A Rising Tide


Random Thoughts After Reading GrantStation Blog on 2019 Predictions

Cynthia Adams' insights about grantmaking in 2019 inspired a few random thoughts from her predictions about collaborative efforts and partnerships between funders and nonprofits.

I am reminded of a quote credited to former President Kennedy: “A rising tide lifts all boats.” He was commenting about the economic state of the Union, but I believe these words are relevant today in the context of the nonprofit sector.

There is a rising tide in the sheer numbers of nonprofits in our country – each created around a passion for righting a wrong, serving those less fortunate, curing disease, protecting the environment, preserving the arts…the list goes on and on. In fact, a recent Google search showed that there are 1.5 million nonprofits registered in the United States today.

As the tide of nonprofits rises, so does the need to support and sustain them. Nonprofits need qualified staff and board leaders and nonprofits need money, so the requests to public and private funders are rising proportionally as the numbers of nonprofits rises.

One might wonder how high this tide can rise before we are drowning in unmet missions, overwhelmed organizations, and ‘beached’ funders who simply cannot meet the increasing demands.

Collaboration and Partnerships

In her blog last month, Cynthia predicted that funding collaborative efforts will continue to grow in importance in 2019 and that funders will seek long term partnerships with the nonprofits they support.

There are too many nonprofits in our country competing for the same basic resources: people and money. This simply cannot be sustained forever. And, I believe we must, collectively, reduce the duplication to reduce the stress on available resources.

Surely this trend toward encouraging and funding collaboration and partnerships can help stem the rising tide in the numbers of nonprofits who often duplicate efforts and missions.

For Example…

Here is a simple example of duplication that poses opportunities for a collective impact and a reduction in competition for staff, volunteers, and funding. In my community of 750,000, there are more than ten separate dog breed rescue nonprofits and another 19 ‘generic’ animal rescue organizations listed in an Internet search. You could suppose that the overriding mission for these is nearly the same – to find forever homes for dogs – and yet they are competing for the same resources of staff, volunteers, and money. 

If the trend toward funding collaborative efforts is true – just imagine the “mission power” if all 29 of these rescue organizations established formal collaborations, i.e., they came together under one mission and reduced their competitive efforts to drain local resources.

Mission Power Impact

And, just imagine the collective impact that would occur if similar nonprofits agreed to create similar mission power collaborations! I do not believe this is an impossible scenario, but I also believe that, without encouragement, aka funding, these mission power collaborations are not likely to occur spontaneously.

As noted in the GrantStation blog, it is predicted that funders will play an important role in keeping a healthy tide level by developing long-term partnerships with nonprofits, placing a greater emphasis on results and outcomes. We could hope that some of the most important outcomes will result in less competition for resources by a rising number of nonprofits.

What Nonprofits Can Do

Nonprofits can take steps now to learn about their competition in the grantmaking space. Who else is doing what you do? How are you alike? What are the opportunities to collaborate, or could you even consider merging for greater mission power? How could a collaborative grant request serve both the funder and the nonprofit collaboration?

I hear often from funders that a large number of nonprofits are not adept at reporting on outcomes and results; therefore, this will require a change in the relationship with many funders. Ask what the funder’s desired outcomes are for funding – not just in numbers or units of service, but in relation to long-term goals.

And here is a fact – just because you are a nonprofit does not mean that funders owe you their support. You must earn it, and become a partner with your funders to achieve goals – yours and theirs – to address the rising tide and competition for available resources. Get out of charity-think and create the impact of mission power.

What Funders Can Do

Surely, when funders encourage, endorse, and fund collaborative efforts among the nonprofits they support, that investment can be the key to stemming the future tide of competition for critical resources in 2019 and beyond. This investment will require a long-term relationship with nonprofits and an even stronger emphasis on results and outcomes. It will require a re-work of the traditional funder-nonprofit relationship.

Action steps you can take today
  • Read Cynthia Adams’ article, Grantmaking Predictions for 2019
  • In the coming year, you can expect to see many blog posts around these predictions, as well as feature articles in Tracks to Success. We will keep you informed, and hopefully inspired, as you continue your good work into 2019. Keep your eye on our weekly blog posts, via GS Insights, and of course our career development tool, the Pathfinder.