As Nonprofits Struggle, “Progressive Stimulus” Will Back Fundraising Innovations

Holly Hall

Originally printed in Inside Philanthropy

As the coronavirus pandemic grinds on, more than a dozen foundations have established the Progressive Stimulus Project, a new fund with a goal of raising $15 million to address fundraising challenges presented by the health crisis and resulting economic recession. The new initiative serves as a coronavirus-era expansion of previous work by the Progressive Multiplier Fund, which has provided nearly $2 million in financial and technical support for revenue-generating projects.

“Canvassing, galas and house parties are all off the table now,” said Linda Wood, senior director of the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund, one of the foundations contributing to the Progressive Stimulus Project. Haas is known for its commitment to improving fundraising among charitable organizations.  

“Nonprofits need to innovate really quickly,” said Wood, who serves on the Progressive Multiplier board. “Now is a time for funders to step forward and invest in nonprofit groups finding new ways of raising revenue.”

To date, the Progressive Stimulus Project has raised some $4.5 million from grantmakers, including the JPB Foundation, Ford Foundation, Rosenberg Foundation, Four Freedoms Fund, the Overbrook Foundation, the Wallace Global Fund and others. The earliest and largest amounts of money for the Progressive Stimulus Project were given by the JPB Foundation and Wallace Global Fund.

“Philanthropy should be giving more, not less, in this time of crisis,” said Ellen Dorsey, executive director of the Wallace Global Fund. “Creative new fundraising strategies are vital to a sustainable future for progressive organizations.”

With a three-year goal of making grants totaling $5 million annually, starting this year, the Progressive Stimulus Project is confident about raising the rest of its $15 million goal over the next six months, said Phil Radford, the Progressive Multiplier Fund’s founder and executive director, and former executive director of Greenpeace USA. “Nonprofits need this support today,” Radford said. “That’s why we are launching now instead of later in the year once we reach our goal.”

The Progressive Stimulus Project will offer two types of payouts. The first type: outright grants that average $25,000 to help progressive groups test or refine fundraising techniques they have launched or pivoted to in meeting the challenge of the coronavirus-changed environment. An economic justice organization making a fundraising appeal to support work advocating for a higher minimum wage, for example, might want to test whether donors would respond to a new solicitation seeking emergency relief for workers impacted by the pandemic. An LGBTQ rights organization that has had to cancel its fundraising galas could test virtual events to replace lost revenue.

The second type of payment is a “recoverable grant” of up to $120,000 to help progressive organizations substantially increase a fundraising program with proven results. Organizations repay the grant out of the proceeds, but are not obligated to repay the full amount if a project does not meet its fundraising goal. If an organization has a successful donor-acquisition program that will lose funds because of budget cuts prompted by the recession, for example, a recoverable grant could be used to keep the program fully supported. 

While economic downturn often leads to reduced grantmaking budgets, a number of funders are responding to the current crisis by seeking out ways to increase their support for a hurting nonprofit sector. Two funders of the Progressive Stimulus Project, the Ford Foundation and Wallace Global Fund, are notable examples. Ford recently organized a group of foundations to commit to substantially increased spending by issuing long-term bonds. Wallace Global announced it would pay out 20% of its assets in 2020 (most foundations give closer to the 5% legal minimum), making it one of several smaller funders that have decided to spend more aggressively from their endowments to meet the challenge.

The Progressive Stimulus Project will begin accepting applications for both types of assistance in July. For more information, email Mina Devadas at mdevadas [at] progressivemultiplier.fund.

Revenue Generation Challenges Brought on by COVID-19

Originally published in NonProfitPRO

What is our new normal going to be? As I’ve talked to fundraisers across the nonprofit sector, from those working at small local organizations to some of the largest national groups in the country, this question is the common theme.

We can look to the Great Recession for some answers. We know that both individual and institutional giving will contract during and immediately after a recession. But recession modeling does not give us all the answers we need now. Nonprofit fundraisers are grappling with uncertainties we couldn’t have imagined just a few months ago and ones that go far beyond a donor or a foundation’s capacity to give.

