Ken Goldstein, MPPA

Ken Goldstein has been working in nonprofits and local government agencies from Santa Cruz, to Sacramento, and back to Silicon Valley, since 1989. He's been staff, volunteer, board member, executive director, and, since 2003, a consultant to local nonprofit organizations. For more on Ken's background, click here. If you are interested in retaining Ken's services, you may contact him at ken at

Friday, June 30, 2006

Workshop: Introduction to Fundraising Planning

On August 31 I will be teaching a workshop on Introduction to Fundraising Planning at the Peninsula Community Foundation in San Mateo, CA. The PCF workshops are organized in partnership with CompassPoint Nonprofit Services.

The three-hour workshop (9:30 AM - 12:30 PM) will cover material from my book on Fund Development Planning. I've taught it for CompassPoint/PCF several times before, and it's always a great, motivating, event. The class is designed for those who are new to nonprofits or to a fundraising position.

I will lead participants through exercises on:
  • The importance of a diversified funding base
  • The players in the fund development process
  • How to conduct a nonprofit assets inventory
  • How to develop your mission & case statements,
  • How to identify new funding opportunities
  • How to set realistic goals, and
  • How to prepare your development plan & calendar
By the end of the class, participants will be prepared to limit their "crisis" fundraising, motivate their board to participate in the process, and make the best use of their team's time.

If you'd like to join us, you can register online through the CompassPoint web site. The fee is only $55.

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Thursday, June 29, 2006

Google Spreadsheets

The other day, I posted here about a collaborative writing tool called "writeboard." Today, I want to continue on the track of online collaborative software, and tell you about Google Spreadsheets.

I have to confess that I'm a bit of an Excel geek. I don't know why, but I love spreadsheets. Google is on the road of eliminating Excel from life.

Google Spreadsheets look and behave like an Excel spreadsheet in almost every aspect. You can upload documents that you've previously created in Excel, or create a new document online. The "Format," "Sort," and "Formula" tabs do the work of several of Excel's menus. About the only thing missing is the ability to draw borders.

Small spreadsheets opened quickly and are respond well to your input. I did slow the application down a bit by uploading a very large document with 14 sheets to it. Other than that, it passed every test I through at it.

To collaborate, just click the "share" link and enter the email address of your co-worker. The only catch is that they need to have a (free) Google account too.

Getting your board to work together on budgeting or reviewing monthly financial statements has never been easier. No more excuses of lost attachments, just go to the web site and click away!

The incredibly good news is that Google Spreadsheets are free to use. The "bad" news (just a minor inconvenience) is that you need to already be signed up for another free Google service, such as gMail, to gain access.

If you'd like to test this out, but don't have a Google account yet, let me know (email link under "About Me" to the top left) and I'll send you an invitation to join gMail and to play with one of my test spreadsheets.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Collaborative Writing Online

Have you ever wanted to find an easier way to collaborate on a document with somebody - or even several people? Do you find it gets cumbersome to be comparing different drafts being emailed back and forth from different sources?

What I'd really love to find is a full-featured word processor that can be accessed online, with documents stored on the server where multiple authors could write and edit and always know what the latest version is.

Writeboard (.com) is not quite what I've dreamed of, but it is a major step towards that. Simple documents can be created and stored - for free - on their servers. You can then invite guests to review and edit your "writeboards." Each time you edit you have the option of saving it as a new version. Versions can then be compared with a couple of clicks.

This is no way to co-author a book, but it is perfect for getting input on simple business documents and letters. For nonprofits, you can use this for collaborating on everything from fundraising letters to mission statements to meeting agendas.

If you'd like to see a writeboard in action, but don't want to sign up for the service, send me an email and I'll invite you to edit one of my test documents (email link under "About Me", top left).

Monday, June 26, 2006

Carnival of Nonprofit Consultants #3

The third edition of the Carnival of Nonprofit Consultants has been posted over at the Nonprofit Communications blog.

