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Bah! Humbug — Why are so many charities ineffective?

In a recent issue of The Economist, an informative article takes a look at social entrepreneurship–the new trend in philanthropy–and asks if social entrepreneurship lives up to its hype. The key, of course, is to know which organizations can and will make the most impact with philanthropy dollars. “Six keys to success” are identified in the article, that help a potential philanthropist measure the effectiveness of a given non-profit.

United Way Capital Area, with its new Community Impact Model and ongoing mission seeks to put these six keys to success in practice–as we build relationships with the Central Texas community, be they government, non-profit, or corporate sector relationships. We know that with all of these groups combined we can make Central Texas a better place to live. It can’t just be up to one person or one group to create a thriving community.

So, what are the Economist’s six keys to success?

  1. Advocate and serve. Delivering a good service is not enough; they need to campaign for political action if they really want to drive massive social change. We see this reflected in our Community Agenda Project and in our voluntary state organization, United Ways of Texas.
  2. The great non-profits do not rely on traditional giving; they work with market forces, generating income where possible. Our work in the area of Financial Stability is designed to help individuals and families maximize and increase their current income, build savings, and gain and keep assets like a home.
  3. Inspire evangelists. Volunteers are not just a source of money and effort; they can be turned into highly effective advocates for the non-profit’s cause. The best non-profits turn their volunteers into strong communities. The impact stories told by some of our volunteers like Peg Hart and William Penny, as well as the enormous success of Hands On Central Texas, speak volumes to this.
  4. Nurture non-profit networks. The new collaborative programs with our funded agencies, as well as our extensive support of non-profit agencies through our Gifts In Kind (GIK) program and Resource Center, show a deep commitment to this.
  5. Master the art of adaptation. As the needs of the Central Texas Community change, so has United Way Capital Area. Our new Community Impact Model was built around intense and careful study of the needs of the Central Texas Community, and we are changing our approach accordingly.
  6. In the best non-profits, the leaders tend to be, if not exactly ego-free, people who share power and make a habit of empowering others. They cultivate a strong second-in-command, build enduring executive teams and thoroughly engage their boards. Everyone who is familiar with the work of our Chief Professional Officer (CPO), David Balch and Board Chairman, Dick Moeller, would attest that they very much fit this description.

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