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

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Yet more on percentage-based fundraising - AFP ups the ante

Just other day I posted an email exchange I had in which my correspondent argued that, contrary to what AFP (Association of Professional Fundraisers) and others may say, there are times when when contingency or percentage-based fundraising fees may actually be more ethical than flat fee or hourly rates. The argument was essentially that small organizations (indeed, most any nonprofit) can ill afford to pay up front for grant writing or other fundraising services that may or may not result in donations or grants to the organization. The impact of such charging, according to my anonymous letter writer, was detrimental to the sector.

Well, now the AFP has upped the ante in this ongoing discussion, by trying to raise it from being an ethical question, to being a legal one. AFP has now renewed it's call on Congress to officially ban the practice of all percentage-fee based fundraising. This comes on the heals of AFP conducting a survey in which they found that the organizations with the highest fundraising costs were those that paid their fundraisers by percentage.

According to Paulette V. Maehara, CFRE, CAE, president and CEO of AFP:
These are causes that are near and dear to the hearts of all Americans, but the public's generosity is being abused. Congress needs to act to ban percentage-based fundraising so that the public can rest assured that charities and their fundraising firms are putting the needs of donors first.
Now, let me reiterate, that I have always followed the AFP code, and have never charged a contingency fee for grant writing or any other services. But let's take a look at the last few words of that paragraph: "... [put] the needs of donors first.".

Donors first, eh? Not the sustainability of the nonprofit organizations that don't have the cash-flow to pay upfront for fundraising with no guarantee of success? Not ... oh, I don't know ... the clients and communities served by the nonprofit sector?

Again, I still believe that a set fee for services is the proper way to go in most situations, but more and more I'm convinced that a compromise can be reached where nonprofits are not bankrupted by fundraising costs, and contingency fees, with set caps, may be used that meet the needs of everybody involved.

And I also firmly believe that it's about time that donors put the needs of nonprofits ahead of their own.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

A different point of view...

One of the most popular posts on this blog is one the earliest. It is also the one that seems to upset the most people. I'm referring, of course, to my posting on nonprofit grant writing fees versus commissions. In that posting, I explained why I follow the AFP Code of Ethics and refuse to write grants on a contingency basis.

Many people have written to me, or commented on the posting, that they don't understand why contingency payment is bad, and I've tried to explain and re-explain the AFP position (see the links for details). It's not that contingency payment is illegal, it's just against the industry standard, considered an ethical violation by many, and (perhaps most important) frowned upon by the very funders that we're applying to.

But, so far, nobody has given me a compelling reason to question that position. Until last week...

Here's an excerpt from an email conversation I've been having (since it involves a potential ethics violation, I'm keeping the author anonymous - if the author wants to take credit in the comments, that's up to them):
I'll add some comments on the "ethics" of contingencies. Standards set up by grantwriting boards and societies are generally self-serving. Many of the ministries that I support cannot afford Ph.D level research and writing but their causes do merit funding. For example, I am working with a group building a rap studio for positive, drug-free support in one of the most crime ridden neighborhoods in Minneapolis. They don't have the money to risk $50-75 per hour on grants that may not get funded.

Our resolution is to bill at $20 per hour which they can afford, and then bill at $75 for time after the award, if and when it comes. Quite frankly, the discussion of ethics that I have researched regarding these issues have all centered around putative issues of the appearance of integrity on behalf of the grantwriter (is it or is it not a kickback) and no dialogue has been forthcoming about the IMPACT our services have on the organizations we help support and the clients they serve.

Clients that can afford to pay full scale on the front end are billed in this manner, but those that cannot should not be ignored in the funding process because of self-serving billing practices developed by "grant writing professionals." If that is the standards developed by these societies then I will take the position of Groucho Marx, "I wouldn't join any club that would have me as a member."
I certainly cannot dispute the self-serving aspect of the AFP code; after-all, I need to pay my mortgage and bills and can ill afford to wait months on payment for my work - a payment that may or may not ever materialize.

But I certainly hear the point about the impact on our clients loud and clear. This is not something I've been blind to, and have felt guilty and shamed in times when my work for a client has not immediately resulted in grants that far exceeded my fees. This frustration is part of why I've lately been trying to minimize the amount of grant writing I do as opposed to other services.

I still feel there are valid points to the AFP prohibition against contingency fees, and until the funder community comes to a consensus to the contrary, the grant writers are not likely to change their practices.

But what about those smaller nonprofits that can ill afford to pay for fundraising upfront? How does a startup start up if they cannot raise those first dollars on a contingency? In a very real way, our insistence on the purity of our image is yet another roadblock that grassroots organizations face in their struggle to serve our communities.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Do healthy neighborhoods require nonprofits?

Wednesday morning I was at a "study session" for grantees of San Jose's "Healthy Neighborhood Venture Fund" (HNVF) to review their new strategic plan. HNVF money is a result of the tobacco settlements, and San Jose has been using the majority of their funds ($10 million) to make grants to nonprofits. Of course, whenever the city's budget comes up, there are those who suggest that the city could better use the HNVF money by adding it to the General Fund and spend it all within city departments.

Back to the study session... part of the agenda was to get together in smaller break-out groups to brainstorm things they may have left out of the implementation plan. The leader of our group asked if we thought that the plan should specify the percentage of HNVF money that would go to nonprofits. Of course, the nonprofit agencies present all thought that would be a great idea. And, of course, the woman in our group from the city library thought it would be a mistake.

My point for putting the percentage into the plan (and taking it out of eternal threat from the General Fund) was not simply self-interest. What I said seemed like common sense to me, but came as a surprise (if a pleasant surprise) to the rest of the group.

My point was this: Putting a commitment to fund nonprofits into the HNVF strategic plan would make a statement that Healthy Neighborhoods require a diverse and vibrant array of community-based nonprofit organizations. And, conversely, that a neighborhood where the providers of needed and desired social services were closing their doors due to lack of funding, is unhealthy.

I would not have made the same statement if the meeting had been for some other city funding source. But it seems to me that supporting local, community-based organizations should be have been a top priority of any "Healthy Neighborhoods" initiative.

Am I asking too much? What do you think?

Thursday, December 06, 2007

What's your tagline?

Does your nonprofit have a tagline? Most small organizations that I'm aware of don't, and have never even considered the need for one.

Nancy Schwartz, of the Getting Attention nonprofit marketing blog, believes taglines are essential ingredients to success. According to Nancy:
In today's competitive marketing (including fundraising, of course) environment, nonprofit taglines must be strong enough to get attention and provoke questions.

Effective taglines complement an org's name, convey the unique value its delivers to its community and differentiates it from the competition? (Americorps' "Getting Things Done" is a great example of a tagline that works on all three fronts.)

But more often, nonprofit taglines are vague, ambiguous, over-reaching, too abstract or simply non-existent.

Unfortunately, there’s little available guidance for organizations striving to strengthen their taglines. That's why I'm making a special effort in 2008 to help nonprofit orgs craft better taglines.
You can help Nancy with her research project on nonprofit taglines by taking this short online survey (click here).

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Is your nonprofit blidgetized yet?

What's a "blidget"? It's a widget to syndicate a blog. Huh?

