Category Archives: Uncategorized

For Fundraising Auction, Parties Can Be Scaled to Any Size and Age

CAKEAn auction to raise money for a school or other nonprofit may, over the years, develop its own, unique culture and tradition. That’s what has occurred in the Piedmont school district of California, where parties, put on by parents, have become a favorite item.

Whether it’s the “Monster Bash,” held in a warehouse, with tickets going for around $200, or the more modest moms’ hike and brunch party, with tickets going for around $40, there’s a party for everyone’s interest and pocketbook. For the little ones, there’s a cupcake-making party. Or, at least there was last year — who knows what next year will bring?

These parties are a great way to tap into parents’ creativity and foster further community. And (in a small town with a small commercial area), it’s helpful to be able to create money-makers without relying primarily on donations from local businesses.

Looking for more ideas? Nolo’s got lots of information on fundraising auctions and other special events, and a simple Google search for “party ideas” will bring up more than you ever imagined existed.

At What Point It’s Worth Registering Your California Raffle

1000 House FrontRemember my recent blog about how California’s weird raffle laws require either that your nonprofit register its raffle and comply with a bunch of rules, or give away tickets for free?

The perfect example of when it’s NOT worth giving your raffle tickets away has come along: It’s the fifth annual “Dream House Raffle,” a benefit for the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, which is indeed a 501(c)(3) charity.

The first prize (among many) is either a house in San Francisco (and a nice one, by the look of it) or $4 million dollars in cash. Nope, they won’t be giving any of these tickets away. They’ll cost you $150 a pop.

This is pretty much the opposite of a grassroots raffle. Riding on BART today, I saw ad signs for it lining the walls by the train tracks. The mail just brought me a four-page glossy brochure with details on entry and prizes. (It’s hard not to look . . . and to wonder, “If I won a vacation, would I take it or the $5,000 cash?”)

But sometimes, you’ve got to plan big in order to get big returns. They assure us that no more than 90,000 tickets will be sold — but that with all the smaller prizes, the odds of winning are actually 1 in 50. Better get shopping!

Leave “Olympics” Out of Your Nonprofit’s Fundraising Event Name!

With the Olympics getting underway in London, a whole new series of legal wrestling matches has begun: actions against charities with the temerity to use the word “Olympics” in their own event name. Greentop Community Circus found this out the hard way, after being forced to change its “Olympics Cabaret” into a plain old “Cabaret.” (See “Olympic bosses order circus charity event to change name.”)

That’s British trademark law at work, of course, but don’t think for a minute that U.S. companies — including some big-name nonprofits — are any less vigilant about using our home-grown version of trademark law to protect their brand.

McDonald’s, for example, went after 19-year-old Lauren McCluskey for naming a series of charity concerts that she organized “McFest.” Never mind that, as she said, “The whole reason I called it McFest in the first place is my name.”

As discussed earlier in this blog, the Susan B. Komen foundation has sued smaller groups for using the color pink or any variation of “for the cure.” According to Richard Eskow, writing for the Huff Post earlier this year, the foundation has “pursued high-dollar litigation and intimidation tactics against other charities. Uniting Against Lung Cancer was targeted for the offense of holding a ‘Kites for the Cure’ event. They’ve also attacked ‘Par for the Cure,’ ‘Surfing for a Cure,’ ‘Cupcakes for a Cure,’ and ‘Mush for the Cure.’”

In what must have been the greatest expenditure of time and legal fees for the smallest result, earlier this year the musical venue Wolf Trap sued “The Barns of Rose Hill” over its name, which arguably infringed on that of Wolf Trap’s venue called “The Barns of Wolf Trap.” They reached a settlement in which “The Barns” removed the “The” from its name. It’s now just “Barns of Rose Hill.” Everybody happy now? (See “Wolf Trap, Barns of Rose Hill settle suit” in the Washington Post.)

The bottom line: When developing names, themes, logos, and tag lines for your nonprofit’s events, take a look around to see what local or multinational businesses you may be echoing — whether intentionally (as is often the case, when it makes a nice pun) or unintentionally. Run some Google searches. See Nolo’s free online articles on “Trademark Law.” And when in doubt, consult an attorney.

When Will Nonprofits Learn to Match Event Choices to Likely Audience?

Not another golf tournament! That was my internal reaction when a friend of mine told me, last week, that the charter school her children attend was holding a golf tournament last weekend as a fundraiser.

I can’t tell you how often I’ve heard stories of fundraisers frustrated by trying to talk members/donors into attending a golf tournament when really only one or two of the board members are interested, or the group has always held a tournament and is afraid to stop, and so forth.

But I was prepared to suspend judgment. I asked her to fill me in on what happened, afterwards. (Notice I didn’t offer to attend. Golf? Me? Don’t think so.) Her answer:

“One lesson we already learned: don’t have a golf tournament for a charter school with a liberal/hippy type parent base! We only filled half the golfer slots–which is why I played.

“But it was fun, and they had contests on some of the holes for prizes–closest to the pin, longest drive, hole in one (of course I didn’t win any). The hole-in-one prizes are bought with special golf tournament insurance. And we had a dinner and silent auction afterward. People could come to the dinner even if they didn’t play golf. I think we made about $10,000 from all of it put together (50 golfers, 50 dinner-onlies).”

So, not bad as a final monetary take, and some good planning around making it fun for the people who came. But I stand by my original thinking: If you’re going to hold a fundraising event, don’t design the event first and then try to drum up attendees; look first at your attendees’ interests and then figure out what would draw them to come join in.

Event Today! Author Ilona Bray Speaks at Laurel Bookstore in Oakland

Fundraising by volunteers will be the topic of tonight’s book talk at Oakland’s beloved Laurel Bookstore — specifically the conundrum of how to raise money efficiently when volunteers are seldom willing to use the one tactic that tends to work the best, that is, asking for it directly.

