Why Demi Lovato is Right about Nonprofits

Nonprofit leaders are constantly writing about the unequal relationship between nonprofits and the people and institutions which fund them. Pieces like Dan Pallotta’s famous TED Talk, the Overhead Myth, NCRP’s blog post on reverse grantmaking, Chronicle of Philanthropy op-eds, and Nonprofit with Balls’ Nonprofit Hunger Games all show specifics ways this plays out in the sector.

Nonprofits are constantly put on the defensive, forced to justify every dollar spent and every facet of every program. And this brings me to Demi Lovato.

Some of you may have heard Lovato’s recent song, called “Confident.” It’s a Top 40, bouncy pop hit which is about being confident in yourself. The main refrain is: “What’s wrong with being confident?”

This got me thinking about nonprofits. We do incredible, life-changing, systems-altering work, and yet we are constantly wringing our hands, averting our eyes, and begging for $20 donations. Our fundraising e-mails tout the good your $5 can do, we fill out 20-page applications for a $1500 grant, and we insist that we pay our employees just enough to not be clients at our very nonprofit—and not a dollar more.

I’ve heard many people say that funders need to change this first, but I think we can all agree that won’t happen. The reality is that it needs to start with how nonprofits talk about themselves. When donors ask, “How much of your money goes to your mission?” We need to respond, “100%.” Honestly, unless your nonprofit is spending thousands of dollars on Slip ‘N Slides, every single dollar you’re spending is going to your mission.*

Your CEO’s salary? Mission.
Muffins for your volunteer meeting? Mission.
A new copier so your office manager doesn’t off him/herself? Mission.

There’s nothing wrong with being confident. There’s nothing wrong with standing up for the incredible work you and your staff do. It may lose you some donors, but it will gain many more.  The more nonprofits stand up for themselves and for the sector, the stronger we’ll all be for it, and the more good we’ll be able to do.

What other ways can nonprofits stand up for themselves? Which questions do donors ask that make it difficult to do? How do we overcome them?

*Unless you’re a Slip ‘N Slide nonprofit. In which case, please e-mail me.

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