Monday, September 13, 2010

Rule costs Lions Football Game

I’m a Bears fan. However, I really felt bad for the Detroit Lions yesterday. If you did not see the game, a last minute, game-winning touchdown pass was ruled “not caught” because the ball came out of the receiver’s hand when he was getting up after making a great catch. There was not doubt among announcers, fans and myself that this was a real catch. However, the rule says you have to come down with the ball and secure it. Watch the film.

Why am I writing this? Because many of the rules of philanthropy are just as frustrating. Most companies fund in cities, and zip codes near where they have facilities, not where they do business. Many foundations limit funding to 1, 2 or 3 consecutive years, meaning non profits are constantly searching for new donors, and often shifting mission in order to find those donors.

Maybe there are good reasons for these rules. However, I think that in some cases the rules need to be revised.

The Tutor/Mentor Connection (T/MC) web site is visited by people from different parts of Chicago, and from many different states and countries. Everyone is able to use our ideas and information to innovate ways to help youth in their own parts of the world.

If the idea benefits programs in Washington State, why shouldn’t Microsoft be willing to find it? If it benefits youth in India, why shouldn’t companies or donors from India support it?

Companies outsource business processes such as manufacturing to other parts of the world, why would they not support good ideas from non profits, that benefit people in their own business areas, or in places where they do business… regardless of where that non profit is located?

Maybe this makes a difficult job of deciding who to give donations to even more difficult, but maybe more good ideas get the funding they need to solve some of the difficult problems facing the world.

However, if we expand our donor base, we do a better job of providing our services, and everyone benefits. Obviously, this would only be true if the services offered really do benefit people in many different places. I contend the ideas and resources on the site do offer befit in many places, not just in Chicago.

The second challenge is the decision to limit grants to one, two or three-year cycles.

This is not just a practice of government and grant-making foundations, it’s also a practice of individuals, and giving circles. People with good intentions select a charity and give a donation. Then next year they select another charity, and give them a donation. Foundations fund a non profit for a short term, then based on rules, or guidelines, they cease their funding.

Just like the football rule, there is a reason for the rules of philanthropy, such as not wanting a non profit to become too dependent on a single donor. Or wanting to provide help to a wider range of causes. However, if we want to solve complex problems, such as helping kids born in poverty move from first grade to first job, we need to find ways to provide consistent, year-to-year funding of programs that work with these kids for multiple years.

Imagine giving birth to your own children then after three years saying “go find another set of parents because my guidelines say I can’t raise you any longer”.

That’s just about what the philanthropy world, and those donors who choose a different charity every year, are saying to organizations trying to help inner city kids move from birth to work. There’s an assumption that we all are great fund raisers, when that’s not true. We don't all have the same networks, or the same high powered volunteers in our leadership. Yet, our maps show that good tutor/mentor programs are needed in all poverty neighborhoods.

The expectation should be that non profits do great work with the money that is provided by donors and leaders who share the same vision and goals as we do, and who work just as hard as we do to make sure good programs are available in all of the places where they are most needed.

I’ve heard often in the past “Rules are made to be broken.”

As we start this 18th year of Cabrini Connections, Tutor/Mentor Connection, I hope there will be people who look at our web sites and share our long-term commitment to helping inner city youth through school and into adult lives, and who will make it their mission to make sure we have the money and other resources needed to be a world-class organization in achieving this mission.

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