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

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Whose Story is it Anyway?

I am one who has always believed in the value of good story telling in fundraising. Nothing earth shattering in that statement. Most anybody who has been successful in nonprofit fundraising - whether writing grant proposals, doing direct mail, or creating event programs - will tell you the same thing.

Even with foundations (and others) seemingly more focused than ever on outcomes and measurements, when I teach proposal writing I always caution my students from getting so caught up in the numbers that they forget the human element. Data and statistics, I tell them, may help make the case, but it's putting a face and a story to that data that gets signatures on checks.

With that in mind, I also believe that nonprofits who want to be effective at fundraising should always be on the look-out for good stories from the people they serve, encouraging them to (if possible) write out their experience of how the organization helped in their own words. These can be used in proposals, letters, speeches, etc.

For years this was considered good advice, and was appreciated by my students and clients alike. Until earlier this year.

The program staff of an organization I was working with all very strongly felt that using these real stories - even with names and identifying details changed - was a violation of their client's trust and privacy, ethically questionable, and akin to an act of violence.

The clients had been through rough times and did not have much. What they did have was their personal story, and to take that from them was beyond exploitation. Unless the client voluntarily and without prompting offered, "I want you to use my story to market the organization," there would be no compromise on this position.

I completely understood where the program staff was coming from on this, and the importance of being respectful of telling somebody else's story. But I also know the reality of trying to raise funds for even the best of causes without the ability to talk about the organization's success in terms of the success of the individuals it serves.

I have no simple answers with this blog post, other than to inform and ask permission before using a client story in your organizational material. But what do you think?

Are the stories of your client's success so important that it justifies exploiting them to raise money? And while the circumstances that brought a client to your nonprofit may be their private affair, don't you have some right to talk about how you helped them out of those circumstances? Please comment below - I'd love to know how you handle this delicate issue.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

I'm Nonprofit and I Vote!

Two of my recent posts here were encouraging nonprofits (the organizations and the people behind them) to be more politically involved (Nonprofits Talking Taxes & Nonprofits and the 99%), so I feel I should also post a quick update when I see examples of how nonprofits are flexing their political muscle.

The Silicon Valley Council of Nonprofits (SVCN) surveyed 560 nonprofit staff and found that they were both, more likely to be registered to vote, and more likely to actually vote than the general population. Senior nonprofit managers were even more likely to register and vote than their staff, with 96% and 97% voting in the last two elections.

Keep this in mind when you're meeting with your local elected officials, and don't be shy about sharing this information with them. As a sector, our voice has long been under-estimated, and we have been too shy about speaking out.

For the sake of our clients, and the survival of our organizations, we need to be proud to proclaim "I'm Nonprofit and I Vote!"

For more on the SVCN survey, click here -- Fore more resources see

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Nonprofits and the 99%

By now I'm guessing that you have all heard about the Occupy Wall Street protests and the 99% movement. The Wall Street protests started more than three weeks ago, and was at first largely absent from the domestic press, with coverage only getting to us through the European press until the story was just too big to ignore.

What surprises me is how little I'm still hearing from the nonprofit press about the movement. Perhaps they see the protests as happening outside of the nonprofit sector, being organized without the benefit of structured 501(c)(3)'s, boards of directors, strategic plans, or foundation funding. Perhaps many nonprofits themselves are wary of being seen as part of a protest movement, coveting their professional standing and reputation, thinking they are above the rabble.

But when you look at the protesters, listen to their grievances, and think about what they're looking for, it is inescapable that are us, and they are ours.

Those involved in Occupy Wall Street, and newer Occupy (fill in city name) movements across the country, are collectively the 99%. Not the owners of the banks or large corporations, but the rest of us, working to survive.

They are the middle-aged middle-managers who have found themselves laid off, retirement plans raided, homes foreclosed on, and health insurance canceled. They are the young, fresh college graduates with $50-$100,000 in student loan debt, fighting to get a part-time minimum wage job and holding no hope for the future. They are single parents struggling to keep a roof, any roof, over their children's heads. In short, they are the clients at all of our nonprofit human services organizations.

And, as workers in a traditionally low-wage industry, we in the nonprofit sector are also all in the 99%. We too watched as other industries got bailed out while we slashed our own budgets and laid off staff.

If you see your clients, your staff, and your organization's mission, reflected in the stories of those "occupying" Wall Street and elsewhere, what are you doing to support them? I know, you're afraid of jeopardizing your nonprofit status by "getting too political." But short of endorsing a particular candidate or ballot proposition, there's much you can do.

Begin by simply getting informed about local "Occupy (your city)" meetings, and sharing that information with your clients. Let them know how they can advocate for themselves, and empower them to fight for their future.

Perhaps your organization can't officially march in a protest, but off the clock you certainly can as a citizen. Invite a board member to come with you. Start a discussion and see where it goes.

Read the stories posted at "We are the 99 Percent."