Basically, if you've got a blog, and you'd like to allow other web sites, blogs, profiles (MySpace, FaceBook, etc.) to embed your blog, a blog widget is an easy way to do it. What's in it for a nonprofit organization? Viral marketing made easy, that's what. Imagine each of your supporters embedding your headlines on their blogs, on their MySpace profiles and on their Facebook pages. It's a great way to get your message out there for a total investment of about ten minutes of your time.

Using the tools found at, creating the initial widget was very quick and easy. Creating a Facebook application out of the initial widget was a little more complex and time consuming, but the instructions offered by widgetbox got me through that as well.

Here's what my two main blogs look like when widgetized:

(Note: If you'd like to use either of these blog widgets on your page, just click the "Get Widget" button at the bottom of each one.)

Saturday, October 27, 2007

A Scary Nonprofit Halloween Story

Once upon a time, a local government agency wanted to give grants in a particular issue area, so they put out an RFP and called all the area nonprofits to a special meeting.

The nonprofits came to the mandatory 3-1/2 hour meeting and received over 60 pages of instructions on how to complete the seven page proposal package (two pages of actual writing plus lots of forms). When they tried to ask questions, they were told to that they couldn't ask questions at the meeting, but that they should write them down on index cards and wait for the answers to magically appear on the government agency's web site - hopefully before the proposal due date.

So, did you recognize that story? How many times have you lived this nightmare? I experienced it again just yesterday morning. Now, nothing in this post should be taken to be a personal attack on the agency or people involved in issuing this RFP. The humans were all great, and made the 3-1/2 hours as painless as they could. My problem is with bureaucracy in general.

I just can't help but think that there is a more efficient way to achieve the same results - or better - without wasting so much time and resources on insignificant minutia.

When I talk to people about my career, and my progression from working for county government, to nonprofit agencies, to being an independent consultant, I often describe it as a natural reaction to being allergic to bureaucracy.

There isn't likely to be a cure for this overnight, but the situation isn't entirely hopeless either. Locally, the Silicon Valley Council of Nonprofits has been working with the city and county on streamlining some processes, and getting individual programs and agencies within the city and county to use the same forms for contracts, proposals, and reporting.

Not everybody is on board yet, but slowly, one agency, and one program, at a time, we eliminate a bit of the paperwork that has nothing to do with our mission. And, some day, maybe that little story I started with really will just be Halloween fiction.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Mission Paradox

I am a member of the Nonprofit Blog Exchange - a group of nonprofit bloggers who try to promote each other's work as resources for the nonprofit community online. As part of that exchange, we occasionally post reviews of each other's web sites.

Today I'd like to introduce you to the Mission Paradox Blog of Adam Thurman. Mr. Thurman is a consultant, writer, speaker, professor, and a self-described nonprofit "provocateur" so you know you will always find something interesting and different on his blog.

The particular post I'd like to direct you to is one that all too many of us need a refresher on from time to time: Talking About Your Mission. His first hint is to "Translate your mission into a language everyone can understand." I fully agree. Whenever I work with a group on a mission statement I fight hard to keep them from filling it with jargon and technical terms that only other nonprofits get. Are people confused by your mission? Maybe that's part of your problem. As Thurman writes, "Confused people don't give."

To find out Mr. Thurman's other tips on talking about your mission, visit this posting at his blog, and don't forget to check for new posts as well.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

What are the critical characteristics a board of directors needs to succeed?

For a nonprofit board of directors to succeed, the number one key ingredient is: Involvement. Boards fail (and, in turn, organizations fail) when board members become disengaged from either the mission of the organization or their role in the governance of the organization.

An engaged board does more than simply show up for scheduled meetings and vote to approve minutes and budgets. Engaged boards partake in vigorous discussions that help shape the vision and future direction of their organization. Engaged boards ask questions of staff and read journals to become educated on the issues their organization is involved in. Engaged boards read and understand monthly financial statements and accept their responsibility for fundraising activities that will ensure the organization's short-term stability and long-term sustainability.

Meetings of involved boards are not boring. They do not consist of only one or two people reading reports. Reports are sent out ahead of time, and members have read them before the meeting. Meetings are reserved for discussion of the reports, and decision making by the entire team. The Chair of an involved board does not dictate what the decisions will be, but rather facilitates the discussion and makes certain that all viewpoints are heard before a vote is taken.

All of this requires that many viewpoints, and many areas of expertise, are represented on the board. Do not recruit all of your board members from the same source, or you're likely to build a chorus of "yes-men" and stagnate under a lack of creativity. Be certain to have board members skilled in finance, marketing, law, and fundraising. Don't be afraid of adding people who will disagree with some of your ideas.

An active and involved board requires a leader who is strong enough to keep discussions on topic and within set time limits, but is also willing and able to put their own ego aside to hear opposing views and new ideas. An active and involved board builds the leadership skills of all its members through assignments on committees and special projects.

The involved board is a successful board. Involved boards never have to cancel meetings because they don't have a quorum. Involved boards lead successful nonprofit organizations.

This question came from, where I have just signed up as a writer. You can find this article on the Helium site at:

Monday, October 22, 2007

Share Best Practices - Win an iPod

George Williams at Planned Legacy has asked me to spread the word about a little contest going on at their web site.

They're looking for the best Donor Recognition Ideas, and are asking what has worked well for your organizations in the areas of:
  • Donor Recognition & Donor Relations
  • Stewardship
  • Capital Campaign Promotion
  • The Art of Saying Thank You
  • Donor Wall Planning & Special Events
The contest closing date is December 10, 2007, and the drawing for the iPod will be on December 12, 2007.

If you're interested, get the full details and enter the contest at

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Assymetry versus Strategic Funding

My friend, Tom, over at the True Talk Blog, has an interesting post called "Asymmetry is the New Black." The concept of asymmetry explains how small, start-up companies or organizations can effectively compete and steal marketshare from larger, established ones. Tom sees asymmetry in action in everything from YouTube to the blogging movement to the Iraqi insurgency.

Tom explains it like this:
Asymmetrical competitors use size (small), speed (fast), and thinking (innovative) to more than compensate for their relative lack of resources. This brand of competition is enabled by today's technology, which dramatically reduces the barriers to entry.
As I wrote in my comment on Tom's blog, I love the concept that being small and agile is a competitive advantage in the corporate world. It's a very exciting and inspiring idea.

Unfortunately, in the nonprofit world, we tend to be behind the curve in these types of trends. Right now it's seems that we're all witnessing contraction and mergers.

This is at least partly the result of funders getting more "strategic" with their dollars (ie: fewer, larger grants to established organizations, rather than many smaller grants to a variety of organizations).

While nonprofits look to joining forces with each other to achieve some sort of efficiency, what are we losing? Does our growth destroy the competitive edge we had in achieving our missions? I'm afraid that may well be the case in some of this.

So, how do we communicate this to funders? We've got to let them know that small is beautiful!

Tom says that, "The only option for established market leaders? Get small, get fast, get smart. Now." Isn't it an irony that as the corporate world adopts this ideology, we're being told to do the opposite?

