Donors to Nonprofits Want to Invest Time and Skills, See Results

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Scott Ball / Rivard Report

Desiree Tagle, 11, competes at Palo Alto College in the Youth Code Jam, an initiative supported by Social Venture Partners San Antonio.

Helping each other like family is a part of San Antonio culture. Just about everyone has pitched in, whether it be a barbecue dinner fundraiser for a neighbor in need or building playgrounds at a community center.

Our city is experiencing a generation of incredibly generous donors who are passing along their family philanthropy to new generations. At the same time, new leaders are guiding a needed change in how we give to nonprofits. This is driven by San Antonio having high rates of poverty, infant mortality, and epidemic health issues like diabetes. Our largest foundations and corporate donors are asking nonprofits to measure how they are impacting the root causes of these issues by asking, “Where do we invest in community to address these issues?”

More and more individual donors want assurance that their contributions make a difference by requiring information on measurable impact. This kind of evolution is what we need to transform our city for the future.

Giving trends nationwide are also evolving. While the stock market is booming and unemployment is at a 50-year low, charitable donations are flat, according to GivingUSA studies. United Way, the primary measure for middle-class giving across the nation, reports a 6.8 percent nationwide drop. The only growth has been that the wealthiest 0.01 percent gave 11 percent more to the richest charities (universities, hospitals, and mega charities).

Donations to traditional funds are slowing down because donors want transparency and measurable results. When charities earned higher transparency GuideStar ratings, they grew annual gifts by 53 percent. Our best local example of this is how United Way San Antonio has changed support requirements for nonprofits and now requires information on specific measurements every month instead of once a year. It is also asking nonprofits to collaborate to solve our worst problems. We applaud its efforts to target the community’s most pressing problems.

It is important that we listen to this conversation. As nonprofits and donors, we must help charities develop tools to measure change, collaborate, and increase capacity. Then we need to fund programs that give nonprofits permission to do things that work and stop doing programs that don’t.

We can also be innovative in the ways in which we give. We know from the expansion of giving circles and donor advised funds that we want to know more about who we support and want to be involved in making progress at our nonprofits.

Giving is not always financial. Millennials want to go beyond writing a check, and they like to volunteer so they can witness their impact. Donating talent and expertise is extremely valuable to a nonprofit in a time when there is less funding available for overhead like legal expertise, bookkeeping, human resource management, and marketing. Local organizations need skills of every type – from landscaping to data entry and customer relations. These are considered administrative costs that grants will rarely fund.

When Social Venture Partners San Antonio evaluated grant requests from nonprofits last year, we discovered the need for professional volunteer help was enormous. SVPSA had so much interest that we created a fellowship that is focused on practical daily tools for nonprofit leaders. The content was shaped around what leaders said their nonprofit needed most and couldn’t afford from paid consultants. This was important to learn because SVPSA’s support model is giving funds and volunteer consulting. This program increased our own capacity.

We have learned that the results of funding, as well as professional help, can leverage the impact of our giving. Time and talent can be given at any time. It does not take from your bottom line, because this kind of professional help is almost impossible for a nonprofit to afford.

San Antonio needs this change and innovation in how we give to nonprofits. We need a breakout year for giving, whether that means writing a check or volunteering or all of the above. Our investments will help San Antonio improve opportunity for all families in the vibrant communities that call our city home.

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