In this episode, Andrew Robison of Petrus Development interviews Karen Houghton, founder and CEO of Infinite Giving. Together, Andrew and Karen discuss Infinite Giving’s mission as an investment adviser for nonprofit organizations. Karen shares her expertise in nonprofit financial management, and she and Andrew discuss ways that organizations can leverage modern, financial technology to open up more program funding and attract high capacity donors.
Listen to the podcast here or check out the show notes below:
Karen has a long history in nonprofit management prior to her founding of Infinite Giving. When she experienced burnout from the scarcity mindset that often accompanies nonprofit work. Karen made the jump to a position in the technology sector. After 10 years in the tech industry, Karen took advantage of all of the finance and business skills she acquired, and she took the leap and founded Infinite Giving.
Infinite Giving is a nonprofit investment adviser, and its mission is to leverage modern financial technology as a means to help nonprofits grow their giving. Infinite Giving partners with tax-exempt entities to evaluate the organization’s finances and financial practices, offering advice on best practices and sustainability. Karen outlines the three primary areas in which Infinite Giving offers advice and accompanying services: reserve funds, endowments, and asset giving.
Andrew and Karen spend a lot of time chatting about reserve funds. Karen shares that the industry standard for a healthy reserve fund is 6 to 12 months of operating expenses, and Infinite Giving works with clients to build a healthy reserve. Karen stresses that the existence of a reserve fund is only part of the discussion. Infinite Giving helps clients decide where to hold their reserve funds, and Karen describes how reserve funds need to be in a place that allows for easy access while maintaining buying power.
Karen shares her expertise on endowments with Andrew, and she notes that while endowments are not for everyone, they might be a better fit than many organizations realize. An organization should have a healthy reserve before considering an endowment. Karen outlines different types of endowments, and she highlights the fact that high capacity donors love to give to endowments. She also notes that endowments more easily allow for asset giving (e.g. non-cash gifts of stocks, property, crypto, etc.), and many donors are able to make much larger gifts from their assets than from their cash reserves. Accepting asset gifts pleases donors and allows an organization to ask for much larger gifts from its donors.
Andrew and Karen discuss the need for nonprofits to review and improve their financial management practices. Infinite Giving conducted an analysis of current nonprofit financial practices, and they estimate that U.S. nonprofits lose 5 billion dollars a year to suboptimal financial practices. For example, organizations can have more money for programming if they reduce financial fees and move money out of low interest savings accounts. To close, Karen and Andrew agree that raising money is only one part of nonprofit finances. After you raise the money, you have to manage it well!
As I chatted with Karen, I was so impressed with her financial and technical expertise. She knows so much about things that are just not my area of expertise - endowment types, crypto wallets, tax advantages, and more.
My first takeaway is simply about the need for ministries to seek and hire experts. Many of our smaller nonprofits see companies like Infinite Giving as an unnecessary or unaffordable expense. My discussion with Karen, however, highlights how priceless the advice of experts like Karen really is.
When Karen shared Infinite Giving’s research about how the $5 billion that nonprofits give up annually in fees and lost interest, I was shocked and frustrated. There’s so much additional funding out there that could be used for programs and services, and yet, most of us don’t have the skills to avoid fees, increase asset giving opportunities, or improve our investments. Long story short, organizations need to start prioritizing and budgeting for expert advice. In the long run, there’s a good chance that this expert wisdom will pay for itself.
Along similar lines, my second takeaway also comes from the discussion we had about the estimated $5 billion dollars that organizations leave on the table each year. Karen often speaks about how a fear-driven scarcity mindset limits growth. So often we are scared to change things up from the way they’ve always been done, and that fear can affect decisions of all shapes and sizes, including financial management decisions. Karen astutely reminded us that fundraising isn’t just about collecting money - it’s also about managing it well.
Our donors trust us to use their funds responsibly in service of our organization’s mission, and to best do that, we have to place it wisely in accounts with limited fees and reasonable interest earnings.
The decision of where an organization holds its money might seem like a minor one, but as Karen told us, it’s far from insignificant. I encourage you all to do some research about your financial institutions and about the other options you could consider instead. Make sure that your money management is as smart as all other aspects of your fundraising!
My final takeaway centers on one of Karen’s areas of expertise - asset giving. As Karen shares, many organizations miss out on large gifts because they only accept cash donations. It’s so important for fundraisers to remember Karen’s example of a high capacity donor’s wealth buckets.
Karen noted that a vast majority of a high capacity donor’s wealth is in assets, not cash. By not having ways to accept stocks, properties, and crypto, organizations are limited to a very small percentage, 10 percent maybe, of a donor’s assets. If a high capacity donor is asked for a million dollars from his cash bucket, she may not be able to make it happen. If, however, she can donate from her stock portfolio, the gift becomes much more feasible.
Asset gifts are often the most tax efficient way to give, and so asset gifts can be a win for both the donor and the organization. Thus, if you’re a ministry leader or a fundraiser, put that on your to-do list for the coming months. Start researching ways that your ministry can open the doors to asset giving.