Community Leader Discussion Panel Highlighted New Directions on Marketing and Overhead
SARATOGA SPRINGS – Representatives of nonprofits, businesses, and people interested in philanthropy traveled from as far as Hudson, N.Y. to hear nationally renowned TED Talk speaker Dan Pallotta challenge their thinking about charitable giving on Tuesday, April 21, at the Saratoga Springs City Center.
His talk before a crowd of nearly 400 people – representing a broad spectrum of nonprofits, businesses, board members, staff, clients and donors – was titled “If We Changed the Way We Think About Charity, Charity Could Change the World.” Pallotta is the founder and President of the Charity Defense Council and founder and Chief Humanity Officer of Advertising for Humanity.
“I really appreciated Dan’s emphasis on the importance of investing in the capacity of an organization to meet its mission,” said President and CEO Karen Bilowith of the Community Foundation for the Greater Capital Region. “In our work, matching donors and nonprofits, we understand the need for overhead, for tools and staff to accomplish their mission. On all sides there are misperceptions about the cost of delivery of services, and we need to provide funding to nonprofits often for capacity.”
The event was presented by the Community Foundation for the Greater Capital Region; Captivate, the Regional Alliance for a Creative Economy (RACE); the Center for Economic Growth, and the Saratoga County Chamber. It was sponsored by KeyBank and Steadfast Risk Advisors, LLC, with support from Leadership Saratoga, The Saratogian and Saratoga TODAY.
“It’s been a dream of mine to bring Dan here to talk about transforming the way the donating public thinks about charity and change,” said Kathleen Fyfe, Vice President of Community Development and
Program Director of Leadership Saratoga at the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce. “We wanted people to have an opportunity to hear his message, which is pretty cutting edge, and we couldn’t have done it without all the great support we received from our program partners and sponsors.”
Pallotta spoke about the tremendous competition for donor dollars nationally, which is also apparent in the Capital Region. According to the Charitable Barometer Report of New York’s Greater Capital Region by the Community Foundation in 2011, “Charitable organizations are substantially more optimistic than donors about future giving levels in the region. Almost three-quarters of organizations expect giving to remain the same. Half of donors expect future giving to decrease.” The report discusses increased selectivity and higher scrutiny of organizations by local donors in future.
Robert Scrivens, AIF, CFP, Managing Partner of Steadfast Risk Advisors, LLC, said he thought the program was an overwhelming success, and he appreciated the irony of Pallotta’s juxtaposition of for-profit administrative expectations with the high scrutiny of nonprofit overhead costs.
“I highly doubt that Apple is kicking themselves over how much they paid Steve Jobs as CEO,” said Scrivens, “but for a nonprofit to pay a CEO his or her worth, it’s seen as obscene waste. The attraction, retention, and recruitment of good people is a talent war, but as Dan said, nonprofits have been pushed into a low self-esteem environment when it comes to spending money on their own people. They’re only cutting their own legs off.”
“I hope businesses and donors took away the idea that they should ask questions about a nonprofit’s effectiveness rather than just administrative overhead and general metrics,” added Bilowith.
Following the keynote was a panel discussion moderated by Linda Toohey, Chair, Skidmore College Board of Trustees. Program panelists included Laura Schweitzer, PhD., President, Union Graduate College; Bo Goliber, Community Relations, Fingerpaint Marketing; Doug Sauer, CEO, New York Council on Nonprofits; and Theresa Agresta, Partner, Allegory Studios. The audience asked several questions, including about marketing.
“There’s a bias against marketing in the nonprofit community,” said Agresta. “Some see it as a manipulation, but it’s made a huge shift toward transparency. It has to be a part of a nonprofit’s toolkit to develop a strong message and share it. The same tactics used to motivate in the for-profit sector can be used to move the needle in the nonprofit sector as well. Motivation and manipulation are not the same thing.”
Rodney Brewer, II, Managing Partner at Steadfast Risk Advisors, LLC, agreed. “What people need to take home from Dan’s words today,” he said, “is the importance of taking their dollars and maximizing the opportunity through marketing and increased exposure to their mission. Don’t fear getting a bigger donation.”
The keynote and panel discussed storytelling and emotive appeal as an important and natural part of sharing a nonprofit’s mission with the larger community, and challenging how the donating public think about administrative costs.
“I am delighted the event was so successful,” said Fyfe. “I know some people went in thinking ‘there’s no way this program will change my mind about overhead’, but they were surprised and afterward commented that they not only ‘got it’, but were committed to telling other people. These one-on-one conversations will change the story, and that’s how we can change the culture and how we perceive nonprofits and administrative costs.”
“Dan’s talk was a validation. We are on the same page,” said attendee Kathy Lanni, Chief Community Officer of SEFCU. “The system has to change in the charitable community. I agree that the lowest overhead for the highest impact may not be fair. I also think there could be more collaboration within the community for shared services and spaces, too. Those realized savings could enhance programs and train more staff. If nonprofits with missions relevant to each other would collaborate, we’d have the brightest minds and the most resources together to have the highest impact. It just makes sense.”
Pallotta is a William J. Clinton Distinguished Lecturer, and has spoken at TED Talks, Stanford, Wharton, Harvard Business School, Harvard’s Hauser Center for Nonprofits, Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, Tufts University, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, The Gates Foundation and now New York’s Capital Region at Saratoga Springs City Center. He is known as the inventor of the multi-day charitable event industry with the AIDS Rides and Breast Cancer 3-Days, which altered the landscape of options for ordinary individuals seeking to make a difference. He is an author and featured weekly contributor to the Harvard Business Review online.