Image courtesy of Michael Cline via Flickr


October 3, 2019; KUOW

Again, when we look at the capital that nonprofits have on hand, only one type is financial, and that is leveraged by some of the other types. A recent article by Elizabeth Castillo delves more into the various types, but two of them are “human” and “relational.”

NPQ has reported a bit on what some call a “culture of philanthropy,” a state that occurs in some nonprofits that ends up creating an organization-wide motivation to feed the mission with capital—any kind of capital will do. In organizations where siloed work is the norm and professional credentials are valued above other things, this kind of inspired, all-hands-on-deck work is hard to force into existence. Indeed, it seems based on a shared spirit or will.

Sometimes that spirit can be inspired by a crisis like the one experienced by Sweet Briar College. Its board voted to close, only to have that decision reversed through the hard and persistent work of a loose but strategic coalition of alumnae, faculty, local stakeholders, and students. In that case, a new board was constituted because the old one was unwilling to accept the energy of stakeholders as a capital-building resource. The college is now thriving. Teresa Tomlinson, who provided leadership in that process, says faith in the mission was a major differential.

There was a failure of faith in the mission…A lot of that was coming from generations of administrative leaders and board leaders who were from classes of an earlier date…I think that’s why, when the battle was engaged, that although we had some stalwart leaders from the earlier class years, the initial thrust of the alumna rebellion against the closure decision came from the classes of the ’80s, the ’90s, and the 2000s…the suggestion that the Sweet Briar education was no longer relevant in today’s world was utterly unbelievable to those women…we knew that was a false narrative, and those two facts made the entire conversation a nonstarter for us.

Today’s story has an even more dramatic beginning. The Intiman Theater in Seattle found itself scraping the bottom of its financial barrel and voted to close with less than $10,000 in the bank that it was not free to spend. But even when capital of one kind becomes scarce, it may surface elsewhere in another form.

In this case, employees and theater advocates came forward with an offer to raise enough money for a new start. The board then wisely agreed to the plan to raise $200,000 by the end of the calendar year, leaving the group with $150,000 to start 2020. Half of the goal has already been raised and by the end of the campaign, stakeholders will know that they and their money are needed to maintain the small institution.

Marcie Sillman of KUOW reports, “In August, the theater company was one of five winners of the Seattle Mayor’s Arts Award, an acknowledgement of Intiman’s focus on social justice and racial equity.” But perhaps this new celebration of the theater’s work is even more meaningful, as the mission held in the hearts of its stakeholders provides an even more vibrant stage on which to work. —Ruth McCambridge