will likely become the next generation of community leaders. Could they become the next leaders of foundations and corporate giving programs? The legal structure of foundations has proven adaptable to forms of social good such as impact investing and grassroots grantmaking. But will the culture of professionalized philanthropy be ready for people who effortlessly deploy the full array of social good tools?
  • Grow together? – Groups of funders in Pittsburgh and many other cities have built capacity-building resources for 501(c)(3) public charities. Will they build similar resources to provide free and discounted management assistance, legal advice, tech support, and more to B-Corps, unincorporated groups, code for good groups, and more? And can funders build those resources in ways that don’t force those groups to follow the rules of 501(c)(3) land? Conversely, how will communities help nonprofits effectively adapt to the broader social economy and collaborate with these free agents on community problem-solving?
  • Know and learn together? – Lucy talked about the absence of a national conversation around the ethics, rules, and regulations of digital public goods – information produced and shared by charities, government agencies, and other social economy groups. The Brookings Institution has made the case that metropolitan areas, rather than nations, are now the main hubs of innovation and community problem-solving. Though digital information flows across borders, could or should communities such as Pittsburgh craft their own, shared codes of conduct around digital public goods?

Lucy and the team at Stanford PACS are tackling some of these policy and practice issues on a national and global level. My own problem-solving orientation leans more local. I’d love to see Pittsburgh – and any other community – tackle them. Maybe one day we’ll even see regional Social Economy Leagues that parallel the power of regional economic development organizations and chambers of commerce. Or, perhaps communities will create Digital Public Good Trusts that parallel the collective donor power and asset preservation of community foundations. (For philanthropy history geeks, who will write the Dead Hand Harnessed for the 21st century?)

What would a picture of your community’s social economy look like, and how would you grow that economy?

The one where the philanthropy data geeks got it wrong

Belushi food fight
Philanthropy data geek ready for battle (speculative artist rendition)

I guess you have to commend philanthropy’s paper of record – the Chronicle of Philanthropy – for trying to make fundraising data exciting with its January 17 article, Group Estimates Philanthropy Rose 13% in 2013, Clashing With ‘Giving USA’.

The article pitted estimates of charitable giving from the relatively new Atlas of Giving against the results of the long-time resource Giving USA. Forbes’ philanthropic and social good contributor, Tom Watson, described the article as a “philanthropic food fight” – a creative headline that quickly spread across philanthropic and nonprofit social media.

The Chronicle’s article drew defensive explanations from the CEO of the Atlas of Giving and the leaders of Giving USA.* If you don’t want to read the details, the arguments boil down to differing methodologies for tracking contributions and competition around monetizing those methodologies. If you do want to be geeky, you can read more about the methods at Atlas of Giving, Giving USA, and for good measure, the Blackbaud Index.

Here’s the larger issue: all of the methods miss the forest for the trees the buffet for the appetizer tray.

Ultimately, these resources primarily focus on giving to incorporated charitable (501(c)(3)) organizations. They reinforce a narrow definition of the term “philanthropy,” imprisoning it within artificial tax and legal boundaries. It’s the same mistake made by the pundits worried about the Stubborn 2% Giving Rate – U.S. giving to charity being fairly level at 2% of GDP and 2% of disposable income.

A classic definition of philanthropy is “voluntary action for the common good.” It is the generosity you and I feel and express, and it spills far beyond tax and legal boundaries (see my previous post on this issue). This recent “food fight” over philanthropic data doesn’t fully include:

  • Giving to charitable organizations that isn’t reported to the IRS – e.g. giving by people who don’t itemize on their taxes; the cash we drop into jars at counters, buckets on street corners, and collection plates of congregations; text message giving; and some crowdfunded gifts.
  • Giving to organizations that aren’t 501(c)(3)s – gifts to advocacy organizations, civic organizations, and other non-charitable nonprofits. This giving may not be charitable by some people’s definitions, but it is definitely a legitimate tool for achieving a public or social result.
  • Supporting the common good through gifts to individuals, unincorporated groups, artists, social enterprises, and even businesses through cash, crowdfunding platforms, and grassroots groups such as the Awesome Foundation and Sunday Soup. As just one example, an annual report on crowdfunding platforms shows about $2.7 billion flowing raised in 2012, with 38% going to “social causes” and 25% going to arts and environment projects. The public version of the report doesn’t show the percentage going to traditional charities.
  • Support for people in need and families through remittances instead of charities (a World Bank report estimates worldwide remittances at $401 billions in 2012).

I’ll grant that Giving USA and others know that they don’t track those forms of philanthropy and that tracking those forms is much harder than tracking gifts to 501(c)(3) charitable organizations. However, I’m increasingly convinced that these data resources – and the media hits they generate:

  1. Can distort public perceptions about philanthropy, further separating the concept from a value and action connected to everyday people and maybe reinforcing philanthropy and its attending tax benefits as a privilege of “the 1%.”

  2. May display a lack of cultural competency, as the data collection methods undercount the giving patterns of the growing percentages of non-Caucasian populations and immigrants in America.

  3. Will become less accurate over time as Millennials, and perhaps other generations, increasingly express their financial commitment to the common good outside of the charitable sector and tax-advantaged giving.

What do you think? Are these data resources useful as-is, or do we need something more expansive?

* Full transparency: I was born, raised, and educated in Indiana. Shortly after we Hoosiers learn to walk and/or drink beer, the Indiana University’s School of Philanthropy pours fundraising knowledge and data into our heads. I count I.U. staff as mentors, colleagues, and occasional fellow beer drinkers in my philanthropic career.

2/20/14 update: Giving USA and Atlas of Giving are facing off in an online radio show on Feb. 21 that will be archived for download.