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, February 22, 2012

Honoring Donor Intent

This seems like such a basic, "Fundraising Ethics 101" topic that I'd never have to write a post explicitly about it, but it seems that even high profile nonprofit organizations need to be reminded: Donor Intent is King!

This month started with the news that country star Garth Brooks had won his million dollar lawsuit against a regional hospital. The issue was over a donation Brooks had made with the understanding that a building would be named for the singer's late mother.

A week later came headlines that the Ray Charles Foundation was demanding the return of several million dollars the late singer had donated to Albany State University in Georgia for a performing arts center that was never built.

Now, today we learn that Johns Hopkins University is being sued over the alleged misuse of millions of dollars from the estate of Elizabeth Beall Banks. This dispute revolves around farmland given on the condition that it be used for agricultural research and development, but now will be home to nearly five-million-square-feet of construction.

These are obviously high profile cases involving millions of dollars and well known organizations and donors, but the principles involved are the same for $25 donations to local nonprofit groups. You must follow through on your promises to donors. If funds are designated for a particular purpose, it is your legal and ethical obligation to use it for that purpose and that purpose only.

Raising funds with a pitch for one program or project, and then using them for another is a bait-and-switch con that will come back to haunt you. You may think you did well in the short run, but in the long-term you will lose donors, you will lose honest staff and board members, and you will risk your organization's reputation and future.

When dealing with large donations, do your best to set clear expectations with your donor, write out exactly what the purpose of the donation is, and have it signed. This donor agreement is not just for designated funds, as in the cases above, but especially important if you think the donation is unrestricted. The donor's signature on an agreement that you can use the funds in whatever way is needed to support the mission will protect you if they - or their heirs - ever come back and say the funds were designated.

Such clear, written agreements also protect the donor. And, with such well-publicized scandals putting us all under the microscope, offering your donors such transparency and guarantees will help ease their doubts about your integrity.

Tim Newell, Elizabeth Banks' nephew and one of the principals in the case against Johns Hopkins, explains, "You hate to lose faith in the entire system. ... All donors have the right to be assured that gifts be used for the reason they were given."

Friday, February 17, 2012

Doing Good... And Letting People Know About It!

You know your organization does great work that benefits your community, but unless you get that message out clearly, consistently, and publicly, you will be losing out on donations to those organizations that have mastered communications and marketing. Today I have two bits of marketing & communications news to share.

First, for those nonprofits who are using YouTube, or creating videos to showcase your cause, you can get even more exposure for your good work by entering the 6th Annual DoGooder Nonprofit Video Awards. Presented by See3 Communications with support from Cisco, the Case Foundation and the Nonprofit Technology Network, the awards are "designed to recognize the creative and effective use of video to promote the work of the nonprofit sector in catalyzing social good."

Best of all, the awards are completely free to enter and open to any eligible nonprofit organization in the U.S., U.K, Canada, and Australia that created a video in 2011. The submission phase goes until February 29th, after which the public will have a chance to vote for the winning videos. Winning organizations will get their video on YouTube’s homepage on April 5th. To enter, visit the DoGooder Awards page on YouTube (click here).

Second, Nancy Schwartz, of the Getting Attention blog, has a new ebook for you: The 2012 Nonprofit Marketing Wisdom Guide. The guide is an easy to ready and reference compendium of advice from your peers on everything from branding, to email asks, to social media strategy, to media relations, and everything in between.

Last December, Nancy surveyed her newsletter subscribers and organized the responses by category into these 219 nuggets that are sure to help even the most seasoned professional. You can download your copy by visiting the Getting Attention website (click here).

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Boardroom Musical Chairs

At lunch with a group of consultants a couple of months back, we were lamenting the tendency of certain local organizations to fill their empty board seats by simply bringing on the termed-out board members of closely-linked organizations. In this scenario, as positions open up, a director will typically say, "What about so-and-so? I know her from board X." And so on, as our boards shuffle around in very small circles.

So, what's wrong with this? We recycle everything else, why not our boards of directors?

Yes, we get new members with experience serving on boards this way, but we never seem to question the depth or value of that experience. When we only recruit within our existing circles, we don't open up our boards to new ideas, new connections, and a broader range of experience.

Adding like-minded, friendly board members, who we already know, will never challenge us to consider different points-of-view, other ways of looking at the problems we face, or force us to take an honest look at our organization's practices.

Many people are drawn to serve on a nonprofit board of directors because of the social experience. We enjoy working with our friends on an issue that is close to our hearts and is important to our community. We feel it strengthens our friendships, and brings meaning to these pre-existing social relationships. And, indeed, boards of friends may be less likely to miss meetings, and might challenge members to work harder lest they lose face in front of their peers.

But there's also the very great danger of group-think. Amongst one's friends, one is less likely to speak out against a seeming popular decision. Peer pressure, and not wanting to seem out-of-step, makes yes-men and women of too many of us. The fear of harming the personal relationship makes us timid in our professional responsibilities.

Many organizations use web-based services like VolunteerMatch or BoardNetUSA to find new directors. Others advertise for board members the same as they'd do for any open staff position. Local board training and recruitment programs can often be found within chambers of commerce, community leadership programs, or nonprofit resource centers. Recently, I received an email from a national organization I belong to, asking for board nominations from among their entire membership.

So, what about your organization? Are you recycling board members within your circle of the usual suspects? Or are you actively developing new sources of recruitment? I'd love to have your comments below on where you are finding new blood for your board.