This is the third blog post in a series inspired by Dan Pallotta’s TEDtalk. Pallotta makes the bold claim that charities should not be judged on whether they keep costs low. “Social problems are massive in scale,” he says, “our organizations are tiny up against them, and we have a belief system that keeps them tiny.” In each post, we’re considering how Pallotta’s ideas can impact our behavior as money managers (post 2 of 4), donors (this post), and fundraisers (next post).
What are the factors you consider when deciding how to give to charities? Here’s what Palotta suggests: “The next time you’re looking at a charity, don’t ask about the rate of their overhead. Ask about the scale of their dreams…how they measure their progress toward those dreams, and what resources they need to make them come true, regardless of what the overhead is.”
Here are a few suggestions about other behaviors that might be helpful while following Pallotta’s advice:
1. Give the charity time to respond. For many charities, you may be the first person to ask them about the scale of their dreams. Many charities are staffed by people (paid and volunteer) who focus primarily on the short term. With small staffs and limited budgets, even high-level staff are involved in day-to-day tasks. When you ask about the scale of their dreams and how they measure progress, they may not be able to answer right away. This doesn’t mean they don’t have dreams or standards. It may just mean that the staff and the board and the volunteer leaders have not yet had time to sit down together and agree on how to articulate the dream that they are working hard to reach every day. Your question may be the catalyst for that kind of visioning and planning, which will benefit the organization.
2. Make your gift worth it. If you are asking charities to do the difficult and important work of telling you their long-term dreams (while they’re busy meeting daily needs), make sure your donation is worth their time. Find ways to multiply your dollars by making your donation a catalyst for other donations. When the charity tells you about their dreams, be prepared to tell others and invite them to join in supporting these dreams. Organize an event to tell others about the charity. Consider planned giving to support that charity in the future. What are some other ways you can multiply your donation?
3. Consider an unrestricted gift. Pallotta’s vision calls for organizations that have the flexibility to do what works to reach their dreams, and to find ways of evaluating their progress. One way to keep organizations flexible is to let them use your donation where it’s needed most. If you’re not willing to give an unrestricted gift, consider why this is. Do you not trust the organization to use it wisely? If so, consider what steps you might take to restore that trust.
What do you think? How will Pallotta’s ideas impact your behavior as a donor?
Emma Crossen is director for stewardship and development.