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VOL. 126 | NO. 250 | Friday, December 23, 2011

Pearl and Mel Shaw

Funding Grassroots Orgs Can be Worth Risk

By Mel and Pearl Shaw

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Editor’s note: Part two of a two-part series Taking a risk and funding smaller, grassroots organizations may feel challenging when there are larger, more established organizations providing similar services. Yet, even when providing award-winning services, not all organizations or institutions can serve everyone within a service area.

Consider this: Perhaps there are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender people who don’t feel comfortable using certain health facilities because they have experienced insensitive treatment. They put off routine health care. Would a smaller LGBT-friendly clinic help serve this population?

What about refugee families from around the world? Could the best provider of health, education, youth or senior services be the organizations that helped these families resettle? Some donors and funders might consider this “mission creep” – a phrase used to describe programs that “creep” beyond an organization’s funding mission. But if volunteers and staff have gained the families’ trust, perhaps they are the ideal provider.

What about the arts? How many arts organizations are enough? When recommending consolidation or choosing not to fund an organization, it is always important to look at the arts community as a whole. How will changes in funding affect the diversity of art forms, expressions and audiences? Is it enough to have one strong, well-funded black visual arts organization; one strong Hispanic performing arts theater? Should there be multiple, smaller organizations serving these populations as well?

What we know is this: Diversity and innovation are vital to a healthy, vibrant nonprofit sector. Grassroots and emerging organizations can challenge more established organizations to adopt new programs, change their culture or increase their advocacy. They may not be as well-funded, so their data collection may not be as robust as it could be. They may have high turnover due to low salaries, long hours or lack of health benefits. They may not always say the right thing. Their boards may not include fundraising powerhouses or political influencers. But, they typically have a lot of passion. Some have deep community connections and relationships that help them discern community needs before those needs are visible to others. These organizations can be risk takers, innovators and important catalysts that keep the sector healthy and help ward off complacency.

We strongly believe in giving and investing in well-established organizations. They are often the cornerstones of our community. And we believe the “up-and-comers” need attention from donors and funders, as well. The values of the nonprofit sector expand beyond efficiency. Innovation, new leadership, new models of service delivery and different advocacy strategies are good for all of us. As in the private sector, they help breed innovation, challenge the status quo and, in many cases, deliver where others simply cannot.

Mel and Pearl Shaw are the owners of Saad & Shaw. They help nonprofit organizations and institutions rethink revenue sources. They are the authors of “How to Solicit a Gift: Turning Prospects into Donors.” Visit them at www.saadandshaw.com or call 522-8727.

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