One funder’s reasons for supporting umbrella organisations
By Peter Brach, Funders 2025 Fund
Under the right circumstances, the outcomes of supporting umbrella organisations have been enormous — and the impact could most likely be measured not in millions of dollars but in the billions. With careful planning and identifying the right opportunities, there is no reason why these enormous outcomes can’t be repeated — and in some cases with relatively small amounts of funding. In recent years, big and broad impact philanthropy initiatives have caused what could arguably be called a social impact revolution. Some organisations with the farthest and widest reach have achieved results never before seen.
In 2020, GivingTuesday inspired $2.47 billion of generosity on December 1 — possibly the biggest day of giving in the history of philanthropy. Giving Tuesday’s total operating costs for 2019 was $4 million and, even considering that operating costs might have gone up, and some giving would have taken place without Giving Tuesday, the return on investment was enormous. The process of undergoing equivalencies was once so cumbersome that many foundations avoided international giving entirely. NGO Source greatly eased the burden, saving foundations an estimated $50 million since their international launch in 2013.
Think about the generous supporters that helped VolunteerMatch achieve 1.3 million monthly visitors and connected 16.3 million volunteers. Think about the grantmakers who supported TechSoup, an organisation that provides $1.9 billion in distributed products and services to over 150,000 nonprofits per year. Or organisations such as Mission Investment Exchange, Confluence Philanthropy, Impact Finance Center, GIIN, and many others that have collectively inspired triple-digit billions of dollars in mission-related or social impact-related investments across the globe. Because of generous supporters, the National Council of Nonprofits offers services to their membership of 25,000 nonprofits in areas including advocacy, fundraising, business development, and accounting. The supporters of the Giving Pledge gained 216 signatories from billionaires.
Another example is WINGS, which would not exist today if it were not for many members’ support and the ongoing funding received. WINGS provides a unique and critical value-add to the philanthropic ecosystem. The organisation serves many functions: providing a clearing house on critical topics and emerging trends related to philanthropy and best practices; working to actualise best practices by convening leaders and others; and forging collaborations, disseminating valuable information through their newsletter and communication channels, bringing attention to neglected regions, and soon: representing the voice of philanthropy more extensively on a global level.
One of the most efficient and effective approaches for bringing about change is to strategically leverage those change agents with the farthest and widest reach. However, we will not realise this potentiality unless more private and institutional funders adopt a second mission if you will: to #LiftUpPhilanthropy. So much good could transpire if more funders inquisitively explored how they could actuate catalytic change by enabling high-performing umbrella organisations to achieve their potential.
I have had many conversations with senior staff from umbrella organisations. Those outside their confines are rarely aware of what happens internally – not only the struggles faced but the great opportunities missed because of funding shortages. Sometimes adding just one more member of staff could substantially impact the upward trajectory of such organisations. I have found, almost ubiquitously, that these nonprofits are understaffed and some of them could benefit immensely from short-term consultative assistance.
I will share a story involving my donor-advised fund, the Funders 2025 Fund, to demonstrate how even a relatively small grant can have a powerful impact. Last year, I provided WINGS with a small unrestricted grant. The organisation was under tremendous stress, not only because of Covid-19 but from the very sizable demand placed on it as a convener and information hub for the philanthropic sector. As a result, they were at risk of not securing the European Union grant they needed to finally move into the global advocacy space as a leading force. The relatively small amount of support my fund provided enabled WINGS to have enough internal capacity to help secure the E.U. grant for close to 1 million euros, the largest single grant in this nonprofit’s history.
My hope is to inspire more funders to consider creating even very small special portfolios dedicated to leveraging the best opportunities for achieving broad impact, beyond what would otherwise be considered. This is a simple and tangible step some can take to move out of silos and advance our collective interest in achieving the SDGs. After the tremendous global shock felt from the spread of Covid-19, it has become necessary to think less as individual organisations and to see ourselves as belonging to a much larger family working together to leverage our respective strengths to achieve the biggest and broadest impact possible.
Peter Brach manages the Funders 2025 Fund, a future-focused DAF dedicated to advancing field building through broad impact philanthropy. He has served as a foundation trustee since 2014. Peter has provided consulting support to the SDG Philanthropy Platform and WINGS. Peter is an engaged advocate for strengthening the nonprofit sector as a potent approach for achieving game-changing impact.