Giving is for all ages

Young people are passionate about change, and looking for ways to put their time, know-how and money to work improving our communities.

But by continuing to focus their chase for resources on older, more traditional givers, many nonprofits remain blind both to the immediate value and to the long-term return young people can add to their organizations.

And young people not only give relatively as much as other generations, after accounting for differences in income, education level and religious attendance, says a new study, but they are more likely than any other generation to cite the “desire to make the world a better place to live” as a key motivation for their giving.

The report, conducted by the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University and funded by Campbell & Co., also says young people are willing to give larger amounts but will not if they are asked to give less.

A second report suggests volunteer service by young people can be an important pathway to nonprofit services.

The report, conducted by ABT Associates for the Corporation for National and Community Service, says Americorps alumni, especially minority and disadvantaged youth, are more likely to pursue nonprofit or public-service careers.

Addressing the symptoms and causes of the urgent social problems we face will require that nonprofits tap all the resources they can.

Young people represent a powerful source of staff, board, volunteers and financial contributions for nonprofits, which need to move quickly to engage young people in their work and their mission.

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Big challenges in nonprofit growth

The charitable marketplace keeps growing, putting even greater pressure on nonprofits and their supporters to run smart, lean, responsible operations.

Nonprofits employ more people, generate more revenue and contribute more to the U.S. economy, says the just-released Nonprofit Almanac 2008.

But growth alone does not ensure that nonprofits are making the best use of their resources.

Sadly, the charitable marketplace is saddled with fat and inefficiency.

Fueled by a sense of entitlement and righteousness, far too many nonprofits focus more on perpetuating their own organizations than on improving the way they do business or deliver services.

And while their services often overlap, far too few nonprofits are willing to truly consider, let alone pursue, consolidating their operations or even merging their organizations.

Having cultivated their own donors, volunteers and customers, nonprofits invest more time in defending and expanding their turf than in looking for the best way to put common community resources to work to address common community problems.

Nonprofits do not bear sole blame for the sloppy and self-absorbed way many of them operate.

Lacking the will or courage to ask tough questions or to encourage collaboration, foundations and other supporters are the enablers of nonprofits’ waste and turf-driven mindset.

By continuing to invest in nonprofits without challenging them to be more efficient, open and collaborative, foundations and other supporters simply perpetuate the feudal fiefdoms that divide and weaken the charitable marketplace.

To address the symptoms and causes of the urgent social problems we face, the charitable marketplace needs to do a lot better.

Big challenges for nonprofits, foundations

Foundations and nonprofits need to get their house in order.

A thriving charitable marketplace is critical to address the urgent social problems America faces, but that marketplace itself faces huge challenges.

Those challenges, spelled out in three new reports, include the need for more effective nonprofit boards, more investment in nonprofit leadership, and more diversity in philanthropy.

While it faces an imminent crisis because of massive turnover expected in staff leadership, for example, the nonprofit sector gets poor grades for the job it is doing to provide leadership training and professional development opportunities to aspiring nonprofit executive directors, according to a report by the Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Leadership at Grand Valley State University in Grand Rapids, Mich.

Emerging leaders want and need mentors but worry about making nonprofit work a life-long career because of low pay, burnout, the burden of student loans, and lack of professional development, and generational differences in organizational expectations, the report says.

A second report, by Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisers, says that with public pressure growing “for foundations to be more responsive to underserved and diverse communities,” foundation leaders should “reconsider the many ways to incorporate diverse perspectives into solving our greatest challenge.”

While foundations have made “much progress” in staff and board diversity, and modest progress in the share of grant dollars targeting minority populations, the report says, the number of grants and grant dollars targeting minority populations did not increase in direct proportion to increases in staff and board diversity.

A third report, by the Urban Institute, finds that most heads of mid-size nonprofits give poor marks to their trustees for fundraising and monitoring board performance.

The study calls for more support for board development and for initiatives designed to bring more diversity to the leadership ranks of the nonprofit sector.

To fix the urgent social problems we face, foundations and nonprofits need to fix their own internal problems.

With foundation investment, for example, nonprofits must develop sustainable business and fundraising strategies; build and engage effective boards; find and keep smart leaders and groom the next generation of leaders; unleash the power for productive collaboration; and work to fix flawed policies underlying the symptom sand causes of social problems.

Without greater investment to equip foundations and nonprofits to be more effective, the charitable marketplace will fall short of its underlying mission of making our communities better places to live and work.