Once again, this blog has been honored with one of my posts being chosen for inclusion.

Check out the Carnival, and all the great writing from my colleagues around the country.

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Small Nonprofits and Sharing IT

If you've been reading this blog regularly, you know that I like small nonprofits, and am wary of merger-fever. Deborah Elizabeth Finn seems to agree with me, and has written specifically about the technology needs of small nonprofits.

In Consolidate or die: Will it come to that, for small nonprofit organizations? she writes that
"An amazing number of nonprofit projects are run by one noble soul, working with great dedication from the coffee table in his or her living room. This person hardly has an information and communication technology (ICT) infrastructure - never mind an ICT specialist to maintain it! The plight of this typical one-person-plus-coffee-table organization worries me a lot...

"Surely there's some way for small nonprofits, especially those of the one-person-plus-coffee-table type, to consolidate their technology infrastructures and back office administrative processes, even while each organization retains its hand-tailored (or even quirky) approach to services and programs?

"...I'd like to see those noble souls in very small nonprofits focus their efforts on what they do best - which could be saving the whales, feeding the hungry, organizing youth soccer leagues, ensuring access to health care, or keeping German opera alive in Montana - rather than on tasks such as contract management, accounting, or maintaining a file server. I'd also like to see employees of one-person-plus-coffee-table organizations enjoy some of the benefits that Red Cross staffers can take for granted - such as membership in a group health plan, access to professional development opportunities, and use of up-to-date information and communication technology."
I agree, and think that such resource sharing is entirely possible and easily doable. It will require a bit of leadership to get some of these "coffee table nonprofits" to overcome their egos in coming together, but that is easy too.

The leadership could (should?) come from the initiatives of community foundations or other regional funders who can use the carrot of general operating grants to bring organizations together for sharing technology and other resources. Other possible facilitators in this could be statewide or regional nonprofit associations, such as CAN (California Association of Nonprofits) or SVCN (Silicon Valley Council of Nonprofits).

I'll end my post with the same plea that Deborah Elizabeth Finn used to end her post: "Let's make it happen!"

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Friday, June 23, 2006

Restricting Your Unrestricted Funds

A topic that has come up in several conversations lately is "how restricted are your unrestricted funds?" First, of course, you have to understand what we mean by "restricted" funds. I usually assume that all nonprofit managers and fundraisers know what I'm talking about, but there are those who don't.

When you apply for a grant for a specific program the funds you receive are restricted for use only in that program. If you find that you have a shortage in a different program, you cannot simply shift those funds to the other purpose without first clearing it with the funder. Likewise, you cannot use those funds for general overhead line items that were not included in your proposal budget.

"Unrestricted" funds refers to the money you raise without promising anything in return. Many people assume that any individual donor money falls into this category. That may be the case, but it's not always so! If your appeal letter specifies that "your donation will go toward program X" then any money the letter brings in is restricted to program X. Just because each $25 donor doesn't require a report on how their money was used doesn't mean you can spend it any way you choose.

It may not be "sexy" to raise money for the power bill or office supplies, but it's necessary. There are certain foundations who are aware of this and will fund general operating expenses. But you must also learn to make the case for truly unrestricted funds that can cover overhead to your individual donors.

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Thursday, June 22, 2006

Meet the Grantmakers

This morning I attended a "Meet the Grantmakers" panel in San Mateo, sponsored by the Foundation Center and the Peninsula Community Foundation (PCF). These sorts of events are always helpful. Having the program officers right there to answer your questions is obviously much more helpful than written guidelines can ever be.

A lot of the information was specific to this geographic area and the today's topic (In-School & After-School Programs), but here's some of their advice that is good to remember wherever you are:

Justine Choy of PCF cautioned against thinking of your budget as "just another attachment." Your budget, Choy said, "is an expression of your priorities." That is excellent advice and was seconded by Elizabeth Curtis of the Atkinson Foundation (no web site).

