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24 August 2011


 August 24, 2011

Do you take risks?


Last week in the Harvard Business Review, Dan Pallotta talks about how taking risks is important. if we didn’t take risks, we wouldn’t have cures for diseases. We wouldn’t have so much of what we have now. But in the nonprofit world, risktaking is discouraged. Funders would rather see that you have a tried and true model before they invest. They want to see that you have a lot of money and that you are a “safe bet.” This seems backwards to me. Like foundations want to be investment bankers and get the greatest yield for their dollar amounts.

Well, guess what, strategic philanthropists. The greatest yield for your dollar amounts is in a developing nation, where people live on pennies a day. Phil Cubeta, over at GiftHub, writes:

“Albert, a community foundation leader orginally trained in philosophy asks such questions (on his blog under his own name, even). For most, though, the answer about goals is, effective and efficient strategies with measurable outcomes is the operative goal. Giving Smart gets results. Let’s get results. We will then be smart.” As the best salesperson I ever knew once said to me, “Phil, don’t ask why there is air, just breathe.” Maybe Albert should stop asking why the poor suffer so, and just get on with the grantmaking. The more we explore root causes the more complicit we realize we are, and the more demoralized and the less our smart grants seem sufficient expiation for our moral blindness. Better to choose goals by passion, prejudice or whimsy, and concentrate on the effectiveness of the means.”

So, if wages of most people had moved up with the rest of the moneyed classes, we wouldn’t need to court the favor of the big foundations, because our communities would have the money to take our nonprofits higher. The trouble is, they have most of the money now. Don’t believe me? It’s true. The top 10% of America’s wealthy hold over 75% of the wealth in the USA. I have statistics. Top 10% have 75% of the wealth

Top 10% have 75% of the wealth

We can try grassroots fundraising, but the reason its’ not working so well anymore is because people have less and less money to give you.

So what is a nonprofit professional to do? The way I see it, we could do several things.

1. One of the things we could do is raise wages for everyone who works at nonprofits. Since this probably won’t happen voluntarily, we should consider getting unions for nonprofit workers, so that people will have cost of living raises, healthcare paid for, and be insulated from wrongful termination. When we start to address income inequality within our own organizations, we are truly making a difference at the grassroots level.

2. Second verse, same as the first!

3. We can start agitating on a local government level, or if you prefer, advocating, for a better working climate and more unions for people in our local economies. Whether that’s day laborers or other people who work at nonprofits, this is something that we can all agree that we want. If it’s too big of a problem to look at how politicians are bought and sold on the national level, then look at the local level. Should commissioners of your city or your mayor be bought out? Perhaps not. Perhaps these elected officials are still small enough to listen to you, if you get enough people around you. If you shout loud enough. So start there.

4. Run for office yourself. Get a sense of the political process. Instead of feeling overwhelmed by the problems, start to be part of the solution. Abolish At-Will Employment.

5. Or you could just sit there and whine and complain and talk about moving to another country. Someplace “safer.” But where is going to be safe if the US crumbles? We’ve got all of the world’s currencies tied up with our own. I’ve done the whine and complain thing, and all I’ve felt at the end of it was just hopelessness and despair. Because there really is no place like home, and we can fight to take it back.

6. Civil disobedience. What does this mean? Go to protests. Be visible. Make graffiti stencils and put these around different neighborhoods in your town. Why not? There’s nothing to lose, and everything to gain.

7. Start to build a social media following, of people who want the same things you want. Clean air. Clean water. Higher wages, better local economies, better food for everyone, less dependence on oil, equality, true equality.

Maybe I’ve been reading too much Terry Pratchett lately, I’m talking like a revolutionary. But what’s so revolutionary about wanting better treatment for all nonprofit workers?

Do you have any ideas? How can we get out of this mess? The roof is on fire! What’s your solution?

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