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Why innovate when you have $700 million?

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CFT unveils new logo

I was delighted to receive an email from Sarah Nelson, Chief Philanthropy Officer for Communities Foundation of Texas, announcing that the 50+ year-old grantmaker was getting a facelift.

(There is a fantastic video about it here)

My excitement was not because the organization needed it. In fact, I am sure that many feel the rebranding is an unnecessary expense — after all, the organization is hardly suffering from poor branding.

With over $700 million in assets under management, CFT is one of the nation’s larger community foundations and was the #2 donor in the entire state of Texas last year. Over the course of the organization’s history, it has donated over $1 billion to charitable causes (primarily in the North Texas area). In fact, just this past week, I opened up a very nice gift made out to The PLAN Fund from CFT through their annual Hunt Cares campaign.

So, why would I care that they are rebranding?

Because it shows that their leadership is passionate about making an even bigger impact over the next fifty years.

Think about it. You are Brent Christopher, the charming and bow-tied CEO of CFT. You have $700 million in assets under management. You could literally stick your head under your desk and laugh at your remarkable fortune ALL DAY, EVERY DAY and the organization would still be around tomorrow… and for many tomorrows to come.

But he doesn’t do this.

(OK, at least not every day… maybe just every once in a while)

The staff and board of CFT have every reason to sit back and rest on their laurels, allowing their enormous corpus, strong management team and beautiful building to naturally attract millions of dollars each year from high-net worth families that want to give back.

But they don’t.

In fact, I don’t even think that they want to let their donors think in terms of “giving back.” Rather, they are clearly building a movement to educate our community about the return on investment model of philanthropy that CFT has been perfecting in recent years.

This is hardly your father’s or your grandfather’s CFT.

The organization’s leadership — especially their tireless leader, Brent Christopher — has done yeoman’s work at rallying not only the staff and the board, but the entire community, behind these efforts. And they are not done yet!

Check out CFT’s latest annual report, which is available online (something more nonprofits should emulate). It includes a “Giving Guide,” an interactive site that connects donors who have advised funds at CFT with current community needs that align with their charitable interests.

This is a subtle but remarkable shift, and it represents the biggest reason why you should be interested in CFT’s transformation.

It means that CFT is not just sitting back, casually allowing wealthy donors to create designated funds and then even more casually accepting these donors’ assignments of where to send checks.

It means that Sarah Nelson’s job is not raising money: there is a reason that her title is Chief Philanthropy Officer and not Chief Development Officer. While bringing in funding is obviously her role, she and her team do it by becoming evangelists for CFT’s community-impact model of philanthropy.

This is not about hitting fundraising goals. This is about equipping our community’s most generous families with the ability to unleash measurable, meaningful change in the lives of their neighbors and in the neighborhoods that they share.

Nonprofits — they cannot do this without you … without US!

Here is how we can help them:

  1. Do great work.
  2. Track the impact of that work. If it matters, it can be measured.
  3. Share those stories with CFT — even if you don’t receive funding from them. Equip them with the stories that they need to get their donors excited about your work.
  4. Most importantly … don’t think of them as donors. Think of them as partners. We share a common vision for a North Texas community that is stronger, safer, healthier, more educated, with a stronger economy and a vibrant arts culture. Just asking them for money denigrates our relationship with them to a transaction: honoring their work as philanthropy’s ambassadors will allow all boats to rise.

No, this is not your grandfather’s CFT. But I guarantee you that it will be your grandchild’s.

And isn’t that the real goal of fundraising? To transform your donors’ life so dramatically that you are not just getting their money, but you become so tied to their legacy that even their grandchildren know about you.

Congratulations, CFT. Here’s to the next 50 years!

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