Consider your place in the financial sustainability conversation
Sara Levy is a partner at the Notley Fund, a philanthropic investment arm of Notley Ventures — a family foundation based in Austin, Texas. Sara is widely known as a philanthropy pro dedicated to scaling up innovative solutions to social problems.
Here, MissionBox co-founder and CEO Kathryn Engelhardt-Cronk talks with Sara about the future of nonprofit financial sustainability.
You're a strategic thinker with deep roots in the nonprofit space. What shifts do you see on the horizon for the philanthropic sector?
We're beginning to see a shift of wealth from the previous generation to the millennial generation. In the next five to 10 years, we'll see an even stronger shift in the way wealth creators choose to give back to the community. Investing for social impact is becoming a major trend, with donors increasingly applying business investment principles to the nonprofit sector.
Why are people so interested in nonprofits thinking more like businesses?
I think it's a recycling of capital, which can be really exciting. People want to see nonprofits scale their impact by thinking in business terms. They want nonprofits to sustain their finances. That's led to a huge push for nonprofits to think about their own sustainability — just as for-profit companies do.
What's your advice to nonprofit leaders in this era of financial sustainability?
I've had the privilege of working both within a direct service organization and on the funding side. I've seen how easy it is for nonprofits to get swept up in the hype of what's going on with a particular funder, or to spend more time chasing funding than focusing on mission and impact. Instead, I would encourage nonprofits to prepare for the push toward financial sustainability. Consider opportunities to develop revenue lines. Think about financial sustainability outside the traditional contributed support model.
What would you say to organizations that struggle with financial sustainability?
The financial sustainability model doesn't work seamlessly for every organization. If your organization doesn't have obvious or self-sustaining revenue lines, that's OK. It can be tough to think about innovative financing options when you're trying to solve a truly systemic problem. And the deeper the work, perhaps the more challenging it is to think through the options.
In these cases, you'll always have traditional funding and you'll always have people who simply give from the heart. Still, there are other ways to think about the shift in institutional funding beyond creating a product or service that can be sold. The key is to think innovatively. Be open to it at the executive level and then foster it among board members. Be creative as you consider what role your organization can play in the conversation about financial sustainability.
Know another visionary leader or organization working for social good? Let us know! Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sara Levy is a philanthropy pro dedicated to scaling up innovative solutions to social problems. Sara is a partner at the Notley Fund, a philanthropic investment arm of Notley Ventures — a family foundation based in Austin, Texas. Sara's previous nonprofit experience includes program work for the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation in Washington, D.C., development and grantmaking for the Robin Hood Foundation in New York City, and communications work for the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative.