Where does Denver Institute fit into the broader nonprofit community? Or more specifically, why financially support Denver Institute in your own giving portfolio?
All executive directors of nonprofits think about year-end giving this time of year, and I’m no different. Occasionally, it can be helpful when they make their own case for support and explain where they fit into a broader nonprofit ecosystem.
Most nonprofits exist to pick up the broken pieces of society. Addiction, homelessness, lack of opportunity – take your pick. When society falls apart, the nonprofit community plays a critical role in serving the poor, widow, orphan and sojourner. This is a good, biblical reason to financially support any one of a number of organizations serving the underserved.
But occasionally we must ask, how did society get here in the first place?
What about our leaders, our institutions, and our economy is so broken that it left out such a large percentage of our neighbors? What are the beliefs, values, and norms that have shaped the influencers of society – whether known or unknown – that need to change to build a more just social and economic structure?
These are questions for leaders.
At Denver Institute we form men and women to serve God, neighbor and society through their daily work. We tend to serve leaders and influencers in their respective industries, and we unashamedly believe that leaders, and the decisions they make, are fundamental to a healthy society.
When we think about our charitable giving, we need both a top-down strategy and bottom-up strategies. That is, we should give generously to organizations serving the poor. But we also should give to institutions trying to form future influencers with a solid ethical core who can in turn influence the institutions and systems that often cause the problems nonprofits deal with every day.
Several weeks ago I had lunch with a bright financial advisor. A kind and humble man, I shared an observation with him, “Often our charitable giving is addressing the same problems that we are financing through our investments.” He chimed in with an example: “On the one hand, we fund ministries that help men addicted to pornography. Yet in our investment portfolio we hold companies like Time Warner that sell pornographic channels to their subscribers.”
Here’s where we need to both fund organizations that help with pornography addiction and try to influence the CEOs, business leaders, and investors who can shape the companies that are causing the problem in the first place.
Another example: job training for low-income communities. Numerous nonprofits offer some kind of job training to women and men who are trying to get back on their feet. And so they’re hired by a company, hoping to get their life back together. But a recent conversation I had with a friend who works for the Association of General Contractors went essentially like this:
“The real problem is not in the training, but in the companies that hire them. I’ve seen far too many construction companies treat new employees like just a pair of hands – hours are terrible, there’s no chance for advancement, workplace culture is toxic, and benefits are scarce. We need companies who not just hire people for dead end jobs, but create good jobs where people can find a hope and a future.”
Political philosopher J.P. Nettl can shed light on this debate on how philanthropy can affect cultural change. He thinks we can learn a lot about effective social movements through observing cave formations. There are two type of rock formations: stalactite rock formations come down from the top of the cave. Stalagmite formations, however, come up from the bottom. When stalactite and stalagmite formations meet in the middle they form a single column. Social movements are strongest when both top-down and bottom-up approaches are united.
In our charitable giving, we also may want to consider ways to regularly give to both nonprofits serving the poor and the educational institutions serving current and future leaders.
Denver Institute convenes thought leaders, influencers and future leaders (through our 5280 Fellowship) in an effort to form leaders who will shape their workplaces and organizations for the good of the whole city. We’re certainly not the only organization trying to do this work, but if you’re looking for a nonprofit that’s doing good work in this area to add to your portfolio, consider giving to Denver Institute.
Photo: “5280 Fellows learn from Dan Dye, CEO of Ardent Mills”