Why is it that the more you give, be it time or money, the harder it becomes? Giving is supposed to be easy, just write a check, sit back, and count the number of mouths your check is able to feed or the vaccinations your dollars will provide, right? Rarely is giving that easy, if it were those mouths would no longer be hungry and those kids would have already long ago been vaccinated. The problem is that the more you give, the more you actually learn about the social sector, and it becomes apparent that your checks just aren’t enough. People ask for more and more and you as the donor start to see the many barriers that prevent social change from actually happening and preventing your check from being effective.

The social sector is plagued by market failures that prevent social change from actually occurring these include issues related to communication and coordination, scaling, funding for infrastructure / growth, interrelated complex issues, and capacity and skill mismatches to name a few. As donors become more involved with the organizations they fund, they begin to see that their dollars can’t go as far as they might because of these market failures. To business people it’s frustrating to see the organizations and causes they care about so limited by factors that should have long ago been sorted out. So, what’s a donor to do? Stand back and watch as the dollars they spend are not able to be fully leveraged?

The truth is that this is where many donors can play an important and incredibly impactful role. Many donors are business people themselves and have experience addressing issues like communication or scaling. The first step is pausing and identifying why the dollars are not actually able to be maximized. Is it a coordination problem or perhaps a skill problem, maybe the organization has a great model but no funding for growth? Likely the answer will require taking a step outside the organization and looking at where the organization sits in the broader space—most of these issues are sector-wide not organizational specific. Then it might take looking around and seeing who is working on these issues in your community such as local non-profit incubators and capacity builders, or groups that coordinate their efforts to create great efficiency. It may take coming up with a solution yourself and funding that solution. Suddenly, you are no longer just writing checks, but you are part of a broader solution that requires, time, thought, skills and funding. It’s no longer just about putting food in mouths of children but changing a sector in order to actually transform the life of a child and many children for that matter. Frankly, that makes giving pretty darn hard!