Can virtual events be successful replacements for all the canceled galas, walks, rides and house parties? Will canvassing ever recover, or will people come out of this pandemic less likely to talk face-to-face with a stranger? What model can immediately help backfill canvassing for this year’s donor acquisition goals? Will the major political 501(c)(4) organizations expect to see donations in the second quarter of an election year materialize? Can our reserves survive the increased demand for our mission services while our revenue contracts with the recession?

To ensure that nonprofits can continue to serve their missions through this pandemic and through whatever new normal emerges, immediate philanthropic investment in nonprofit independent revenue generation is paramount. The moment is overwhelming. But it is one that fundraisers in the progressive movement believe their organizations must thrive through.

“Families have so much need right now, it feels like this is the moment Parents Together was built for,” said co-founder and co-director Justin Ruben.

Parents Together reaches more than 2.5 million parents via Facebook, SMS, email and web with news content they need to take care of their families and communities. And what they need is changing daily during the COVID-19 pandemic. Providing what their constituents need now — like information on applying for unemployment and other benefits — has Justin’s team stretched beyond its skillset and bandwidth.

To create space and resources for these critical new lines of work, nonprofits, like Parents Together, need flexible independent revenue to support the rapidly changing demands on their missions. With additional resources, Justin said he would prioritize getting additional bandwidth and skill sets on his team, as well as leaning into revenue generation opportunities that accompany the pandemic.

“This could be the moment we breakthrough to new donors and brand partners because we can show more clearly than ever the positive impact we’re having on families.”

The pandemic has primed a breakthrough moment for Faith in Action as well. This faith-based organizing group, which trains those most impacted by injustice to mobilize their communities and lead campaigns for community transformation, has traditionally been a “feet-on-the-pavement organizing group,” according to individual giving coordinator Kelly Boehms.

“We’ve been on a slow transition to become more digital in both organizing and fundraising. But in this moment, more people are connecting authentically online. The pandemic has pulled back the curtain on the injustice that our communities have known all along. This time of crisis calls for Faith in Action’s kind of mobilization — it’s a moment we need support to live into most effectively.”

Kelly, like Justin, believes that support must include an expansion of the team’s skill set and bandwidth. With just two associates who have focused on this kind of digital work, pivoting the entire organization online has been an unprecedented challenge for the team. As they rapidly accelerate building their new digital fundraising and organizing model, Kelly believes strongly that to weather the crisis, beyond small dollar digital donors, the organization needs “funders who are thought partners, not hand holders.”

“We have to evolve our fundraising in a way that makes sense for the long game, and that answer is not going to come overnight.”

Expanding digital fundraising and organizing in the wake of the pandemic is also a top priority for Karen Middleton, president of Cobalt (formerly NARAL Colorado).

“What will stabilize our 501(c)(4) revenue is small dollar donor fundraising, which will primarily happen online.”

Cobalt’s spring fundraising gala, like so many others, has been rescheduled for the fall. The COVID-19 pandemic is also robbing nonprofits of expected faith-based spring giving centering around Ramadan, Passover and Easter. This drastic change in seasonal revenue, coupled with an expected decline in 501(c)(4) major donor commitments coming in April and May, will make taking electoral strides in Cobalt’s battle for reproductive justice in November more difficult.

If funding is secured, Karen plans to immediately take steps to expand Cobalt’s digital fundraising and organizing program, using her current staff.

“We have to keep the people in the movement whole and give them the opportunity to do the work that is increasingly needed by the people we serve.”

Erin Bridges, fundraising director at Sunrise Movement, is looking to her online small dollar fundraising program to sustain the organization through this moment as well.

“In 2008, nonprofits our size lost about 30% of their revenue the year after the Great Recession hit,” Erin noted.

Her team at the youth-centered climate justice nonprofit is trying to quickly build out its monthly sustainer program, as well as determine how to leverage the new Sunrise School in its appeals to small dollar donors. Built over just weeks in response to the pandemic that forced face-to-face organizing online, Sunrise School is an online training community that is welcoming those young people confined at home to build the skills and knowledge they need to actively confront the climate crisis.