Curtis also pointed out to the assembled nonprofits that, "We need you more than you need us. There are plenty of other funding sources that you can go to, but we exist only to give money away." While we all already realize that, it is so refreshing to hear it from the head of a local foundation.

Eric McDonnell of United Way of the Bay Area also cautioned nonprofits to "connect all the dots" in their proposal narratives. "Don't count on us making all the connections," he said. Be clear and complete.

On the subject of site visits, McDonnell asked for, "More showing; less telling." He described a site visit that was nothing more than sitting in a room for a re-hashing of the details of the proposal. "We could have done that on a phone call," he said. All the panelists agreed that they want to see your program in action when they come to visit. "We want to see the kids," they all said.

Rhonnel Sotelo of the Stuart Foundation agreed and applied it to proposal packages as well. He then related it to Alice in Wonderland (he's been reading that to his young daughter). Quoting the book, he said, "What good is a book without pictures and conversations?"

Sticking with the Alice theme, Sotelo also compared his position as a Senior Program Officer to being the Queen of Hearts. "I have only one job," he said. "To cut off heads." The heads, of course, are the proposals that don't make it through to the funding committee.

Peter Tavernise of the Cisco Systems Foundation closed the morning by lamenting foundations that only fund program activities. In response to a question from the audience about general operating grants, he asked, "Can you imagine a venture capitalist who says, 'I'll invest in the product only, but not in the company.'?" What a wonderful day it will be when all foundation program officers think that way!

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Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Joining a Nonprofit Board of Directors: The Why and How of It

(This is another older article that I'm posting to the blog to add it to the archives. This one was written for the January 2004 edition of "The Learning Curve" - The monthly newsletter of the Silicon Valley Chapter of ASTD (American Society for Training and Development).

Perhaps you have had some experience giving your time and efforts to local nonprofit organizations, but find something lacking in the experience. Perhaps you are looking to add a leadership component to your volunteer activities and resume. This article will introduce you to a higher level of community involvement: joining a nonprofit Board of Directors.

As a director you are responsible for setting the organization's mission and guiding it in accomplishing its vision. Legally speaking, you are also the public's eye on the organization, ensuring that it is managed in a fiscally sound manner, and that all funds are used for charitable or educational purposes.

Rewards of Service

These are serious tasks, but Board service also brings with it many rewards. You will have the opportunity to use your special knowledge - be it in marketing, finance, or event planning - in a manner that will help shape the organization for years to come. You will also meet new people who share your interests, since you signed up for the same cause, and earn a true sense of making a difference in your community.

As a Board member you will be asked to participate in some sort of fundraising activity. This scares many people away - we are all a bit nervous about having to ask our friends and family for money - but it needn't be frightening. Your participation could be through inviting people to the annual dinner, or in some other way that eases "the ask."

It's Not About Money

The most important thing to remember in the fundraising role is to concentrate on why you support the organization and not to worry about the money. I have served on the board of a local adoption and foster family agency. I love to tell people about what a great job they do with hard-to-place kids who have been through the family court system and need special assistance, but I never mention money.

While buying my house a couple of years ago, I talked enthusiastically about this organization to my realtor. A couple of months later, she told me that her company wanted to start a grant program and was asking each office to recommend a charity. We were invited to give a presentation that resulted in a $20,000 donation to my organization. This happened because I shared my enthusiasm for the cause first and let the money follow.

First Steps

To find Board opportunities, begin with asking at the organizations you are already involved with, then turn to your professional network to get other recommendations. Your local Volunteer Center may also be aware of boards that are recruiting new members. Typically, the Executive Director and the Board Chair will want to interview you. Use this as an opportunity to ask about the organization. Don't be shy here; as a Director you will be expected to ask probing questions and demonstrate your responsibility.

Assuming the interview goes well, you may have a site visit, then be invited to sit in on a Board meeting. After that, the Board will formally vote on your membership. Be aware that if the Board you are interested in only meets quarterly, there could be a lag of several months between your interview and when you are officially a member. Use this time to step up your volunteer involvement and learn more about the group.

