You can't support every nonprofit, but you can support the nonprofit sector as a whole - Generocity Philly


Sep. 5, 2018 12:45 pm

You can’t support every nonprofit, but you can support the nonprofit sector as a whole

Columnist Lansie Sylvia on the merits of joining a foundation board, sponsoring a conference and reading up on sector-specific resources.

Best practices workshop at PANO's 2017 conference.

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How to Give” is a monthly column by local philanthropy wizard Lansie Sylvia. In it, Lansie answers readers’ questions about millennials, philanthropy and engaging the next generation of givers. To ask her a question, tweet @FancyLansie.


I’m a mid-career professional and the majority of my friends work within the nonprofit sector is some way, either as executive directors, fundraising professionals or board members. I think the work they’re doing is vital, but I can’t possibly support every organization. Is there a way to support the nonprofit sector as a whole?

You’re such a good friend, and kudos to you for recognizing the important work that nonprofits, as well as “third sector” hybrids like B Corps, are doing to keep this fractured country of ours chugging along.

Before we dive in, it’s important to note that “nonprofit” as a definition exists on all points of the political spectrum. There are think tanks and consortiums and research teams and mobilizing groups working for, and against, almost every cause you can think of, so let’s never get tax statuses confused with virtue.

I’ll preface this by saying that since you have such a strong peer group of nonprofit professionals as a resource, the first thing to do is to ask them what they need. That’s really the first step with trying to positively impact any group of people. Far too often, well-meaning individuals swoop into a situation having never directly, and meaningfully, engaged the target audience they’re seeking to assist. So, for you, I’d say talk to your friends and let me know what they said. 🙂

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For those of us who do not know lots of nonprofit people (or if you, dear reader, have engaged your network and they gave you 100 different answers, which is likely), let’s dive in!

Join a foundation board.

Full disclosure: I currently serve on the board of the Charlotte Cushman Foundation, so I’m speaking from that lens. Our foundation supports Philadelphia’s vibrant theatre scene by giving money towards actors’ salaries within professionally staged productions. This is the first foundation I’ve served on, and I find it to be super-rewarding and educational.

By serving on one board, I’m able to support an entire subset of the nonprofit sector. Plus, I get to learn more and more about each theatre company, and by seeing our grantees’ productions and then advocating for them to my friends and peers, I (hopefully) have a positive influence on ticket sales and budding theatre geeks.

Every foundation will have different methods for recruiting and screening board members, but I wouldn’t wait around for them to ask you. Review their guidelines, find out who the nominating committee person is, and write a letter of introduction asking for an informational interview. It might not get you the position immediately, but it will put you on their radar.

Sponsor a conference.

Ongoing professional development is critical for nonprofits, yet most of the time, there aren’t tons of resources to support this endeavor, so conferences serve as an intense yet affordable way for nonprofit professionals to learn many things very quickly. In Pennsylvania alone we have the Pennsylvania Association of Nonprofit Organizations’ (PANO) Collaboration Conference, the annual PHENND Conference, the Association of Fundraising Professionals’ Compass Conference and many more.

You can directly support the conference by becoming a sponsor, either individually or through your workplace. Each conference will have different benefits for sponsorship, but since you’re looking for the more intangible feeling of encouragement and championship, any level is likely to scratch the itch.

But let’s say you don’t have $5,000 to $25,000 to support a conference at this time. One of my favorite new innovations is group-funded scholarships, like the not-just-for-coders tech conference Ela Conf’s BFFs program. Most conferences will let you “sponsor a scholarship” by contributing enough funds to allow someone who normally couldn’t afford the conference a chance to attend. If the conference price point is too steep for you alone, this is a great way to cut your fundraising teeth and rally a group of your friends to join you in this mission to make professional development affordable for more people. Woo!

Support sector-based resources.

Websites such as BoardSource, GuideStar, Independent Sector and the Foundation Center provide high-quality information for nonprofit professionals at all experience levels. There are also nonprofits that advocate for the nonprofit sector (let that bake your noodle for a second) like the National Council of Nonprofits, plus more thinky-brainy places like the Aspen Institute that support not just nonprofit professionals but also cross-sector individuals and groups towards solving humanity’s more pernicious challenges.

I am but one dutiful columnist, though, so I must give a HUGE shout-out to PANO for compiling their own awesome list of nonprofits that support nonprofits for your perusal. Between that and this, we’ve got you covered, so best of luck on your sector-supporting sojourn!


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