Thursday, September 27, 2007

YouTube ups the ante for nonprofits

In the past I've talked about web sites like and as "YouTubes for nonprofits." Of course, all this time, many nonprofits have also been posting their videos to YouTube as well, although many felt that their clips were being lost among the millions of videos there.

Starting today, YouTube is upping the ante for nonprofits, to encourage them to use their site as means of communicating their mission and message to the general public. YouTube's standard slogan of "Broadcast Yourself" has now officially morphed into "Broadcast Your Cause". In addition to the regular channel features that any YouTube member has access to, nonprofits will now get:
  • Premium branding capabilities and increased uploading capacity.
  • Designation as a "Nonprofit" on YouTube that clearly identifies organizations as a nonprofit to the YouTube community.
  • The ability to embed a Google Checkout donation button on their channel and video pages, allowing people to quickly and securely make a contribution directly from YouTube.
  • Rotation of your videos in the "Promoted Videos" areas throughout the site.
More good new: Starting today, nonprofits who offer Google Checkout for Non-Profits as a donation option - whether through YouTube or on their own sites - will receive 100 percent of donated funds, as Google has committed to processing all donations for free through at least the end of 2008.

What? Your organization doesn't even have a video camera? Well, as a special bonus, the first 300 nonprofits to sign up will receive a free video camera.

To sign up for your YouTube Nonprofit account, go to and follow the proper links.

Now, my excitement about this news doesn't mean I'm no longer interested in following and or that these sites are no longer relevant. I believe you should be producing and posting videos in as many venues as you can. These other, specifically nonprofit focussed sites are also tied to production services if you don't have the ability to produce a video in-house or know anybody who can do it for you.

Online video has become a vital communications tool. With today's technology it doesn't take much to get started telling your story in moving images. YouTube makes it easy to post and host your video on their site using their servers and then easily embed it into your web site with no additional server load.

So, what are you waiting for?

(BTW, if you're a small Silicon Valley or Santa Cruz based nonprofit and you'd like to explore some video ideas, drop me a line at ken at

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Nonprofit Marketing and Fundraising Ethics

Today's blog post is in the form of a video.

When should a nonprofit refuse a donation? When does an association with the wrong donor reflect poorly on your nonprofit's brand?

Please watch the video (click on the big arrow on my nose to start it) and respond with your answers...

(BTW, "kenrg" is my nom de 'Tube)

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Consultants Blog, Stardate: September 2017

Fellow nonprofit blogger, Gayle Roberts, has suggested that I look into my crystal ball and give you a posting from ten years in the future. Pass your time travel boots through the x-ray machine, buckle your space belt, and join me on a journey to 2017...

Remember back in 2007? Back when all the 'experts' were warning of the coming nonprofit leadership shortage? Executive Directors were aging and retiring, and everybody was worried that the next generation wouldn't provide enough people willing and able to take their positions.

Well, as usual, the experts got it about half right. There certainly were far less people able and willing to head nonprofit agencies after about 2010, but it was never a problem. The trend of nonprofit mergers and bankruptcies more than kept pace with the loss of baby boomer leadership.

The rate of consolidation continued till just a few years ago when California bottomed out with only 126 officially sanctioned nonprofit organizations left in operation, and most of those were universities and hospitals.

Of course the drying up of foundation money had a lot to do with this transition as well. Yes, it's hard to remember now, but there was a time when private foundations were one of the major forms of support for many nonprofits.

At one time, the IRS required foundations to spend down at least 5% of their endowments each year in grants (and "other expenses"), an arrangement that put a certain amount of money out to the nonprofits, but still allowed for them to become perpetual giving machines, if they so chose.

Starting in the mid to late 00's there was a growing trend towards foundations deciding to spend out their endowments in the founder's lifetimes. Then, still in her first term, President Clinton was alarmed at this spend down rate and declared that foundations could do more for the public good by keeping their endowments "working for America" by staying invested in the stock market.

The resulting legislation lowered the minimum foundation payout to only 1-1/2% of their endowment and put in a maximum payout of 4% annually. A leading critic of this change was, of course, the president's ex-husband the ex-president, Bill (or "X2" as he goes by in his rap music career).

X2 wasn't successful at stopping that legislation, but he did succeed in creating a new type of "Emergency Foundation" to help raise money for causes with a limited time period. These "five and dimes" (so nicknamed for their anticipated life expectancies) are exempt from the 4% maximum annual spend-out, are now responsible for most of the individual fundraising that goes on in America.

Of course, they're not without abuse as well. Originally intended for responding to earthquakes, floods, terror attacks, and the like, they're now used for just about any type of "emergency." Which brings me to the topic of today's post.

Just this morning I was at the local convenience store to get a coffee injection and a lotto ticket when the cashier asked me to contribute to their emergency foundation. The emergency? Their Icee machine was damaged by some teenagers during a bungled robbery attempt. The store is now trying to raise $3 million for renovations and a new security system. They're nearly half-way to that goal already.

I've just about had enough of this and am thinking of packing it all in and retiring to the moon. At least there I don't have to start each day with the application of SPF 95 atmosphere protectant and Moon Governor Kucinich is getting ready to unveil his plan for near-universal (mooniversal?) health care.

The above is just a parody, and is not necessarily the actual future for the nonprofit sector or America. For one thing, Bill Clinton would never record a rap CD under the name of X2. What's really in store for us ten years from now? Stay tuned to this blog to find out...

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

More nonprofit video

About a year ago I wrote a post here called "A YouTube for Nonprofits?" about the site DoGooder TV from See 3 Media. I've recently been introduced to a new web site and production house focused on making videos for nonprofit causes: Charity Docs (dot org).

I've been very impressed with the short films I've seen on their demo site so far, and look forward to seeing more from them in the future. They see their mission as helping to connect worthy organizations to potential donors through exposure on the website and by creating a product (the video) that the organization can use in presentations, meetings, mailings, etc. Their fee for a produced video is $2,500.

Personally, I think these "Charity Docs", mini documentaries focusing on the human need and client's story more than just the organization, are a great idea. Too many of the nonprofit promo videos I've seen elsewhere focus too much on the agency and not enough on the cause. This is the type of storytelling that gets signatures on checks.

I'd like to hear from you now - Has your organization produced a video? If so, were you satisfied with it? How have you used it? Use the comment area below or send me an email telling about your experience.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Dot-Org Pride

Nearly a decade ago, when I was working for HandsNet, we put on an annual conference with our partners, CompassPoint and CompuMentor, called something like, "Surviving as a Dot-Org in Dot-Com World."

By the third year of the conference (and as I continued my involvement with the conference as CompassPoint employee) the bust had come, and it was no longer a Dot-Com world. But the Dot-Org world, it seemed, was still a few years away.

Now, TIAA-CREF has taken up the call for taking pride in our nonprofit Dot-Org status. The nonprofit financial services provider's latest ad campaign is all about "the Power of Dot-Org" (

But where our conference so long ago was aimed at other nonprofits (who else would have even understood what Dot-Org meant back then?), the TIAA-CREF campaign is aimed at the general public. Their point? That in the post-Enron world, nonprofits are more trustworthy than their corporate brothers.

This theme is summed up in one of their print headlines, "Ever heard of a .org crash?"