Once on Board

The primary role of the Board of Directors, and the reason why the IRS requires nonprofits to have a Board, is governance. That means that you represent the public in making sure that the organization lives up to its mission and is deserving of tax-exempt status.

You will be reviewing annual budgets, making sure the agency has a sustainable income, and watching that it doesn't spend beyond its means. Additionally, the Board is responsible for hiring and supervising the Chief Executive, and conducting his or her annual performance review.

While these are important and necessary tasks, Board service also offers opportunity for leadership, creativity, and fun. You will be able to help with fundraising ideas and events, brainstorming ways to better serve your community, and know that your involvement is helping a cause you care about in a very real way.


If you are looking for opportunities for professional development, experience with team building and decision-making, and a way to make a long-term difference in your community, joining a nonprofit Board of Directors may be for you. Board membership is a great resume builder that also offers great personal and professional rewards.

Online Resources:

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Fundraising Mistakes That Bedevil Boards

At today's monthly meeting of the AFP Silicon Valley (Association of Fundraising Professionals), the guest speaker was Kay Sprinkel Grace on the topic of Fundraising Mistakes That Bedevil All Boards (And Staff Too). Kay is always a wonderful presenter, and this topic - based on her book of the same title - was particularly well received.

The mistakes that Kay identifies, or in some cases popular myths, include:
  • People will give just because yours is a good cause,
  • Donors are drawn to organizations in need,
  • People dislike giving
  • "We can't raise big money, we don't know any rich people,"
  • Volunteers don't have to give in order to ask others to give - their time is their gift, and
  • It is impolite to ask for specific amount.
Kay diffuses each of these myths with anecdotes and humor and shows us to avoid - or remedy - them in our fundraising practice.

Another important mistake for professional nonprofit fundraisers is to ever believe that our education is complete. I always enjoy AFP luncheons, and always learn something. Even when it's a bit of a refresher, it's good to be reminded of some basics and maybe hear it in a different way.

You can learn more about Kay Sprinkel Grace at Transforming Philanthropy (.org) and find her "mistakes" book on

Monday, June 19, 2006

Charitable Donations Top $260 Billion for 2005

The annual Giving USA Foundation survey is being released today, and includes some impressive and very positive numbers.

Overall giving increased by about $15 billion. Approximately half of that figure was dedicated to relief for Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. That hurricane relief collected a large amount, those who feared that it would cut into other donations can finally exhale knowing that giving increased in all areas.

Here are some of the increases by donor type:
  • Individuals: up 6.4% to $199 billion
  • Foundations: up 5.6% to $30 billion
  • Corporations: up 22.5% to almost $14 billion
While corporations still only made up 5.3% of total giving, the growth this year was phenomenal. You can bet we'll be watching closely for next year's report to see if this is a blip on the radar due to hurricane relief, or if it's a permanent trend.

Be sure to note that the figure for Individuals still accounts for over 76.5% of total giving. And that does not include Bequests (figure not given in the preliminary release I saw) which are counted separately.

While this report is good news, overall, it's not so for everybody. When adjusted for inflation, Arts and Culture and Health organizations actually saw a decline in donations.

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Friday, June 16, 2006

Foundation Relations: Is it what you do or who you know?

(This is actually an article I wrote a few months before I started the blog. I'm re-posting it here to make it part of the archives.)

Many times in my work as a grant writer and consultant, I am asked by my clients to contact a foundation about potential funding. I am happy to do this; it is part of my job and it helps for me to directly ask the questions that will affect what I write in the grant proposal, but I sometimes wonder if the client isn't missing an opportunity by making that connection directly.

By the same token, when I am first meeting with a potential client, they often ask me if I have good connections with any local foundations. I do, I say, but then I think to myself that my connections are irrelevant; it's their connections that matter.

