#135 Sybil Speaks: Enhance Your Giving Strategy With an Expert Intermediary

Jul 03, 2023

In this episode of Sybil Speaks, host Sybil talks about the benefits of hiring an expert intermediary to make a difference in your giving strategy. An intermediary is a staff person or consulting firm who acts as your fiduciary in advising you to give away your donations to worthy causes. They are an expert in the area you work on and can help you with the fundraising strategy you otherwise would not discover by yourself.

Episode Highlights:

  • The benefits of hiring an intermediary
  • The challenges to consider when hiring an intermediary
  • What can happen if you go it alone without an intermediary?

Sybil Ackerman-Munson Bio:

With over 20 years of experience as a nonprofit professional and foundation advisor, I work with philanthropic institutions and foundations interested in successful, high-impact grant making, so you can make a true and lasting positive contribution to the world on your terms.


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If you enjoyed this episode, listen to these as well:

·        https://www.doyourgood.com/blog/68-richard-leong

·        https://www.doyourgood.com/blog/124-Joanna-Kerr

·        https://www.doyourgood.com/blog/133-rebecca-darwent


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Full Transcript 

OK, so you're stressed out. You're busy with life. You want to make a difference, but you don't know if you're the donations you're giving are making such a difference. I don't want this to be you. I want you to give with purpose. So that's why I have all of my special free mini-courses to teach you how to do it yourself. 

However, if you're just so busy and you feel like, oh, Sybil, I don't have time to do all of the training it takes to be a good giver, and it does take training. It's a profession. People like me and others, we do this full-time. It's not easy. 

So, while I still do have all of my great courses and many courses and stuff I want you to check out. I also want to take this entire month to talk to you about the benefits of hiring someone like an intermediary who can serve essentially as your support, and who's an expert in the issue you care about to make a difference.

So, in this Sybil Speaks episode, I'm going to talk about whether you should continue to go it alone in your funding strategy or if you should hire an intermediary to make a difference in your specific giving strategy. 

So, I've been looking forward to this discussion about intermediaries because it's something that I feel very passionate about and Full disclosure about my bias, I believe that intermediaries are very important because this person serves as the expert. To help you make a difference.

So, let me first tell you about tell you what the definition of an intermediary is. An intermediary is a staff person or a consulting firm who acts essentially as your fiduciary in advising you to give away your donations to worthy causes. The intermediary is hired or contracted by you to carry out your vision of a successful given giving strategy, and this person's an expert in the area you work on. And so, they can help you. 

This is in contrast to a nonprofit’s loyalty, which is first to fundraising for their organization. While this isn't a bad thing, a successful nonprofit will be good at explaining to you how its mission fills your vision of success. But remember, it remains wedded first and foremost to its organizational priorities and mission. This works well when your mission dovetails well with theirs. If you're a person who likes to give and be effective, you can sometimes tell that there might be more nonprofits working on an issue you care about. And maybe this nonprofit's not telling you the whole story. 

Maybe there are certain experts you'd like to talk to that might not already be fundraising from you to understand a bigger picture, all those kinds of things. And you're like, oh, I don't have time. I don't have time to dig into it. I'm getting burnt out. Sybil, what do I do? That's where an intermediary comes in. 

OK, so we're now going to talk about the benefits of hiring an intermediary. And then I want to talk to you truthfully about the costs, also of hiring an intermediary, and then some examples that I've seen real-life examples of where you just these are hypotheticals that you don't want to go down.

So, to convince you to like really think seriously about this. Benefits of hiring an intermediary. There are three primary benefits that I see. 

First, you want to hire an intermediary if the problem, you want to solve is complex. An intermediary, who's an expert on the issue, can help you with the fundraising strategy you otherwise would not discover by yourself, because these experts know their stuff.

