The Nonprofit Quarterly (NPQ) just posted a response to an article in the St. Paul Pioneer Press about the St. Paul Foundation’s challenge to the community to find the best idea to improve the city. The winner would get $1,000 and the rest of the $1M would be given to a nonprofit to administer the money. Now, $825K has been spent, and there’s not much to show for it.
Some are chastising the Foundation for investing in an idea that clearly needed much more than $1M. Others are disappointed that $825K has been wasted when it could have been used in so many other ways to support the community. NPQ can’t believe that the Foundation hasn’t issued a mea culpa.
Sure, it’s a “lesson learned” for the Foundation, and the funding community overall. But it’s also a lesson learned for all of us. Nonprofits come up with great ideas all the time. Some are dead in the water, some are innovative, and some needed to be implemented yesterday. But nonprofits rarely have the time – er, the capacity – to conduct a feasibility study to understand the energy, resources, and time needed to achieve success. Thus, nonprofits will pitch an idea without really knowing or understanding the resources needed. And then two years down the road, they have to shutter the program. And the nonprofit learns that it should have planned better. And the funding community realizes that it should have asked tougher questions – or backed a feasibility study before supporting the program. But supporting the program is what is most appealing, and what makes us all feel good. And sometimes it means that we all have to do our own version of mea culpa. Although, hopefully, it won’t get on the front page of our local paper.