Why Should You Care About High-Impact Infrastructure Organizations?
By Peter Brach, Ed.M.
High-Impact infrastructure organizations (HIIOs) are the critically needed yet unseen underpinning that amplifies social and environmental progress in countless localities from the community level to the international. They don’t only help increase impact with one or a few causes, they affect many. HIIOs are involved in everything from relieving poverty to preserving democracy — saving the environment to achieving equity, inclusion, and social justice — helping refugees to preventing the collapse of entire civil societies. A diverse range of examples of infrastructure organizations include the Council on Foundations, National Council of Nonprofits, Grantmakers for Effective Organizations, GivingTuesday, VolunteerMatch, and TechSoup.
I believe HIIOs are as vital to achieving social good as preserving the rainforests are to keeping natural ecosystems in balance. That is a big statement. The rest of this blog post explains why I feel so strongly about investing in building the infrastructure today so we can all work more inclusively, productively, and equitably tomorrow.
We need to work together to build a bigger pie so many more of us will have what we need to increase our impact. That is what HIIOs do. Collectively, they achieve broad impact and increase the flow of development, charitable, human, social investment, career, and political capital. They train the next generation of leaders. They build partnerships among members, within communities, across sectors, and very importantly, with governments that spend far more on development than philanthropy. A few work with bilateral and multi-lateral organizations that disperse large sums of capital as well. Some HIIOs undergo research, publish findings, provide media resources, serve as publications, disseminate best practices, offer peer-to-peer learning opportunities, create giving circles, increase access to relevant and timely information, and help funders increase impact otherwise.
Every day we fail to create a bigger pie, time and potential impact is lost. Unfortunately, there are no ways to measure the opportunity loss caused by what I and some of my colleagues believe is one of the biggest yet unseen problems of our time: The infrastructure shortage crisis. If it were possible to measure the actual opportunity loss, I believe most of us would be quite alarmed.
Millions of low and mid-level private donors collectively donate billions of dollars annually. However, many work in isolation when ideally, they would connect with others to learn the best ways to achieve impact. Most private donors don’t know what it means to fund with an equity lens, a gender lens — what it means to support capacity building, bottom-up community development, or engage in impact investing. With smart strategies and sufficient funding, this could be changed, with more money generated and a bigger pie created to support a wide range of causes.
Some billionaires and other high-net-worth individuals (HNWIs) have connected to the grid. They belong to organizations such as Nexus Global, Synergos, Generation Pledge, or The Philanthropy Workshop, which collectively have over $750 billion of assets under management from their membership. These organizations not only increase large amounts of charitable and development capital but also educate these members to give it away more efficiently, effectively, equitably, and ethically. However, because of non-solicitation policies and the awkwardness involved with contractual relationships, these organizations are significantly under-resourced. 1) How could we help such organizations connect more HNWIs to the grid, 2) increase charitable and development capital, and 3) help these individuals give away money more efficiently, effectively, ethically, and equitably?
- Organizations such as TechSoup, the National Council of Nonprofits, and Resource Alliance collectively reach a million plus nonprofit and social impact organizations. But largely due to resource shortages, they haven’t scratched the surface regarding improving the effectiveness of this massive number of organizations. What could we accomplish with a sufficient focus on supporting HIIOs such as these?
- We’ve made good strides in capturing the best innovations and organizing efforts to scale them, but with the right strategies and resources, much more could be done. How can we develop better networks to increase collaboration, communication, cooperation, and coordination of efforts to identify best innovations and bring them to scale?
- As more people reach retirement age, this population could provide extensive human resource capital. What could we do to harness these assets?
- We are hitting the biggest generational transfer of wealth of all time. What can we do to productively funnel some of the trillions of dollars the next generation will inherit over the next 15–25 years?
I ask readers to take a minute to try to do the impossible: Take just the four bullets above and add them together: Improving the functioning of nonprofits, increasing the outcomes of innovation, capturing those retiring as volunteers, and preparing for the largest wealth transfer of all time. Add to this all else mentioned. Finally, multiply these by every day, week, month, year, and decade we delay in building that bigger pie. Perhaps some will agree that the opportunity loss is beyond staggering.
We are operating at half throttle at a time when we need to be moving full speed ahead. It almost doesn’t matter how important our causes are, or effective our interventions may be. We are facing unprecedented problems and need unprecedented solutions. All of our efforts could eventually fail, or be greatly compromised, if we don’t at least put some portion of our giving toward building the infrastructure, connective tissue, and engines of the future we need.
The final reason you should care about HIIOs is because under the right circumstances, the opportunities to achieve impact is enormous. Some have exceptional reach and leveraging capabilities. And in some cases, relatively small amounts of funds could improve their ability to perform. At times, individuals could even pool funds. Very often, what HIIOs need most is additional human resources. These needs range from helping to hire a part-time volunteer coordinator to building a team of communications and development personnel.
Each of us has causes we care about, and we should work in our respective areas of interest. However, the result when we only support individual causes is that a tiny percentage of giving goes toward building a future when all of us will have the resources needed to achieve significant impact. Many of us are short not only on financial and human capital — but on access to data, advisors, mentors, connections, and many tools that lead to success. If more are willing to dedicate some portion of their giving — to help build infrastructure — we could create a bigger pie and most likely have far greater resources available to go around.