Number two. If you're worried that you're in a funder bubble, which means you really can't get the full story on any issue because the people around you are saying yes because they want to raise money from you, you can hire an intermediary to navigate truth from fiction. Since they're experts, oftentimes they can break through any of the things where you might be. You be getting too many yes people trying to tell you and pitch you, their stuff. The intermediary can break through that. That's number two.

Number three if you're busy with daily life and you just don't have time to research the issues you care about, but you want to give meaningfully, an intermediary can help you, and they can give you peace of mind because they can do that careful research and networking required to ensure your funding strategy proceeds smoothly. 

The challenges though, to consider when hiring an intermediary to consider excuse me when hiring an intermediary are number one, hiring an intermediary does cost money that could otherwise go to the nonprofits you want to serve. So really think about that. 

Number two you must be willing to trust your intermediary, which often means you have to stand back from the day-to-day activities related to your giving strategy to be most effective as a partner with your intermediary. Essentially, by hiring an intermediary. As a donor, will serve more like a board member at a nonprofit you'll be interested and invested. You won't be like the staffer who every single day is the expert and is in charge of moving forward with the vision. And in your case, it's your vision. It's the intermediary who's in charge of the day-to-day strategies. Once you hire somebody like that. 

So that is something you want to be truthful with yourself about is are you too busy. Are you willing to stand back? Do you trust the person you've contracted or hired to give you recommendations for your ultimate funding strategy? It's a very important relationship, you need to take time and care in picking the person. 

Number three you need to be committed to giving enough money away so that an intermediary can help you develop your strategy. If you already have one to two to three nonprofits that you love and you give to every year and you're pretty much happy and you're not feeling stressed out, then you probably don't need to hire an intermediary. You're more of a sustainer funder, that loves the groups you're funding. That's great; but if you're someone who has any angst at all, the intermediary can help. 

You might be listening to this and you might say, Sybil, wait a minute here. You know, I sort of want to do this, but I'm not sure I want to go all in. I'm not sure I want to stand back as much as you're talking about. I still want to be as more… even more engaged. Well, there's an alternative for you if you want the benefits of having an intermediary but don't want to go all in yet, you can join a pooled fund, which is a fund of folks who are like you, who care about the work; and they're all pooling funds, and they've all usually there's an expert that's helping direct those funds. And so, then you can put money in there and work with other funders. And then there's an expert that's sort of jointly funded by all of you to make it happen. Or you can do a joint giving strategy more officially with others. 

There are plenty of examples of this type of strategy if you go this route, you can still be fully engaged. You'll gain expertise on the issues, and you'll be with fellow funders, but you won't have to go at it alone. Of course, the downside is you'll still need to commit the time, because all of these different funders and everyone, they're still going to be fundraising from you? You won't have an intermediary who's 100% in your camp and is fully committed to just making your specific funding strategies a success. However, this is a good alternative if you're not ready to go all in. 

And I've in past podcast episodes, I've interviewed folks who do some of this kind of pooled funding examples I talk about. I have interviews with folks from renewal philanthropy. Also, an example from the Willamette we give  guide, Make Way Foundation and Philanthropy Together are just a few of those examples in my show notes. I have a list of All of those episodes, and I welcome you to go back and look, and listen to those if you haven't already. 

All right, before I leave you today, I want to talk about some hypotheticals. What could happen? What happens and what can go wrong without an intermediary? These are real-life examples, although I did change the facts just a little bit to make sure they stay anonymous because I never want to out anyone who's making mistakes. I always just want to support you, but I want to use these mistakes to help incentivize you to think seriously about hiring an intermediary. If you feel it's right for you. 

The first hypothetical that I want to explain is a real-life hypothetical is first a donor comes to a pivotal strategy meeting with a bunch of experts. After reading only one article that convinced them of a solution, this donor states loudly at the beginning of the meeting full of experts that the answer lies in that one article, as a result, no one felt they could push back at this meeting because the donor was the biggest one in the room, and what ended up happening is that the entire project imploded because The buy-in was minimal, even though seemed like the buy-in wasn't minimal at the actual meeting, the donor put a bunch of money in, it fell apart, and then the donor was like, what happened? Why did this all fall apart? There was lots of money wasted and time wasted because of the way this donor entered the room. 