Visit Occupy Together, and the "Events" pull-down menu find your region and search for your closest Occupy event. Follow them on Twitter and Facebook, and learn what's happening in your area.

Monday, September 19, 2011

About Interim Executive Director Services

There are many times in the life cycle of a nonprofit organization when it is appropriate to hire an interim CEO (or executive director) instead of bringing in permanent leadership:
  • The loss of a long-term leader or founder,
  • A change in strategic direction,
  • Time to review long-term strategy,
  • A financial or other management crisis that requires special skills,
  • Consideration or negotiation of a merger.
Interim staff leadership during a period of transition gives a board of directors the time necessary to make appropriate strategic decisions. The use of a consultant as interim brings additional industry experience to the table in guiding the board through the strategy setting and transition process.

I have served as an interim executive director for five different organizations, each with a unique situation, and each with successful results for that organization.
  • Two of my interim assignments resulted in successful mergers. One of a small, single-program agency into a larger regional organization, and the other of a mid-sized multi-program, single-topic agency into a larger regional organization. In each case I served as part of the negotiating team, protecting the interests of my client, and managing communications to staff, as well as managing day-to-day operations of the organization.
  • A third assignment began with merger negotiations, but for strategic reasons the merger agreement was never completed. At that time the focus of the assignment became stabilization and sustainability of the organization before beginning a search for a new, permanent executive director.
  • With another organization, I was asked to bring it back from the brink of bankruptcy after mismanagement by the previous executive director. My focus here was on bringing in new funding, re-negotiating a building purchase agreement, cutting the operating budget by 20%, and rebuilding the board from four to eleven members, before beginning the search for a new, permanent executive director.
  • In only one situation was I asked to investigate, and then implement, a plan for bankruptcy and an orderly shut down of operations. Before proceeding with the shut-down, I held private interviews with all stakeholders, including funders, clients, board members, and others in the community, as well as other nonprofit leaders who had gone through bankruptcies.
To discuss the needs of your organization, please contact me at ken at If I feel we may have a fit, we will arrange an initial meeting at which we will discuss your organization's situation and needs and create a personalized plan.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Nonprofits Talking Taxes

Earlier this month I attended a workshop at the Community Foundation of Santa Cruz County called "Show Me the Money: Nonprofits Talking Taxes." The workshop was conducted by Kim Klein, a well-known, much respected, and quite beloved fundraising consultant and trainer.

But "talking taxes"? Kim Klein is the grassroots fundraising guru, not an economist or policy wonk. But, as she explained at the start of the workshop, over the past several years of the recession-that-will-not-end, with each round of budget cuts at all levels of government, more and more public institutions were turning to private foundations and individual donors to fill the gap.

Nonprofits that have always relied on those sources were suddenly in competition with schools and libraries. Not to mention those nonprofits who had been reliant on government funding suddenly got the message about diversifying their fund development plan and were also doing their first fundraising letters and grant proposals. Of course, the funds available did not grow. In fact, many foundations (and many individual donors) have less resources to meet these rising needs.

Meanwhile, the nonprofit sector as a whole has been remarkably silent in the public discussion of government budget cuts, tax cuts, and the unwillingness of many to talk about new revenue. Those behind Nonprofits Talking Taxes believed that it's high time for the sector to get involved in this debate as if our organization's lives depended on it, because that's not far from the truth.

This is not simply a fight for those nonprofits who receive government funding; this is about all of us who care about what direction our society and our communities are heading. As has been said by many, a government budget is not simply a financial document, it is a direct reflection of a community's values. So what does the California State budget say about our values, that it sacrifices the jobs of teachers rather than inconvenience corporations?

The workshop was not all gloom and doom. Quite the opposite. Through humor and group participation, we learned more about the state budget, taxes, why all nonprofit professionals should care about it, and left feeling optimistic; that we can have some control and say over the future direction of our state.

For an example of how humor is used to talk about the topic, click here to take the "Nonprofit Tax Quiz" that Kim created (on Blue Avocado).

These workshops are free, and are available to any nonprofit group in California. For those elsewhere, I'm sure they'd be happy to provide some guidance to creating a Nonprofits Talking Taxes curriculum for your state.

Learn more at the Nonprofits Talking Taxes website.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Shoe Changes Foot

All of us in the nonprofit sector have heard the drumbeats over the last few years accompanying the chants of, "Merge! Merge! Merge!" That pundits outside the sector were saying it, we could brush aside as the rantings of somebody who didn't know how efficient and cost-effective most nonprofits really are, but when our funders - including government at all levels - joined in, many of us took it seriously and at least explored mergers, whether they were completed or not.

