on Investing in Nonprofits

This will likely be the last guest comment I publish regarding my post Investing in Nonprofits. But Dennis Whittle, the CEO of Global Giving, a celebrated nonprofit, has offered his thoughts and the conversation to date has only included the perspective of funders. Dennis wrote:

Let me validate many of the comments here based on our experience launching and taking GlobalGiving to scale.

George is right that it takes $10-30 million to get something like this to scaleability and sustainability. And, per George, I am also convinced that one reason that we have succeeded thus far is that we treat growth capital separately from donations to projects from a financial (and operational) management point of view.

Chuck is right that it takes multi-year funding from a consortium of funders to make something like this work. Chuck’s success is also testimony to the power of a strong lead funder. So far, we have been fortunate enough to have patient capital from a group of leading foundations, without which we would not be here. (Though without a doubt, this patience will be tested by the current economic climate, even though we grew by over 200% last year.)

Mario makes a fundamental point: “In contrast with the private sector, there is a great need for the “philanthropic investor” to be engaged, even directly involved, and emotionally affiliated.”

The bottom line is that there is currently no single bottom line for all philanthropic funders- even the most advanced ones. The $64,000 question is whether this is even possible – either theoretically or in practice. The good news is that there are some great people working on this (including many of the commentators on this post.) I hope they succeed. But the jury is still out, and I predict that much additional experimentation will be needed in the years ahead before we find the right approach(es).