Is your donation going where you think?
By Gerry Czarnecki
Why do you contribute to your favorite nonprofit or charity? If you are on the board of that organization, what drives you to be engaged? My guess is that you give your money or time because you want to help, impact or change the condition of the recipients of that organization. So, how do you know if your donations are actually being used to accomplish the mission you bought into? Unfortunately, from what I have recently learned, some of that money and leadership energy may be directed to causes that you are unaware of.
Recently, as the founder of the tax-exempt 501(c)(3) National Leadership Institute, I participated in a national conference attended by private foundations and a wide range of nonprofit leaders. Many of the foundations were focused on social services and support for the disadvantaged. I attended an entire day of sessions dedicated public policy initiatives, which I expected to be about subjects such as tax treatment of donor contributions, tax-exempt status approvals in light of the IRS scandals, government funding of key nonprofits aligned with the Affordable Care Act or how to influence public policy directed to any given nonprofit mission.
However, none of those issues were on the agenda. Instead, it was almost a full day of panels designed to discuss and promote nonprofit organizations’ engagement in voter registration advocacy, directed at the recipients/clients of the charities in the room. A survey cited that, of the charities in the room, 75 percent of the beneficiaries chose not to vote, had an average income of less that $20,000, with 40 percent unemployed and 60 percent on welfare. These clearly are the less fortunate and less productive participants in our society, and helping those people is probably why you, or others, give money and time to these nonprofits.
I do not know how many organizations have bought in to this strategy, but the participants made it sound like a national movement being deployed by many nonprofits. I am not arguing against voter registration initiatives – and I totally oppose voter suppression. What I am really asking is: Was voter registration your goal when you made a contribution to your favorite local social welfare agency?
I contribute my time and money to organizations that have a mission or vision that I am passionate about. If I wanted to register a base of citizens who have previously chosen not to vote, then I would contribute to an organization committed to that initiative. Hence, I suggest that every reader go back to your favorite nonprofit and determine if that organization has had mission creep or mission distraction. Businesses are often encouraged to “stick to their knitting,” in order to avoid confusion and a lack of focus. I suggest that nonprofits must be held to the same standard.
Try asking some of these questions:
Is your organization involved in programs that are not core to its mission/vision? What are they, and how much money and time is being committed? Do you approve of those initiatives?
Did the board approve these initiatives?
Is this mission creep driven by a staff that has an agenda beyond what the stated mission is?
Are there initiatives that are motivated by management that has political alignments that may or may not be beneficial to the core mission?
In short, is this tax-exempt organization focused on the vision and mission you decided to support?
I want my contributed time and money to be focused on the mission I chose. If you agree, I strongly urge you to do a mission alignment check with the organizations you are committed to fund or participate in.
Gerry Czarnecki is founder and chairman of the nonprofit National Leadership Institute (nationalleadershipinstitute.org), which helps boards of nonprofit organizations become strategic assets to the leadership team. His extensive background as a C-suite executive and CEO is coupled with current board leadership of corporate and nonprofit organizations. He is also chairman and CEO of the Deltennium Group. Contact him at 561.293.3726 or firstname.lastname@example.org.