The Washington Post recently reported that “D.C. area’s United Way tightens requirements for charity funding.”
You can read the article yourself, but the crux of the message is that nearly 200 smaller charities are at risk for losing funding from the United Way of the National Capital Area because the United Way is changing how groups qualify to receive money.
The United Way is asking these charities to take on more responsibility for their funding. Charities must raise $50,000 themselves, shouldering more of their burden of operations.
I’m a little conflicted on this.
I can understand how some of these smaller organizations have evolved.
A passionate individual sets out to improve some area of our world and works on this every hour of their free time. Maybe it’s a desire to teach adults to read, or improve healthcare for an under-served population, or (as the article references the National Capital Therapy Dogs) providing “animal-assisted therapy to people in health facilities, shelters, schools and libraries.”
Eventually others sign-on to help.
As the group grows, there are some expenses the volunteers can’t or don’t want to individually incur. Maybe it’s the costs of designing and running a website, or buying a vehicle to serve their population.
At that point, they turn to the United Way or other sources for funding. The volunteers can continue to work on the mission-focused elements (the “fun stuff” that initially drew them to the cause) as the United Way funds them. The United Way serves a bit like a proud parent who funds a creative child’s artistic passions for a period of time, waiting to see if the kid can make it on his own.
It’s fine … for awhile.
But from the United Way’s point of view, they want to make a BIG impact with their dollars.
If they give a little money here and a little money there, it’s harder to see the change.
And let’s face it, our society likes to witness BIG change FAST … hence the popularity of “makeover” shows.
(I was on a makeover show myself. Two long days of work = transformation of my home office / bedroom.)
Perhaps the United Way has a point about “big gifts.” Long ago I remember a financial planner telling his audience that it’s better to hold off on giving small gifts. He advised us to save our money and — using the principle of interest — let it grow in order to donate big gifts later, which offer more impact.
(Certainly among my own nonprofit clients, I hear about the $50,000 donation that arrived or the unexpected $1000 in the fund-a-need. But I don’t hear about the checks rolling in for $10. Both are appreciated, but there’s always a story about the bigger donations.)
So now my local United Way is asking the smaller charities to take a larger stake in their own survival.
They want these smaller nonprofits to put more skin in the game.
“If you’re serious about your cause,” the United Way is suggesting, “raise at least $50,000 yourself. Then we’ll reward you.”
In short, the United Way is sending a message to be professional.
- If you’re going to be a nonprofit, run it professionally.
- Show us you mean business. Go out there and ask for money.
- Don’t treat your nonprofit as a HOBBY; treat it like a BUSINESS.
- Do the work — ALL of the work. Not just the initial “interesting” elements that drew you in. Take ownership.
Turns out that these are the SAME messages I tell my benefit auction clients.
- Stop fooling around with your gala auction.
- Get serious about how you do this. Run it like a BUSINESS.
- Stop wasting time and money on things that don’t MAKE you money.
- Look at your ROI! Take ownership.
Some charities will be rolling up their sleeves and getting very busy. We’ll see how it pans out.
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