Put Your Mouth Where Your Money Is

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Across the country, thousands of nonprofits have been hard at work for many years, delivering life-saving social and human services to millions of people. Your organization is one such. In addition to doing the work, your nonprofit has learned some things about the causes of the problems you’re trying to address. You’ve begun to reflect on the words of Desmond Tutu: “There comes a point where we need to stop just pulling people out of the river. We need to go upstream and find out why they are falling in.”


Perhaps it’s time for your nonprofit to speak out about what’s going on upriver and align yourself with other organizations trying to mitigate or eliminate the problem, not only respond to it.


This doesn’t mean you need to become an “advocacy” organization. And it certainly doesn’t mean you have to stop providing essential services to your target populations or communities. Instead, it means that you’ve earned the right to use your voice, add your voice, to the dialogue and debate about causes and consequences.


Nonprofits that deliver remedial educational services might join other organizations working for critical reforms in education policy. Nonprofits that provide disaster relief might join forces with movements for disaster prevention and preparedness. Nonprofits that feed homeless and hungry people might align with organizations trying to prevent homelessness in the first place.


There’s an artificial and unhelpful distinction between “prevention” and “treatment” in a lot of nonprofit work (and sometimes in the funding that supports it). How can nonprofits find the ways and means to help move past that distinction and talk about a more holistic, realistic, and effective approach to solving social problems?


How can a nonprofit do this and who, in an overworked organization, does the work of it? Board members, clients, any and all of the public-facing staff, volunteers, any and all of these people might help your nonprofit reach out and explore these kinds of engagements and alignments.

Thomas Boyd is Chief Editorial Consultant for The Grantsmanship Center
and an independent consultant to nonprofit organizations.


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