More questions about nonprofit financial health and sustainability

I joined a group of colleagues Tuesday night to talk more about Passion & Purpose, a report from The Boston Foundation.

A number of questions emerged that are worth a conversation among our colleagues and with nonprofit funders. I’d like to share those with you:

  • Is this the right model for evaluating the financial health of nonprofits?
  • Do we agree with this assessment and presentation of the issues and recommendations?
  • What are the implications of funder decision-making based on an analysis which detaches finances from the discussion of community impact?
  • Does the report grossly undervalue the role of grassroots organizations?
  • Does the naming/framing of the three categories of nonprofits (grassroots, safety net, economic engines) in and of itself create a bias toward the largest institutions?
  • Is the financial model of the largest institutions really replicable?
    • And, even it it is, should it be replicated if it passes its capacity building costs largely onto the very people served or leverages assets that are the mission of the organization?
  • What are the values and criteria we should consider that would make it desirable/necessary to subsidize the ?unprofitable? or financially vulnerable nonprofit (or nonprofit program division/chapter/etc)?
  • What is sustainability and how did we get into this trap of equating it only with large budgets?
    • Is any particular income stream inherently sustainable?
    • Why can’t organizations of all sizes be financially sustainable?
    • Is sustainability only or largely a function of money/wealth? What other factors are critical to sustainability?
    • When is sustainability desirable?
  • Is class bias manifest in this analysis? What are the implications of this for our sector? For funder decision-making?
  • Is the extreme stratification of wealth (income and assets) in the nonprofit sector acceptable?
    • Why is it acceptable in our sector, when many of us don?t believe that it is acceptable for our larger society?
    • What would be the impact on our social problems if we shifted philanthropic and other resources away from the largest institutions, to smaller organizations with more direct impact on local problems?
    • How much is enough for the biggest among us? How do we begin a dialogue around this question?
  • Does the institutional funder/social venture philanthropy bias toward ?big impact? ignore important and essential community impact and devalue the role of small nonprofits?
    • What is the importance of change at the micro/cellular level, especially around outcomes relating to neighborhood quality of life, environmental protection, civil liberties and human rights, development of social capital, to name just a few?

How do we get a community-wide conversation started around this report?


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