A View from Blue Grotto

Monday, December 04, 2006

Giving money away

“Giving away money effectively is almost as hard as earning it in the first place.” Bill Gates, quoted in the Economist in 1997

I would be willing to bet that statement still rings true today, for Mr. Gates as well as many people who are approached regularly, even daily, with philanthropic requests. Just this year, Warren Buffet joined philanthropic forces with Mr. Gates in an effort to streamline his own planned giving.

The 2006 Minnesota Council of Nonprofits directory lists 4,500 organizations, so folks have thousands of options for spending their time, money and resources. And today’s donors are a savvy group; they are approached frequently and in a variety of ways. Individuals as well as foundations are looking for stewards of not only their money, but stewards of the values and beliefs most important to them. In announcing the gift to their foundation, Bill and Melinda Gates commented on the “generosity and trust” of Mr. Buffet, crediting Mr. Buffet’s influence as their own inspiration for philanthropy. Could there be a higher compliment paid?

The most savvy nonprofits have learned the important lesson that successful development efforts rely on clearly communicating the organization’s values when raising friends and funds in a highly competitive market. Values-based development gives an organization a distinct advantage. It can bring about a stronger and more sustained relationship. Developing resource relationships based on shared values requires a thoughtful examination of just what an organization is and why it does what it does.

Every nonprofit has a carefully thought-out mission statement, and every nonprofit exists for a specific purpose. But there are likely several organizations that serve the same purpose. So how does an organization set itself apart? How does a nonprofit recruit and, more importantly, retain resources - donors, volunteers, staff and board members? How do the most successful nonprofits encourage long-term relationships?

Values-based resource development requires that a nonprofit examine and articulate its values as reflected in the philosophies of service, strategic planning, and stewardship that have driven and sustained it through many years. Taking an inventory of how those values have changed, or remained the same, is an important part the process.

We at Blue Grotto have helped many nonprofits to more effectively communicate their values, and more importantly, to illustrate those values – through the narrative process – to connect with donors of all shapes and sizes, from the average holiday giver, to family foundations, to corporate community relations offices. I am interested to hear how your organization is working to connect with donors. Email me with your own examples of making it easier for people to give their money away.

Yvonne Hundshamer
President, Blue Grotto Inc.