Boardsource Takeaways

Earlier this month I attended the Boardsource Leadership Forum: Governance By Design in Washington DC on behalf of 3rd Creek Foundation and Haight Ashbury Psychological Services (HAPS). There are a few takeaways that stand out to me, which I would like to share with others in the field.

Understand the landscape. Data can be overwhelming. Questions such as what data is important? Is the data reliable? How should we use data to advance our mission? Wearing the hat of both the funder and grantee organization at the conference, I found two pieces of data important. The data is simple and provide a snapshot of philanthropy in the United States. According to the Giving USA 2014 report, 2013 charitable contributions totaled just over $335 billion. 80% of contributions came from individuals (including bequests), 15% came from Foundations such as 3rd Creek, and the remainder from corporate giving.

What does this information mean? It means most donors are just like you or me, and we are the ones making a difference. At 3rd Creek, we give primarily overseas, and one of the challenges in communicating our mission is the perception that $5, $50, and even $1000 can’t really have an impact – clearly, that is not the case. Similarly at HAPS, we are dissatisfied with our fundraising plan, but knowing which donors to pursue is a difficult question to answer. In my mind, the data shows that we do not need to look for hard-to-win grants, or hard-to-reach benefactors, as much as we need to look to the peers in our community to partner with us and support our mission.

The second piece of data relates to the types of recipient organizations. Only 4% of 2013 contributions benefited international organizations and 10% went toward health services. These are two of the lowest sectors represented, which is not too surprising. The highest sector was religion at 31%, and this number did come as a surprise to me. However, as I understand the landscape now, it makes sense. Religious organizations create a culture of giving and support a habit of giving. So the question to the board is: how can we help our funding partners and potential donors create that same habit and direct more funds toward the under-served segments that we represent?

Get social. More people have cell phones than toilets. I will never forget passing by a shop on main street in Malangwa, Nepal, one of the poorest places I have ever been to, when a young man called out to me and asked if we could be friends on Facebook. I was astonished. Yet, statistics show that of the 7 billion people on earth, 6 billion have access to a mobile phone while only 4.5 billion have access to a working toilet.

We have already seen the power of social media in generating both awareness and contributions through campaigns such as the “Ice Bucket Challenge”, and we see that technology such as mobile banking is improving outcomes for millions of users in underdeveloped countries. The argument for engagement through social media is strong in our case. Our task as a board, is to determine which form of media to use and what message to convey. We are intermediaries, and if we choose wisely we can ensure that our voice will be heard.

Professional development is an important aspect of any job, and there is both breadth and depth to the resources available through Boardsource.

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Erica Jordan has served on the board of 3rd Creek Foundation since 2007. In addition to her work with 3rd Creek, Erica is a Court Appointed Special Advocate and board treasurer for Haight Ashbury Psychological Services. Erica has lived in London and Norway, and traveled for work and study throughout Europe, Turkey, Uganda, Nepal and the Philippines. She received her BA in Classical Studies from King’s College London, and after focusing on family for several years, she has returned to school to pursue an MBA in Global Management from Dominican University of California. Erica is an avid photographer and loves to garden.