This all bring up the question of whether or not having a connection inside a foundation is more important than what you put in your proposal. Whenever I teach grant writing or nonprofit fundraising planning I am asked about this common assumption, and whether or not it is true.

It is completely wrong, I tell my students, having connections won't get you funding. Except in those situations where it does. Let me explain further.

Connections mean nothing

I can't even count how many times I have submitted an un-invited grant proposal to a foundation based only on my research, without having even one phone conversation or email exchanged between us, and had that proposal fully funded.

On the other end of the scale, I have been in situations where a well-known foundation was wining and dining my co-workers and me, toasting us and what a great partnership we had, only to pull our funding two months later because of a "change in priorities."

The bottom line here is that it doesn't really matter how many friends you have on the inside. If your proposal is well written and clearly identifies how it is in line with the funder's priorities you will be successful. If your proposal is not what the funder is looking for, or it simply isn't clear what you want to do, you will fail. The best connections cannot save a lousy proposal or one that is completely outside the guidelines.

Relationships are everything

What I wrote above does not mean that you shouldn't try to cultivate good relationships with your funders. The same courtesies and attention you put into your individual donors should be shown to your foundation and corporate sponsors as well.

While you can be very successful only submitting un-solicited proposals, you are always playing a numbers game. There are more good nonprofit projects and program proposals than there are charitable dollars to go around. You will receive your fair share of rejections along with the funded grants.

Where good relationships will help you is when it pays off in trust. When a decision is close, being known as a reliable nonprofit that meets its goals and is easy to work with can make all the difference.

Even better is when that relationship pays off with the foundation approaching you for a proposal before you approach them. While even an invited proposal is no guarantee of a grant, it does start you out on much better footing.

But it is up to you to build that reputation and that relationship through dependability and good communications. Respect your foundation officer's time and only call with important questions, not just to gab or to complain, and be sure to thank them for their time. Likewise, be available when they call you with questions about your programs or to find out what your issues are. Submit your reports on time, using the format they provide, and don't ask for any special favors or extensions.


Getting back to the clients who have me make their foundation calls; they're not doing anything wrong by outsourcing that job, but they are missing a chance to get to know their funders better.

As for the clients who ask about my relationships as a pre-requisite to hiring me: my relationships can only go so far. For long-term funding they need to build long-term relationships, and those must be made from within the organization, not from an outside contractor.

To those students of mine who are new to the nonprofit sector and the world of grant writing, I say, don't despair. Build your resumes first, with well-written proposals and successful programs, be yourself and be professional, and the relationships will develop in good time.

To all of them I say, remember, connections mean nothing: relationships are everything.

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Thursday, June 15, 2006

Follow-up: Too Many Nonprofits, Part Two: Market Saturation

I promise to get off this topic in the next post, but first, just one more point on the "too many nonprofits" debate:

JW of "Selfish Giving" added a comment to yesterday's post on the subject pointing to his excellent blog on the same topic (I've just added his site to the blogroll).

He quotes a Wall Street Journal article complaining about all the "fun runs" and "charity walks" that clog up urban streets every weekend, and then blames the traffic on "too many nonprofits." He then gives a few good rules to consider when planning an event to ensure that it will be worth your time and effort.

The villain behind clogged walkathon traffic isn't "too many nonprofits" - it's too many foolish nonprofits. It's just bad fundraising practice to copy the same concept everybody else has already tried.

The issue here is market saturation. If there are already 25 charity golf tournaments in your region, the community probably won't support one more. Donors are '-athon'ed out. In most cases, they'd rather just make a donation to your organization than have to go on yet another walk to get yet another too-big t-shirt filled with sponsor logos.

I touch on this issue in part of my book, Introduction to Fund Development Planning. When prioritizing fundraising ideas, originality and market go right up there with the cost-benefit analysis.

