6/22/2019 0 Comments
This article originally appeared in the Sacramento Bee.
California is no stranger to crisis.
Nearly 20 years ago, when we were experiencing rolling blackouts across the state and the fallout after the dotcom bubble burst, the governor invited nonprofits and philanthropists to join him in solving the most pressing social problems of the day. But philanthropy was wary of getting too close to government, and government quickly became too distracted with the energy crisis to cultivate meaningful partnerships with philanthropy.
Today, skyrocketing housing costs are forcing Californians out of their communities and onto the streets, our education system ranks among the lowest in the nation and more than a million Californians don’t have clean drinking water.
We are in the middle of a mess in our state. But, today, the sector has changed. We are finally willing to admit that we need each other.
California is the land of innovation. But that innovation does not need to be confined to the tech giants of Silicon Valley, the biotech labs of San Diego or the entertainment masterminds of Los Angeles. We have the opportunity to marry California’s innovative spirit with state government and, in doing so, help solve many of our greatest and most pressing social issues.
In fact, many of our greatest innovators are hard at work in local communities solving the most pressing social problems we face.
In October of 2017, when the fires ravaged Sonoma County, leaving hundreds of people without homes, La Luz Center in Sonoma didn’t just rebuild housing. They saw it as an opportunity to train low-income workers in the construction trade. In the Bay Area, Doniece Sandoval, the founder of Lava Mae, developed a network of mobile showers for the homeless, using “radical hospitality” to give their guests dignity, a first step in rebuilding their lives. And in Stockton, Mayor Michel Tubbs guaranteed 100 low-income residents $500 a month to see if a system of universal basic income might alleviate some of the daily shocks of living in poverty.
People are coming together across sectors like never before to address long-standing problems. In a recent census convening in Sacramento coordinated by Philanthropy California – a statewide collaboration of grantmakers – every square inch of the room was packed with community leaders, philanthropists and government officials. It was so crowded that people were literally sitting on the floor, taking notes. Together, they are devising a shared strategy to count every Californian in the 2020 census and avoid the billions of dollars in lost federal funding as a result of undercounting in the past.
In Los Angeles, the California Community Foundation is pulling from its endowment and partnering with foundations, developers and lenders to help ensure LA County is successful in its commitment to more than triple the production of affordable housing and support services to keep low-income populations housed.
Gov. Gavin Newsom has once again invited philanthropists, social entrepreneurs and CEOs to be part of his agenda for change in California, and this time the response has been overwhelming. As I step into the first-ever role as senior adviser on social innovation for Newsom, I am committed to elevating stories of social change from every community and building strong multi-sector partnerships across our state.
Private philanthropy is nimble enough to invest in research and development, while government has the unique power to purchase and scale new solutions. And of course none of that matters without strong nonprofits on the ground who are implementing services, welcoming clients through their doors and being responsive to their lived experiences.
In order for us to move through the crisis we’re seeing in California, we have to ensure that we are not only investing in service to our communities but acting as a unified driver of growth, change and justice for all.
Over the past five years I’ve traveled the country talking with top-performing nonprofit leaders about the key to their growth, the results of which will be featured in my forthcoming book, Social Startup Success. One answer that came up time and time again was the importance of a strong board of directors. More than strategy or guidance, the most successful organizations relied on their boards to raise money for them.
The research also showed that many nonprofit leaders are frustrated with their boards’ failure to generate more contributions. For example, in my survey of over 250 nonprofit social entrepreneurs around the country, only 15 percent reported their boards were involved in fundraising, with 66 percent saying they wished their board would help more on fundraising. This is a huge disconnect.
Here’s a step-by-step guide for how to get your nonprofit board to step up its fundraising:
1.Set the priorities early. During the recruitment process, nonprofit leaders often shy away from emphasizing the fundraising aspect of the board role for fear of scaring away potential candidates. As a result, they end up with a group of board members who may not even realize that fundraising is part of a job. If you want your board to fundraise, it’s important that you include this in the job description. Have a conversation with potential board members about how much money you expect to raise annually and make sure they are on board with that plan.
2.Make sure that your board policy is explicit. Once board members sign on, you should require them to sign a board policy that spells out clearly each board member’s annual fundraising obligation. How much will they be required to personally give? How much will they be required to raise? Engage your board members in developing these requirements so that you ensure that you have their buy-in and support.
3.Support board members in their fundraising efforts. Even if board members realize that there is an expectation to fundraise, they may not have the tools they need to do so. Hosting an annual “how to make an ask” training with your development director is one way to get board members up to speed. You can even provide a “cut and paste” email for board members to send to potential donors to make their job as easy as possible.
4.Create a variety of entry points. Everyone likes to get involved in different ways, so it is also important that you provide board members with a buffet of opportunities to fundraise and get their friends involved – events where they can invite potential donors, regular updates by email and an open door policy to take potential donors out to lunch to tell them more about the organization.
5.Hold board members accountable. One of the biggest deterrents to creating a strong culture of fundraising on your board is a lack of follow through. If even just one or two people don’t meet their fundraising goals, it can bring down the enthusiasm of the entire board. It’s important that nonprofit leaders keep tabs on their board members throughout the year so that they can support those who aren’t meeting expectations, and be prepared to have the hard conversation to let board members go when they don’t follow through.
Importantly, following these steps improves the situation for everyone. Executive directors will be less frustrated, relieving the 66% of those who wished their board stepped up more in fundraising, the board of directors will have clearer, more impactful goals, and it will also result in a boost in funding for nonprofits, which ultimately increases social impact.