Making A Measurable Difference

“It is more difficult to give away money intelligently than to earn it in the first place.”  Thus said Andrew Carnegie in his 1889 essay, The Gospel of Wealth.

I was reminded of this quote by some students whom I had the good fortune to encounter on a cold January day in a warm classroom.

Dr. David Jenkins, a seminary classmate of mine, and dear friend, recruited me again this year to be a guest presenter in his Nonprofit Leadership and Management course at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology. He and the students wanted me to share some insights from my 30-plus years in the nonprofit sector.

I spent a bit of time sharing the basics of raising funds in today’s world from my perspective as a consultant. We looked at the Giving USA numbers and I saw their eyes open wide as they came to the realization that most of the charitable support today comes from individual donors and NOT from foundations or corporations.

Many had come to the class to learn how to write grants for a specific nonprofit for which they care deeply. I tried to help them to see the value of building individual relationships and how to strengthen the “case for support.” By the end of the day we even role-played making an actual solicitation visit.

And, as usual in similar settings, I learned much more from my time with the 21 students than I suspect they learned from me!

The students came from a variety of backgrounds, religious denominations, and cultural and international settings. Some are young students about to take their first steps on a career path upon graduation. Others are second-career students looking for a career transition in their lives – former attorneys, teachers, accountants who now want to serve humankind in a different way.

They were all drawn to this course because they’re each considering vocations with nonprofit agencies that may be faith-based, social-justice, or human service 501 (c) 3 organizations. They weren’t necessarily looking to work in museums, or with cultural groups, or even in the ivy-covered halls of academia – not that they found anything wrong with any of that work.

Rather, they want to work with the poorest of the poor, the most fragile in American society or around the globe, and those who may not have a strong enough voice to get the help they need.  What I learned is that these students want to see that whatever they do in the years to come with their nonprofit careers, makes a real, measurable difference in lives.

Even though the students are attending a theological institution, what I heard and sensed from them was very much in keeping with reports that show today’s students (primarily the younger generations) are taking a more intellectual approach to raising – and giving – funds. These students place a strong focus on the need to see specific results. They focus on a need to hear the overall values of an organization clearly defined. They want to lead from “the head” and not from “the heart” only. Even within the walls of a seminary, the thoughtful, intelligent approach to raising and giving away money based on seeing specific results and overall values is more important than simply religious background for these students (this was highlighted in an article in The Chronicle of Philanthropy).

Our organizations today must be prepared to address the measurable difference they are bringing to society through their missions.

It’s hard work.  Take it from Mr. Carnegie.