THE BLOG
09/21/2013 10:42 am ET Updated Nov 21, 2013

To Get Beyond Two Percent, We Have to Go Beyond Giving

Click here to read an original op-ed from the TED speaker who inspired this post and watch the TEDTalk below.

Two percent isn't going to do it. That's the basic insight at the heart of Dan Pallotta's argument.

Charitable giving has been stuck at 2 percent of U.S. GDP for 40 years, ever since we started measuring it. And in a world of increasing demands and ongoing fiscal belt-tightening -- a world where government looks unlikely to step back in to support needed social programs -- the nonprofit sector fundamentally has to contend with this fact: two percent just isn't enough.

So what can we do in response? Basically, we have to do three things: 1) work to increase the amount people give, 2) make the most of every penny we get, and -- crucially -- 3) go beyond giving entirely.

Number 1 is the work of expert fundraisers and marketers like Dan Pallotta, though it's also the work of everyone else in the social sector. For one thing, we can encourage more giving by being better storytellers. We need to learn to express more clearly and creatively the problems we seek to address and the successes we are having. Too often nonprofit appeals and reports are wonky, overly complex, and just plain boring. Boring doesn't inspire giving -- great storytelling does.

Imagine you were considering investing in a company and found out that it didn't bother buying up-to-date technology, paying its employees competitive wages, or seeking out the best management practices. Would you still invest? -- Eric Kessler

Number 2 is the core work of most of us with jobs in the nonprofit sector, from the folks doing their best to deliver impact to the funders who support them. Here it's key to note that Pallotta's attack on the habit of measuring nonprofits mainly by means of overhead ratios is spot on. Rewarding organizations for under-investing in people, technology, effective management, and infrastructure is dumb. Imagine you were considering investing in a company and found out that it didn't bother buying up-to-date technology, paying its employees competitive wages, or seeking out the best management practices. Would you still invest? No. Because an investment is, among other things, a bet on the future. It isn't the same as a simple purchase. The whole idea is to put in value now in order to get more value back later. That's part of the genius of the stock market: you spend now, assume some risk, and--if you're smart--you get it all back later and more.

And that brings us to number 3: getting beyond giving. At the end of the day, we are unlikely to get where we need to go merely by getting people to give more. While traditional donor-supported activities are critical to having large-scale impact, alone they probably won't get us where we need to be. Many of our biggest challenges will require financially self-sustaining solutions. And we can find those solutions in at least two areas.

First, a growing pool of nonprofits employs business-like practices to sustain themselves. Environmental groups like RARE and health organizations like PSI are driving large-scale change by employing business strategies and providing products and services that drive revenue through channels beyond traditional fundraising. The strategies employed by this sector of self-sustaining organizations should be heralded, promoted, and emulated.

Second, as a century of American philanthropy has demonstrated, much of our best work is done when it's in our economic self-interest. Whether by supporting socially-driven start-ups through impact investments or encouraging socially-driven innovation at major corporations through our purchasing power, we can move forward farther with the business community alongside us.

What I appreciate most about Dan's TEDTalk is how it has engaged a huge audience in a discussion of these issues. What is most disappointing is that, after a century of organized philanthropy and impact, this discussion is still necessary. Hopefully, this discussion will help close the 2 percent chapter of our history and enable us all to increase our impact.

Ideas are not set in stone. When exposed to thoughtful people, they morph and adapt into their most potent form. TEDWeekends will highlight some of today's most intriguing ideas and allow them to develop in real time through your voice! Tweet #TEDWeekends to share your perspective or email tedweekends@huffingtonpost.com to learn about future weekend's ideas to contribute as a writer.

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