SB2 Philanthropy Symposium Speakers Tell Nonprofits to Value Themselves

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The local philanthropic community in Sarasota and Manatee counties assembled at the Hyatt Regency Sarasota yesterday for the latest in SRQ Media Group’s SB2 Luncheon Symposia Series, “Transformative Philanthropy.” Featuring a panel discussion and audience Q&A with David Moore, founder of Moore Strategic Consulting; Sabeen Perwaiz, executive director of the Florida Nonprofit Alliance; and Lilly Weinberg, the program director managing the Knight Foundation’s $140 million investment in small to midsize communities across the country, topics ranged from local success and demanding donors, to the costs of overhead and the nonprofit sector’s underinvestment in itself.

“We forget that nonprofits are also businesses,” says Perwaiz. “They have overhead.” And though many donors have expectations that every dollar given should go to a specific program or direct service, she says, the fact is that a professional staff needs to be paid professional wages in order to address continued issues of high turnover. In other words, there needs to be an investment in the organization and its people, not only the service it provides. Most nonprofits, she notes, do not even have 90-day reserves in case of economic hardship. Moore agrees.

“The sector is under-resourced,” he says, and Moore’s seen too many nonprofits investing in everything but themselves, working in shabby offices with old technology on meager salaries. It all affects the work. “It’s a really serious capacity problem,” he says. “That’s not OK.”

And nonprofits investing in themselves means standing up for themselves and their values as well, sometimes even in the face of donors’ demands. If a gift comes with strings attached, says Weinberg, the nonprofit needs to be sure the donor and the organization are a good fit, regardless of the size of the gift. “If a donor conflicts with those values, then we need to say, ‘No,’” she says. “That is when you need to stay firm.”

Even when taking a stand can seem politically or economically dangerous—and Perwaiz warns that nonprofits must be sure to not run afoul of the Johnson Amendment and lose their tax-exempt status, and therefore their ability to provide a service—nonprofits can be important voices for important issues. “They are the experts,” she says.

Or, as Moore puts it: nonprofits should stand for something and they should care. “When they silence themselves,” he says, “it hurts us all.”

Sponsored by Hyatt Regency Sarasota, Cool Today and JFCS of the Suncoast, the SB2 Symposia Series continues this December 9 with a look at trends in philanthropy for the coming year.

Pictured: Lilly Weinberg engages fellow panel-member David Moore at the SB2 Symposia Series event, 'Transformative Philanthropy'.

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