“My hope is that people see this crisis as the opening act, because we are and have been in an emergency that requires us to demand what we need. From government, from each other and from philanthropy.”

CORONAVIRUS, BOOM AND BUST ELECTION FUNDING, AND AN IMPENDING RECESSION

Coronavirus recession nonprofit stimulus package

Aaron Dorfman is president and CEO of NCRP. Bethany Maki is the director of programs at Progressive Multiplier. 

It’s safe to say that at this point, the nonprofit sector has been pulled into a discussion about COVID-19, as leaders urgently strategize about how to slow the outbreak and help those directly affected.

However, beyond the need to fund cure, care and containment, we also have a responsibility to the movements and causes that we hold dear to think through how the outbreak will affect our sector more broadly — specifically the intersection of achieving our mission and financial sustainability.

A perfect storm of nonprofit challenges

The economy, natural disasters, big breaking news, election cycles, etc. all make catching potential donors’ attention and investments more difficult. In the course of a normal year, these dynamics are commonplace and even anticipatable. We know how to reschedule campaigns, we’re getting better at planning for the boom and bust of electoral cycle funding and have learned to lean into more resilient sources of independent revenue like sustainer giving to get us through the ups and downs.

But what happens when a boom election year, a global pandemic and a looming recession are on a collision course with your fundraising plans and will ultimately impact if you can fully deliver on your mission in this moment? 

Most of the progressive nonprofit staffers with whom we spoke are not seeing impacts on their revenue just yet, but they are seeing increased demand to deliver on their missions. Jobs With Justice (JWJ), an NCRP nonprofit member that recently secured a $1.3 million planned giving commitment from a project funded by the Progressive Multiplier Fund, is grappling with how hourly workers will be affected by the economic impact of the public health response. JWJ Development Director Brenden Sloan says that the current crisis provides an added sense of urgency to the state and local coalitions work that they are doing on the ground with low-wage workers and other members who don’t have paid family or medical leave. “We have been in talks for a while now about starting a national hardship fund to give direct support to groups of workers affected by natural disasters or events outside of their control,” said Sloan. “This outbreak really puts more urgency on finding funding for that.”

Andrea Hermann, director of development at Clean Water Action and Clean Water Fund, is immediately concerned with how crisis response will impact the organization’s recruitment of members and donors that can help move the political needle in 2020. “We have a pretty diverse revenue source between our field operations, phone operations, direct mail, online, major donors, foundations and corporate donors – but the field is our a significant way of getting new donors in and achieving our programmatic goals in 2020,” said Hermann. 

For the immigrant justice community, the coronavirus outbreak has only added to the constant, fast changing challenges from white nationalists, hate groups and the Trump administration. Even previously agreed to legislative efforts, like the language enshrined in the House’s NO BAN ACT that would stop President Trump’s Muslim ban, are being slowed down by the crisis response.  A full floor vote on the NO BAN ACT that was expected this week now hangs very much in doubt.

“The House Judiciary Committee is adding language in response to the coronavirus that would open up executive authority to exercise discrimination by exploiting public health concerns,” said Lakshmi Sridaran, Executive Director of South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT), who has been a leader in promoting the NO BAN ACT. “Our coalition is working hard to fight back, but there is strong bipartisan consensus around this language.”

How philanthropy should respond

Organizations like SAALT are already under-sourced. According to NCRP’s Movement Investment Project brief, the State of Foundation Funding for the Pro Immigrant Movement, less than 1% of the giving from the 1,000 largest foundations went to work that is intended to benefit immigrants or refugees even though immigrants make up 14.4% of the U.S. population.

How can philanthropy help?

Rapid response funding

As this current crisis demonstrates, what organizations need most are additional flexible funds that will quickly allow them to deal with the immediate intersectional challenges posed by the coronavirus outbreak. Funders should specifically provide rapid response funds to organizations or intermediaries such as the Emergent Fund who can move money quickly to the grassroots efforts that focus on areas where:

  • The Trump administration may use this crisis to push an agenda against the will of the American people (i.e. Muslim ban).
  • Corporations may act in such a way that exacerbates the problems that we face (i.e. not paying hourly employees).
  • We can push our own agenda (the need for universal health care, paid leave and more).