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Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Follow-up: Too Many Nonprofits

My post last week on the subject of "too many nonprofits" (I came on the side of defending duplicate services) has received a bit of attention on other sites. Leila Johnson of Datascribe says:
Here in New Mexico, there are over 7,000 nonprofit organizations. We are a fairly small state, so I know that services are being duplicated. We've encountered that with some of our clients. Sometimes nonprofit organizations have to close due to lack of funding. Could that be because of the duplication of services?
She agreed with me that mergers are not always the answer, and then offered a solution that I'm embarrassed to have not mentioned:
Forming an Alliance It would be great if more nonprofits were willing to band together to achieve their missions. They could market cooperatively to reach similar individuals. What a great way to save money and increase your reach.
I wholeheartedly agree with this suggestion. Somewhere between complete autonomy and independence and a merger that eliminates one organization's legacy are a world of possibilities.

From the cooperative marketing that Leila mentions, to sharing office space, to setting up one-stop program intake for multiple agencies, strategic alliances offer opportunities for both cost savings and program gains.

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Tuesday, June 13, 2006

DonorsChoose - Connecting Donors to Classrooms

DonorsChoose a new web site that connects online donors directly to classroom projects that need private support. Teachers post their projects along with a budget. DonorsChoose vets the projects and posts them to the web site. Individuals can then search by geographic region, subject matter, budget, or a combination of factors to find projects that they want to support.

Web masters and bloggers, such as myself, are encouraged to set up challenges to encourage their readers to donate as well. Always one to test out new web applications, I have set up a challenge that you can reach by clicking the banner below:

Over the coming weeks you will hopefully see the progress of my challenge in the graphic to the top right of this page. Beyond testing out the web site, I hope my readers can raise a few dollars. Let's see what you're capable of!

I love this idea and the way they've implemented it. I've wanted to create something like it for nonprofits for several years now and am inspired to see how this works out. The potential for connecting web users directly with projects that need funding is incredible. The use of interactive challenges and viral publicity should be an inspiration for all of us in the fundraising and management of nonprofit organizations.

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Monday, June 12, 2006

At the Carnival & A New Blog

The first edition of the Carnival of Nonprofit Consultants has been posted over at Many articles were submitted, and the seven best have been selected - including one of mine: Too Many Nonprofits? The other six articles all look very interesting, and I look forward to reading them later today!

Also, I've just learned of a new resource blog: the Nonprofit Management and Operations Blog from Aspiration, a nonprofit software solutions company. In the first group of postings I see resources for starting up a new nonprofit, accounting and finance tips, communications, and fundraising advice. Be sure to check them out and add them to your bookmarks.

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Saturday, June 10, 2006

Client Spotlight: St. Francis Center

One of my current grant writing clients is the Saint Francis Center of Redwood City. They provide food and clothing to over 500 families each month, run a small school that educates a cohort of 12 children, along with ESL, literacy, and adult education classes for their mothers, offer shower and laundry facilities, a toy give-away program, a community garden project, and emergency vouchers for housing, medicine, and gasoline. They also manage and operate a 24-unit apartment building at below-market rents.

That's a lot of programming to be accomplished by only two full-time staff - both of whom are Dominican Sisters - and a small army of nearly 90 volunteers. Currently, the space that they operate out of is a small house and adjacent double-wide trailer. This has earned them the affectionate nickname La Casita in the neighborhood, but has kept them from adding more programs and additional staff.

Last year St. Francis Center was able to purchase the parcel next door to their current home and began planning to build a new, larger home in order to meet the demands of the community for additional services. It is that capital project that I am assisting in with funder research and grant writing.

The new building will fit in well with the neighborhood and allow for the expansion of their existing programs, as well as adding in new health and immigration services. Another aspect of the project that excites me is that this will be a "Green" building project designed with the health and sustainability of the entire community in mind.

At this point, we are a little over half-way to our $4 million goal. All donations, of course, are quite welcome and tax deductible.

