Is there one right answer to the question, how many programs can one nonprofit organization operate? Of course, the answer is no because every organization is different. Some are single focused on clients and services. Others provide a multitude of programs, serving different types of clients with different needs.
Here’s a better question. Is the program successfully serving clients? Is it meeting needs? Is it helping to change behavior and improve the lives of those served?
For donors, another question follows.
- Is your gift funding everything they do? That’s called general operating.
- Are you supporting specific programs or projects? That’s called a designated gift.
If you don’t have a preference, and you’re simply pleased it supports a great organization you care about, then maybe you don’t need to read any further.
If you want to support specific work they are doing, keep reading.
Programs come and go for good reason. Sometimes they have accomplished their goal, sometimes the need changes. Often the resources needed to provide the program evaporate such as funding that comes to an end.
Occasionally, services continue but are absorbed into another program, or renamed. It’s up to the board of directors to set future direction and keep services funded. Ultimately, they make decisions that become the answers to a donor’s questions.
So, be sure your designated gift follows your intention, and do this work first. Watch for announcements about changes in their newsletter. Ask volunteers and staff if the program is still offered or has changed in any way. Board members should have some knowledge about programs but may not have all the day to day answers.
Programmatic changes at a nonprofit organization can be frequent and come quickly. They can be a surprise or long expected. In either case, it can be like the surprise I felt to learn Jupiter has 79 moons.
Are you kidding? I’m still trying to get over what happened to Pluto, demoted to dwarf planet status in 2006 because it no longer dominates the orbital neighborhood where it lives.
When I memorized the list of nine planets in elementary school, I don’t recall being warned that changes might come. But they certainly have!
Nonprofit organizations do not start or shut down programs often. However, most of us don’t understand all the different kind of programs a nonprofit might operate as they strive to serve clients. After all, a nonprofit program is just a highly coordinated set of activities that aim to serve a specific client base.
Often, discrete funders support specific programs. Sometimes, they are merely supported by a mixture of all the resources at the disposal of the nonprofit organization.
Donors think about their gifts in different ways. Some prefer to fund successful programs that are tried and true. They are loyal to the organization. Others are adventurous, appreciating the courage it takes to serve clients with innovative ideas and new programs.
The adventurous donor will expect adjustments and changes. They won’t be surprised like I was when Scott S. Sheppard of the Carnegie Institution for Science announced that Jupiter has 79 moons. Instead, it will be reassuring that the organization works to provide the most needed services.
Just in case you’re surprised here’s a quick moon update
Like different organizations with different programs, the moons orbiting planets in our galaxy are varied – Jupiter comes in with the highest count, 79, but Saturn has 53 plus those beautiful rings, Uranus 27, Neptune 13, Mars only two, and of course our home, earth – just one. Poor Mercury and Venus have no moons.
Are no moons better? And what about the one moon orbiting Jupiter that seems to be going backward.? No, I’m not kidding. Questions abound and will continue.
While nonprofits work to provide the best services possible, they are glad to answer your questions.
Donor Questions in this Galaxy
Before you make a designated gift to a program, learn the answers to a few pointed questions.
- How does the program fit into the mission of the organization?
- How many are served by the program?
- Is a small number okay, or are you concerned the program is too costly?
- How is success measured and how often?
Can existing staff/volunteers deliver the program or do they have to hire/recruit more people power?
If it seems like more work than you want to invest before you donate consider what President John F. Kennedy said in an address at Rice University in September 1962, “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”
To make a better designated gift do the hard work first. Then it will mean all the more when someone served by the program you supported gets to walk on their own moon.
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