A stimulus package for nonprofits

With a potential recession approaching, the philanthropic community must seriously consider moving resources into supporting a nonprofit stimulus package that would diversify and scale nonprofits’ revenue generation. A combination of grants, recoverable grants and loans could help nonprofits raise a multiple of the dollars invested through a variety of techniques. The investment does not need to be more than the annual 5%, although we would encourage that. The Progressive Multiplier Fund, which funds revenue generation efforts, is helping its grantees raise nearly $4 for every $1 that the PMF grants out.

What can nonprofits do now?

While it’s not time to panic, it’s definitely time to prepare, even if that preparation is just in the “form of thought experiments and what-ifs to think through the possibilities and get aligned around the possible outcomes and impacts,” as direct marketing and fundraising consultant Miriam Magnuson said in a recenblog post.

Three things that they should immediately consider doing:

1. Make sure there are no holes in the current revenue generation bucket and learn into sustainable revenue resources.

2. Talk to your organization’s management about revenue forecasts: Whether it’s a shifting internally of resources from fundraising to mission delivery, or a downturn in foundation support or a dip in individual giving as the stock market stumbles, it’s highly likely your fundraising forecast will need to change.

3. Talk to funders specifically about what you need: You will need more funds of course. Take the time to prepare the business case that supports what you need to meet this moment.

At this moment of need, it is our ability to reach out and help each other that will help organizations and the communities continue to do the work of making this world better. We owe it to the long sustainability of these vital movements to not just help the public survive the current challenge, but to also help organizations come out stronger for the future.

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Photo by Malik_Braun. Used under Creative Commons license

Continued Learning Education Credit Sales Could Fund Non-Profit

Texas After Violence Project Continued Learning Education Credits

Can we sustain ourselves?

That was the question Gabriel Solis, Executive Director of Texas After Violence Project (TAVP), was asking himself three years ago. An expert in police violence, mass incarceration, the death penalty, and the impacts of violence and trauma on individuals, families, and communities, Solis became the organization’s executive director in 2016. Until that point, TAVP had been primarily funded by a single family foundation.

“We’ve been year-to-year and struggled with sustainable funding,” Solis said. The idea to develop online continuing learning education (CLE) training did not start as a revenue generation concept, rather it was about changing the way people in the legal and mental health fields think about the effects of trauma on their clients. When Solis connected with the Progressive Multiplier at an Open Philanthropy gathering in May 2017, the evolution of this program into an alternative revenue stream began.

“The Progressive Multiplier grant 100% allowed us to experiment with this concept without compromising our already limited funds,” Solis stated. “Without it, this new channel would have never opened up for us.” After working with the Progressive Multiplier team throughout 2019, TAVP launched five online trainings in November on a range of topics for attorneys, mental health professionals, social workers, educators, advocates, activists, memory workers and others interested in ending cycles of violence and trauma, and working to achieve transformative justice.

The marketing of the trainings is in pilot phase and showing signs of revenue generation success. Solis now feels, “…incredibly optimistic about the long term viability of this organization. The CLE trainings were the start of a focus on earned income we never had before. Progressive Multiplier really shows the art of support that goes beyond the financial – getting started with a project like this when it’s so out of your field of expertise goes beyond funding.” Training coordinator Bryn Starbird added, “The biggest help and surprise of this project has been having a funder that supported us learning versus just giving us money – that unique relationship has made this all possible.” TAVP is expanding their revenue generation projects in 2020, including selling e-learning materials for community-based archivists.

Asked what he hopes for in terms of funding in the future, Solis said, “…We’re right in between the realms of criminal justice reform and cultural heritage and identity. The identities of the people we work with are all informed by violence and trauma. It’s been hard to communicate how vital our work is into the rigid matrix of philanthropy. To transform justice, you have to understand the why and how behind the need for transformation. That is harder to quantify than the immediate criminal justice reform needs like reducing the number of women in prison at a county level. But they’re critically interconnected. My hope is that philanthropy continues to evolve to support the multi-dimensionality of our work.”