Amateurs, Bloody Amateurs!!
by Jonny Cline

Yair Lapid described a couple of weeks ago how we seem to be failing to attract the attention of even our own people to a true appreciation of our current paradigm, let alone that of the wider global community.

He called us amateurs.

He is right!

Just as in many other ways, we are amateurs when it comes to the management of our third sector, and yet we are surprised to find that support, financial and otherwise, does not come pouring in to facilitate any programming whim we happen to have.

We need to grow up. We need to stop doing what we have always done. We need to look around us and see what has changed, is changing, and is about to change.

“The rules of philanthropic engagement for Israeli non-profit organizations have changed drastically in response to 21st Century realities and in reflecting the sensibilities of modern donors.” writes Sari Revkin, in an enlightened article she wrote recently.

Sari, and many others, continue to emphasize in an extreme way the trends that have been creeping up on us since Facebook reached Tipping Point.

So why aren’t we listening? Why haven’t we changed? What are we waiting for?

There are many ways to divide up the non-profit community of Israel, here is one: there are those who have made a change, those who would like to but just don’t know how, and then there are those who are quite sure there is no change to be made.

“Change, why change? Ok, there have been a couple of tough seasons, but there was a market crash so what did you expect? We will just keep on doing what we have always done, that is what has worked ’till now!”

If an NGO could for a second be compared to a parrot, that, my friend, is (or will soon be) an ex-parrot!!

You see, there were three types of hi-tech companies that sat comfortably in the bubble in 1999. One of them saw no need for examining its organizational growth or fiscal security, two of them went through processes of introspection, sometimes with restructuring. These two generally documented their findings. The owner of one may be able to rummage through the boxes they took from their office as they moved out, and might be able to find a copy of the report written for them … in pristine condition, as if it had just been printed and bound – the other will pull his dog-eared copy off the shelf of his corporate archive or personal collection and will show it to you, delicately, with the respect afforded an old friend and mentor. Of course I am exaggerating, but fewer than half of the companies were still around after the dust settled.

The same thing is about to happen to us.

This is not going to happen because of the sub-prime fallout, it is not going to happen because of Madoff (may he get what he deserves), it is not even Obama’s fault. It is going to happen because the times they are a’changing. Times are changing, technologies are developing, generations are passing, and societies are maturing – all of this is happening, and all we (some of us) are still doing is sending out mass mailings – but by email!

Dr Barnardo used to write letters to his donors, personal letters, handwritten letters. His letters contained all of the elements that we use today: a personal story, a specific project, a personal invitation to become a partner in an essential effort to mend the ills of society, etc., etc. Dr Barnardo died 105 years ago. How much progress have we made since then? How much more sophisticated have we become? Is the great advancement of a century that we send these letters by email, that the savvy among us use services to ensure that we get through spam filters??!?

I believe that there are three types of NPOs in Israel today. There are those who truly have already set out upon the path to building their future; there are those who are realizing that their well will soon run; and then there are those who feel that their mission is far too important for their “friends” to ever let them die.

After the cloud settles, less than half of us will survive. Of the 26,000 Israeli NPOs registered, only those who are genuinely willing to step outside their comfort zone, who are looking for ways to replace “the way that things have always been done”, respectfully, with the way that our future donors and partners will expect to be found, approached, cultivated and/or stewarded in the future, will be able to carry on doing the good work they have done.

Our future, if I may be so bold as to make a forecast, looks quite different from our past.

  • We need to seriously begin looking closer to home. The Israeli is getting richer (at least some of us are), as the American is struggling to retain their social status.
  • We need to begin to broaden our base of support. Far fewer major funders are looking to invest so much in one place for a long period of time. We need to be spreading our risk and looking for more friends, giving less, with whom we may have to resign ourselves to sharing shorter relationships.
  • We have to meet our prospective donors where they expect to be courted. Our genuine belief in the righteousness of our cause must be replaced by an open invitation to facilitate the empowerment of a funding partner to realize their ideology by subcontracting to us activity in the field.
  • We must be present, and regularly communicate, through the media and language, that will maximize our impact and broaden our reach. Today’s world communicates through self-explanatory soundbites that are commensurate with on-the-fly information overload and non-stop information communication. (This blog post, for example, would never fly!)

I find myself looking forward to this future. It may not be easy, but it will definitely be (already is!) very exciting.

May the deserving survive, and may Yair Lapid never be able to write such a thing about the 3rd sector.

Jonny Cline is the Director of Marketing and Resource Development for “Yeladim – The Council for The Child in Placement”, and a founder of the Israeli Association of Professional Fundraisers.

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