Category Archives: General Fundraising

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.

Plus Side of Not Receiving Huge Donations: No Need to Return Huge Donations!

cash_handsIt seems there’s been an epidemic recently of nonprofits either having to, or deciding to, return money to disgraced donors.

On the “having to” list, just this week the Wall Street Journal reported that the College of St. Benedict in Minnesota had agreed to give up one-fifth of a $3 million gift that businessman Tom Petters made way back in 2003. Petters was later convicted of operating a Ponzi scheme that brought him billions of ill-gotten dollars. 

After more than a decade, the college had probably found plenty of uses for that money, and might have been happy to ignore Petters’s later troubles. Enter, however, the bankruptcy court that’s overseeing the collapse of the Petters empire. The court decided to collect any and all stolen funds in order to turn them over to creditors, and the College of St. Benedict was apparently a recipient of such money. (Figuring out which money is tainted and which isn’t sounds like an accounting nightmare, by the way.)

On the “deciding to” give up tainted money list, several groups are reportedly saying “Ptooey” to money that came from “disgraced Clippers owner Donald Sterling.” (It seems that Sterling will never be referred to any other way — sort of like, “Military Strongman Idi Amin” or “Pop Star Madonna.”) The list includes Goodwill Southern California (bye-bye $100,000) and A Place Called Home.

Hmm, maybe A Place Called Home didn’t actually return any money. Its public letter said, “I must decline further funding from your foundation and ask you to immediately remove A Place Called Home and my photo and name from your ads.”

If true, that’s a clever public relations move — denounce the donation loudly and publicly, but keep the cash. I’m not unsympathetic: The money was probably well-spent by now.

But if the Internet and public fascination with infotainment is going to keep producing high-profile scandals like this, more and more nonprofits are going to have to do ethical deep-think around funds that came from the latest “Disgraced So-And-So.”

Meanwhile, grassroots groups whose average donations are $25 checks from local families can hopefully sit back and feel grateful that they’ll rarely have to deal with such huge amounts coming in — and then going back out.

 

 

 

 

 

Do Donation “Discounts” Devalue Nonprofit Brand?

stormThere’s a winter storm coming in, and I’m not talking about the weather. It’s the relentless flurry of emails from both commercial and nonprofit marketers, all wanting to get my attention and hopefully the last of my end-of-year dollars for either gifts to people or gifts to charity.

They’re all starting to sound bizarrely similar, especially when it comes to “discounts.”  Taglines like “Adopt a wild animal for 50% off!” or “Membership half price through 2013!” are not uncommon.

I get it that, in some cases, you’re literally getting something for less, like a regular newsletter reporting on the nonprofit’s doings. But in others, the nonprofit is actually promising to provide the same service for less money. And that’s disturbing, when our whole notion of nonprofits is that when they ask for something, or tell us, “It takes $x to save a wild animal,” they didn’t build in a profit margin. They’re a nonprofit, after all.

I assume that someone out there is testing these supposed discounts, and that they work to get email readers’ attention. But what are the long-term implications of convincing donors that, like a for-profit company, your original “price” was just puffery, and you’re actually willing to do the job for less? I predict some rough sailing ahead.

If Reich Is Right, Should You Forget About Attracting Wealthy Donors?

stairwayNo matter what type of cause you fundraise for, Robert Reich’s recent blog, “When Charity Begins at Home,” is relevant to your work. Reich makes a convincing case that:

  1.  — Wealthy donors are increasingly removed from, and therefore uninterested in, the less fortunate members of society, and
  2.  — Even the purported generosity of affluent Americans is directed mostly at causes that directly serve them in return, such as their colleges, favorite music and arts institutions (for “hobnobbing” with their fellow elites), and so forth.

There’s a certain sense of inevitability about this. We’ve all read the headlines about the social divide between rich and poor increasing. And it doesn’t take a social scientist to tell us that people (potential donors included) have less sympathy for people whose lives seem utterly alien to them.

So, where does this leave nonprofits who do serve the poor, or immigrants, or workers, or the disabled, or any other group that’s not on the radar screen of the 1%?  Other than frustrated, that is.

Simply recognizing the dynamic that’s at work is a good start. That will help avoiding wasting your time courting prospective donors who may never be interested in your cause.

It may also change your language and approach. Think about, for instance, how your cause interests wealthy donors at a personal level. Find tie-ins between the lives of those you serve and those of your prospective donors. If, for instance, you’re working with a particular young immigrant or a youth who has been accepted into an Ivy League college but is hindered by something that you’re trying to help with, that person’s story might be a good one to highlight. Work those points of connection!

New Donor Group Interested in Charitable Deductions: Same-Sex Married Couples

iStock_000000131834XSmallAs explained by Sandra Block in the December, 2013 issue of Kiplinger’s Personal Finance, this is the first year in which same sex couples who have entered into a marriage that’s legal where it occurred are also considered married for federal tax purposes.

(At last count, 16 U.S. states and the District of Columbia offer same-sex marriage.)

This has some important implications for such couples’ interest in tax matters. As with any married couple, says Block, dual-income same-sex couples “who earn about the same amount will likely end up paying a marriage penalty.”

But nonprofits should be happy to hear one of Block’s suggested ways to avoid or reduce the penalty:

Increase contributions to charity, and take a tax deduction.

If you’re with a nonprofit that promotes LGBT marriage and other rights, you’re particularly well-placed to remind potential donors about the importance of this deduction. But, as society is finally figuring out, gay and lesbian folks come from all walks of life, and may have multiple interests.

Therefore, any charity should be thinking about how to reach out to newly married donors (of the same or opposite sex, come to think of it) who are seeing, for the first time, some significant tax benefits to giving to their favorite cause.

Forbes Publishes List of U.S. Nonprofits With Most Individual Donations in 2013

cash_handsIf you’re with a small or struggling nonprofit, get ready for some pangs of jealousy: Alth0ugh Forbes calls them the “largest” U.S. charities, its top-50 list for 2013 actually uses “private donations received” as its “main metric” for inclusion.

Together, the listed nonprofits pulled in $30 billion worth of donations this past year.

Not surprisingly, you will have heard of many of these: United Way, Salvation Army, and . . . Task Force for Global Health?

Okay, I hadn’t actually heard of them. But as a newcomer to the list, they’re clearly a group to watch. What are they doing right, to have rocketed to the third spot on the list? It looks like most of their giving (to the tune of $1.7 billion) was not in the form of cash, but donated medicines.

Still, one has to admire a couple of fundraising-related aspects of the Task Force’s website: They post their annual report quite visibly (thus emphasizing financial transparency); and when you click the “Donate” tab on the home page, you’re given interesting background information on where your dollars go before being presented with the form to fill out.

For tips on achieving results with your group’s own website, see Nolo’s article, “Your Nonprofit’s Website as a Fundraising Tool.”