Of course, we know that our nonprofit sector is not entirely scandal-free, and I'm sure the public realizes that as well. But I like this campaign never-the-less, and I think it's good for all of us to take up this calling to Dot-Org pride.

By emphasizing the "power of .org" to the public, TIAA-CREF not only advertises their business, but gives us all a good publicity boost.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Still here, Back to work, Answering questions

Thanks to all my readers with being patient through a summer of irregular blogging, including this last three week silence. Vacation time is necessary to recharge the batteries, and I spent a portion of that time in Maui, and the rest of it catching back up on my work. Things should be getting back to "normal" and regular posting over the next week or so.

Yesterday I was meeting with a new potential client and we had the usual conversation where I asked the details of their programs and fundraising, and they asked me about rates and deliverables. Then, one of the women I was meeting with asked a question I'd never gotten before; "Have you ever turned down a client for ethical reasons?"

I think what she was really getting at was, will I work with just any organization, or only those I believe in. And the answer is certainly that I'm picky about with whom I work.

I've responded to a couple of inquiries from potential clients with a polite, "I'm busy, why don't you try..." That's rarely happened, but yes, I do need to be able to believe in the organization I'm trying to help. When I do turn a client down, I do still try to be respectful. While I may not agree with their cause, I acknowledge their right to do that work... with another consultant.

Missions I don't care for are not the only reason I've turned clients down, or dropped them. Here are two examples of organizations I initially thought were good, that I later decided I couldn't work with.

One began positively enough, but the ED wanted several changes in the contract, and the long negotiations over that convinced me it would not be a good working relationship. I suggested to him that "perhaps this is not a good time, why don't we talk again in six months?" My feeling is that life is too short to work with people who bring you unneeded stress.

Another organization that I did contract with for grant writing kept switching who my contact was, and more importantly, what their budget was. It became clear that while they weren't necessary crooked, they were certainly not able to manage their finances properly, and I couldn't be sure that grant money I was asking for would be spent per the proposals I was writing. I ended that relationship quickly.

So, yes, I do have criteria. I have to believe in the cause, I have to actually like the people I'll be working with, I have to know that I can accomplish the task, and I have to be sure that the results of our contract (whether a grant or a strategic plan, etc.) will be managed properly. If those criteria aren't there, I don't want to waste my time or their money.

So, how was your summer?

Monday, July 23, 2007

Why do you give? A few answers... has an "answers" section, where users can ask questions (usually related to their business or networking issues) and other LinkedIn members can post answers. Of course, I always monitor (and occasionally answer) the questions in the Nonprofit category.

One recent question was What motivates you to give to charities? Of the five answers posted so far, a couple are from nonprofit experts, but almost more instructive are the answers from people outside the sector, including those who have become disillusioned with charities and no longer give.

Sheilah used to give, particularly to health-related causes, but is upset that "we are no closer to a cure." Her friend is undergoing cancer therapy, has lost her job (and therefor her health insurance) because of her illness, and is unable to find any organizations willing or able to assist her. Sheilah now feels her charity dollars will be better spent giving money directly to people in need and not going through intermediary organizations.

Patrick gives to nonprofit causes that have effected the lives of himself and his family. He and his wife have had to cut down the number charities they support to only two. Their frustration with the rest? "Once you give those same charities sometimes harass you to the point of hanging up, or tossing the junk mail into recycle."

Terri has "cut way back on donations to major charities and switched to smaller groups where I can actually see how my donation is helping." Marisa likewise is looking for "transparency" where she can see the direct result of her giving, "not just pay into some anonymous account and other people's admin overheads."

Is your nonprofit making any of the mistakes that has turned these donors off? Are you harassing Patrick? Are you communicating your progress and results to Sheilah? Do Terri and Marisa know how you're using their dollars and that each one does make a difference?

What are you doing to retain these donors and keep them connected to your work?

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Hiring an Interim ED

I am currently in the midst of my third assignment as an Interim Executive Director. I really enjoy these assignments, as I get to really learn about a number of different organizations, help them through some transition or another, and then move on bringing that experience with me.

That explains why I like these jobs, but, if your nonprofit is in the midst of an executive transition, why should you hire an outsider consultant as your Interim instead of somebody already on staff?

An "insider" can be a good Interim ED under certain circumstances, but there are dangers as well. I can tell you about one agency I'm familiar with that made a major error with an insider Interim.

Upon the retirement of their long-term ED, the Board was pleased to promote a certain senior staffer to Interim. This staff person had been groomed by the previous ED for the position, and the Board expressed confidence in her ability to lead the organization during the transition.

The key words there are "during the transition." The Board simultaneously began a major search for their permanent ED. The Interim, of course, applied, but so did many well qualified outsiders. While the Board, staff, funders, etc., all loved the Interim, one of the outsiders was hired to be the new Executive Director.

The Interim was demoralized to return to her staff position after being in the leadership post for nearly six months (and having been praised for her performance). She considered it a slap in the face, and so did many of the other staff. The new ED shortly had to contend with many key people resigning and leaving for other organizations, including the previous Interim ED.

Had an outsider been brought in as Interim, her feelings may have still been hurt at not getting the big job, but it would not have been such a public and obvious insult. Much of the fall-out would have been avoided.

What can you learn from this?

If your Executive Director (or really any other important position) is leaving, look inside your organization first and before the ED leaves. If there are no internal candidates that you feel good about promoting, hire a consultant to be your Interim ED before going to an external search. You can always promote the internal candidate after an external search, but taking away the leadership role once assigned is a hornet's nest you'd be better off avoiding.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Here's Telling Them!

Does your nonprofit organization take in-kind donations (used clothing, furniture, or other goods)? Do you ever get tired of people trying to dump their old, useless garbage at your door and expecting you to thank them (as well as give them a receipt for their tax deduction)?

I've worked with a few agencies that accept "gently used" items and have had that frustration. You always have to choose between insulting a donor by refusing their trash, or wasting your own scarce resources to get rid of the garbage on your own. Not a good place to be in.

Well, I don't have a solution to offer you today, other than clearly written policies that staff can point to while apologizing for sending the donor away, but I do have a new champion for our plight.

Marsha Wiseman of Muskogee, Oklahoma, has written a letter to the editor of the Muskogee Phoenix: Don’t leave trash in the donation bin! Print out Marsha's words and post them in your office. Yes, somebody understands. It's not much, but it's something.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

To partner or to merge...

If you've been working in nonprofit management for any amount of time, you should already be fairly adept at recognizing good partnership opportunities. Whether it's working with a local office supplies retailer to put together back-to-school packages for the low-income children you serve, or joining with other social service agencies that provide complimentary, but different, services in a public outreach campaign, there are a million reasons to work in partnership with other nonprofit agencies and businesses.

But when does the partnership get to the point where you should consider a merger?

