Category Archives: General Fundraising

Is Public Speaking Part of Your Job at a Nonprofit?

radio_mikeAmong the many skills required of nonprofit executive directors, development directors, and board members, public speaking is one that doesn’t receive much discussion.

It is, however, a skill that people in the above roles may have to call on for various reasons: to give a welcoming or fundraising speech at a gala dinner or other event, to address a group of decision-makers at a foundation, to represent your nonprofit at a community fair or other public event, to speak with a radio or television reporter on air, and so on.

So, does public speaking make you nervous? (Or, I should ask, do you suffer from “glossophobia?”) Around three quarters of Americans reportedly do.

If you’re among them, you’ll find no lack of advice on dealing with the topic — everything from breathing exercises to picturing your audience in their underwear. For a simple, straightforward message, however, check out marketing guru Seth Godin’s blog today, titled, “Speaking in public: two errors that lead to fear.”

Godin doesn’t single out nonprofits, but his points couldn’t be more relevant to them. When you focus on the cause, not yourself, and “realize that you have a chance to be generous in this moment, to teach and to lead,” your fears will recede into the background.

Shoutout to All the Nonprofits Providing Thanksgiving Services

CAKEThe degree to which nonprofits have become a backbone of American society is never clearer than on holidays such as Thanksgiving — for those who realize what a nonprofit is, at least.

Many people forget how many organizations are run based purely on love, donations, and volunteer labor. Such organizations may not get to fold up their tents while others enjoy a vacation. In fact, their services may be more important than ever, as they provide:

  • medical treatment to people in need
  • Thanksgiving meals to the hungry and the incarcerated
  • shelter for those needing a break from the ever-colder weather or from domestic violence
  • care for animals awaiting adoption
  • hotlines and support groups for people in difficult straits, and
  • much more.

They’re during it during a tough year economically, too, with donations down, and headlines announcing things like, “Nonprofits face turkey-free Thanksgiving.

I’m taking a moment to be truly thankful for the open hearts and determined spirits of the people who join together on such projects. (And I’ll be putting in a couple of hours at my local animal shelter, too.) Happy Thanksgiving!

So, Should Donors Check Charities’ Financial Percentages or Not?

brainReading the recent New York Times “Giving” section, I wasn’t sure whether I was watching change in the making or an example of cognitive dissonance. The subject in question was how much weight donors should give a charity’s financial percentages — that supposedly key ratio of expenses spent on programs and services versus overhead (admin and fundraising) — when deciding whether the charity is effectively carrying out its mission.

On the one hand, David Wallis devotes an entire article to Dan Pallotta, founder of the Charity Defense Council, and his argument that nonprofit organizations “worry too much about keeping overhead low and pay too little to attract the most talented executives.” Pallotta describes the dramatic turn of events when “the Better Business Bureau, Charity Navigator and Guidestar issued a joint news release called The Overhead Myth. It’s an aggressive campaign to really backtrack on this history of teaching the general public to ask about overhead. And now they are saying, ‘Charities don’t need low overhead; they need high performance.'”

On the other hand, the title of this article is, “Gadfly Urges a Corporate Model for Charity,” and Wallis takes pains to point out that Pallotta is a controversial figure with some major failures in his fundraising past.

And then there was an article called, “How to Choose a Charity Wisely,” by John Wasik. It lists the various organizations that evaluate charities (mostly using the standard financial ratios), quotes a Charity Navigator spokesperson saying, “a good benchmark for a worthwhile charity is having at least 75 percent of income spent on programs, or the nonprofit’s mission,” and in the section on “Getting Granular,” advises that charities whose accounting practices include “lumping in fund-raising or solicitation with the charity’s program expenses” are “muddy[ing] the waters” when it comes to “gauging how much is really being spent on the charity’s mission.”

Oh, but the article also warns that: “Like GuideStar and Charity Navigator, the [BBB Wise Giving Alliance] cautions against paying too much attention to the percentage spent on nonprogram expenses, also known as the ‘overhead ratio.’”

Okay, so are we supposed to pay attention to these percentages or not? According to Merriam-Webster, the definition of cognitive dissonance is “psychological conflict resulting from incongruous beliefs and attitudes held simultaneously.” I think we’re seeing some of that here.

A few years from now, perhaps everyone will laugh at how attached we once were to those magical fundraising versus overhead percentages. In the meantime, for the sake of clearheadedness, it might help if everyone took a closer look at the assumption that you can divide program expenses and overhead expenses in the first place. Where’s the bright line when a development director meets with a major donor, gets that person excited about the organization’s mission, and invites him or her to participate in the organization’s work more deeply? Or when the Executive Director goes out to speak at a public event, increasing awareness of the issue the organization is concerned with?