And now, the tables have turned... A nonprofit in New Jersey has now made it its mission to get towns to get with the times and start merging:
In New Jersey there are 566 towns. California, by comparison, has only 482 municipalities. An organization called Courage to Connect N.J. believes that the situation is unsustainable in light of the growing financial straits of local governments... They say too many local governments, and the costs associated with them, drive up property taxes.
While I was at first simply amused by the headline and the irony of nonprofits encouraging governments to merge, when I read the article I simply had to agree. If there's one thing that for-profit businesses and nonprofits can agree on, it's the inefficiencies of government.

And now, after the merger fever that's swept through our sector the last few years, who is better positioned to show how mergers can really work for the benefit of constituents and the public good than nonprofits?

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

When is a Donation Not a Donation?

A donation that's not a donation? What's that? When it's a situation where the supporter believes they've a donation, but the nonprofit does not see it that way.

Such as, a small nonprofit puts a link to Amazon on their website, because they get a few pennies back from each book sale as part of the "associates" program. The nonprofit thinks, "We're providing a service, and getting a little extra cash." The organization's supporter thinks, "What a fun way to make my donation!" On a larger scale, it could be the logo of a national organization placed on items or the marketing of a national chain store.

Either way, the supporter is often likely to confuse the $25 spent on goods with having made a $25 donation direct to the nonprofit. I've been skeptical of these arrangements for years, and (when I was consulting) often warned my clients not to put too much effort into such arrangements. But it was just my feeling that this was happening. Now, I have a little bit of evidence.

In today's Nonprofit Quarterly online, there's an article saying that Cause Marketing Drives Down Donations. The evidence comes from a University of Michigan study:
More precisely, the study found that giving decreased if a donor had previously purchased a cause-related product, even if the donor was going to make the purchase independent of any charitable considerations. As a result of her findings, Professor Aradhna Krishna, the study's lead researcher, suggests that maybe not all giving is good giving.
There are already some criticisms of the study - small sample size, range, methodology - but I believe that further study will only bolster these results. So, does this mean you should avoid all such arrangements?

I think you can still use marketing arrangements, and sell goods, but you must do it with caution, and with eyes wide open. Make sure that the potential donation is enough to make it worth your time. Use these co-marketing deals to reach new supporters - those who haven't heard of you before and were not going to give a donation otherwise - rather than presenting these opportunities to your current donors.

Ask yourself this; is the business you're considering partnering with going to be promoting your mission to their customers, or are they expecting you to promote their products to your donors? Who does more work in the contract, and who gets more of the profits? If the balance is off, it's okay to just say "No."

I've said it before, and I'll say it again, "If you only ask for small donations, you'll only get small donations."

Sunday, February 06, 2011

My First Nonprofit Job

A first blog posting after a long absence is always difficult; so many things to talk about, it's hard to decide what the most relevant topic would be. First, let me remind you where I've been...

After about seven years as an independent consultant, in January I began a regular, full-time executive director position with a local nonprofit organization, and spent the month fully immersed in learning the programs, the culture, and the needs. I've been working long days (and nights) and coming home exhausted but happy. My orientation and training will continue for another couple of months at least, but I feel I can come up for air long enough for a blog post or two.

Which brings us to the topic of this post, how did this career of mine start? The truth is, at the time of my first nonprofit job, I had no idea that it would be my career. At the time, I was still planning a life in film production. I had not yet returned to school to get degrees in politics (BA) and public policy (MPPA), and was just looking for an interesting and meaningful way to earn some money to pay for my creative projects and take a few cinema classes here and there.

I don't even recall the exact year, but it must have been in the early or mid 1980s, when I accepted a job as a canvasser for the Campaign for Economic Democracy (aka Campaign California) in Santa Monica; an organization started by Tom Hayden and his (then) wife, Jane Fonda. At the time, Hayden had recently been elected to the state Assembly, but he did speak with us occasionally. I don't recall ever seeing Ms. Fonda, but rumor was that her exercise videos were our number one funding source.

Each afternoon we'd gather in our 3rd Street office for some motivational presentation before hitting the residential streets of Los Angeles County to knock on doors and ask for signatures on petitions (mostly promoting solar energy and environmental protection) as well as collect donations to support our work.

Asking for those $10 and $25 checks was the hardest thing I'd ever done. Nobody could have ever guessed at that time that fundraising would become a large part of my professional career. Confession: I was not the best at getting those checks, although I did get many signatures.

There was, of course, a downside to working for a figure such as Tom Hayden. As much as he may have been lionized in certain west-side, ultra-liberal enclaves, he was quite reviled and hated elsewhere, especially in areas where there were many veterans of the Vietnam war. I was physically threatened on several occasions, including once by gentleman who kept a saw by his front door and chased me off his property waving the saw violently after me.

But there were many wonderful people too, who would invite you in for a glass of lemonade on a hot LA evening. We'd make note of these "safe houses" to know where to run when the guys with weapons got out of control. I didn't last long as a canvasser, but I did eventually get better at asking for money...

How about you? What was your first experience raising money for a cause or working for a nonprofit?