Even in This Zoom Moment, Nonprofits Struggle With Technology
More nonprofit work is going digital in the pandemic, but few organizations are yet adept at providing services online only, a new study from Hopelab has found.
And just when many nonprofits want to step up their technology spending to do better, they can’t afford to because they are faced with stretched budgets and increased demand for services, Jim Rendon reports.
Only 26 percent of nonprofits have a senior-ranking official in charge of technology, and very few have access to employees who understand technology and design, says Margaret Laws, CEO of Hopelab.
The lack of digital savvy means “nonprofits are getting further and further away from the way their consumers or users live their everyday lives because they are not able to engage with them over the technology that they’re using.” And as a result, she says, it makes nonprofits “less convenient, less relevant.”
One challenge for many nonprofits is that few grant makers are willing to support their work to improve their technology. Three in four nonprofits in the Hopelab study said they had never received foundation support for their digital work. “You have this really perplexing situation where donors or philanthropists who would never run their businesses without technology who won’t fund the technology aspect of a nonprofit organization because it doesn’t feel like it’s a direct service,” says Laws.
Still, some groups are overcoming the challenge. Among them Nurse-Family Partnership, a nonprofit that arranges home visits between nurses and young first-time mothers. It worked with Hopelab to develop an app for the nurses and their clients. The app has been crucial during the Covid crisis because it allows the nurses and mothers to build bonds without the danger of in-person contact. What’s more, some mothers have been more forthcoming about their challenges through the app then during in-person visits — and that’s one reason the group will continue using technology long after the Covid emergency and the need for social distancing are over.
Foundations Are Moving More Money Into DAFs
Foundations are shifting more dollars into donor-advised funds, a new Chronicle analysis finds. The tactic is legal but questionable because it is a way to avoid public disclosure rules and work around foundation payout rules.
At least 375 foundations sent more than $740 million to donor-advised funds in 2018, the latest year for which tax returns are available, Marc Gunther found. That’s more in a single year than in the three years we last studied (2014 to 2016).
Roger Colinvaux, a law professor at Catholic University and an expert on donor-advised funds, who was formerly counsel to Congress’s Joint Committee on Taxation, says: “If all the foundation is doing is shifting money from one investment fund to another investment fund, it’s violating the spirit of the rules.”
The growing use of the tactic has prompted calls for Congress to take action to prevent the transfers. The billionaire philanthropist John Arnold and Boston College law professor Ray Madoff are shaping a proposal for lawmakers that would make the transfers illegal. And the Minnesota Council on Foundations has proposed that grant makers be required to report to state attorneys general and the public on all grants from DAF accounts to which they have transferred funds.
Philanthropy experts are opposed to the calls for new rules, saying there are many good reasons for foundations to transfer money to donor-advised funds, including the protection of donor privacy.
“Donor privacy is essential to a vibrant civil society,” says Joanne Florino, a vice president of the Philanthropy Roundtable. “It protects donors who give to controversial causes, donors who give anonymously from a sense of humility or deeply held religious beliefs, and donors who wish to minimize off-mission solicitations.”
A surge in donor-advised fund giving through community foundations. Gifts from donor-advised funds housed at some of the largest community foundations in the nation soared 42 percent in March through August compared with the same period last year, according to new data.
Foundation Leadership Ranks Show No Movement on Diversity
Grant makers are pouring money into racial-equity efforts in record numbers but they are still struggling to diversify their own work forces, a new Council on Foundations report finds.
People of color account for only 27.3 percent of all full-time staff positions, and just 1 in 10 foundation leaders are people of color.
The study also looked at how much foundations pay their staff. Ninety percent of the grant makers reported giving raises in 2019; the median salary increase was 3.5 percent. About 70 percent of foundations said they expected to, or already had, given raises in 2020.
A gender gap persists in the pay of female foundation leaders, the study found. The median annual salary for women in leadership roles was $181,000, compared with $216,000 for their male counterparts.
What Works to Get the Attention of Big Donors Now
As we enter the busy year-end fundraising season, most fundraisers still can’t meet in person with their donors. But as the pandemic enters its eight month, many groups are finding better ways to stay in touch, Lisa Schohl reports.
For instance, when Father Joe’s Villages, a homeless services charity in San Diego, took its gala online because of the coronavirus, the fundraisers did “door drops” for some key donors, says Wendy Endsley, associate director of development.
Endsley’s team left bottles of wine that the group would have served at the in-person gala on donors’ doorsteps with a note reminding them to participate in the online auction.
The nonprofit also began holding Zoom “investor calls” as a way to give contributors a “taste of being on site,” Endsley says.
The first call, in which the CEO and medical director talked about the group’s work responding to Covid, prompted a $10,000 gift from a new supporter. The calls were so well received that Father Joe’s expanded the format to feature program leaders at different locations, showcasing various aspects of its work.
Sunil Oommen, a fundraising consultant, says it’s important in such calls to stress why you need support today — and share data that proves it. For example, an advocacy organization could explain that it needs to pay staff members to help urge members of Congress to pass an emergency bill.
Hear directly from a big donor: Melanie Lundquist, a Giving Pledge donor, joined the Chronicle’s Maria Di Mento for a free online discussion you can replay now. Asked what nonprofits can do to persuade her to give, she says: Tell good stories about their successes and the people who benefit from their work. “It’s that kind of personal connection that moves me.”