The people and tasks that are commonly called “overhead” are, in many cases, integral to the nonprofit’s mission. This isn’t “muddying the waters,” it’s practical reality.

Nonprofits Shouldn’t Give Up Too Soon on Grant Funding

waterFor too many nonprofits, fundraising feels like exercising in one of those “swim-in-place” pools. You huff, puff, and struggle, yet never move forward – while a single pause for breath can send you back to the starting wall.

Receiving a “no” answer to a grant proposal can be one of those moments that make you feel like you’ve lost ground. All the time you spent planning, preparing, and even dreaming about the outcome, for zip, zero, nada. But according to Diana Compoamor, President of Hispanics in Philanthropy (which works to support and strengthen Latino organizations and leaders), this is also a moment of opportunity.

“As discouraging as a rejection from a funder can be,” says Diana, “I see too many nonprofits viewing this as a door that has closed forever. The nonprofit’s list of possible funding sources thus gets shorter and shorter with each ‘No’ answer.”

What should nonprofits do instead? “Contact the funder after a rejection,” says Diana. “I know it’s hard, but all you have to do is politely say, ‘I understand that you had many proposals to choose among, and am sorry we didn’t meet your criteria this year; could you share with me your thoughts on what we could do to improve our chances of success next time?’”

The answer might surprise you. Perhaps the funder liked everything about your proposal, but your program was too similar to one from another nonprofit that it had already committed to funding. Then again, perhaps an embarrassing, fatal flaw emerged in your proposal – in which case, wouldn’t you want to know about it before sending a similar proposal to another funder? By adjusting to the responses you receive, you increase the odds that the next answer you receive from a funder will be a “Yes.”

But does this really happen? Do foundations ever change their minds about a group that they’ve rejected? Jim Lynch of TechSoup Global tells the following story (excerpted from my book, Effective Fundraising for Nonprofits): “I had developed a phone contact with an officer at the Crocker Foundation. Every year, I called to ask what they had going, and every year, the officer told me that it wasn’t a good fit. Finally, one year I called, and something did fit—and we got the grant! I think the officer was partly relieved to be able to give me some good news for once.”

Jewish Culture Laying the Groundwork for Charitable Legacy Giving?

Vintage bronze Siddur cover useful for backgroundOkay, let’s not all start going through donor lists and chasing after everyone with “stein” or “berg” in their name; but nonprofit fundraisers should definitely read the article by Alex Daniels in the recent Chronicle of Philanthropy entitled “Jews Are Twice as Likely to Leave Bequests Than Non-Jews.”

It cites a Connected to Give study called “Jewish Legacies,” which found that 23% of  U.S. Jews age 40 and over with household incomes of at least $100,000 have provided for charities in their wills. If that doesn’t sound impressive, realize that it’s double the number of non-Jews who have done the same. Another impressive percentage is the 74% of U.S. Jews who have prepared wills in the first place; well ahead of the 60% of non-Jews to have done so.

If you’re with an organization that directly serves a Jewish population or cause, the lesson is clear: If you don’t already have a planned or legacy giving program in place, it’s time to start developing one. You’re working with a population that apparently acts with above-average maturity in planning for the end of their life and deciding what mark they will make on the world.

There’s good news in here for non-Jewish organizations, as well; the 23% includes 6% whose legacy gifts were intended for non-Jewish causes. Providing for basic needs, health care, and the environment ranked high on the list.

Fundraising Kudos to: Vested Interest in K-9s, Inc.

vested dogYou’ve got to hand it to the folks at Vested Interest in K-9s, Inc. They’ve got a simple mission — to provide bulletproof and stabproof vests for law enforcement dogs throughout the U.S. — and the most measurable results per donation you could ask for.

As stated on the organization’s home page, every $950 pays for one dog vest (which, without this organization, would not normally be provided to these animals).

Also prominently displayed on the home page is a tally of how many vests it has already provided — 437 since 2009.

It’s no wonder, then, that the organization managed to attract the attention of a nine-year-old girl, who decided to ask her friends and family to donate to the group instead of giving her regular presents for her tenth birthday. The story made it on to MSN, with 746 Facebook shares when last I checked.

But I doubt an MSN reporter just happened to be roving the area when this gift came in. The organization no doubt knew a good story when it saw one, and passed it on to the media. Well done!

By the way, outreach via the media (both traditional and social media) can be such an important way for nonprofits to gain visibility and credibility that a whole chapter of my book, Effective Fundraising for Nonprofits (newly out in its fourth edition) is devoted to it.

Best Email Subject Lines From Nonprofits

pirate msgLast week’s pirate-themed email from Oceana has got me keeping a watchful eye on other nonprofits’ email subject lines, to see which can best capture readers’ attention without the use of pirate lingo. (It’s thematic only one day out of the year, after all. Arrr.)

