Non-Profits and Giving Fatigue

Non-Profits and Giving Fatigue

I’ve noted before that America has always been a country of givers. It was heartening to see five former presidents on the stage together in October calling for donations for hurricane relief. But this gratifying image doesn’t represent the state of non-profit funding in 2017. Things are getting tight.

“Giving fatigue” or “donor fatigue” is a phenomenon that many non-profits encounter in a year where multiple natural disasters have sapped people’s charitable budgets and their emotions. Charities often get the bulk of their donations at the end of the year, and so giving fatigue is a serious concern.

As I am writing this newsletter 200,000 people have been evacuated in Southern California while wildfires rage throughout the region, mirroring the disastrous wildfires in Northern California in mid-October. This latest catastrophe pushes the U.S. into the largest recorded number of billion dollar+ disasters in a single year, 17 in total, where 11 has been the average. It’s no wonder that donors are exhausted.

In my last newsletter, I looked at the Applied Materials Foundation which manages the charitable activity at Applied Materials.

Non-profits live in a cyclical environment. Their fortunes often are pegged to business growth and strong stock markets, which put cash in their donors’ pockets. By collecting and saving resources during strong financial cycles, during weaker cycles they, too, can be opportunistic in building the capacity to serve more people or preparing new campaigns to launch when the giving climate improves.

At Applied, we faced the elevator door in our corporate giving and planning: We contributed a portion of our pretax profits to community affairs, but established a constant level of funding by that department. In good times, we put amounts above that funding level in the Foundation. That way it could maintain a consistent level of giving to our communities even when we experienced short-term financial pressures. Odds were the community was facing similar short-term financial pressures, so our support was even more important,

How can non-profit organizations combat giving fatigue? For one thing, I think it’s important that non-profits directly acknowledge and thank their donors. I found some valuable suggestions in this article, 16 Fundraising Best Practices for Preventing Donor Fatigue.

The author makes the point that non-profits are good at “selling” the need for donations, but often fail to show donors how their contributions are actually making an impact. Stating that you reached your funding goal doesn’t explain how many people were helped or what actually will be accomplished. Donors need to understand that their contributions are making a difference.

At the Morgan Family Foundation, we have a belief that “Generosity is contagious and should be encouraged in others.” In challenging times we counsel that “the practice of giving” is even more valuable than the amount contributed. Don’t let donor fatigue distract you from the work that still has to be done.

I’d like to hear from you on this topic, please comment below.

How does your organization acknowledge and thank your donors and combat giving fatigue?

Applied Materials Gives

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America has always been a country of givers. As waves of new immigrants came to this land, they built the schools, community centers, hospitals and vibrant arts organizations that now exist. Many people came to this country with very little, and yet they gave back.

I made charitable giving central to Applied Materials’ mission early in my career there.

The Applied board of directors authorized contributing a portion of our pretax profits to invest in local nonprofit organizations. We maintained the planned level of commitment in part by contributing to a company foundation in good times, setting aside funds that we could rely on during tough financial times when our communities were often under more stress.

I’m proud that Applied continues this commitment directly and through the Applied Materials Foundation. They’ve got a broad focus on giving in the areas of education, arts & culture, civic engagement and the environment. In 2016 the company and the Foundation made grants of over $9 million dollars to charities and nonprofit agencies in ten countries around the world. It’s one of the ten largest corporate philanthropists in Silicon Valley.

When I was at Applied last Friday I was reminded of all the good work that they do. Siobhan Kenney has worked in community affairs and with the Applied Materials Foundation for over fifteen years. “We’re a very engaged company,” she says. “We try to have a positive impact on the communities where our employees work and live.” She makes it clear that local is important, but that “local” also means all of the countries where Applied has a presence, including India and China.

