This is our soapbox

This is our opinionated soapbox on philanthropy, fundraising, the charitable sector and the world. For more information, visit GoalBusters.net or call 888.883.2690.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Mission First: Why Philanthropy is About Mission, not Money

Lowell DCT
Lowell Observatory
Discovery Channel Telescope
Photo: Dr. Michael West
"We're seeing things that no one's ever seen before." 
--Dr. Deirdre Hunter, Astronomer

I had the privilege of spending the majority of two days at Lowell Observatory as they unveiled the conceptual vision of the "next frontier," so to speak, of their research, learning and community engagement. As a former director of development for the Observatory (where they discovered Pluto), and a current donor, I'm very proud of Lowell. They have made groundbreaking discoveries for over a century, but even with that pedigree, the project that was discussed was thrilling.

You may wonder, is it a new telescope? No, they did that already with the Discovery Channel Telescope.

Is it a new building? Well, that might be part of the project, but not yet.

This project is about conducting transformational research to inspire people to change their view of science, the world and the universe.

This has been the unchanging mission of Lowell Observatory for 123 years. While it's not the stereotypical nonprofit cause of "children and puppies," it is inspiring to many amateur astronomers, scientists, educators, history buffs, and families who are curious about our little blue dot's place.

While there are still questions about the project, I can already see that this vision is capturing people's imagination. I can also see this project capturing the imagination and passion of current and future donors in a big and inspiring way.

This proposed new project is big. (Like "brontosaurus big," according to Dr. Jeffrey Hall, Director of Lowell Observatory.) And it will require a lot of money. But the thing is, we didn't talk that much about money.

Mission always comes first.

Dr. Hall aptly noted to the board, "We have made the error in the past of putting money first." That approach shook the core of Lowell Observatory's culture and even threatened the financial viability of the organization. "If you want to know why we do what we do, go speak to a high school class, and connect with a young person who wants your card afterward to follow up [about scientific study]," Dr. Hall added. "That's why we do what we do." By refocusing on their mission over the last several years, Lowell Observatory is poised to be the most successful in its history.

There are some people, however, who would argue that this approach is flawed. You've heard the old saying, "No money, no mission." But now there is an organization that believes that money should be the prime focus.

In an article published by the Chronicle of Philanthropy, "New Nonprofit Puts Money Over Mission and Ethics," the National Association of Nonprofit Organizations and Executives claims that they are for "nonprofit executives who know money is more important than mission." The founder is also quoted as saying, "they’ll say: ‘Jimmy, if we do what Nanoe is saying, we’ll have to stop serving kids.’ And you know what I say? I say, ‘Stop serving kids.’"

That approach is wrong. 

James Langley, founder and principal of Langley Innovations, and consultant to Lowell Observatory, astutely said, "Philanthropists are those who live below their means for the good of others." This applies to any philanthropist, regardless of their capacity to give. Whether the person is donating $10 or $10 million, they have made decisions to give up something to support your mission.

Do you think those philanthropists are interested in living below their means just to contribute to your coffers? If you "stop serving kids," why do you even exist?

This is a guess, but I think if you map out the difficult times for Lowell Observatory over a 123 year span, you'll discover that the times when the institution was most threatened was when money took precedence over mission. And the times when it has thrived was when its mission was a singular focus.

W. Lowell Putnam IV, the Observatory's current trustee, also said this: "Whatever we do, we cannot violate people's trust and the integrity of the institution." Lowell Observatory is clearly united in the belief that existing as a nonprofit organization is a privilege. It is their responsibility to be accountable to the donors--the investors--who give.

So do you want your organization to focus on ethics, accountability and your mission, or is money more important to you?


***
Disclosure: Jim Anderson was interviewed for the article by Timothy Sandoval with the Chronicle of Philanthropy. I was not. I thank Lowell Observatory and Langley Innovations for letting me participate in their meetings; these are my opinions and not theirs.

