Four Important Lessons from SI’s 2022 Nonprofit Leadership Summit


How can nonprofits excel during volatile times? The event’s speakers had some insightful answers


From the lingering impact of the pandemic to instability in the economy, these are uncertain days for many nonprofit organizations. So how can they excel while operating in such a volatile world?

That was the theme of the Satell Institute’s 2022 Nonprofit Leadership Summit, held October 25th at the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia. Attended by more than 125 Satell Institute CEO members, Nonprofit Affiliate leaders, and invited guests, the sharply run, high-energy conference showed off the unique role the Satell Institute plays in promoting Corporate Social Responsibility.

“Many nonprofits tell us that they feel one of the best things we do is to hold these informational summits for nonprofit CEOs,” Ed Satell, founder and Chairman of the Satell Institute, said in opening remarks. “You are important. Summits like this help you learn from peers and grow as leaders, and today, like the businesses that support you, you’re facing more challenges than ever before.”

“The whole point of today is to walk out of here with ideas,” added Michele Juliana, Principal at RSM and summit chair. “Something not just to think about, but to do.”

The presenters didn’t disappoint. Here are four useful takeaways from the day:

1. The economy has challenges, but it isn’t in crisis.

Matt Haggerty, Nonprofit and Education Senior Analyst at RSM, gave the keynote presentation, focusing on what’s happening in the economy, stock market and labor market. His conclusion: while there are challenges — high inflation, rising interest rates, supply chain problems — the economy isn’t in crisis and doesn’t appear to be headed for one. Although the U.S. saw two consecutive quarters of negative GDP growth in the first half of the year, the country is not in a recession, thanks to strong employment, payroll and consumer-spending numbers. Economists estimate there’s a 45 to 50 percent chance the economy will slip into a recession within the next 12 months, but Haggerty believes it would be relatively mild if it occurred. “The chances of it being deep are very very slim,” he said.

While the financial markets have endured record losses in 2022—stock and bond markets are down more than 30 percent—Haggerty noted they’ve essentially just given back the big gains that were seen in 2020 and 2021, putting portfolios roughly where they were in 2019.

Finally, Haggerty offered that the “Great Resignation” is likely not a temporary phenomenon, but the new normal. The labor market has been tight since 2015, and it will continue to be tight in the years ahead. While the disruption of COVID exacerbated the situation, demographics are the real driver of what’s happening: a relatively small number of young people are entering the job market while the large Baby Boom generation is now retiring.

2. Nonprofits need to do their homework when it comes to funders.

Jay Culotta, Chair of the Wawa Foundation, offered the first rapid-fire presentation, emphasizing the need for nonprofit organizations to understand what funders’ priorities are when they’re making an ask. Culotta noted that Wawa—which receives more than 1100 funding requests per month—looks closely at each request to see how well it aligns with the foundation’s focus on health, hunger and everyday heroes. He said that nonprofit leaders need to do their homework on funders—because funders are doing their homework on nonprofits.

“You shouldn’t try to fit a square peg into a round hole,” he said. “You really want to put your efforts into finding an organization whose focus aligns with your mission.”

Tynetta Brown, CEO of Philanthropy DE, echoed the need for alignment, while adding that over the last three years funders have made changes to their approaches. Brown noted that some funding organizations have loosened reporting requirements, while paying more attention to systemic inequities. In light of that, “The perspectives of our neighbors’ lived experiences are also factored into funding decisions,” she said.

The goal for nonprofits should be to forge deep, ongoing relationships with funders. “Positioning your nonprofit organization to excel — in alignment with the strategic imperatives or social responsibility goals of your funders – provides opportunities to build champions across the business or funding entity and engage them in your mission and ensure that you move beyond a transactional, obligatory relationship to a more sustained, trust-based philanthropic experience.”

3. Pay attention to who, where and why.

In his remarks, Greg Hagin, Principal and Managing Director of CCS Fundraising, offered a helpful, data-driven overview of the state of philanthropic giving. Hagin showed that 85 percent of all philanthropy comes from individuals, either through direct gifts, bequests or private foundations, with companies and large public charities each providing an additional 5 percent. As for where the dollars go: religious organizations, education and community services are the top three areas that receive support. Perhaps most intriguing was why people and organizations make contributions. While things like tax benefits and name recognition can play a role, “at the top of the list is the impact of the gift – the demonstrable outcomes and impact of the commitment,” Hagin said.

4. Communicate, communicate, communicate.

In the final rapid-fire presentation, Marc Brownstein, CEO of the branding firm Brownstein, offered strategies for how nonprofits should be connecting with their various constituencies. First and foremost is consistency—maintaining a dialogue with past, present and future funders. “It’s like watering a plant,” Brownstein said. “If you stop nurturing it, those relationships dry up.”

Brownstein also emphasized the need to be candid with audiences. “Candor is king,” he said. “Don’t try to spin something. People are too smart today. Be transparent. Express your need. People understand that nonprofits run into trouble from time to time. Use that to create empathy because empathy will turn into more donations.”

The summit concluded with SI’s hallmark Idea and Experience Exchange, in which leaders sat together to discuss issues, ideas and best practices in the nonprofit world.

After the event, attendees talked about the value they got from both the conference and the unique role of the Satell Institute. Leslie Benoliel, President and CEO of Entrepreneur Works, noted that her most valued takeaways included the importance of nurturing relationships and exploring innovative ways to partner with other organizations.

“I sincerely appreciated the varied stats, advice and optimistic inspiration that I so greatly needed to have coming out of the pandemic,” added Emily Vincent, Executive Director of the Center for Loss and Bereavement.

“I enjoyed spending in-person face time with the attendees,” said Rob Stiles of Haverford Trust. “Great format. Nice diversity of panelists.”

The Satell Institute is the leading CEO member organization dedicated to Corporate Social Responsibility. Corporations become members by pledging a minimum of $25,000 per year for four years to at least one nonprofit organization of its choice. The sponsored organization automatically becomes a Nonprofit Affiliate.

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