The Foundation also runs Employee Matching Gift and Volunteer Time Grant Programs. “Generosity resonates with our employees,” Siobhan says. “Employees can choose their own charities and the countries where they wish to make donations.” More than 30 percent of U.S. employees participate in company giving programs – well above the 14 percent average for other corporations of the same size. In 2016, employees directed $4.1 million in donations and matching funds to charities and nonprofit agencies across the globe.

In addition, last year, among numerous other efforts, Applied employee volunteers and their families worked on conservation activities on Mt. Fuji in Japan, helped create a forest in the Tancheon Wetland in Korea, and replanted pine trees in fire-ravaged Bastrop State Park with the Nobelity Project in Austin, Texas.

As Siobhan says: “Giving is part of our identity.”

Since leaving Applied, I continue to be involved in the community and recognize the significant impact each of us can have on issues of personal importance. Environmental causes, education, and regional collaboration are in the mission of our family’s philanthropic efforts.

Please Comment Below

How does your organization support local communities? How else do you give back?

Patience and Persistence for Results

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Sometimes impatient business people get involved with non-profits. The non-profit’s goals may seem remote, the results unachievable. But I’ve learned that patience and persistence can produce powerful results.

In 1997 I traveled with Applied’s diverse Asia-Pacific team down the Yangtze River to China’s Three Gorges Dam. Construction on the dam had begun in 1994. It is now the world’s largest power station, designed in part to help control the floods that had killed many people along the path of the Yangtze River through the centuries.

Unfortunately, as I learned, the consequences of the dam on the health of the river ecosystem had been substantial. The dam itself created a reservoir for sediment and organic and industrial waste that no longer continued downstream, destroying water quality. Also, the project displaced over a million people and flooded dozens of cities, towns and villages where no efforts to remove toxins from foundries and other activities were conducted prior to the flooding.

As I looked at the murky river, the deforested slopes, and the many villages black from decades of burning coal and wood, the problems China faced seemed insurmountable. I became convinced that I had to do my part to help the world begin to repair damage from large-scale projects and haphazard development. This wouldn’t be easy; I would have to be patient and persistent.

In 2003 Hank Paulson, the CEO of Goldman Sachs, asked me to join The Nature Conservancy (TNC) Asia Pacific Council of business leaders. He and Lee Kuan Yew, the Prime Minister of Singapore, had created the council to advise TNC management in Asia. The council made a trip to Hong Kong and we discussed how TNC had the opportunity to work with the Chinese on a plan to protect large wilderness areas and improve the environment. Our work had begun.

TNC would continue to work with China to help it improve water management and dam-building strategies. This is very important since the Chinese will build most of the dams worldwide in the coming decades. A “Great Rivers Partnership” was formed around the Yangtze, the Mississippi, and the Pantanal in South America. This has led to improvements in dam building and freshwater river strategies in China, the U.S. and in Brazil and Colombia.

The conservation news from China these days is promising. I read recently that Stanford University ecologist Gretchen Daily says that China’s environmental conservation efforts are making a positive impact. “In the face of a deepening environmental crisis,” she says, “China has become very ambitious and innovative in its conservation science and policies and has implemented them on a breathtaking scale.”

While perhaps not as significant as the broader environmental programs, China’s conservation efforts have pulled the Giant panda off the endangered species list.

The Nature Conservancy remains extremely active in China, working to find solutions that allow China to develop and protect the full spectrum of its biodiversity, from pandas to people.

My experiences on TNC’s Asia Pacific Council gave me an entirely new and important perspective on conservation and environmental issues in Asia, and it allowed me to stay engaged in the rising importance of the region. It proved the value of patience and persistence.


In 1997, I traveled with Applied’s diverse Asia-Pacific team down the Yangtze River to China’s Three Gorges Dam.

Please Comment Below

How have you learned to be more patient and persistent in achieving your goals?

Leadership for Non-Profits

When I coach non-profit managers I often repeat some of my most fundamental management tips and processes. Most of them work for any organization, for-profit and not-for-profit.