Labels

Alice Ferris (96) Jim Anderson (71) AFP (40) ACFRE (38) GoalBusters Consulting (30) goalbusters (30) CFRE (28) fundraising (28) Training (23) nonprofit (22) 100 days of gratitude (21) Association of Fundraising Professionals (18) 100 days (17) AFP Conference (16) Presentations (16) 2009 (15) 2014 (15) Social Media (15) gratitude (15) 2010 (14) AFPNAZ (14) 2013 (13) philanthropy (13) 2012 (11) Workshop (11) 2011 (10) travel (10) How To (9) arizona (8) thank you (8) 2008 (7) Facebook (7) Flagstaff (7) KAWC (7) Marketing (7) Video (7) Volunteer (7) YouTube (7) FAQ (6) Food (6) Public Radio (6) Storytelling (6) Tips (6) 2017 (5) LinkedIn (5) Making the Ask (5) NFCB (5) Planning (5) Social Networking (5) Webinar (5) restaurants (5) rural fundraising (5) 2016 (4) Air Travel (4) Chinese New Year (4) Christmas (4) Donor (4) KGHR (4) KUYI (4) Major Gifts (4) Native American (4) Planned Giving (4) Pledge Drive (4) Public Broadcasting (4) Public Television (4) SlideShare (4) Special Events (4) Stevenson (4) Video Production (4) board development (4) ethics (4) stewardship (4) 2015 (3) Arizona PBS (3) Baltimore (3) Brand (3) Capital Campaign (3) Chinese (3) Community (3) Conference (3) Development Staff (3) Donor Acquisition (3) Economy (3) Elf (3) Elves (3) Goals (3) HEEF (3) Haiku Deck (3) Health Care (3) Holiday (3) Hopi (3) Jimisms (3) KAWC Colorado River Public Media (3) Lowell Observatory (3) Manifesto (3) Mission (3) North Country HealthCare (3) PBS (3) Passion (3) Photography (3) Promotion (3) Research (3) Small Shops (3) Wisconsin (3) Year-End Giving (3) customer service (3) phoenix (3) prescott (3) resolutions (3) yuma (3) 2007 (2) AFP TechKnow (2) Accreditation (2) Advancing Philanthropy (2) Alice's Restaurants (2) Books (2) Business Strategy (2) CFRE International (2) Canada (2) Chronicle of Philanthropy (2) Coaches (2) Commentary (2) Communication (2) Congress (2) Dancing (2) Dr. John H. Caskey III (2) Elta Foster (2) Foodspotting (2) Fundraising Campaign (2) Funny (2) Guiding Principles (2) Honor (2) Hopi Education Endowment Fund (2) Humor (2) Immigrant (2) Jib Jab (2) KAET (2) NAU (2) New Orleans (2) Partners (2) Plan (2) Press Release (2) Profile (2) Prospecting (2) Relationships (2) Respect (2) Resume (2) Reviews (2) Sanders (2) Schultz Fire (2) Singing (2) Strategic Planning (2) TechKnow (2) Trust (2) Twitter (2) VIP (2) Values (2) Velvet Rope (2) Visionary (2) Vora Finacial (2) accountability (2) anniversary (2) appreciation (2) award (2) change (2) checklist (2) code of ethics (2) crisis communication (2) cultivation (2) culture of philanthropy (2) development (2) development cycle (2) diversity (2) education (2) goal setting (2) habits (2) introspection (2) jobs (2) lapsed donors (2) las vegas (2) lessons (2) new year (2) san diego (2) tripit (2) washington DC (2) 30 day plan (1) 50th Anniversary (1) 60 minutes (1) AFP Foundation Canada (1) AFP Meeting (1) AFPeeps (1) ALD (1) AWC (1) African American (1) Alexis de Tocqueville (1) Alpha Lambda Delta (1) Andrew Philips (1) Animoto (1) Anna LaBenz (1) Annagreta Jacobson (1) Apps (1) Arizona Daily Sun (1) Arizona University (1) Arizona Western College (1) Ask the Experts (1) Bequests (1) Bill Ferris (1) Blink (1) Bloomerang (1) Boot Camp (1) Boudros (1) Branding (1) Broadway (1) CAN-SPAM (1) CN Tower EdgeWalk (1) CPB (1) Career Change (1) Case (1) Center on Philanthropy (1) Certified Fund Raising Executive (1) Charity Channel (1) Cheerleaders (1) Children (1) Chris Adams (1) Church (1) City Council (1) Cleveland (1) Cold Call (1) Colorado (1) Commission (1) Community Service (1) Compensation (1) Cook (1) Corporate Giving (1) Credential (1) Credentialing (1) Dan Coughlin (1) Data (1) Dating Game (1) Dave Ferris (1) Dave Tinker (1) Desert (1) Dharmesh Vora (1) Discovery Channel Telescope (1) Donald Sutherland (1) Douglas Adams (1) Dr. Carl Myers (1) Dr. William J. Rugg (1) Ed Renzi (1) Efficiency (1) Elevator Speech (1) Entrepreneur