A quick checklist might include:
  • The existence of ongoing partnerships (or potential for ongoing arrangements) that cover multiple program areas,
  • Essentially aligned missions (ie: desire to serve the same population or cause),
  • Similar organizations in adjacent regions,
  • There's the potential to strengthen organizational capacity (ie: instead of two Executive Directors trying to do it all, one ED and one Development Director),
  • When you have few funders in common, or your common funder(s) would view you as stronger for having joined forces,
  • When the new agency will lead to economies of scale, not a bloated bureaucracy,
  • When your clients will view the merger in a positive light,
  • When the merger will result in expanded services to your clients,
  • When one of the organizations is facing a change in leadership (ie: a longtime Executive Director retiring),
  • When a merger is the best way to achieve the goals in your Strategic Plan,
  • When the merger can be accomplished without leaving any constituencies behind, and
  • When the new organization will be stronger and more sustainable than either of the predecessor organizations.
I am not one who regularly pushes merging for the sake of merging. Nor am I one who talks about there being "too many nonprofits." And I certainly am not a proponent of having huge, bureaucratic behemoths attempting community work.

But, the reality is that it is increasingly difficult for small organizations (budgets under $750,000) to operate successfully, and create sustainable funding. As much as I love small, grassroots organizations, sometimes they can better serve their communities as part of a mid-sized agency.

The list above is just a place to start your discussions and soul searching within your nonprofit. You may not meet all of the conditions, and you may have other conditions of your own that lead you to decide to pursue a merger. A merger is the ultimate partnership. It's not to be entered into lightly or without great thought and purpose. But it's not to be feared either.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Nonprofit Professionals - Amateur Managers?

Jonathan Peizer, of JP's Philanthropy Blog, had a great post yesterday called Being Smart and Being a Good Manager is Not the Same, and I've got to agree with him. JP says, in part:
Not that they are exclusive mind you. However, in my travels I have found many smart/intellectual/degreed people who assume that because they hold the title of manager and they are smart, they are de facto good managers. This is ironic because if you asked these same people if they were expert in an academic field that was not their own, they would defer to others who were.
Think about this in relation to how nonprofit managers come up through the ranks. People who are highly trained and qualified at helping people with their individual problems, or delivering a particular service, are put into situations where they are supervising other professionals and creating budgets, all without any prior preparation. If you ask them, they'll say they are social services experts or program experts, and that is their qualification to manage the agency, but they will never say, "I'm an HR expert and I just love spreadsheets."

After reading JP's posting yesterday, I began thinking about my own preparation for my career in nonprofit management, and now consulting.

Certainly my undergraduate degree in Politics gave me absolutely no background in supervising the work of others or running a program, let alone an entire organization. I learned critical thinking skills, I learned written communications skills, and I learned quite a bit about how to avoid some of the mistakes of the Cold War, should I ever happen to be transported back in time into Truman or Eisenhower's cabinets at certain moments in history. But I didn't learn about management.

My graduate program (Master of Public Policy and Administration, MPPA) provided a bit of management theory (Frederick Taylor and Max Weber) and organizational behavior, but the main focus of the program was on policy analysis and econometrics.

One management course I remember best from that time was one I took through the MBA program on employment law, where one of our texts was The Short Works of Herman Melville. We had a great time discussing the legal ramifications of the management decisions in "Billy Budd, Sailor" and "Bartleby the Scrivener", but I'm not sure that that's ever helped me in supervising a social worker who was dealing with her own family problems on the job.

Some of my best, and most relevant, management training came from professional development workshops at CompassPoint Nonprofit Services. I first sat in on these workshops as a staff person (I was the Director of their Silicon Valley office for several years) and eventually wound up teaching a couple of them. I continue to do occasional Supervisory Skills workshops for my clients as an independent consultant.

When I find myself wrestling with a management question, it is these workshop materials that I find myself looking back to for reference, not "Billy Budd" or "Bartleby." (Don't get me wrong; I love these stories, just not as management reference works).

(I should also mention that I had great mentoring at both CompassPoint, and at HandsNet before that, and it is that experience which most prepared me for my current role).

Which brings me back to my point and a question. How is your organization preparing your next generation of managers and leaders? Are you investing in their professional development? Are you making sure that they get the skills they need beyond program implementation, whether through workshops or mentoring?

How about yourself? Are you prepared?

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

New web site - $20 Fundraising

A little over a year ago I blogged about a Reverend in England who gave 90 parishioners £10 each with the request that they do something with it to increase the donation within six months.

I've thought about that story often in the year or so since then, and find I am still inspired by it. This morning I have launched a website dedicated to spreading the word that fundraising doesn't always have to to be difficult or expensive.

I am simply calling it - Twenty Dollar Fundraising Ideas ($20 is approximately £10). I have posted the first ten low-cost fundraising ideas, the Reverend's story, and a form for readers to submit their own $20 ideas.

Please check it out and let me know what you think. Thank you!

Monday, June 18, 2007

A Culture of Measurement

Today's posting on Inside Philanthropy is about how critical it is to track nonprofit performance. Of course, we all already know that, right? But it's not always as easy as it sounds.

Depending on your organization, our goals are often very long-term, and our resources to follow-up are limited. So, many nonprofits fall into the trap of counting outputs instead of outcomes. The posting quotes Jason Saul of Mission Measurement:
Rather than simply counting the output of their programs or the number of clients they serve, Saul says, nonprofits should be measuring the outcomes or impact of those programs.
Saul recommends that organizations' create a "success equation." This involves asking, "what measurable items would indicate progress towards your mission." But, again, focusing on results, not process.

One pitfall that I've found organizations falling into is that there is one staff person tasked with evaluation, and the majority of the staff viewing that person as an annoyance distracting them from doing the "real work" of direct service. Saul address this as well, and talks about how all staff have to hold a piece of the evaluation puzzle:
“Measurement is a culture, not a project,” Saul says, and nonprofits should work on measurement within their existing business processes, keep it simple at first, and make it positive, not punitive.
I like that idea, of a culture of measurement. An organization that I'm currently working with definitely fits that ideal. It would be great if they all did.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Painless Strategic Planning

The Nonprofiteer today has a great posting on why funders often ask for your nonprofit's Strategic Plan, and offers a fairly painless outline of a quick and useful planning process.

First, to the question of "Why plan?" the Nonprofiteer offers this:
"Serve as many people as possible" is not a strategic plan; it's a mission--and a relatively uninspiring one, at that. You might try explaining the difference to your ED this way: the mission says what you're going to do, while the strategic plan says how.
And why do funders care about the how? Well, the how gets right to the heart of how you are going to be spending their money. A look at your Strategic Plan will also give them a little insight into your organization's broader goals, potential issues, and future vision -- and get a sense of whether or not your proposal to them is an integral part of that vision.

And the planning process? The Nonprofiteer says it need not be an over-long, over-tedious affair "resulting in a notebook which will collect dust on your shelf," and I couldn't agree more. To be useful, a plan has to be usable. It's got to directly address the issues your organization is facing, any obstacles you've identified to achieving your mission, and offer workable, realistic solutions along with a timeline and identification of the person or persons responsible.

I'll also be a little self-serving here, and include this last quote from the posting:
...It's useful to have a paid person to act as facilitator and scrivener, especially because an outsider can ask the questions all the insiders are too polite or too shy to ask: "Why don't you have a Board give-or-get? What do you mean, you don't have a computer system?"

