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If you’re familiar with “big bet giving,” you’ll know it refers to the biggest donations in philanthropy, the multimillion-dollar, unrestricted contributions given to nonprofits with the intent of having a transformative impact. A high-profile example of this approach can be found in billionaire MacKenzie Scott’s philanthropic work. In 2019, Scott pledged to give most of her wealth away with very few strings attached.

Big bets are exciting, and they’re inspiring others to give as much as possible. Beyond the dollars, though, there’s another conversation that nonprofits would like to have with their supporters, and it’s about partnership.

Give What You Can and Consider Other Ways to Offer Support
The stories about big bet contributions can intimidate “mere mortal” funders, but don’t let them. Not all philanthropists can make seven-digit donations, but don’t worry. You’ve got other ways to help. Be sure to explore them. In his insightful op-ed, Big Bet Bummer, Kevin Starr, CEO of Mulago Foundation, humorously refers to his organization as a “medium” bet giver. Choose what level of funding makes sense for you, and then consider other forms of support you can provide.

Develop Partnerships With Nonprofits You Support
Meaningful support beyond the dollars is rooted in authentic partnership. Consider collaborating with your chosen nonprofits to assess their needs in these areas:

  • Skill-based expertise. Do they need help with a business plan? Growth plan? Outreach?
  • Network building/introductions. As funders frequently ask nonprofits to diversify their funding sources, can you help your grantees expand their network of support through introductions, testimonials and references? For example, in 2023, our client of 17 years, The Kendeda Fund, concluded 30 years of more than one billion dollars in grantmaking. They notified their nearly 40 grantee partners about their plans to sunset well in advance. They also provided concrete support for weathering the change by creating a program to help the grantees establish operating reserves or essentially “rainy-day” funds. This gave both the grantees and The Fund greater confidence about the grantees’ financial stability after Kendeda was no longer in the picture.
  • Strategic planning. What pace of growth is sustainable for your grantees? How far should they extend beyond what they currently do and what they’re capable of doing well today?
  • Near-term financials. How are they funding their current projects? Can they implement the work with the funding they have? Do they need more? What can you do to help?
  • Long-term financials. Are they poised to increase capacity and grow so they can scale and accomplish more? If so, would multi-year funding (instead of a one-time contribution) be most useful in the face of planned growth?
  • Communications. Let’s say a nonprofit is poised for growth and has reserved some of its current funding to expand its work. Can you help it converse with funders who are accustomed to supporting only organizations that are “on the brink” (about to run out of operating money)? Can you help to convince these funders that in order for nonprofits to plan beyond one fiscal year at a time, they need reserves as well as ongoing support?

Be the Best Partner Possible
How can you be an optimal partner to a nonprofit? Consider these tips:

1. Start With Respect and Build Trust
Begin with the assumption that nonprofit leaders are knowledgeable and experts on what their organizations and communities need. This is a strong way to get a partnership off on the right foot. From there, you can enter into dialogue, listen, learn, and build trust.

2. Be Transparent
When contributing to an organization, whether your support is large or small, be transparent and communicate your intentions clearly. Is your contribution a one-time opportunity, or would you consider future requests? Are you open to a multi-year conversation instead of a one-time donation? Providing specifics helps an organization plan and operate more strategically.

3. Open Your Rolodex (what is that?)
Some of you know what we mean. For others, think Contacts. No single funder can do it alone. In this context, spread the word about the good work your nonprofit partners are doing. And, when it makes sense, consider introducing them to other potential funders. Helping nonprofits expand their networks is one of the most valuable things you can do to assist them with building a sustainable future for themselves.

Consider again The Kendeda Fund during their sunsetting process:

“In many cases, we started becoming advocates for [our grantee] partners with other funders. Knowing that our dollars were going to go away, we wanted to make sure we could use the bully pulpit of being a funder to help show and highlight the great work that all these partners were doing with other funders.”

With or without the ability to make seven-digit contributions, all philanthropists can deepen their connections with the organizations and communities they support. Doing so may be the best big bet you can make.

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Have a Question?
Schedule a call with us or reach us at 800-839-0054. Together, let’s #begiving.

Elizabeth Wong is Head of Philanthropic Advisory Services for Foundation Source.

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Elizabeth Wong

Elizabeth Wong

Head of Philanthropic Advisory Services