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Thursday, June 08, 2006

Donors: Once Bitten, Twice Shy

A posting on About Nonprofit Charitable Orgs quotes an AARP Bulletin that says donors are "scared of scammers." The original AARP alert, "Plucking Your Heart - and Purse - Strings," tells of con artists who prey on the elderly by posing as a charity and asking for a donation.

The organization names the scammers use are similar to those of actualy charities in order to deliberately add to the confusion. The bulletin gives several horror stories of elderly donors who lost their money in such scams, and then gives advice on how to avoid being scammed, such as never giving credit card info to an un-solicited caller, verifying an organization's status on, and requesting printed materials before giving.

The posting on adds some advice to nonprofits to help them avoid being suspected of running a scam, such as never soliciting strangers, build a relationship before you ask, and give multiple giving options.

That is all good advice, both for the donors and the charities, but I do wish the original AARP article had taken a more positive attitude. Like much of the popular media these days, they framed the article as part of the culture of fear that's gripping our nation.

"Preying on heart strings" certainly gets the readers attention, but it also frames the story in a negative manner. A different story designed to educate donors about philanthropy could have included the same information in a much more positive way. My concern here is that while the AARP bulletin throws in some helpful advice at the end, that wasn't its overall purpose or effect. The overall message was that everybody is out to scam you, so watch out. I believe more harm is done this way.

This should be of concern to all of us in the nonprofit field, as we all feel the effect when donors are cautious, burnt out, and distrustful. We should all be involved in donor education. But, let's do it in a positive manner that adds to the bottom line, not by telling donors that they're not smart enough to tell when something is a scam. It's not true, and it's not right.

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Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Too Many Nonprofits?

The Where Most Needed blog has an excellent posting on Charity Mergers Booming on Both Coasts. There are plenty of references to recent articles about particular mergers, and some of the issues involved. The author also points out that one of the best times for such a move is when the chief executive of one of the partners has just left, or is planning on transitioning out.

I read the posting with great interest and agreed with most everything being said, until the last paragraph, which opened with, "Mergers may be the best solution to the excessive number of nonprofit organizations." There was no evidence given, or data to back this statement up. It was just given as a fact: there are too many nonprofits.

I take great exception to this comment. This is not to say that I am anti-merger. I am all for it, when it makes sense for both organizations and their clients. Right now I am involved in a very positive merger negotiation as an interim executive director. I have also had to shut down a bankrupt nonprofit as part of my consulting practice. Nothing about either of these experiences, however, would lead me to believe that they were the result of a glut of nonprofit organizations.

In the current situation, the two organizations are complimentary. They each serve a similar clientele, but with a different program solution. Bringing the two together will give clients the choice of which solution is best for their family. Neither agency "has to merge" - they are each financially strong and healthy. The strategic relationship we are creating, however, will be better for both organizations, their staff members, the funders, and the children served.

The agency I had to close down had come to rely on a single government funding stream. When that funding suddenly ended, the agency was not ready to diversify quickly enough. That, combined with a bit of arrogance and basic bad management, is what shut the doors, not competition from "too many" other nonprofits. In fact, a great hole is still felt in the community where that organization once stood.

I do not see duplicative services as a problem, so long as each agency serves a particular niche. Mass produced solutions may be fine for selling shoes, but often the very nature of the services nonprofits provide require narrowly tailored solutions.

Why does one city need five different women's health clinics? Perhaps one has expertise in reaching recent Asian immigrants. Perhaps another has strong ties to the African-American community. Had these all been replaced by one, large women's health clinic some of the clients may have stayed away and not been served at all. Trust is so essential in the provision of personal human services that I do not think there can be too many grassroots nonprofits with similar offerings.

The funders are complaining about too many grant applications? They have too many tough choices to make? That's wonderful! What a great problem to have. I enjoy working with funders and appreciate the difficulty of their positions. But making their life a little easier is no reason to merge organizations that are just fine on their own.

