Too Many Nonprofits Confusing Donors; Collaboration a Must to Solve Big Problems


Kay Sprinkel Grace

There are way too many nonprofits.

That was the blunt observation fundraising consultant and best-selling author Kay Sprinkel Grace made to a couple hundred nonprofit leaders and staff people at Nonprofit Boot Camp, last week in Mountain View.

Her point, that donors are confused by the large number of nonprofits surrounding similar issues and challenges. Donors want to know that their money is going toward solutions, not toward supporting an organization’s existence.

The answer, she said, is in collaboration between nonprofits, government, and business.

“Nobody thinks we can do it alone anymore. We’ve got to partner, we’ve got to collaborate,” she said. “One of our problems is—and I’m here to tell you at a Nonprofit Boot Camp—we have way too many nonprofits. Way too many nonprofits, I’m sorry. And I’m not saying that any of you are not of value. But I’m saying that for our donors it is totally confusing, because donors behave in a “both/and” way, not an “either/or.”

For example, she said donors passionate about the environment are confused by how many groups there are tackling some of the same issues. Donors are more interested in how their money will make an impact, and would rather hear about how groups are working together toward solutions.

Four Beliefs

In her address entitled, “What I’ve Learned About Donors and Social Investment: 30 Years in the Trenches”, she asked the audience to consider four beliefs she had learned over the years.

  • “First of all, people give to you because you meet needs, not because you have needs, just get over it, just get over it,” she said. Grace also asked, “Why are we still called nonprofits? As long as we’re a charity what are we conveying? Need, need, need.” One suggestion was to use the term “public benefit corporation.”
  • “Secondly, a gift to you is not really a gift to you, it’s a gift through you into the community. I choose you because you are a medium for my social investment…and if I get tired of you because you don’t get back to me with your impact, or if you fail to thank me because my gift isn’t big enough,” donors will leave. She also reminded the audience “the impact is not within the organization,” it’s the impact is in the community.
  • Third, “Fundraising is not about the money, it’s about relationships.”
  • Fourth, “All philanthropy is based in values.” Fundraising gives people a chance to act on their values.

Six Major Shifts 

Grace outlined six major shifts she had witnessed in her 30 years of working with nonprofits.

  1. The problems we are trying to solve are bigger. She said she sees a “psychic poverty” among potential donors who are sitting on money, but are fearful of investing money in such huge problems.
  2. New technology gives nonprofits the best tools they’ve ever had to fundraise.
  3. Donors are different than in the past. Donors are interested in WIIFM (What’s In It For Me), and will shop around for nonprofits to support. Donors are most interested in issues, impact, investment, and involvement.
  4. Motivations to give remain the same, however, with donors still wanting to make a difference.
  5. Nonprofits must partner with each other, government, and business, because the problems are too big.
  6. “We are losing our capacity to dream and think big,” she said. “Our whole sector was founded on dreams, your nonprofit was started because somebody had a dream.” Yet, “when we fear, we don’t dream, but when we dream we are willing to take a risk.” Dreams, she said, are a renewable resource and do not cost anything. Nonprofits must keep those dreams active and get them out into the community to inspire potential donors.

Do you agree with Grace that there are too many nonprofits? Tell us what you think about her comments.


  1. I was at Social Media for Nonprofits the next day and heard about Kay’s talk. I was sorry I missed it but now I have this great recap. Thank you!

  2. I should also mention that I work with EHC LifeBuilders and Second Harvest Food Bank, both of which are great collaborators. ECH is a lead in the Housing 1000 collaborative, and Second Harvest distributes its food through 300 partner agencies.

  3. Pam Marino says:

    You are welcome, Claire! Kay’s talk was definitely a highlight of Nonprofit Boot Camp. Silicon Valley has got a mighty big problem in the disparity between rich and poor, and it’s great that both EHC LifeBuilders and Second Harvest are working positively to help.