Are special events the only option? If so, how can those be best planned as moneymakers? Come join the discussion; event details here.


Entered the Guidestar-KIMBIA 2011 Giving Season Giveaway Yet?

Yes, you’ve got plenty to do, what with year-end appeals and trying to squeeze in some personal time for holiday planning. But, look: Your nonprofit could win $5,000! Here are the Guidestar rules for it’s 2011 giveaway.

In brief, your group needs to be a 501(c)(3) with an up-to-date GuideStar Exchange Seal, which it received on or before November 15, 2011. Next, you need to get the word out to your supporters, to donate through Guidestar’s KIMBIA widget.

My first thought was, “Well, the big groups with lots of supporters will clean up here,” until I saw which group was in first place on November 18: Golden Gate Bassett Rescue. No doubt a great group, but hardly a household word. So, you’ve still got a shot . . . .

And if you missed the boat on registering for the Exchange Seal, put this task on your January, 2012 calendar. It’s another chance to have your group profiled online, with a trusted source of information for potential donors and so forth.

Could Charitable Giving Become Addictive?

In case you missed it, the topic of charitable giving came up in Terry Gross’s recent interview with David Linden, author of The Compass of Pleasure: How Our Brains Make Fatty Foods, Orgasm, Exercise, Marijuana, Generosity, Vodka, Learning and Gambling Feel So Good.

The good news: Donating to charity activates the pleasure centers in people’s brains — those same dopamine-driven bits of tissue that make humans crave food, sex, gambling, alcohol, and more. And that’s true even if the giving is totally anonymous, without the benefit of other people knowing how generous you are.

The bad news: Unlike many of the other behaviors described in the book, Linden says he  doesn’t know of anyone who has become addicted to giving to charity. But, he adds, “I suppose it’s theoretically possible.”

Ouch: 275,000 Nonprofits Lose Exemption

For anyone who doubted that the IRS means business when it requires tax-exempt nonprofit organizations to file annual Form 990s (at least in e-postcard form, for the smaller organizations), its June 8th announcement should serve as a wakeup call. Tax-exempt status was revoked for a whopping 275,000 organizations, all of which had failed to file the required paperwork for the last three years.

The IRS even published a list of the organization’s names, at,,id=240099,00.html.

Some of the groups on this list may simply have been defunct. Some, such as local garden clubs, may have discovered that receiving donations wasn’t high on their list of needs or activities, so that tax-exempt status wasn’t worth the effort.

But it’s likely that other groups didn’t understand that the requirements applied to them, due to changes in the reporting requirements over the last few years. For a full summary of these reporting requirements, see Nolo’s article, “Many Nonprofits Must File IRS Form 990-N to Stay Tax-Exempt.”

And for help complying with these and other requirements of keeping your nonprofit’s tax exempt status, see Every Nonprofit’s Tax Guide, by Stephen Fishman (Nolo).

How to Raise Money From People Who Hate Your Cause

Have you heard of StickK yet? It’s a free Web service developed by Yale economics profs to help people lose weight, quit smoking, or reach some other personal goal. The concept is that people are more likely to act on their commitment if they put some money on the line. StickK facilitates that by taking their credit card number, and then sending their money to charity if the goal isn’t met (as witnessed by a personally chosen referee).

But here’s the fun part. Participants can choose to give their money to an “anti-charity” if they fail in their efforts.

In other words, someone worried about gun violence might be faced with the choice of losing ten pounds or forfeiting money to the NRA.  The list of “anti-charities” on StickK’s list is at

So maybe this isn’t the best way of expanding your donor base. But if you’re doing controversial work, you might want to get in touch with the folks at StickK!

Volunteers’ Guide to Fundraising Newly in Print!

If you could only know the process that goes into creating a book like The Volunteers’ Guide to Fundraising — a bit like sausage-making, but in a good way.

This latest addition to the Nolo nonprofit series is meant for PTA parents, team and band booster volunteers, librarians who never realized their job was to include fundraising, church, synagogue, and other religious group members, and so on.

It’s a guide to the most likely types of fundraising when your group is short on time, paid staff, and other stuff that an established nonprofit might have, such as a database of donors and a five-year plan.

These include special events, selling candy (and many alternatives to candy), auctions (online and off), walkathons, home & garden tours, benefit concerts, and more.

Now, back to the writing process: To make sure the book didn’t just recite tired instructions that you’ve heard before, I talked to dozens of people in the same categories just described. They generously shared their stories, favorite tips, nightmare mistakes, and so on. The book includes direct quotes from many of them, along with sample materials, checklists, and other advice. Here’s a quick sampling:

  • Regarding scheduling an event, Emily Shem-Tov, a volunteer fundraiser with the Morgan Hill Library Foundation, warns: “One year we held our Silicon Valley Puzzle Fest on the same afternoon as the Super Bowl. That was a mistake. We thought that crossword puzzle people and Super Bowl people would be mutually exclusive, but no, attendance was definitely down.”
  • Regarding planning house tours, Michael Crowe, of the Oakland Heritage Alliance, says, “Tourgoers do like to see big, grand houses. No matter how much you talk up the virtues of more modest homes on your tour, they may stay away entirely if you don’t present at least some grand ones.”
  • Regarding hiring a professional auctioneer, Jackie T., a parent volunteer, says, “Our hired auctioneer suggested clever ways to us to have the kids help out — like having a little girl carry the quilt onstage that all the kindergarteners had helped make, with cutout patterns of their hands — it sold for several thousand dollars, our top revenue -producer for the live auction — or having the Cub Scouts get on stage in their uniforms to model the leaf raking that they’d do for the highest bidder.”

That’s just the beginning! Read and enjoy.