Company Story


The Copley Institute was founded by Dwight Lueth in 2005. It represents Dwight’s commitment to improving practices in philanthropy in a climate where nonprofits are struggling to maintain their effectiveness. Out of concern that the pressures of these times may threaten our communities with the loss of vital nonprofit services, he has drawn on his extensive experience to define simple, affordable solutions to common problems across all sectors of philanthropy.

TCI was founded on three key ideas: 1) that fundraising is an organic process as opposed to a mechanical function, 2) that all sectors of philanthropy must be equally effective in their practices and 3) that the way to promote truly effective philanthropy is an integrated approach that acknowledges and simultaneously addresses needs and problems across all sectors.


These ideas were the outgrowth of the 35 years Dwight has spent assisting organizations within the nonprofit sector, during a time when the enterprise of philanthropy has undergone dramatic changes. In the 1990’s alone the number of nonprofits increased by 50% and there was a similar proliferation in the number of small family foundations. With the turn of the century, fundraising began to find its place on the Internet. All through this period, as philanthropy became a much larger and more complex enterprise, the generalists were increasingly replaced by specialists.

CHANGE PRESENTS NEW OBSTACLES

Ironically, these changes seemed to Dwight to have had the effect of narrowing rather than broadening the perspectives of participants in philanthropy. An example of such an unintended consequence would be a loss of emphasis on fundraising as an organic, integrated process. Specialization and segmentation have to a great extent left nonprofits, family foundations and corporations struggling to work collaboratively and to find mutuality and understanding. From his point of view, what has suffered is the fundamental nature of the relationship between donor and nonprofit.

Dwight’s insight regarding the impact of these changes motivated him not only to name the problems but also to seek solutions. His extensive experience bringing diverse constituent groups together to help them work on effective collaboration led to the idea of providing solutions not just to nonprofit organizations, but to the donors who would support them.

STRATEGIC ENHANCEMENT OF RELATIONSHIPS AMONG NONPROFITS, FAMILY FOUNDATIONS AND CORPORATE GIVING PROGRAMS

Dwight understood that it would be important to look beyond each sector of philanthropy, with its specific interests and concerns, toward an overarching vision of philanthropy as a whole. In this way, he would strive to find solutions for each sector that would maximize the impact of philanthropy by maximizing the synergy between organizations and their supporters. The goal that Dwight envisioned for TCI was to provide a better way for all sectors of philanthropy to enhance their own effectiveness through information, increased understanding and stronger alignment with the other sectors.



GUIDING PRINCIPLES: RELATIONSHIPS MATTER, BUT SO DOES THE DATA

It is a fundraising basic that relationships matter. This is universally true, in the best of times as well as in the worst of times. While it is a theme that is appearing more and more frequently as nonprofits and donors alike struggle with the hard realities of a tough economy, it is not new to us at TCI. Throughout his career as a consultant, Dwight has always emphasized donor cultivation and stewardship.


But the unique value of TCI’s services goes beyond simple knowledge and experience regarding fundraising basics. Our principals have always recognized the equal importance of applying research and data-driven solutions to the practice of philanthropy. A long time ago Dwight recognized that it wasn’t enough to base the indentification and cultivation of major prospects on relationships alone – chance meetings, personal connections or subjective ideas about how much an individual donor might give. He knew from experience that some people were more likely prospects than others. His experience had taught him that people who had a history of supporting philanthropic causes, people with not only money, but a high level of motivation to do something positive, make the best prospects.

Profiling Donors

Dwight took this insight and, in the late 1980’s, began to develop his own proprietary database compiled entirely of publicly available information. He identified major donors who had made two or more significant gifts in recent years in the greater Boston area or Cape Cod. Then he began to track information on them – not just who they had given to but how much they had given; what boards they had sat on, including corporate, foundation and nonprofit boards; what clubs they belonged to; even where they had gone to school. Dubbed “The Prospector,” this database grew to over 5,000 names. The top three hundred of these were individuals who had made four or more major gifts with a top gift in the range of $50,000 to more than $30M.

These names proved invaluable to Dwight’s clients who were embarking on capital campaigns, representing 70% or more of total donations to campaigns he was managing. It also became the primary mechanism for identification of major prospects in the Boston Foundation’s capital campaign of the mid-1990’s.

Providing access to such information as an integral part of the services he offered his clients was an idea ahead of its time. Armed with such solid information, capital campaign committees were able to do a much better job of rating their known prospects, as well as identifying new prospects who would have not only the financial resources but the inclination to give. It increased both confidence and overall success.

Profiling Nonprofits

In tracking and quantifying donors’ giving inclinations, Dwight also had the opportunity to observe that from the donor side, selecting organizations to support can be a very anxiety-producing process. He found that most donors were more comfortable aligning their
philanthropy with better-known, often larger, nonprofits about which more information was available.

It can certainly seem like a safer bet, with less likelihood of being embarrassed, when the path of giving is well worn and there is influential company along the way. In reality, though, there
is no guarantee that the larger the organization, the safer the bet. Witness the scandals surrounding the American Red Cross post 9/11 and following Hurricane Katrina.


Furthermore, gifts to large institutions and major causes do not necessarily provide the best opportunities. Family foundations and corporate giving programs often reflect a particular passion. The desire is to have a significant strategic impact, not just a brief moment of recognition. Understanding that the potential embarrassment of making a bad choice might be constraining their choices and leading to less effective participation in philanthropy, he concluded that donors could use some data-driven guidance as well. Why couldn’t donors, particularly family foundations and corporate giving programs, benefit from having access to detailed information about prospective grantee organizations.

Dwight recognized that certain data is currently available in large databases that rate nonprofits on the basis of objective criteria. These criteria, for the most part, relate to the size and financial stability of the organization. He reasoned that it would be important to add elements of analysis based on years of experience in seeing firsthand what makes nonprofits succeed, and what makes them fail. He would develop an evaluation instrument that could be used to rate a specific nonprofit being considered by a specific donor. Like the “Prospector,” this tool could increase confidence and success, essentially removing the avoidance factor associated with the embarrassment of making a bad investment in a nonprofit.

This reasoning led to the development of TCI’s Nonprofit Evaluation Scale. We work with donors to objectively assess how a nonprofit measures up before we recommend a philanthropic investment. This careful analysis provides our clients with a level of reassurance that allows them to conduct their philanthropy with full confidence in a positive outcome not just for the nonprofit but for the donor.


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