There are four long-term sources of financing for nonprofits – Fee for Service, Government Grants and Contracts, Donor Advised Funds, and Charitable Giving.

The 990 does not make this information available easily. On Page 1, they blend charitable donations with government contracts*, Schedule B is a report of all donors over $5,000 and frequently that report is simply submitted as ‘Restricted.’  1019_5901001

It’s easy to miss the point on the 990 that the four funding sources are quite different from each other and virtually no agency in the study was skilled in attracting funds from all four sources.

Charitable Giving – Non profits began in the 1800’s with charitable gifts. Often, wealthy people formed a group and funded it with gifts for orphans, destitute, etc. The charity did not begin to match the needs at that time. As ethnic groups got larger, smaller nonprofits served particular groups from a language, religious, or cultural background. Slowly, many of the oldest nonprofits (universities, for example) built endowments that were powerful and independent sources of funds. Investment money flowed from charitable gifts.

Fee For Service – Hospital fees, tuition for universities, and other fees (excluding Medicare and Medicaid) make up almost half of nonprofit income. Since hospitals and higher education nonprofits have little in common with funding sources for other nonprofits, it’s fair to say that about 10% of nonprofit income is from fee for service.

Government Grants and Contracts – States, Localities, and Federal Government increased funding in the 1960’s. The first decades were slow increases with few regulations. With budget cutting in the 1980’s, governments started regime funding – close control of process, less volunteers, and more professionals. The administrative requirements of regime funding were not calculated in costing. The idea returned to the 1800s model that the social sector must be funded in part by charitable gifts.

Donor Advised Funds – The top 20% of the population is accumulating wealth and the top 1% even more so. This concentration is leading to Giving Clubs and Donor Advised Funds where gifts produce very specific purposes and outcomes. The benefit of these funds is that they empower agencies with clear agendas and the possibility of an independent voice. The benefit can also be a liability if agendas don’t uphold values such as equality and justice for all.

With that background, what does the study of 990s show?

  • Healthy nonprofits augment government contracts with either charitable gifts or fee for service of at least 10% of total revenue. This additional financing can be used to pay for strategic investments and funds payroll when government is slow to pay.
  • Nonprofits that started in the 1980-2000 years of growth in government funding often pay little attention to other sources of money. They tend to have smaller boards who may not have an individual mandate to contribute. With regime requirements increasing, the government funded nonprofits are close to merger, acquisition, or bankruptcy.
  • Revenue is vanity. One nonprofit with revenue of $70 million and growing quickly is 1.5 payrolls behind. While they may use a line of credit to offset the immediate need, the growth and size do not give them protection for the long term. The funding mix is far more important than the size of revenue.
  • Charitable gifts generally have a practical collection limit of $5 million in the nonprofits studied. Growth above $50 million in revenue requires a revenue stream from Fee for Service to keep government contracts revenue under 90% of total revenue.
  • Two new nonprofits report charitable gifts of $11 and $14 million. These represent Donor Advised giving. Both nonprofits are growing above 20% per year and already have a major voice in education reform and biological diversity.

Conclusion

Government is a major force in financing the social sector. In most cases, the contract triggers agency wide changes to comply. Boards of directors become financial watchdogs instead of protectors of the vision. Ironically, the nonprofits which are failing are those who are the most compliant with government demands!

Healthy nonprofits have to overcome the barrier of multiple funding streams in order to thrive. 10% of total revenue from charitable gifts and fee for service almost guarantees that you won’t run out of cash. And cash is cash!

 

 

*Government contracts are considered donations because there is no exchange with the public. I would argue that improvement of a person and the taxes later received do create the exchange 😊

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