If this donor had had an intermediary, the intermediary could have worked on and researched a whole bunch of different questions; the donor could have been quiet because they could have been briefed by the intermediary ahead of time, and then really, they could have heard from all of the folks in their room with the ideas and probably the solution would have been different from what that one article suggested. 

OK, here's a second of what I see as a Horror Story. That I want you to avoid. A donor has a long list of grants that they get. About it's like I call alphabetical order given it's like you just have this long list and it keeps getting longer every year. As a result, the donor is losing connection with the groups. They get pitched every year and more and more nonprofits enter their field of interest. Over time, there's no understanding of how these groups fit together to work on the issue altogether about what the donor cares about. In the end, this is the Horror Story part; the donor just stops giving to that particular issue altogether because they just lost their passion and reason for giving, to begin with. And so instead, they end up found in a completely different place. Those nonprofits like, wait. What happened? What? That's what happened. There was nobody to help the donor, who was busy with day-to-day life staying connected with the true cause of what they're doing. 

OK, a third Horror Story to me, families trying to work together to make a difference. So, it's a lot of times when I see more than one. It's usually giving if you give money away, you're doing it in partnership with your spouse, with your kids, with other friends. Usually, that's what happens. 

 And so, in this Horror Story, to me, a family is trying to work together to make a difference. But none of the family members have the time to devote to the issue, so every meeting ends in that sort of fight over whether they're giving strategies effectively. But there's no intermediary to help them discuss it. Who's an actual expert in the field? And so, what ends up happening is the family gets disillusioned, really stressed out, and in the end, the result, what happened here is that the family split up. They ended up going their separate ways and that means that a lot of the nonprofits and the issue that they were funding together, that funding just stopped. 

Now those family members then went and did their separate thing, and now they're rebuilding and passionate in their way. However, this could happen again, in the future. And so, an intermediary can sometimes help. Both with the conversation around OK, if the family members aren't getting along because there are just differences in where they want to go, they might want to do two different foundations, and the intermediary can help make that change, and that split happen much more cleanly so that the nonprofits have a clear spend down like they know, OK, this Family Foundation is going to leave the issue, but in a couple of years, things like that. 

A lot of times the intermediary can sort of serve as that helpful buffer. Instead of having the split up be very immediate, very extreme, and all of a sudden, the nonprofits are like, oh my gosh, this money that we've depended on is gone. And I lived that as a nonprofit person, too, where I was relying on a few key donors. And one of them left and went the other way. Now that's a lesson for me as a nonprofit person, too, not to depend too much on one or two donors. However, it does matter. The nonprofits feel it. 

And so, an intermediary can help with that transition. All right, those are the three scenarios. There are so many more. I think that probably if you're listening to this, you're thinking about other ones like, oh my gosh, I want to avoid this. 

So interestingly, there's not a list of intermediaries that you can hire, but if you're interested in a specific field and in digging into this more, you usually can find those people by asking questions of your colleagues, your funder Colleagues, your friends. But be sure that if you hire someone, they have experience in giving money away to nonprofits and donations. Because if they don't, it is a big learning curve, but there are intermediaries. 

I'm a person that does this in the environment, natural resource field, and also when folks want advice on how to structure their giving strategy and a whole bunch of other pieces. As you know from my work, there are many people like me out there, so I do suggest that you seek them out. If you feel this is important, so for this month I am interviewing a few intermediaries, I'm rerunning some episodes where I talked to some amazing intermediaries and hats off to all the folks that are working so hard to make sure that your giving strategy is as effective as possible. 

So, I could write an entire book about this topic, but I'll stop here. I hope this gave you really good food for thought. Have a wonderful rest of your day and be well and do your good.