If you absolutely positively can't bring in a paid consultant, you can do it yourself, with the Board chair acting as facilitator, the team reporters writing their own reports, and the staff formulating it all into a plan; but it'll take longer and you'll fare worse.
As somebody who's done a fair amount of facilitation (and attended a seemingly unfair amount of meetings), I can tell you that's it's nearly impossible to do justice to the role of facilitator and be a full participant at the same time. And the point about having an outside "expert" to point out best practices cannot be over-stressed.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

An inspirational quote...

I came across this quote today that I think should be hung in every nonprofit workplace across the country. It's a great reminded of why we do what we do.

"You are not here merely to make a living. You are here in order to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, with a finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world, and you impoverish yourself if you forget the errand."
Woodrow Wilson

Monday, June 11, 2007

Whose Nonprofit? Yours or the Board's?

Many people starting new nonprofits have a strong vision of what they expect the organization to be, and how they want to run it, only to wind up disillusioned or fighting with their board when they realize that nonprofits are cooperative enterprises.

So, whose nonprofit is it anyway? That's the question being asked today on the new "Nonprofit Connectors" blog. While the founder certainly has a strong and major influence, if things are run properly, it is the full board that is the legal holder of the governance power and can sometimes have a different vision than the founder.

But the answer to the question of "whose nonprofit" isn't the founder or the board; it's the public. The board may have the final say, but it is as the official guardian of the public interest that they hold that power. As Nonprofit Connectors writes, "Nonprofits are meant to be publicly funded; therefore, they need to be publicly governed as well."

This is only the second posting from Nonprofit Connectors, but it's a good and important one. They bill themselves as "A place to connect newly founded nonprofits with established ones." Sounds like a good idea to me; I'll be watching.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Carnival of the Nonprofit Consultants

It's my honor once again to host the Carnival of Nonprofit Consultants. This is always a pleasure because I get to take some out to really read what some of my colleagues have been writing and select a handful of the best posts for the Carnival.

With as busy as we all tend to get (I know I've been busy, and my lack of posting here is a result of that), it's important to remember that feeding our brain is an important part of being a professional. So, here you go with a variety of excellent brain food for the nonprofit professional...

Rosetta Thurman presents Founder's Syndrome: A Leak in the Nonprofit Leadership Pipeline posted at Perspectives From the Pipeline.

Katya Andresen presents Why I think gloom and doom backfire posted at Katya's Non-Profit Marketing Blog.

Kivi Leroux Miller presents How to Edit Yourself When You Write to Much posted at Nonprofit Communications >> Blog.

Edith Yeung presents The 7 Rules of Networking Made Easy posted at Edith Yeung.Com: Dream. Think. Act..

Nancy Schwartz presents How Big is the Gap between You and Your Audiences? posted at Getting Attention.

David Brazeal presents The real top 10 reasons PR doesn't work posted at JournalMarketing.

I thank you for stopping by, and hope you enjoy reading these posts as much as I have. This is a traveling carnival, with different hosts each week. You can keep track of the Carnival of Nonprofit Consultants, no matter which blog is hosting, by subscribing to the Carnival feed.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Preview of coming attractions...

Next Monday I will again be honored to host the Carnival of Nonprofit Consultants. Now, on the Carnival FAQ:

What's a blog carnival? click here to learn about blog carnivals

What's the carnival of nonprofit consultants all about? click here for the nitty gritty of this carnival

How do I submit my posts to the carnival? you'll find that answer by clicking right about here

Thanks & See you next Monday!

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

How do you allocate overhead costs?

One of the clients I'm working with has always only had one budget for the entire organization. This is fine for small nonprofits that only really have one or maybe two programs, but this client has grown out of that stage, and has at least five or six distinct programs and program areas that should be broken out of that budget.

While we were working on that, the question from staff came up of, "How do we allocate the overhead costs to each program?"

There may be many more ways to do this than I am aware of (I'm a grantwriter and management consultant, not an accountant), but the three basic ways I went over with them were Dollars, Time, and Space.

Dollars: The simplest way to do your overhead calculations is by overall dollars and percentage of the budget. In this method you break your budget down by program, including administration and fundraising as an overhead "program." If your overhead is 12% of the total programs budget (full budget, less the overhead), you simply add an overhead line item to each program of 12%.

This type of calculation is easy to do in Excel or any other accounting or spreadsheet program you may be budgeting in, and looks nice and clean. It's also handy to know what your agency's overhead rate is, in case a donor or funder wants to know.

But, it's also a bit deceptive. Do all programs draw from overhead equally? Are each of your programs really requiring the same percentage of your nonprofit's overhead? If you really want to get an idea of a program's true cost to your agency (and I'd think you'd want to), you'll probably want to look at one of the other methods.

Time: In this method, you break your budget down by programs, and make an "overhead program" as you did in the previous method, but you do not divide the overhead equally. Instead, you look at the total hours each of your employees puts into each program, then determine what percentage of total hours that program demands. If a program eats up 25% of your staff's time, then it gets 25% of the overhead budget.

This method is based on the idea that if that's where all your employee's energy is going, it's probably also where the attention of management and fundraising is going as well. And, you might be surprised that a program that's only 20% of your budget is eating up 60% of your staffing hours. This method recognizes that labor intensive programs require more overhead (management, space, supplies, etc.) than other programs.

Space: This method is similar to the time method, but instead of looking at your time sheets, you look at your square footage. Figure out the percentage of your total square footage each program uses, and use that percentage to divide out the overhead. Does one program require a massive building, while another with similar staffing require only a room with a few cubicles? Then that program should take up a larger share of the overhead.

This method is based on the idea that overhead costs are often directly related to space costs, including rent, utilities, taxes, and insurance. If you own your own building, or have donated space, this might not be as important to you.

Every organization is different, and you may want to base your overhead split on a combination of Time and Space, or some other factor that I've left out in this simple explanation. For the client in question, I suggested we go by the Time method, at least in this first time breaking out the programs from the total budget.

What other ways do you use to allocate your overhead costs? Post a comment if you're doing something different than the methods I've just described.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Marketing? For Nonprofits?

Many in the nonprofit field don't like to talk about marketing. Marketing is sometimes considered a dirty word. It's all about selling, and we don't sell, we fix! Selling is considered crass, and therefore, we don't talk about marketing.

But how do you get patients in the door of your clinic if not for marketing? How do parents in the neighborhood find out about your free book give-away program if not for marketing? How does anybody know about your theater group if not for marketing? I can go on and on, but you get the idea.

Nonprofit marketing may not always take the flashy, glossy, expensive route that you might associate with a marketing campaign for a new car, but it is marketing never-the-less. And what does our disdain for sales and marketing get us?

The just released 2007 Nonprofit Marketing Survey gives us a glimpse, and it's not too pretty.
More than 55% of nonprofits are frustrated by lack of resources and leadership support for marketing, but only 37% do the tracking that generates increased budgets and confidence.
For more information and the full survey results please see the Getting Attention blog.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Taking Part in the Human Race

One of my current nonprofit consulting clients is Grail Family Services in San Jose (GFS), California. I am helping them out as the Interim Executive Director while we work on some long-term strategic issues and decisions.

