A plea from community-based nonprofit organizations for investment, equity, and less bureaucracy

There are two types of non-profit associations. The first type is highly visible, capable of launching multi-million dollar fundraising campaigns and can even run TV spots. The second type works with few resources and helps to form the backbone of our communities.

In my city alone I see places like COPE (helping people recover), Jazz House Kids, Toni’s Kitchen, Outpost in the Burbs, Human Needs Food Pantry, PAWS… The list goes on.

There are many small non-profit associations. How small? Nearly half of US nonprofits have budgets under $500,000; many have budgets under $100,000.

They do amazing things, but these organizations often struggle. Many. I’ve seen their struggles firsthand through my nonprofit leadership lab.

I asked the leaders of a few small groups to tell me what they needed most in 2021. Here’s what they said, in their own words.

Could you suggest a more streamlined grant application process for organizations with fewer than X full-time employees? Please stop treating us like we have a lot of paid staff. We do meaningful work and are proud of it, but we only have 1.25 staff and a handful of volunteers. I write grant proposals and pay the bills. I wish I had the resources to develop a strategy and vision to meet the demands of each foundation, but I just can’t dedicate the time to meet the lengthy proposal requirements.

If you believe in our work, invest in it with sustained, unrestricted grants. If you need to restrict how money is spent, consider requiring it to be spent on infrastructure rather than on a new program that requires infrastructure that we don’t have. Or ask us to spend it to build our “engine”, ie hire an accountant or buy a database. Think of it this way: if my entire organization’s budget is equal to the salary of one member of your staff, it’s a safe bet that we don’t have expensive software or a less computer. of five years.

Help us pay for a pay analysis to advocate for pay equity. Once you see the results of the analysis, consider joining our board of directors and leading efforts to raise funds to make our salaries fair.

How about organizing a group of retirees in the community with the skills and experience we need? A happy group of retirees could bring the skills that most small nonprofits need, and they could commit six to 12 months to volunteer work on strategy, digital marketing, branding, project management, HR – or even help us get a database up and running and train us on how to use it.

We are community partners. We make communities compassionate and caring. We are doing vital work (think 2020).

Do you know the College Common app? Can we build one for the nonprofit world – and have all foundations use it? Foundations might have additional questions included (like colleges have additional essays), but the most common data would be stored universally, saving countless hours of data entry time.

Money givers, don’t assume we get health insurance from our spouses. many of us don’t have health insurance, but boards are wondering why we can’t recruit great talent (or retain them if we’re lucky enough to recruit them). Unrestricted multi-year grants could help us remedy this problem. Can I also have a gigantic coffee machine and a supply of snacks? This may sound like a joke, but it’s a legitimate request. We work tirelessly, crave caffeine, and sometimes forget to eat.

Could community foundations ask donors to give more than the minimum required from their donor-advised funds? Over $140 billion is in DAFs. If every community foundation had a nonprofit relations manager who knows us, knows the importance of our work, and sees our challenges and opportunities, they could help connect DAF donors with organizations at not-for-profit organizations working in areas of interest to them. The goal: to generate more DAF money in the community in a way that works for donors and charities.

May I suggest a change of mind/heart? That’s a big ask. Can we stop using the word “subsidy”? It’s condescending. We are community partners. We make communities compassionate and caring. We are doing vital work (think 2020). We do what business and government can’t or won’t do.

If you brag about nonprofit organizations and think they are part of what makes your community special, please visit our website and donate. You may not realize how cash poor we are.

The workers whose pleas appear above meet some of the greatest needs in our communities. They deserve a fighting chance. It is time we invest in them. This will make all of our communities stronger and fairer.