As a leader, the character of your organization will never exceed your own. Make sure you exhibit every trait and quality you want your people to exhibit. A culture of trust and respect is vital. If you don’t trust and respect an employee, that person should not be working for you. That is your responsibility. If you set an example of taking responsibility for your own decisions instead of scapegoating, your people will do the same.

In Applied Wisdom I talk about some of the leadership challenges The Nature Conservancy (TNC) faced in the middle of the last decade. One of the proposed solutions was to hire a new CEO, and I was brought into the process.

I thought that TNC would be well-served at that time by a leader who had come from either the management consulting world or investment banking. In both those fields individuals have to parachute into complicated, often high-pressure situations and use an orderly process to analyze what is going on and discern what the options are. That pretty much defined what the next TNC president was going to have to do. Mark Tercek fit the bill and became TNC’s CEO in 2008.

In June of this year The Nature Conservancy announced that it was becoming a founding member of the Climate Leadership Council (CLC), along with over two dozen corporations, non-profits and distinguished individuals.

The CLC is an international research and advocacy organization with a mission to convene global opinion leaders around new climate solutions based on carbon pricing and dividends. Founding members include former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, scientist Stephen Hawking, and economists N. Gregory Mankiw and Lawrence Summers. This is the kind of leadership that the TNC under Mark Tercek have become famous for.

Please Comment Below

Have you found ways to help your colleagues and staff to embody the principles of the organization?

FIVE KEY BUSINESS PRACTICES THAT TRANSLATE TO THE NON-PROFIT WORLD

Not every business practice translates to the nonprofit world, but here are some that do. I hope you’ll find them helpful.    – Jim Morgan

Focus on the Long Haul 
Most leaders are smart, knowledgeable about their business, and committed to their goals. What sets real leaders apart is their ability to maintain the pace. Social transformation, like running a Fortune 500 business, is a marathon –- not a 50-yard dash. Keep an eye on important things like taking care of your health and family. Take time to carefully plan your business and personal calendars, and make sure that you’re including time for physical exercise.  This keeps you competitive and available for the next challenge.

Own the Monkey  
Some organizations are particularly susceptible to paralysis by analysis. Take responsibility for your decisions  –- as we say, “Own the Monkey.” You can always change or adjust your decision later if you have built in concrete review points ahead of time. Remember that decisions build momentum. Look for the “driving forces” –- only one or at the most two items are the primary reasons for making a decision a certain way.

Even a well-analyzed decision is often not the most critical part of a decision process. It’s how you manage the consequences of the decision that matters. Practice determining what is the right thing to do for the organization, for your group, for your key stakeholders, and then for yourself.

Plan for 5%
Devote at least 5% of each week to planning. If you can focus your thinking out 3 to 12 months, you reduce the lack of control that builds up from being in a constant reactive mode. You begin to find patterns and to see possibilities and develop contingency plans. Then, review your best ideas at least weekly, prioritize them, and think about when they can be actionable: in a week, a month, 6 months, 12 months or 18 months. Determining when they will be actionable helps you evaluate the quality of the idea, the caliber of the talent, and the resources you have available (and provides a stimulation to get the missing capabilities in place). Then…

“Book It and Ship It”  
Success comes from the implementation of ideas. Time should be spent on organizing, strategizing and planning, but you need to complete the project, hire the person, get the donation, etc. Think about the “top three” priorities. You will have a long list of important things but try to make sure to get your focus on the top three. Think, “10% Strategy/90% Implementation.”

Collaborate Successfully
Leverage each other’s strengths. Enable others to build the capability required. The best management is simplified management by committed people willing to share the credit and be accountable.

Remember the “Six C’s”: 

  • Contact – Network for points of contact
  • Compromise – Make intelligent compromises
  • Contract – Agree to work together
  • Concrete – Ensure that objectives are measurable and concrete
  • Check – Streamline collaborative processes to avoid duplication
  • Close – Meet your commitments

To your success!

Please Comment Below

Have you learned lessons at your non-profit that you think have a much broader application?