Sustainability in Philanthropy by Huilan Jin

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As a Capricorn, I always prefer to have a clear plan for myself.  Having a destination, routes, and established feasibility is essential before I make any decision or support any cause.  When it comes to deciding which nonprofits to support I appreciate seeing that an organization has put  the same kind of methodical thought and planning into their destination and route as I have.  Here are three elements that I look to as indicators of a sustainable nonprofit.


One of the challenges that most nonprofits face is getting the funding to accomplish the organization’s mission.  There are many, many organizations competing for scarce resources.  Relying only on foundation money or only on government funding is precarious in today’s economic climate.  Even if the organization gets funding this grant cycle does not mean that it will be as fortunate next cycle.

So when it comes to looking at a nonprofit’s finances, I want to see an organization that has diversified funding streams.  This could be a mix of foundation, government, earned income, social enterprise, and/or individual giving.  Seeing a healthy mix of funding indicates, to me, that an organization is thinking ahead and not putting all of its “eggs” in one basket, so to speak.


Staff and volunteers make the magic happen at nonprofit organizations. Having a committed, motivated cadre of staff and volunteers in an organization is essential to realizing the nonprofit’s mission in the community.

In terms of volunteers, keeping them coming back to volunteer is incredibly important. Organizations should understand the different motives for volunteering that individuals have to keep them engaged. Building open and frequent communication between the volunteers and the organization is vital to keep volunteers engaged and establish realistic expectations. Also, showing appreciation through appreciation dinners or other celebration activities is always important. It’s not that volunteers make their decisions based on rewards, but it certainly makes them feel that the work they do is important and appreciated.


A number of studies have demonstrated that collaboration has a beneficial impact on organizations, resulting in less duplication and overlap of services in addition to more efficient and effective services and better outcomes ( see the Nonprofit Sector Research Fund of the Aspen Institute). Collaboration can take many forms, from informal information-sharing arrangements to more formal joint-administrative and joint-programming activities such as combining their fundraising efforts to share in the costs associated with a fundraising event, or collaborate to develop a new joint program.[1]

About the Author

Huilan Jin is a Candidate for a Master of Public Administration at the Illinois Institute of Technology and the Secretary for the YNPN Chicago Executive Board.  Huilan has always been interested in personal development and sustainability for nonprofits which led
her to join YNPN Chicago. She is actively involved in various non-profit
organizations in Chicago including Illinois Education Foundation and Chinese
American Service League.