The Giving Dilemma; Part 6

The Outcomes Observer
Those who have read this now-and-then series before might be interested in hearing about a friend who posted a story on Facebook. He and his wife were pulling into the parking lot of a Florida supermarket and soon noticed a woman trying to flag them down.  Their windows up and the AC on against the heat, they could not hear her, but assumed she was a panhandler.  They drove on a bit. She followed. They kept moving farther and farther away. It’s a good thing the woman gave up, because (knowing him) he might have driven to all the way to Georgia to avoid her…but it turned out she was trying to alert them to the fact that they’d somehow left the gas cap dangling when they stopped for fuel…
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What goes in……

The Outcomes Observer
What goes in must come out, or so the old saying has it.  But when it comes to our nonprofit programs, what, exactly does go in?  This is something worth considering for a moment. Usually, we refer to the things that go into a system as inputs.  They are the things that, through the system’s process, are turned into outputs.  Seems simple enough. If we were making a cake from a box mix, for example, the inputs would be the mix itself, and the oil, eggs, and water the directions call for.  Again, simple. The problem for nonprofit organizations, however, is that in our world things are rarely that simple.  Generally, when asked about program inputs, nonprofit practitioners give answers like, “staff and money.”  While these two considerations are important,…
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The Alchemy of Words.

The Outcomes Observer, Uncategorized
A friend sent me an article yesterday, “9 Words that Tap Into the Psychology of Giving.”  You can find it here. Offered as advice to nonprofits on how they can induce a higher rate of giving, the essential thrust was that organizations should connect with their donors.  To do this, the article suggested, certain adjectives should be mixed into the message. For example, the author, Liz Chung, cites an expert’s suggestion that the words kind, caring, compassionate, helpful, friendly, fair, hard-working, generous, and honest are adjectives that Americans use to describe a moral person.  The key here is the supposition that these describe the way most donors, particularly women, would like to see themselves, so appealing to them on this basis should make them more likely to give and to…
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Ch-ch-ch-Changes

Around the Toolbox
In our last column, we wrote about how our investors, those institutions and individuals that provide the financial support our organizations need, are not investing merely in the provision of services, but rather in change.  But what sort of “change” are they looking for; what sort of “change” should we be aiming to bring about? It is obvious that what our investors are looking for, what they hope we will accomplish, is a positive alteration in the situation our organizations exist to address.  Sometimes this means that our work results in an improvement, something being there that was not there before.  Sometimes it means turning back or mitigating a threat to a tenuous situation or not letting previous accomplishments be undone or lost. But there are a few other details…
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Changing Our Thinking

The Outcomes Observer
Sometimes, no matter how long we’ve been thinking about something a certain way, it is necessary to change our perspective.  This realization came to me recently when I had a conversation with the staff of a mid-sized nonprofit up near the Great Lakes. It all began when their director contacted me and said that even though she and her one of her senior managers saw the value in using an outcomes approach in their work, she was having trouble getting the rest of the staff to really buy in.  She asked if I’d join them in a conference call so I could answer some of their questions and help convince the group that this was an idea worth pursuing. In listening to them talk, I was struck by two things:…
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Back to basics: what is an “outcome”?

The Outcomes Observer
The celebration of a New Year is a time for getting back to basics and starting things anew, and so we’re going to use this first column of 2017 to focus on one of the most basic questions concerning outcomes, namely, what is an “outcome”? While this may seem to be a simple question to some, many nonprofit practitioners are not quite sure about the answer…and this is understandable, in part because outcomes have a duel nature. The first thing to recognize is that outcomes are not what we do; they are the things that happen because of what we do. When asked to discuss their organizations’ outcomes, many nonprofit practitioners fall back on the same activity accounts the sector has always used…the number of clients served, the number of…
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Religious Organizations and the 990 Exemption: more harm than good?

Penna's Perch
One of the side effects of our American separation of church and state is that churches are neither taxed, nor are they required to file a 990 with the IRS, even though they are generally considered to be “charities.”[1]  But in actual practice over the years, this exemption has spread to religious organizations, so that not only congregations themselves are exempt, but so too are those entities affiliated with a church or religion.  This means that not only congregations and houses of worship are exempt, but so too are religious orders, ministries, missionary organizations, and other similar organized efforts.  But it has to be asked if the blanket exception from both taxation and reporting is necessarily a good thing. Among the historical underpinnings of these exemptions is Chief Justice John…
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Have Outcomes Become Passé?

The Outcomes Observer
In 2012 GuideStar and Hope Consulting issued a landmark report on giving.  One of the most important findings was that 71% of individual donors said they wanted information on organizations’ effectiveness.  However, only 33% said they actually did any research before giving, and a minuscule 6% said they compared nonprofits. Recent evidence suggests that this hasn’t changed much.  While people are aware of the fact that they should donate to the causes that have the highest impact, as individuals we’re still giving with primarily with our hearts rather than our heads. Meanwhile, a number of things are going on. Institutional donors like foundations, government, and corporations are still asking for this information; so nonprofits seeking funding are having to provide some account of what they have accomplished. Unfortunately, many are…
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GuideStar’s new effort is laudable; but could be flawed.

The Outcomes Observer
GuideStar has announced the coming availability of a new level of participation for nonprofits, something called the Platinum Level.  The intention behind it, the creation of a tool to bust the Overhead Myth, is laudable. For too long, the notion has dogged the sector that anything a charity spends beyond “program expenses,” assumed by most people to be direct benefits for clients, was bad.  This led to numerous artificial and harmful practices as charities contorted themselves, their reporting, and their budgets to appear to spend the overwhelming proportion of their dollars on client benefit.  Somehow, the idea grew that charities neither needed to nor should spend anything on equipment, competitive salaries, training, networking, or the many other things that can contribute to a successful organization. It is notable that GuideStar…
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Head vs. Heart Based Giving

Penna's Perch
Ken Berger and I respond here to a piece Ruth McCambridge had in the Nonprofit Quarterly.... Ruth McCambridge’s December 5th article on the Nonprofit Quarterly’s Nonprofit Newswire page, “Donors Give LESS When More Analytic Say Researchers,” is certainly provocative; but it misses a serious point and could give donors, both large and small, the wrong impression. Reviewing a recent Boston Globe article, McCambridge reports that certain research supports the notion that “the more individual contributors think about their donation the less they are likely to give.”  This, McCambridge concedes, “of course, flies in the face of logic for those who encourage individuals to give more ‘wisely,’ recommending research about an organization’s financial ratios and outcomes.”   The article ends with the conclusion that “encouraging donors to give to the most efficient,…
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