Nonprofit investment urged

By Ret Boney

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — In this era of uncertainty, the nonprofit sector needs robust charities that are flexible and able to address evolving problems, says Paul Light, a nonprofit-sector scholar and author.

Light, the Paulette Goddard Professor of Public Service at New York University, spoke to a group of about 800 nonprofit-sector representatives at the statewide conference of the N.C. Center for Nonprofits in Charlotte on Sept. 7.

“The scandal isn’t greed in the nonprofit sector,” Light said.  “The scandal is under-investment in our own organizations.  We’re not ready to respond to the uncertainties out there.”

Light delivered the keynote address at the annual conference hosted by the center, a Raleigh-based network of nonprofits and foundations that works to serve, represent and strengthen the state’s nonprofit sector.

Donors and volunteers, rather than expecting frugality from charities, increasingly look for professionalism and results, Light said, and groups must start investing to increase the capacity of their organizations.

That means spending money not only on programs, but on activities like updating technology, strategic planning, staff training and board development and recruitment.

“We’re not in a ‘what’ crisis, we are in a ‘how’ crisis,” Light said.  “Americans are concerned that we don’t have good systems and operations,” he said. “Show us how you spend money wisely.  Tell us where the cash is going and how it’s going to change lives.”

An important part of that is telling donors about the results and impact an organization is having, he said, including measuring its effectiveness, then communicating that to donors.

“The way to reassure your own supporters is to talk constantly about results toward your mission,” Light said.

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