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

Monday, July 01, 2019

Introducing Online Training in Grant Proposal Writing

From 2003-2018 I presented the class Basic Grant Proposal Writing Skills for Nonprofits at the Community Foundation Santa Cruz County about three times each year. During that same period, I also did custom versions of the class for several individual organizations and smaller coalitions of nonprofits.

All-in-all, well over 1,000 individual nonprofit professionals have gone through my grant proposal writing trainings, and have been very satisfied with the results.

Over the last month or so, I've updated the materials again. This time, with the goal of translating it into an online class. I'm quite pleased with the results, and am officially launching the class today.

I've divided the course into eight major presentations, plus three short lectures, in over three hours of video. All of the lessons have downloads, including the slides, worksheets, and other resources.

The major lessons are:
  1. The Charitable Giving Landscape
  2. Making Your Fundraising Case
  3. Getting Ready for Grants
  4. Starting Your Proposal
  5. Goals and Outcomes
  6. Methodology, Evaluation, and Sustainability
  7. Budgets
  8. Putting it All Together
Throughout the course I put an emphasis on the modes of communication, good storytelling, and what funders are looking for (including strong outcomes statements).

The cost of the course will be $64.99 (students at the Community Foundation typically paid $65/each for the same material), but, to get the course launched, I am offering it to my regular readers for only $9.99 through this link (limited time offer).

Please let me know your reaction to the course, and if you have any ideas for what online course you'd like me to develop next!

Tuesday, March 05, 2019

I'm Back

After four years of working as a "permanent" full-time Executive Director, launching a start-up nonprofit, and only taking a few short-term consulting gigs from existing clients, I am once again available for new opportunities.

So, what have I been doing these four years? I took on the challenge of being the first Executive Director of Recovery Cafe San Jose. And, yes, there were many challenges and frustrations, but it was also one of the greatest experiences of my professional life.

RCSJ is a healing community for those traumatized by addiction, homelessness, and mental health challenges. Through support groups, classes, community meals, and social activities, members build their recovery capital, recognize their self-worth, and achieve their personal goals.

When I arrived, the Cafe had only been operating for about one year, and was only open three days each week, and serving four meals. Of those meals, only one was prepared fresh in-house; the others were delivered by another partner organization. They are now open five days each week, and serving seven meals, all created in their own state-of-the-art, commercial quality kitchen.

In 2015, there were only had about 50 members who were actually participating in their Recovery Circles regularly. There were no consequences for missed Circles, and not much direction for what was expected of members besides showing up.

As I leave,  membership is over 160, with all members actively sharing in Circles and a number of other activities, and holding themselves (and their peers) accountable for being present and participating. When they're going to miss a Circle, they call in to make sure they don't lose their valued membership.

In 2015, the Cafe had a handful of Circles, and a few drop-in activities. Now there is a full schedule of Circles, a robust School for Recovery curriculum, and a Community Participation Program that uses one-on-one kitchen and barista training to build self-esteem and social skills, as well as job skills.

Then, the Cafe had not yet lifted any members up to be peer leaders. Now 30% of Circles are peer led, members have created School for Recovery classes, taken charge of the coffee bar, participated in a planning retreat and program committee meetings, and taken on other leadership roles.

Along the way we also did a $1.2 million renovation of the Cafe itself, financed through CDBG funds, and all the delays, bureaucracy, endless meetings, and hard work that implies. Not to forget operating programs at a different location while managing the construction at home base.

Even with all that, much of what we did in the last four years was behind the scenes. When I walked in, basic things like Worker's Comp coverage were lacking, the financial reports to the board had the same wrong figure in the "balance forward" space month after month, there were no policies on holidays, time off, or benefits, etc., etc. Needless to say, that was all corrected, and they are now in full compliance legally and with best practices of proper financial systems and reporting, and have completed several successful audits.

In those four years, I took RCSJ from being barely recognized or understood, to being held up by our peer organizations as a crucial part of the local effort to end homelessness, including being recognized by the Santa Clara County Behavioral Health Board as a "2017 Agency Community Hero."

But what I am most proud of and grateful for is the opportunity to have been a part of the lives of the Cafe members. It is their strength that kept me going and kept me humble. It is their example of striving for something better that inspired me to hold on to the highest ideals of what the Cafe can and should be.

