The nonprofit sector is booming!
Over 1.6 million 501c3 organizations are filed with the IRS, nearly 10% of America’s workforce is employed by a nonprofit, and over $400 billion is donated to American charities every year.
So, why – WHY? – is the US poverty rate the same today as it was 50 years ago?
We change the lives of millions of people, year after year, but cannot seem to move the poverty rate below the 10-12% range?
Of course, there are many reasons for this problem and the issue is far more complex than I will ever understand. So, let’s go straight to a critical part of the solution: strategic, disciplined giving by savvy donors.
Below are five characteristics of these well-informed philanthropists who will ultimately upend the status quo and, with the nonprofit sector, truly change the world.
1. Savvy donors expect their giving to make more impact than “doing good.”
They create a clear vision for the future and donate strategically to fulfill that vision. Savvy donors give from their hearts and evaluate with their heads.
In WARM’s case, we take time to regularly assess the true impact of our mission. This year, UNCW’s College of Health & Human Services is taking a close look at our program to study how WARM’s work is improving health. For example, remediating mold or replacing 30-year-old carpet can improve indoor air quality and alleviate respiratory conditions.
2. Savvy donors expect meaningful outcomes, not just productivity.
What’s the difference? Productivity is what we do this week or this year. Outcomes are the long-term impact. In WARM’s case, productivity is measured in the number of homes repaired and the number of volunteers who serve. Outcomes include preventing falls with ramps and grab bars and preserving the region’s affordable housing stock.
3. Savvy donors do not want to be a nonprofit’s only donor.
They insist the nonprofit invest in awareness and fundraising efforts. They may even underwrite a brochure or special campaign.
In WARM’s case, corporations invest in our billboard campaign, print advertisements, and fundraising events. In return, they receive recognition that aligns their businesses with a good cause.
4. Savvy donors do their due diligence.
They expect nonprofit leaders to earn their trust. Before making a large gift, they may want to meet the founder, review a few years of financial reports, or ask about the board’s succession planning.
In WARM’s case, I was recently asked for a feasibility report for a new initiative. I was absolutely thrilled. I knew that this level of due diligence meant the donor was well-educated and wanted to build a relationship with us, not just throw money at a problem.
5. Savvy donors want to invest in critical infrastructure.
Years ago, it was common for donors to focus their giving on immediate program expenses. A new trend is emerging centered around building an organization’s capacity. The donor asks, “What can I buy that will help you do more of what you are already doing?”
In WARM’s case, a lovely and sophisticated woman asked us that question multiple times during her lifetime. She purchased work trucks, a dump trailer, and tools in addition to her annual giving. Her generosity has made WARM more efficient and enabled us to serve more people ever year. Quite a legacy!
I hope you can see that this investment approach to giving will magnify the impact of donor dollars and may be our only hope for solving the most important problems in our country and world.
JC Lyle has served as WARM’s Executive Director since January 2009. Under her leadership, WARM's annual revenue and productivity have more than quadrupled. Prior to working in the nonprofit sector, Lyle worked at McKim & Creed on subdivision design, rezoning and permitting throughout coastal North Carolina. Lyle earned her Master of Business Administration from UNCW's Cameron School of Business and has presented workshops on affordable housing issues and nonprofit management at state-level conferences. Lyle serves on the Planning Commission for the City of Wilmington and the North Carolina Housing Partnership, the board that oversees the state's housing trust fund. In 2012, Lyle was named Wilma Magazine's first Woman to Watch in the Nonprofit Category. In 2014, she accepted WARM's Coastal Entrepreneur Award in the Nonprofit Category, given by the Greater Wilmington Business Journal and UNCW’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. In 2018, the Association of Fundraising Professionals, Cape Fear Chapter named her Outstanding Fundraiser of the Year.
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