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Empowering the Engines of Social Progress

June 5, 2024 Category: Solutions

Nonprofit organizations are often a driving force behind social progress. They address critical needs in communities where schools, government agencies, and healthcare systems fall short. However, even the most dedicated organizations need support to empower communities.

When thinking about how to support nonprofit organizations, money is often the first thing that comes to mind. While financial contributions are important, they are not the only resource these organizations need to thrive and maximize their impact. Support that goes beyond grants and donations enables nonprofits to build capacity and effectively address the most pressing issues in their regions.

Rickey Duncan, CEO and Executive Director of the NOMO Foundation, emphasizes the importance of such support,

“Programs such as the Bolt grassroots executive training and Kelly Woodland’s Black Executive Directors Networking program have been invaluable resources for me as a nonprofit leader, and have provided me with the tools and connections needed to effectively lead my organization. However, there is always room for improvement in organizations meant to empower nonprofits. More support and resources are needed to address the unique challenges faced by nonprofit leaders, such as funding constraints and limited capacity.”

To understand what specific support is needed, it is important to listen to community-led nonprofits.

Hilary Do, Executive Director of BOLT Philly, underscores this point: “government and foundations can do more by listening to community-led nonprofits, recognizing their expertise, and giving them space to lead. Grassroots leaders, those who are deeply connected to the communities they serve, should be at the table where decisions are being made so they can shape programs and policies that can maximize impact at the neighborhood level.”

 

Empowering Impact and Capacity

Technical assistance plays a central role in empowering capacity of nonprofit organizations. Lengthy application processes, complex reporting requirements and bureaucracy place a disproportionate burden on smaller organizations. By simplifying procedures, removing barriers, and providing hands-on support that goes beyond information sessions, valuable time, and resources can be freed up so that non-profit organizations can focus on their missions.

“At BOLT, we see that there are so many incredible community leaders already doing the work, with teams they have built in their neighborhoods” explains Hilary Do. “We provide them with capacity-building support, which includes managing organizational growth and navigating local systems such as the Philadelphia Land Bank. In other words, we provide them with resources, network, and knowledge so they can get to their visions for their communities, faster.”

From our Partners

courtesy image –  PhillyBOLT’s 2nd Annual Celebration of Philly’s Grassroots Leaders 

Tivoni Devor, Director of Client Development at Kiwi Partners, a division of Arabella Advisors, who has extensive experience supporting nonprofit organizations through capacity and fiscal support, suggests three technical strategies to improve support to empower organizations:

Trust-Based Funding

“If you trust an organization to do work in the community, also trust them with the money you are giving them, less reports, receipts, and reimbursements.

Collaboration for Cash Flow

“Governments and Foundations should collaborate more to support nonprofit’s cash flow to actually get the work done.

Shared Services for Efficiency

“Create and fund shared services like CRMs and other technologies that help nonprofits support the people they help, and that the people they help are more accessible to services and don’t have to constantly to registration paperwork.”

 

Empowering Sustainability

One strategy that most foundations use is unrestricted funding – which allows nonprofit organizations to be flexible and respond to needs. Unlike restricted funds, which are earmarked for specific projects or initiatives, unrestricted funds can be used at the organization’s discretion, providing the flexibility to respond to unexpected challenges and opportunities.

Hilary Do explains the benefits of unrestricted funding,

“Unrestricted funding allows nonprofits to allocate resources where they are most needed, whether it’s for operational costs, capacity building, or new initiatives. This flexibility is essential for organizations to innovate and sustain their impact over the long term.”

While most nonprofit organizations call for unrestricted funding, supporting nonprofit organizations requires a multi-faceted approach that goes beyond financial grants. Providing technical assistance, capacity building programs, and fostering collaboration are important strategies to empower these organizations, but more is needed.

One organization addressing this need is the Schott Foundation, which has launched its EndowNow program.

In his interview on Beyond Philanthropy, John H. Jackson, President and CEO of the Schott Foundation, explains that philanthropy is

“…often work from our frame of scarcity. But within the philanthropic sector, there are billions of dollars that are available. If we look at what’s dedicated annually toward racial justice, and even more education, justice, we are looking at $ 100 to 150 million. And when you look at the size, scale, depth of the challenges that are before us, there are resources that are available that are not dedicated to bending the arc of justice.

So at [Schott Foundation], we work to support and build the capacity of education and racial justice organizations. That being said, we also have to think about the long-term sustainability of these organizations. I would ask anybody who believes that we’re going to solve racial equity, racial justice within a grant cycle to show me your theory of action. Show me your theory of change, show me what you’re actually funding. That is not the case, I would ask anybody who knows anything about maintaining a democracy: How can you believe that democracy is a destination rather than a journey? And if it’s a journey, then how do we sustain our progress within democracy without the organizations that make our democracy work?

So if we start there, we recognize that there has to be some strategy to ensure that the organizations that make our democracy work that ensure that there’s progress in racial equity are sustained. That’s how we got to the endowment campaign.” He continued, “we wanted to, number one, critique the behavior within philanthropy. Number two, ask what can we do to begin to shift the behavior, and that is, you know, the focus of the endow now campaign.”

Through Schott Foundation’s EndowNow, “Schott has launched the Racial Justice in Education Endowment Collaborative Fund: the first fund of its kind to raise capital for endowments to ensure the sustainability of three BIPOC-led national education justice alliances.”

 

listen to the full episode on Now

 

 

Nonprofit organizations are the engines of social change, but to operate at their best, they need sustainability. As Hilary Do aptly puts it, “Recognize their expertise and give them space to lead.” By doing so, we ensure that these organizations have the resources, networks, and flexibility they need to thrive and empower their communities and impact.

 

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