About: Ilona Bray

Ilona Bray is a former attorney and the author of several Nolo immigration books. Her working background includes both solo immigration practice and working or volunteering as an immigration attorney with nonprofit organizations in Seattle and California.

Recent Posts by Ilona Bray

Backing Up Your Case for Support With Statistics; or Not

brainAs Jerold Panas brilliantly explains in this excerpt from Making a Case Your Donors Will Lovestatistics should be used only sparingly when making a case that your organization needs support due to an identifiable community need. “Statistics have all the spontaneity and passion of drying paint,” while anecdotes “provide action and feeling and more dramatically reveal your organization,” Panas says.

Nevertheless, he notes that there are times when statistics, particularly the impressive ones, can be useful — namely to convey relevance, urgency, or the allure of your program. Where does one find such statistics?

Here are my two cents, drawn from The Volunteers’ Guide to Fundraising.

Finding recent and appropriate statistics, especially to cover a limited geographic area, can be a challenge. But with a little imagination, you can usually patch together credible numbers.

For example, if your group is working to straighten out drug-involved youth, it may be impossible to say how many kids abuse drugs in your area. But you can probably find out the number of teenagers in your area and the percentage that didn’t complete high school, which is a significant indicator of drug-related problems. To this you might add the percentage of kids in the country as a whole (and possibly in your state) who regularly use drugs, and perhaps a quote from a local high school principal pointing out that local teenage drug use is a serious problem.

Here are some tried-and-true online sources of additional hard data:

  • The U.S. Census; still one of the best sources of statistical information, including at the state and county level, on its “QuickFacts” page.
  • The federal “Date and Statistics” page of USA.gov.

Various state and country governments also compile or present statistical information online. See, for example, www.statemaster.com.

Getting Your Nonprofit Ready for Giving Tuesday

calendarIt used to be that nonprofits’ biggest concern at this time of year was roping in those last tax-deduction-seeking donors before December 31st. But this year, December 2nd also requires a big red circle on one’s calendar, as the 2nd annual “Giving Tuesday.” Some groups now view it as the kickoff to their year-end appeals.

What’s Giving Tuesday? Started in 2012 by New York’s 92nd Street Y and the U.N. Foundation, it’s meant to be a complement and, in some cases, a counterbalance to Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday. Instead of entering the frenzy of consumerism around holiday gift giving (mixed, no doubt, with some personal purchases), Giving Tuesday asks people around the world to think about giving back — as in, to charity. As in, potentially to your nonprofit.

In the two years since its founding, the concept has taken off, resulting in millions of dollars of donations, all in one day. If it also results in increased awareness of your organization’s work and brand, the payback may be immeasurable.

Similar to the various shopping days, a lot of the action will be online, and require mobilizing your existing social networks. There is an organization at the core of it all, #GivingTuesday, which doesn’t take donations on behalf of nonprofits, but which nonprofits can partner with. The organization offers various resources and forms of help, including webinars on how best to reach out to donors around this day, and also throughout the year.

Then it will be time to decide what exactly to ask for, perhaps what challenges to issue, and what monetary goal to set around that day. As with most online communications, a vague “Donate to our nice nonprofit!” message will go unheard among all the more exciting (or just loud) noise.

Though many nonprofits have already been planning for weeks, it’s not too late to sign up!

Season of Sugar Begins: Can We Reduce It When Fundraising?

candyNo, I’m not going to become the Halloween equivalent of a Scrooge and give out toothbrushes or apples on Halloween — there will be candy at my door.

Nevertheless, if I can put on my Berkeley hippie hat for a moment, now seems like a good time to reflect on how much sugar gets pushed for a “good cause.”

Meanwhile, increasing evidence is emerging that sugar is a major source of health problems in the United States. (See, for example. the Harvard Health Letter’s “Eating too much added sugar increases the risk of dying with heart disease” and “Eating Sugar Causes Massive Health Problems, Says WHO.”) A cause that helps one clientele while hurting another doesn’t seem so charitable after all.

With all the examples out there of nonprofit bake sales, kids selling cookie and candy, “cake walks” at fairs and auctions, and so on, reversing this tide might seem almost as impossible as, well, reversing an actual ocean tide.

But, the nonprofit sector rewards creativity. Donors’ interest perks up when something new and exciting comes along So, how about it? What other interesting temptations — gustatory or other — can we come up with? At the very least, a Google search for “sugar-free dessert recipes” will yield plenty of possibilities for that next bake sale.

Is It All Bad News Regarding Individual Giving?

2012-Proof-Penny-obv_200What a rush of apparent bad news we’ve seen lately in the realm of recorded or anticipated donations to nonprofits:

Gack. What is going on? Is charitable fatigue actually an infectious virus?

The YMCA puts it down to a sense that the country hasn’t pulled out of the Recession as quickly as anticipated, and thus people are throwing up their hands and figuring it’s up to governments and larger groups to take the lead.

Stacy Palmer, editor of the Chronicle of Philanthropy, told Pender that, “The rich were more affected by the stock market crash than other income groups, and that might be why they were slow to step up giving as a percent of income.” 

But I wonder also whether the barrage of donation requests that we get via email and social media is introducing a new type of fatigue. Admittedly, I’m basing this on a sample of one: me. But every morning, I receive such a long list of email solicitations that I have to delete them without opening if I’m going to get to work before everyone leaves for lunch. All those Bay Area folks on their smartphones are pretty quick to hit the delete button, too.

It takes something exciting and different to make someone navigating the online world — an increasingly important forum for charitable solicitation — pay attention. Something like, perhaps, that ALS ice bucket challenge, which raised about $115 million before finally winding down.

Don’t Let Tax Rules Intimidate When Writing Nonprofit Thank-You’s to Donors

hamsterReading Roger Craver (author of Retention Fundraising: The New Art and Science of Keeping Your Donors for Life) should put a jolt into any fundraiser’s Monday morning, with his analysis of why the nonprofit sector is “hemorrhaging donors and losing millions monthly.”

He’s not just engaging in hyperbole: Apparently, studies by the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) have found that for every $100 brought in from new donors, nonprofits lose another — wait for it — $100, due to donor attrition. Talk about a hamster wheel. 

Number one on Roger’s list of likely reasons is “Failure to properly thank and involve donors.” Really? After all this time? It’s not that I don’t believe him, it’s just that anyone who’s ever written about nonprofit fundraising, me included, has emphasized the crucial importance of thanking donors.

Perhaps this is just another problem that can be chalked up to organizational inexperience, lack of time, or the fact that the entire development department just quit to take a job that pays better. But I wonder also whether nonprofits worry that they might get it “wrong” when writing a thank-you letter, and fail to comply with IRS regulations about thanking donors. (In fact, some nonprofits DO get it wrong, as discussed in my earlier blog, “Fundraising Oops: Thank-You Letter With Backwards Tax Info.”)

There are a few rules worth following — as much for the donors’ sake as the organization’s — but they’re really quite simple. Stephen Fishman discusses them  in his article, “Tax Deductions for Charitable Giving – The Nonprofit’s Responsibilities.” (Also see his book, Every Nonprofit’s Tax Guide.)

But when it comes right down to it, a thank-you letter for a straightforward cash donation can take practically whatever form you like: A letter, a postcard, an email. Just say how much the gift was, and then forget the IRS and get to the heartfelt part of it: gratitude that this person made a gift to help a cause that you all care about.

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