Magazine (1) FM (1) FTC (1) Family (1) Fan Pages (1) Farm (1) Fast Food Nation (1) Feasibility Study (1) Feedback (1) Flagstaff Community Partnership (1) Flood (1) Flowers (1) Foundations (1) Frances McAllister (1) Free (1) Fundraising Effectiveness Project (1) Gallup Q12 (1) Ginny Z. Berson (1) Girl Scouts (1) Giving USA (1) Goldilocks Proposals (1) Granite Mountain Hotshots (1) Grant Writing (1) Grants (1) Grants Step by Step (1) Hash House A Go Go (1) Hawaii (1) Healthcare (1) Hey Eleanor (1) Hiring (1) Hispanic (1) Hopi Foundation (1) Hospital (1) House of Philanthropy (1) Houston (1) IAIA (1) IHQ (1) Identity (1) Immigration (1) In Kind (1) Indiana University (1) JC Patrick (1) JLB Project (1) January (1) Jetpack America (1) Jim Collins (1) Jimmy LaRose (1) KUAT (1) Kaleidoscope (1) Karla Williams (1) Ken Lain (1) KonMari (1) Kristin Taliaferro (1) KristinCoach (1) Latino (1) Lawrence Welk (1) Le Pavillon (1) Legacy (1) Living Social (1) Lodging (1) Los Angeles (1) Lotus of Siam (1) MIP (1) Mabel's on Main (1) Madison (1) Makeover Series (1) Malcolm Brett (1) Malcolm Gladwell (1) Margo Hudson (1) Marshall Rosenberg (1) Mary W. Black (1) Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs (1) McDonalds (1) Meeting Facilitation (1) Methodist (1) Mexican (1) Michael Nilsen (1) Middle East (1) Montessori in the Park (1) Mr Rogers (1) MySpace (1) NAFB (1) NANOE (1) NPR (1) NSU (1) NaNope (1) Nan Bain (1) Navajo (1) Nepal (1) New York (1) News (1) Nietzche (1) Nonviolent Communication (1) Northern Arizona University (1) Organizational Readiness (1) Orlando (1) PMDMC (1) PRPD (1) Pacifica (1) Parade (1) Partners in Recognition (1) Paul Helford (1) Philanthropist (1) Pittsburgh (1) Plenary Speaker (1) Politics (1) Porgy and Bess (1) Prezi (1) Proposal (1) Publications (1) Quentin Lee (1) Questions (1) Racial Profiling (1) Raku (1) Review (1) Rick Swanson (1) River City Grill (1) Riverwalk (1) Robbe Healey (1) Robert Kiyosaki (1) Ronald McDonald House (1) Rose Marie Ferris (1) SB1070 (1) SEO (1) SWOT (1) San Antonio (1) Scottsdale (1) Service (1) Serving Your Community (1) Shared History (1) Soroptimists (1) Speaker (1) Sponsors (1) Sponsorship (1) Spring (1) Stephen Hawking (1) Stereotypes (1) Steve Ferris (1) Strategic Thinking (1) Super Size me (1) Sweets Raku (1) Taco Trucks (1) Target Marketing (1) Team (1) Teamwork (1) Television (1) Teri Sanders (1) Texas (1) Thanksgiving (1) Tim Burcham (1) Timothy Sandoval (1) Toolkit (1) Toronto (1) Tough (1) Tough Economy (1) Train (1) Tucson (1) Tweets (1) United President's Club (1) Vernon Kahe (1) WBAI (1) Watters Garden Center (1) Whitney Anderson (1) WikiHow (1) Wills (1) Wisconsin Public Television (1) Women's March on Washington (1) Woodford Reserve (1) Yarnell (1) Yarnell Fire (1) Year in review (1) Year of the Sheep (1) Yellow Pages (1) administration (1) adventures (1) assessment (1) beliefs (1) birthday (1) board of governors (1) board service (1) breaking up (1) brochures (1) budget cuts (1) business practices (1) career satisfaction (1) cats (1) cliques (1) community radio (1) crisis (1) difficult people (1) dinner parties (1) diverse communities (1) donor focused (1) donor pyramid (1) election 2016 (1) end of relationship (1) essay (1) federal funding (1) firefighters (1) for profit (1) high school (1) hotels (1) inspiration (1) jetpack (1) job seeking (1) keynote (1) lemons (1) live your dream (1) loss (1) memory (1) mentoring (1) millennials (1) monthly giving (1) motivation (1) multicultural (1) nomination (1) oklahoma city (1) organizational culture (1) outstanding professional (1) peoria (1) personal (1) potlucks (1) receptions (1) recognition (1) red flags (1) remembrance (1) sales (1) san francisco (1) scholarships (1) science (1) setbacks (1) star thrower (1) starfish (1) sustaining members (1) tempe (1) thirtysomething (1) three cups of tea (1) to do (1) transformational (1) volunteers (1) wildland fire (1) winslow (1)