Philanthropy
Want to Change the World? First, Have a Spreadsheet
Setting up a charitable foundation is very noble work, but one must have a combination of head and heart to succeed.
IMAGE COLLAGE Yzabella Cruz
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“If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it…. ”

So wrote Kipling in his seminal poem “If.” What is the difference between a dreamer and a visionary? A visionary is a dreamer with a business plan.

With the proliferation of problems besetting our country, the emotional reflex among the conscientious rich is to set up a charitable foundation. This is all very noble and good. However, if one is truly serious about translating one’s vision into reality, and ensuring the continuity and sustainability of this vision, then one needs to run one’s foundation as professionally and as skillfully as the best business enterprises are. If one is not committed to doing this, then it would be best to channel one’s resources into giving to others who are.

I had the great opportunity to meet with representatives of four excellently run New York-based charitable foundations, all of them founded more than twenty years ago. I was amazed that, except for one of them and only in passing, no one talked about the person who started his or her foundation. Why? Because the founder should be immaterial. If the vision is to be institutionalized, then the cause must have a life of its own and must outlast any individual or personality.

From Vision to Reality.
How to breathe life into one’s vision? There are three absolutely essential pillars: 1) programs (how to use the money); 2) funding (how to source the money); and 3) volunteers (how to run the programs efficiently). If one of these pillars is missing, it becomes impossible to convert the dream into reality, much less sustain it over the long-term.

Programs
What should the programs be? With our plethora of problems, there is a temptation to engage in everything: education, nutrition, livelihood, healthcare, housing, environmental preservation and others. What is needed is focus. It is still possible to be effective and involved in several themes, but there must be a common thread to tie all activities together. In the cases of both the Philippine Christian Foundation Inc. (PCF) and the Marie Eugenie Solidarity Foundation Inc. (MESFI), the main mission started out as educating children from the poorest families. However, both foundations realized that the children needed to be nourished properly to maintain their mental stamina in class. Thus they set up their nutrition programs. Further offshoots of its goals were PCF’s establishment of a clinic, then its livelihood program, and now its housing program. Similarly, MESFI created its livelihood program for the children’s nonworking mothers to achieve economic self-sufficiency, in turn enhancing the children’s learning environment.

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Funding
All successful and long-standing nonprofit organizations have funding, and what’s more, continuous access to funding. The measure of their success is not how little funding they need, but rather their efficient deployment of funds to reach the highest possible number of beneficiaries or “clients.”

If there is no money to pay for the people who run the foundation, the foundation dies.

In general, there are three types of funding requirements: 1) the “cash burn,” or the foundation’s fixed, recurring expenses, typically management and administrative costs; 2) the variable expenses directly proportional to the number of clients served; and 3) capital expenditures, such as schools, clinics, hospitals and libraries. It is necessary to make this distinction in order to determine the best way to raise funds.

Funding the cash burn is the trickiest. Most organizations are not up front about saying “we are raising funds to pay for our cash burn.” On the other hand, if there is no money to pay for the people who run the foundation, the foundation dies. The solution is two-step: 1) establish a fund which, when invested in conservative fixed-income instruments, will generate sufficient interest income to cover your cash burn; and 2) embark on creative fund-raising campaigns which will make giving fun and painless. Glamorous gala events are often used toward this end. Apart from charging a multiple of the actual dinner cost, fundraisers hold auctions during the dinners and obtain corporate sponsorships. The more prestigious the gala, the higher the donation must be.

For markets like ours where the culture of philanthropy is not so well-developed, creative fund-raising may be in the form of launching a credit card in partnership with a bank, and working out a deal in which a portion of the fees will be paid to the foundation. This is especially applicable to foundations which have a large network to tap (e.g., schools). Museums and organizations celebrating significant milestones also sell commemorative items like limited-edition plates, prints, etched glass, coffee-table books, etc. I salute the artists who donate their art—indeed a piece of themselves—to be replicated in these forms.

Glamorous gala events are often used toward raising funds. Apart from charging a multiple of the actual dinner cost, fundraisers hold auctions during the dinners and obtain corporate sponsorships. The more prestigious the gala, the higher the donation must be.

Donors are more willing to part with their cash to cover the variable expenses directly related to the programs of their charities. This is what has made Habitat for Humanity and Gawad Kalinga so effective in securing corporate sponsorships. It appeals to companies’ results orientation and the requirement for efficiency to know that their donations are being entirely used to benefit a defined number of homeless people. X pesos = 1 home. Likewise, solicitation letters quantifying the specific amounts needed, coupled with “in lieu of gifts” Christmas cards acknowledging the donation and explaining how it has changed lives, are an excellent fund-raising tool. Y pesos = amount needed to feed/educate/clothe a child for one year. If it is the thought that counts in gift-giving, then this truly thoughtful gift should be most appreciated.

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Volunteers
It surprises me that many Philippine charities have not optimized our bayanihan ethos to a significant degree, and yet it is the key to boosting efficiency. How else can one stretch one’s scarce resources other than to avail oneself of free labor? There is so much untapped potential out there waiting to be harnessed! The key to successfully attracting volunteers and to have them coming back for more is good logistics. Have a predefined set of tasks and match your volunteers’ skills sets and time commitment with these tasks. Emphasizing the value of their tasks, and the difference they will make, even if they appear lowly and mundane, will energize your volunteers and cause them to take immense pride in accomplishing their jobs. There is a cardinal rule one must NEVER break: Never waste a volunteer’s time, EVER.

Donors are more willing to part with their cash to cover the variable expenses directly related to the programs of their charities. This is what has made Habitat for Humanity and Gawad Kalinga so effective in securing corporate sponsorships.

From Reality to Sustainability
Long-term sustainability hinges on only one thing: one’s credibility. This will depend on one’s demonstrated success in efficiently accomplishing one’s stated mission, and on one’s exhibiting the highest levels of transparency and accountability. Here’s where most Philippine foundations need improvement: very few have audited financial statements and post them on their Web site. Most use their sites to communicate their vision/mission/goals and accomplishments, with the aim of obtaining more funding and more volunteers. However, to secure serious money on an ongoing basis, one must show one’s numbers and they must prove one’s effectiveness and efficiency.

Best practices include having good operational systems and procedures. Your measures of success must be defined and documented; how else can you substantiate your track record? You must maintain and update databases of your clients, donors and volunteers. Input forms, purchase orders, call sheets, sign in vouchers— you must have an audit trail like any self-respecting business.

Brand yourself to evoke your desired emotional response (donate and volunteer), and have an effective communication platform.

Show gratitude to your stakeholders. Write to acknowledge and thank them for donations of time, talent and treasure. Update them on the progress of your projects: doing so will keep them interested and involved. Issue official receipts. Ideally, donations to foundations should be tax-deductible.

Brand yourself to evoke your desired emotional response (donate and volunteer), and have an effective communication platform. Be on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter. Write regular blogs or a newsletter which you should post on your website. Invest in videos and post them, too.

The above must be familiar ground to all business people because they are the elements of a business plan. As Deep Joshi, a 2009 Ramon Magsaysay awardee, said, “To bring about effective change in other people’s lives you need to have a heart, to have empathy, but you also need knowledge… that’s the combination of head and heart.”

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Maite Gallego
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