Financial Thrivability

I have had google alerts on “thrivability” for three years now, and I was very excited when a recent alert sent me to a press release: The Patterson Foundation Invests in Partner’s Thrivability. When the Patterson Foundation uses the term thrivability, they mean financial thrivability. Our collaborator Kevin Clark has also been working with nonprofits on thrivability plans (rather than business plans because nonprofits are not businesses nor should they pretend to be). He has a template for those plans, if you are interested. I wondered if the Patterson Foundation thought of financial thrivability in the same ways as Kevin Clark.

I was so excited by what I read on the press release that I contacted the foundation to open a dialogue. I have been working as a writer and editor in philanthropy since 2003, and I co-founded Inspired Legacies, a donor education organization catalyzing millions of dollars in philanthropy. And I have been, in that space, particularly interested in innovative forms of philanthropy, so for me, this was doubly exciting. I spoke with their interim COO, Michael Corley.

So often in the philanthropic world, grantees receive gifts on an annual basis or on a short term cycle (such as three years). Executive Directors in small organizations and Development staff in larger ones can devour large amounts of time and energy in a revolving cycle of chasing the next round of funding. I have personally watched an ED devote 50% of their energy to this funds-chasing cycle {note that this is also true in startups seeking funding} This significantly detracts from the organization’s ability to act on the mission they have. Patterson Foundation wants to change that dynamic with their grantees. Debra Jacobs, their president and CEO, explains this perspective on the Patterson Foundation blog in an article entitled: Investing in endowed philanthropy to thrive for impact.

Think of it like incubation. The Patterson Foundation perceives the potential in an organization or collaboration for them to achieve financial thrivability. Over the course of two or three years, the Patterson Foundation works beside the grantee much like an incubator – making connections, providing appropriate consultants, building necessary software and skills as well as financial support, so that the end of the grant period the organization is launched and standing on its own financial viability/thrivability.

What does financial thrivability look like? I am not completely sure yet. We are making this up as we go along. There are likely many ways that can be achieved. In the case of the press release from the Patterson Foundation, this is about creating an endowment that enables the organization to exist into perpetuity. I imagine it can also be the case if we view the philanthropy as seed capital for a social enterprise that is then enabled to grow itself. In the Patterson Foundation blog post it is clear they are also looking for more methods for supporting financial thrivability. Perhaps you have some ideas or suggestions that you can share with us? I have spoken with several donors who believe similar to the Patterson Foundation that the circling back year after year for more funding of programs isn’t as potent in the transformation of our world and organizations as the nudge that philanthropy can give to enable an organization to move toward more self-perpetuating financial methods.

I am eager to see more organizations working in parallel with the Patterson Foundation to incubate socially transformative organizations – both by assisting with financial thrivability and by acting as partners to help organizations learn, evolve, share and take effective action. There is significant waste in the philanthropic process. And I excited to see lead organizations leap in to address those inefficiencies.