GFS does great work the East San Jose area, focusing on early childhood literacy, parenting, and family empowerment. All the programs are created with community input, and include strong evaluation components to track what works, and what doesn't. It's a fabulous organization that I am proud to be a part of.

This month we are participating in the Human Race fundraising event that is put on by the Volunteer Center of Silicon Valley. The Human Race is your basic pledge walk/run with a 5K walk and 5K and 10K runs. You've seen these before; we have a group of board members, staff, and volunteers who will be walking or running and we're asking for your support by pledging a donation.

There will be Human Race events going on all over the country this month. Most are put on by the local volunteer centers. If you'd like to enter your organization in the Human Race, try a Google search to find an event in your area.

If you'd like more information, or to make a donation, please click on this link to go to my pledge page. Thank you for your support!

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

"Just the facts, Ma'am"?

Viewers of the old TV program, Dragnet, remember Sgt. Joe Friday repeatedly telling the witnesses he'd question about a crime, "Just the facts, Ma'am." He had no time to get mixed up in the emotional aspects, he just wanted names, numbers, and details.

Many fundraisers also take the Sgt. Friday approach. Whether it's in a foundation grant proposal, or direct mail letter, or a talk at the local Rotary, too many of us get so caught up in our fabulous statistics and data that we forget that we are in an essentially emotional business.

When I teach grant writing classes, I always tell my students, "The data may get the funder interested, but it's the emotional hook that puts the signature on the check."

I am reminded of that this week because of a phenomenon being fueled by YouTube. A video was posted a week or so ago telling the story of a Josh Adkins, a boy with terminal cancer and one final wish: to get into the Guinness Book of World Records for receiving the most get-well cards.

Other YouTube users posted replies and helped spread the Josh Adkins message. One of these videos ended up being featured on the YouTube home page, bringing in over 100,000 views (to this date).

Needless to say, there are now thousands of cards being sent to the address given for young Josh. (Note: The Guinness people no longer certify a record in this category since a British child received more than 200 million cards in the decade since he put out his request. Still, Josh is a real boy, who wants to receive cards, whether or not it earns him a record.)

The creator of the featured video, Tom Guarriello (an online buddy of mine and a great business consultant), has since posted a follow-up video talking about the phenomenon that he unwittingly participated in, and some of the reaction to it.

In this new video he mentions that some of the comments he's received are along the lines of, "Why should we care about this one kid, when so many others are also dying?" Tom very rightly answers about the power of emotional arguments to push logic and reason aside. The image of one sick boy hits us all (okay, most of us) much harder than charts showing the number of childhood cancer victims and survivors.

Which brings us back to what I teach my grant writing students: Put in the data, but don't be afraid to include the emotional hook too.

Yes, brag about how successful your organization is, and how many people you serve, and how it has improved their lives - but then illustrate that with a real client story. Put in that name (first name only, remember confidentiality) and create that image. Funders are human too.

After all, did you get into the nonprofit field for all the nifty spreadsheets and the huge paychecks? Or did you get into the nonprofit field to help people?

"Just the facts?" I don't think so.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Carnival of the Nonprofit Consultants

It is my pleasure, once again, to host the Carnival of Nonprofit Consultants. For those new to blog carnivals, they are a fun way to focus in on a topic and learn about new blogs. This particular carnival was founded by Kivi Leroux Miller of

Erek Ostrowski presents Creating a Culture of Productivity and Success posted at Verve Coaching.

Jeff Brooks presents Consumers shut the door - what can you do? posted at Donor Power Blog.

Colin Delany presents Learning About User Expectations - The Hard Way posted at e.politics.

Nancy Schwartz presents Japan Society Comes Clean at Time of Organizational Challenge posted at Getting Attention.

Paul Jones presents Cause-Related Marketing with Franchises posted at Cause Related Marketing.

Katya Andresen presents How to court a blogger posted at Katya's Nonprofit Marketing Blog.

Peter Brinckerhoff presnts Exec Pay posted at Mission-Based Management.

Thank you for joining us on this round-up of what's happening on the nonprofit consulting blogs.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Two in three Americans volunteer - Good news or bad?

According to a new survey by Thrivent Financial for Lutherans, 64% of American adults had "performed some type of volunteer activity in 2006". So, is this good news and bad? How about both...

It's great news! A sizable majority of your community members, constituents, potential supporters, and neighbors are actively involved in helping nonprofit organizations achieve their missions.

This means that if you have volunteer needs in your organization (and if not, why not?), then you should have an eager army of people ready and willing to perform for you.

It's awful news! As impressive as 64% volunteering sounds, it's actually significantly less the number who wanted to volunteer! The Thrivent survey found that 86% would have volunteered, if the opportunities had been available.

This means that we, as a sector, are doing a rotten job of either providing the right opportunities, or of promoting and recruiting for those opportunities, or both.

Does every mailing and newsletter that goes out from your nonprofit include a phone number and name of the person to contact for volunteer opportunities?

Does the front page of your web site include information on volunteer opportunities, and a one-click means of finding out how to take part?

Or are you afraid of over-promoting these, because you prefer to promote giving opportunities? Well, consider this old axiom: money follows involvement. 90% of volunteers are potential donors. If you get them volunteering, the donation ask actually gets easier!

And that is good news all around

(Thanks to Dave Rustad for the link!)

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Does your nonprofit organization employ a**holes?

Warner Business Books will shortly be releasing a new book that will is destined to be a business classic, if only for its title: The No Asshole Rule - Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn't, by Stanford Professor Robert I. Sutton.

Beyond the catchy title (that I'm sure just about everybody who's ever had a job can relate to), Sutton actually does have something to say about the toxic effect of a**holes on the workplace:
Assholes have devastating cumulative effects partly because nasty interactions have a far bigger impact on our moods than positive interactions - five times the punch, according to recent research. ... These findings help explain why demeaning acts are so devastating. It takes numerous encounters with positive people to offset the energy and happiness sapped by a single episode with one asshole.
There are also, according to Sutton, degrees of a**hole activity. We all may be guilty of occasional bad moods leading to "temporary a**hole" status. And then, there are those who qualify as "certified a**holes."

While the book is written about the for-profit business world, it can almost certainly be applied to the nonprofit world as well. Some of you may be thinking, "No, not in the nonprofit world! We're all good and pure!"

Well, unfortunately, my experience tells me that while that may be true than in other sectors of the economy, the nonprofit sector is not immune from the destructive nature of a**holes in the workplace.

The difference may be that in the "heartless business world" managers may be quicker to deal with potential a**holes in the making, while we nonprofit folks may be more forgiving, and not have the heart to fire somebody who really needs it.

So, remember, it's not just because you don't like the a**hole in question. You have to fire this person because they are toxic to your organization, they diminish productivity, and that is hazardous to your mission.

Read more about the book, and Don Griesmann's full review, at

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

What gets left behind - Thinking about priorities

I apologize for not being better about posting for the last couple of weeks. First I had to go out of town for several days for a funeral, and since I've been back I've been extremely busy with helping one client with a new Strategic Plan, helping another with a major funding proposal (the finished proposal was about 25 pages), and starting up an assignment as an Interim Executive Director. With all of this activity, blogging has been pushed aside.

