An Answer for Peter Buffett

Peter Buffet had it exactly correct in his recent New York Times op-ed when he said we have a "crisis of imagination" and a need for a "new operating system."

What we have in the philanthropic industry is an ability to identify WHAT are the problems, but no imaginative ideas for HOW they can be addressed. I was reminded of this yet again while reading Rick Cohen's write-up in the latest Nonprofit Quarterly, in which he discusses a recent meeting about the challenges of veterans philanthropy attended by foundations and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. There was lots of talk about what was needed and obstacles, but little practical focus on how to address the problems facing this important group of individuals. Great people, great intentions, but the results will not arrive; and, it's too important of an issue not to speak about.

Having not originally been from this industry, I'm hoping to bring a fresh perspective. I would like to lay out some ways the industry can be transformed and become more efficient. I've met with over 1,000 people in the philanthropic industry through my work as CEO of OurGroup, and through those meetings I've identified five fundamental issues:

1. Limited Credible Go-to Destinations
Looking around, there are very few, if any, credible go-to-destinations for people to get involved in a number of important issues; to help veterans and military servicemen and women, animals, disadvantaged children, the environment, human trafficking.

2. Non-Profits Have Too Many Isolated Systems
Nearly every non-profit has a donor relationship management system, volunteer management system, online event planning and donation processing system. Meanwhile they are also trying to reach people on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and other social media sites. They are using far too many standalone, siloed systems and data.

3. Costly Charity Websites, But No Vibrant Communities
Even when a charity spends tens of millions of dollars on their website, they are still not able to develop vibrate communities of people around the issues they care about. Just look at websites for Susan G. Komen and St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. St Jude's site is amazing, but the ability and value for individuals and companies/employees to become involved is limited.

4. Companies Have Different Systems to Track Employee Volunteerism and Donations
Companies have costly systems in varying countries. Such systems are ineffective at enabling the companies to show what they have accomplished, and there is often a primary focus on PR. Most companies guilt employees into volunteering or donating, rather than inspiring and supporting them to do so.

5. Individuals Inconvenienced and Without Power
Individuals do not like having to visit a new charity site every time they want to donate or volunteer. It's difficult to learn each site's navigation, and keeping track of receipts for taxes is a pain. Individuals are not involved in the conversation. Instead they are being talked to by the charities via mail, email, Facebook, and Twitter. It's all junk mail to them. And, often they feel powerless to develop something around a cause they care about.

There are, of course, other issues facing the industry, but these stand out as the top five ones which must be addressed. So, what is needed is something that addresses at a very minimum these issues.

Buffet had it right when he mentioned that what is needed should "shatter current structures and systems." But first, it is essential to outline what all the key stakeholders need and want. Unless these are understood and addressed, whatever is proposed will fail.

In my next post, I will outline those key stakeholder issues.

(Part 1 of 5)