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

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.

The Message of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge for Other Nonprofits

earth iceCould anyone have predicted that this would be the next big fundraising  strategy to go viral and bring in big bucks? You’ve by now no doubt heard about the ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) Association‘s challenge, in which social media participants dare friends to either videotape themselves being doused by a bucket of ice water or donate $100 to ALS research. (Doing both is fine, too.)

Who wants ice over their head, after all? (Brrrr.) And how many people have been personally affected by ALS, a disease that — while awful — affects only about two in 100,000 people, which isn’t exactly a recipe for fundraising success?

But this one somehow caught on. The likes of Bill Gates, Jennifer Lopez, Mark Zuckerberg, Lena Dunham, George Takei, LeBron James, Oprah Winfrey, and Justin Bieber have all taken the challenge. As of this morning, it had brought in nearly $23 million — enough to have Forbes magazine writing about what the organization will do with all the money.

Why did it work — and how can other organizations replicate it? My analysis = Embrace people’s narcissism. Critics of the challenge complain that it produces “slacktivism,” in which people advertise their interest in a good cause but don’t actually do anything about it. But that’s turning out to be not such a bad thing, if some people do do something about it, namely donate and spread the word.

Facebook, Twitter, and other social media outlets are essentially places where people try to make their friends think that they’re doing interesting and exciting things all the time. (No one is convinced, but never mind.)

Yet now that we’ve all Facebooked and Tweeted the contents our latest travel photos and breakfast images a million times over, everyone from ordinary mortals to celebrities, is looking for new content. Preferably content that shows the person in a good light. So back to the ALS challenge: A video that’s easy and cheap to produce and that depitcs someone as humorous, slightly daring, and ready to support a worthy cause, fits the bill on many levels.

Now we just need to replicate that formula for the next big thing. Hmmm.

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