But this could also be an interesting topic for a nonprofit blog; what gets left undone when you get busy with everything else? What's falling through the cracks at your nonprofit organization?

It's a fact of nonprofit life that you will always be busier than you can handle, and that you will always be doing more than one job. So, how do you prioritize?

In the case of this blog, the fact of life is that projects that have far greater income potential distracted me. The blog is part of my mission of assisting nonprofits, and it is a good tool for promoting my consulting practice, but bottom line considerations intervened.

Are you putting mission aside to work on projects that have more immediate deadlines, or have some greater income potential?

I have no answers today, just these questions for you to think about, and an explanation for my recent absence.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Body Bags for Charity

In addition to this nonprofit consulting blog, I also keep a general interest/politics blog (and a guitar playing/collecting blog), and sometimes I have to wonder which blog I'm going to post a certain item to. This is one of those items.

This is one to file under "nonprofit fundraising," but it's also going to my general interest blog, because it's just that odd.

The Los Angeles County Coroner (office of the infamous Thomas Naguchi and inspiration for the classic TV show, Quincy) was facing a fiscal crisis when the County didn't have enough money to fund the Youthful Drunk Driving Visitation Program (YDDVP) - A court ordered alternative sentencing program for youthful offenders, that takes participants through the Coroner facilities and exposes them to the realistic and traumatic consequences associated with their offense.

Their answer? A web site selling body bags, toe-tag key chains, "Undertaker" boxer shorts, and many other less-odd items, each featuring the County Coroner's seal or a chalked body outline design. They'll get a lot of publicity for the store, and - I believe - a lot of sales revenue as well.

I just wish some of the nonprofits I work with could be this creative, original, and off-the-wall with their fundraising efforts.

(Thanks to the Selfish Giving blog for the lead and link.)

Monday, January 22, 2007

More on corporate sponsorship: Good news and a warning

Last week, I reported about how mergers and changing corporate priorities can put nonprofit funding at risk. Today, I've got some good news to help you retain those corporate sponsors.

There's new data that demonstrates that businesses that donate to charities earn back $6 in sales for every $1 they contribute.
The businesses that are more likely to enjoy this return are those that sell directly to consumers, such as retail, financial institutions, and electronics manufacturers. This is likely because these companies can and do advertise their giving to the general public. Wal-Mart Stores, for instance, is planning to broadcast a national TV ad that touts its charitable contributions.
Yes, this is good data to bring to your meetings with potential sponsors. And, yes, companies should not be afraid to brag about the good works that they contribute to (don't fight it, this gives your nonprofit additional free publicity). But, it's not without ethical questions.

Because when you post a companies banner at your event, or place their logo on your website or annual report, you are essentially advertising for them - and when they advertise their good deeds they are strengthening the perceived link between you and them - all nonprofits must consider the company they keep, not just the dollars they raise.

What I mean is, you really have to consider how compatible your mission is with their product. Many organizations have already made strong points of refusing tobacco or alcohol money, but there may be other, less obvious compatibility issues you should consider.

Before you accept sponsorship from that building development company for your job training program, have you checked on their labor practices or history of labor disputes? When the grocery store supports your drug treatment program, do you look into their marketing of alcohol?

I'm sure I've written about this before, but this is a conversation your management and board should have before the question arises. Have a policy on what types of companies you will go after, and what types of companies you will refuse. And then, when you go after the ones that fit, let them know about that 6 to 1 return on their investment.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Yet Another Reason to Diversify Your Funding (like you really needed another)

It's official: PND (the Philanthropy News Digest) reports that when corporations restructure, grants to nonprofits dwindle. Of course, we've all felt this for years, and we all recall such major events as when Chevron and Texaco merged in 2001 Texaco ended its sixty-four-year sponsorship of the Metropolitan Opera's Sunday afternoon radio broadcasts. Similarly, Mobil's long-time support for PBS's Masterpiece Theatre ended shortly after it became ExxonMobil in 1999.

The current worries were spurred by news of major restructuring coming at Altria Group, the parent of Philip Morris, Kraft Foods, and many others. Many have criticized Altria's funding in the past as an attempt at "green wash" (doing good deeds to cover up for bad, in this case being a major source of food and nutrition program funding through its Kraft division to make up for the damage done by the Philip Morris cigarettes division).

With over 700 current grantees sharing in close to $200 million in cash and in-kind gifts annually, a major shift in Altria's giving could have ripple effects throughout the nonprofit sector.
Still, the best way for nonprofits to protect themselves from corporate mergers and restructuring, said Gene Tempel, director of the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, is to avoid relying on a few big donors. "I give the same advice I would to shareholders. Diversify."
This is the same advice I give my clients, and that I try to get across when I teach workshops. Diversify at all levels. By that, I don't just mean mixing individuals, foundations, corporate, and government money, but also diversifying within each of those areas.

It's not diversifying if you only have one foundation, one company, and one major donor. You need to build your base so that a loss of any one funder, or shift in any one sector, does not throw you off your plan. Stability and sustainability, not complacency, are our watchwords.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Carnival of Nonprofit Consultants

It is my honor, once again, to host the Carnival of Nonprofit Consultants. For those new to blog carnivals, they are a fun way to focus in on a topic and learn about new blogs. This particular carnival was founded by Kivi Leroux Miller of

One of the difficult rules of this carnival is narrowing all the entries down to only the seven best posts of the previous two weeks. That is, the difficult part for the host - for you, the reader, it's a benefit. So, here are the top seven posts that I received (click on the description to go to the blog post):

Nedra Kline Weinreich - On the importance of making your product concrete in social marketing and fundraising

Maryann Devine - On the need for failure, or at least risking failure. Risk taking in fundraising.

Paul Jones - On the top five and bottom five cause-related marketing campaigns of 2006.

Jeff Brooks - On nonprofit "branding" as building a movement.

Nancy Schwartz - On public speaking and making sure your message is heard.

Heather Carpenter - On strategic planning.

Jack Yoest - On nonprofit corporate governance: The Rotary.

Thank you for joining us on this round-up of what's happening on the nonprofit consulting blogs. Happy reading, and best of luck in 2007.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

"Charities are more than financial statements"

PND (Philanthropy News Digest) today has an article on making the case for funding administrative costs that quotes Bennett Weiner, CEO of the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance, as saying:
Charities are more than just financial statements, and people shouldn't make donation decisions solely on financial statements.

If a charity spends 80 percent of its expenses on programs, it doesn't necessarily mean that it is doing a better job than one that is spending 70 percent.
As refreshing as it is to read that quote, it is not, however, how most donors think about overhead costs. Donors - individuals and foundations - prefer to fund programs for a number of reasons. First of all, it's far "sexier" to say your money is saving children rather than making paperwork more efficient. Additionally, according to a study by the Center for Effective Philanthropy, "It's easier to track funds allocated to program[s]."

So, how do you make the case for administrative costs funding? Eric Schwarz, CEO of Citizen Schools, Boston, says:
The key is you don't call it overhead. Talk about metrics. Show that to get even better results and expand to reach more kids we need to invest in our team.
It's hard to save the world when you're sitting in the dark without any lights or a computer or coworkers. It may not be "sexy" but it is necessary.