Big gifts have impact and small things make a difference

Alyce Lee Stansbury, CFRE, Notes on Nonprofits

Here is a round-robin of news, ideas, and resources to help your favorite nonprofit.

In case you missed it, MacKenzie Scott, ex-wife of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, recently donated $1.7 billion to 116 charities.

Aside from the astounding size and scope, here are four interesting things about these gifts: (1) they were a surprise, with no grant applications requested; (2) they were unrestricted; (3) they were paid in full; and (4) lived experience was a requirement for the leadership of each recipient nonprofit.

Paying the gifts in full and making them unrestricted are signs of trust in the leadership of these organizations. As I read more about this donation, I learned Scott relied on a team of nonprofit advisors to research the various organizations and their leadership prior to making her giving decisions.

Along with programs and services, these unrestricted gifts will enable nonprofits to invest in their internal capacity such as technology, Board education, staff training, and strategic planning, which are often prohibited expenses by funders.

It is encouraging to see a philanthropist of this magnitude recognize the need for and value of strengthening nonprofits from within as well as supporting the services they provide.

Another interesting component of these gifts was the focus on equity and requiring the recipient organizations to be led by people who experience these inequities.

Scott said, “On this list, 91% of the racial-equity organizations are run by leaders of color, 100% of the LGBTQ+ equity organizations are run by LGBTQ+ leaders, and 83% of the gender-equity organizations are run by women, bringing lived experience to solutions for imbalanced social systems.”

Considering the current efforts to address diversity, equity and inclusion in the nonprofit sector, I hope Scott’s example will inspire other funders, foundations, and philanthropists to consider this when making giving decisions.

On a related note, I received several messages in response to the recent column about racism in the nonprofit sector. Kelly Otte and I originally published that column in 2017. Three years later, it remains a critical issue for nonprofit leaders and the sector itself. As congressman and civil rights icon John Lewis, who passed away July 17, said, “When you see something that is not right, nor fair, not just, say something. Do something.”

If your nonprofit is considering a crowdfunding campaign, Gannett Foundation may be interested in supporting your efforts through a $2.3 million initiative called the 2020 A Community Thrives program. The goal is to help nonprofits through crowdfunding and grants address social issues including education, housing, arts and culture, wellness, and the environment.

Twelve national grants, ranging from $25,000 to $100,000, will be awarded along with dozens of regional grants for general operating support starting at $2,500. Criteria for selection includes the proposed project’s viability, sustainability, community need, and service to historically disadvantaged groups. Applications are due by Sept. 11. Learn more at

I was asked by the Nonprofit Center of Tampa Bay for my top 10 list of favorite fundraising and governance books for nonprofit leaders. I included books on asking, giving, and governance. Here’s a link to the list and reasons why each book made my list:

In a recent poll I conducted with over 150 statewide staff and board leaders, loss of event revenue was identified as their most difficult challenge. Due to cancelled or postponed special events, savvy board and staff members are renewing their focus on personal, one on one communication.

I’ve spoken with many who have implemented a coordinated plan to thank donors and sponsors for their support, ask how they are doing, share an update on how COVID-19 is impacting the people they serve, not the organization itself, and how the donor’s support has made a difference. Now, and for the foreseeable future, personal contact with people who know, like, and trust the organization should remain a top priority and a necessary step in earning the right to ask again.

As nonprofits struggle to recoup lost revenue from cancelled events and other revenue shortfalls, some are turning to local businesses for donations of cash and in-kind gifts. At the same time, many local businesses are struggling to pay their employees and keep their doors open. If you plan to approach a for-profit business for a donation, think first about ways to mutually support the business especially if they have been generous in the past.

Buying goods and services from them, even in small, will be greatly appreciated and make it easier for them to give back. If they say no to your donation or sponsorship request, try not to be offended.

In a recent post by Barby Moro, CEO of Redeye Coffee, she said, “Your small request could literally determine whether or not a business makes payroll next week. Speaking for RedEye, if we can help, we will. But if we say no, it is because we really, truly can’t.”

Whether nonprofit or for-profit, we are all in this together.

Notes on Nonprofits is produced by Alyce Lee Stansbury, CFRE, President of Stansbury Consulting, and Kelly Otte, MPA, who is on sabbatical. Send your comments and questions to [email protected].

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