Again, I am realistic. I will assist in mergers and shut-downs when they make sense. But I will not get so caught up in our quest for efficiency and "operating like a business" that I will make decisions that leave clients un-served or missions unfulfilled.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Free Web Site for Nonprofits

If your organization still does not have a web presence, and you still believe you don't have the money or the time to invest in getting a web site, you have no more excuses. is offering a free, template-driven web site to all nonprofit organizations. There are not a lot of options for page design or layout, but it's quick and easy to set up, and it's free. You basically type in the information that you want on your page, and their templates lay it out for you.

Here are a few examples of groups with web sites:
* Pet Assistance Foundation of San Diego
* Los Gatos Horseman's Association
* Homeless Shelters - A New Beginning (Grand Rapids)

I believe that you will be better served by investing in your own domain name and a design that matches your image, but if "free" is what it takes to get you online, check this out. I do think that these sites can be very good for small, local organizations like PTA's or small church groups.

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Friday, June 02, 2006

Fighting Mission Statement Bull

In my post on Tuesday, I used the "maximizing synergies for optimum resulting outcomes" as an example of a lousy, jargon-laden mission statement. I just came across a software tool that promises to help get rid of the jargon in your writing.

"Bullfighter" is a Windows program that works with MS Word to find the jargon in your documents and help you eliminate it. How does it work? Here's an excerpt from their FAQ to answer that:
Q: Is there any science behind Bullfighter, or did someone just come with this idea at a bar somewhere? How can I learn more?

A: Yes. The Flesch Reading Ease score is one of the accepted standards for measuring the demands placed on a reader, and the late Dr. Rudolf Flesch is still regarded as an important figure in the field of readability. His book, "How to Write, Speak and Think More Effectively" (Signet, 1960), is an excellent survey of his work. If you want to be a great communicator, we recommend an appointment with Dr. Flesch. Don't bother checking, your medical benefits don't cover visits with deceased linguists.
I haven't had a chance to test out Bullfighter yet (my main machine is a Macintosh, and my Windows machine has WordPerfect), so I can't give you a review on how well it works (or not). But, it is free, so if you're brave enough to find out your bull**** score, give it a try.

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Thursday, June 01, 2006

Nonprofits on MySpace

By now I'm sure you've all heard of, even if you haven't taken the time to see what it is all about. What you might know is that it is very popular with high school and college kids who use it to meet friends, find out about new bands, build community, and socialize online.

What you might not know is that MySpace members include much more than teenagers. There are members in all age groups, up to and including those in their eighties and above. They are geographically diverse, have a variety of interests, and use the site to learn about new people, places, and things.

I've even found a handful of nonprofits who have created MySpace profiles and appear to be using them effectively to attract new supporters. While the MySpace tools don't allow for direct fundraising, it does allow members to create interest groups and post bulletins to their networks.

Here are a few examples of organizations using MySpace: World Preserve, Inc. - Alchemist CDC - and Our Bodies Ourselves.

I especially like the OBOS profile, and how it is written in the first person ("Maybe you read me in a women's studies class. Maybe you saw me in the waiting room at the doctor's office..."). I think it is potentially of great benefit to the young women who frequent the MySpace site and may come across this profile by accident.

Part of every MySpace profile is the "Who I'd like to meet" section. Alchemist CDC makes good use of this, saying, "Sacramento-area residents, activists and workers that are interested in supporting the even distribution of benefits and costs associated with redevelopment. Alchemist has a variety of ways people can get involved, from helping with a Community Action Movie Night to volunteering to help plan upcoming fundraising events. We're looking for volunteers, board member and advisors!"

Should every organization be on MySpace? Not necessarily. But it is certainly something to consider, particulary if you have a program that intends to reach out to youth and young adults. Maintaining your MySpace profile doesn't need to be a major headache; this is a perfect opportunity for a college age volunteer.

MySpace is free to use, and requires no special technical skills to set up a basic profile. In today's fragmented media marketplace (you cannot count on everybody reading the same newspaper or watching the same three TV network news broadcasts) I think it is important to investigate every opportunity you have to get your message out there.