Jill Warren Lucas
We’ve all seen the classic snapshot of people smiling and shaking hands around a giant check that symbolizes a new financial commitment for a worthy purpose. The joy and relief etched on faces suggests a partnership sure to generate positive outcomes for the long haul.
But what happens when a nonprofit didn’t do its homework and is unable to properly manage the gift or maintain the relationship? Can an endowment meant to serve as a permanent source of support for a cause really vanish, taking with it an agency’s hard-earned credibility and goodwill?
“It can, but it shouldn’t,” says Janet Doolin, an attorney with extensive nonprofit development and management experience. “It’s all about strategic planning. Before you start accepting money from donors, you really need to make sure you have all your policies and procedures in place.”
To help nonprofit leaders grasp the sometimes complicated rules regarding endowments, NC State’s and Philanthropy Journal – a program of the Institute for Nonprofits – will present Doolin’s “Endowment 101” workshop from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Feb. 6 in Room 246 of the Monteith Research Center. Seating is limited and the $350 registration – which includes a copy of her book, a boxed lunch and visitor parking – is available online at www.philanthropyjournal.org/endowment101.
Doolin is the principal of Doolin Consulting and serves on the faculty of both Regis University in Denver and Indiana University’s Fund Raising School at the Center on Philanthropy. Her class covers a wide range of topics, starting with a self audit to help nonprofits determine their readiness to the task.
“Building an endowment is similar to designing and constructing a house,” she writes in Endowment 101. “The proper planning process coupled with the right planning advice will get your endowment building off to a strong start – avoiding costly mistakes and setbacks.”
This solid foundation will aid proactive nonprofits in crafting an endowment that will help a strong mission grow stronger, Doolin says. It also can generate higher earnings and a stabilized revenue stream, making future growth and expanded service possible.
While the uncertain economy may limit an endowment’s ability to achieve all goals, Doolin stresses that strategic planning will create an environment in which the donor’s gift can do the most good. Agencies must be prepared to provide well documented financial records, clearly defined policies and evidence that its own board is fully committed to the task.
“I think we make the mistake of reaching out to external donors before we solidify the resolve of our board members, past and present, and our employees,” says Doolin. “If you grow it from the inside out, you have a better story to tell to your external constituents.”
Doolin compares this to a tree needing strong roots before it can flourish. “The internal marketing plan is crucial to the success of the external plan,” she says. “It’s kind of like your stock broker saying, ‘I don’t own this stock but I want you to buy it.’ That doesn’t build confidence.”
Doolin adds that donors with adequate resources to establish an endowment are less concerned with tax benefits than connecting with a cause they really care about.
“People aren’t just looking for a write-off anymore. The concept of investing in a charity that aligns with the giver’s personal interests and mission is a big part of giving,” she says. “The bigger incentive for donors is, ‘Will my gift have impact?'”
Nonprofits likewise need to be ready for an intense level of stewardship after a donor commits to an endowment. To demonstrate impact, the endowment must be carefully monitored and reported upon, and meaningful opportunities provided for personal engagement. This is important not only to ensure current donor satisfaction, but also to foster future giving.
Doolin addresses these and other endowment-related subjects in the workshop, which she has presented for other philanthropic institutions nationwide.
“My goal is to provide a practical tool in determining if the time is right for an endowment and, if so, how to avoid common pitfalls,” she says. “If your organization is ready to take that big step, it will help you develop a blueprint for financial stability that will help to finance current and future revenue needs.”
REGISTRATION: To register for “Endowment 101,” the daylong workshop by Janet Doolin to be held on Feb. 6, visit www.philanthropyjournal.org/endowment101. Participation is limited to 50 people, so be sure make your reservation right away.