I had to open a recent email titled, “It’s time to take care of the bottom‏,” from Shotgun Players (a Berkeley-based theater company). I thought the wording was some sort of faux pas, oops thing, but no, they’re raising money for seat cushions and a new toilet.  So, give them credit for humor, taking a chance, and curbing my “delete without reading” impulse.

“Your tax dollars at work — killing wildlife‏,” from the NRDC, was also one I had to click on. The heavy sarcasm caught my eye, not to mention that it raised a question to which I needed to know the answer. (In case you are similarly curious, the first line of the email explained, “A little-known government agency called Wildlife Services is killing thousands of wild animals every year — and you and I are picking up the tab.”)

“Big Tobacco: Get your butts out of our Bay‏,” from Save the Bay, wasn’t bad either.

From Greenpeace, the heading, “BREAKING: Russia holding Greenpeace activists at gunpoint in the Arctic‏” was one I certainly couldn’t ignore. If your nonprofit has news like that, post it while it’s fresh and you can speak in the present tense!

So let’s see, humor, sarcasm, humor, and urgency. There’s a pattern here, at least regarding what I respond to. As to what I don’t? Well, I still don’t know what’s in the email entitled “This will make you furious.” Yes, it raises a question (“What could be worse than what I’ve already heard?”) but frankly, there’s already plenty that makes me furious. I don’t want to add to the list.

Fundraising Kudos to Oceana, for Riffing Off “Talk Like a Pirate” Day

treasure chestOne of the first items to land in my email inbox this morning had the subject line, “Avast! Was your seafood caught by pirates?‏” As Oceana went on to explain (and anyone who’s on Facebook already knew), today is International Talk Like a Pirate Day.

The email went on to say that, “It’s all in good fun, but how can we celebrate when there are real pirates out there scooping up our fish?”

Oceana is dealing with an issue that’s ongoing — but it managed to use a topical, and even humorous hook to get readers to think about it in a new way. That’s an ongoing, even daily challenge for any organization trying to use email or social media to get its message out. Let’s hope their strategy brings in lots of pieces of eight.

Study of Kids’ Giving Patterns Raises New Questions

kidPlenty of surprising statistics can be found in the recent study known as Women Give 2013, New Research on Charitable Giving by Girls and Boys, conducted by the Women’s Philanthropy Institute at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. Most notably:

  • Nearly nine out of ten children between the ages of eight and 19 have given at least some small amount to charity in at least two of the previous several years.
  • Around six out of ten girls had volunteered at least once during the relevant time periods, and five out of ten boys.

Too bad we can’t predict how many of these kids will go on to become charitable donors in adulthood. I’d hazard a guess that the numbers will drop off as soon as they’re in college and facing tuition and other bills, but that’s just a guess. In fact, there are a lot of other things that we might wonder about but can only guess at, such as:

  • Why are giving levels so high among the young? Speculating about this isn’t too difficult — kids take part in numerous organized activities through school and church, and some of these may involve giving to a charity. Also, use of social media may mean their friends ask them to give to a cause.
  • Why do girls volunteer more than boys? One could easily speculate about adults — there’s a long tradition of women volunteering, based in good part on their history of staying out of the workforce for some period of time while raising children. But young girls are far away from such social structuredness. What’s up?
  • How can nonprofits foster continued interest in charitable giving among these children? One factor, unfortunately, is somewhat out of our hands: The study found that when parents actually talk to their children about charitable giving, beyond just modeling giving behavior, it made a big difference in the kids’ likelihood of making donations. But nonprofits can certainly remind parents, via social media sites or newsletters, to talk to their children about their reasons for giving.

Because this study is new, we don’t know whether today’s adults come from a similar history of childhood giving. But as the children in this study themselves grow up, nonprofits can act with the knowledge that the concept of supporting a good cause is not a new one for them.

Newly in Print: Fourth Edition of Effective Fundraising for Nonprofits

effn4_2I almost forgot to announce this — but don’t worry, the midnight lines of eager purchasers haven’t completely depleted the stock of this latest edition of Nolo’s all-around guide, Effective Fundraising for Nonprofits.

Some exciting features of this new edition include simple explanations of how “search engine optimization” can help bring Web searchers to your nonprofit’s website; new information on how to use crowdfunding to augment your fundraising efforts; new stories from fundraising practitioners, such as the development folks at Rosie’s Place in Boston describing their holiday card-sales program; the latest IRS tax figures relevant to your work; and much more.

Should everyone involved in nonprofit fundraising buy this book? No! This book is specifically aimed at nonprofits that are fairly grassroots, but nevertheless large enough to have staff members whose responsibilities include development. If you are with an even smaller nonprofit or one with no full-time staff, such as a P.T.A., church or temple, or musical group, you’ll be better served by reading Nolo’s book, The Volunteers’ Guide to Fundraising.