It is sad to end this chapter of my career, but it is time to move on and apply these lessons in the next big challenge.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Guidelines and Sample Policy on Nonprofit Political Activity

In these contentious political times, those of us in the social services field may feel the need to be more vocal about policies that effect our clients and our missions, while simultaneously facing pressure to "not rock the boat" or be controversial.

Perhaps you have board members who (wrongly) believe that nonprofits cannot play any role in politics, and don't want you to take a stand on those very questions where your voice is most needed to be heard.

With mid-term elections barely six weeks out, the organization where I've been the Executive Director for the last 3-1/2 years has been asked to put our name in support of a couple of local ballot initiatives. To explain the law and put my board at ease, I have gone through several sources to put together the following guidelines and policy for engaging in political activity.

Please feel free to borrow and adapt this policy for use in your organization.

Policy and Guidelines for Political Activities

[THIS ORGANIZATION] encourages all of its board, staff, volunteers, and clients to be active and informed citizens, and supports the individual capacity of all to execute their prerogatives as citizens.

However, as a nonprofit corporation whose activities are regulated in part by Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, the Organization is prohibited from participating in political campaigns for candidates and is restricted in conducting certain lobbying activities. This does not restrict [THIS ORGANIZATION] from taking part in limited issue advocacy related to our mission, except in regards to spending limits for lobbying activities.

Violation of IRS regulations could have serious ramifications for the Organization, including loss of its tax-exempt status. Therefore, we provide these guidelines on the permitted use and restrictions of [THIS ORGANIZATION]'s resources for politically related activity by its board, staff, and volunteers.

These guidelines cannot address every potential situation. [THIS ORGANIZATION] reserves the right to amend or modify these guidelines at its discretion or as it deems necessary to comply with the regulations governing political activities of 501(c)(3) entities.

Allowable Activities:

Endorsing Ballot Measures

Ballot measure advocacy is an attempt to influence the passage or defeat of a law or constitutional amendment - not the election or defeat of a candidate. 501(c)(3) organizations are free to takes sides on ballot measures as a lobbying activity, subject to normal limits on lobbying. Ballot measure advocacy is a first amendment issue, not a matter of tax law. Any organization or individual is free to express their opinion for or against a proposed law or constitutional amendment.

As a 501(c)(3) organization that does not file the 501(h) form, [THIS ORGANIZATION]'s activity in this regard falls under the "insubstantial part test," meaning that [THIS ORGANIZATION] may only spend an "insubstantial" amount of money on lobbying efforts. "Insubstantial" is generally assumed to be 3-5% of annual spending. Any costs associated with endorsing or advocating for ballot measures, including related staff time, must fall under this threshold.

[THIS ORGANIZATION] chooses to only endorse and promote those ballot initiatives and proposals which are directly related to its mission and to the benefit of our clients. These would include, but not be limited to, initiatives related to [LIST KEY TOPICS RELATED TO YOUR MISSION].

The Executive Director is empowered to add [THIS ORGANIZATION]'s name and logo to any "sign-on letter" in favor of a ballot measure meeting the above criteria and initiated by a nonprofit partner or nonprofit coalition of which [THIS ORGANIZATION] is a part.

The Executive Director will bring all other endorsements, and any lobbying activity that will incur any expenses, to the Board of Directors for approval before signing or taking any action. If a timely endorsement is required before the next regularly scheduled Board meeting, unanimous approval by the Board officers (President, Vice President, Secretary, and Treasurer) will suffice.

Promoting Voting

Nonprofit organizations classified as 501(c)(3) public charities may conduct nonpartisan "get-out-the-vote" activities and voter registration without jeopardizing their tax-exempt status. It is a legitimate charitable activity to support voter engagement and educate the public about the importance of voting.

[THIS ORGANIZATION] encourages all Board, staff, and volunteers to participate in all elections. We especially uphold and encourage the right of our clients, and all marginalized populations, to take an active role in our democracy. [THIS ORGANIZATION]'s staff may distribute voter registration materials and/or non-partisan voter information guides to clients, and/or allow other organizations to conduct nonpartisan voter registration and get-out-the-vote activities within the program site.

In these ways, [THIS ORGANIZATION] affirms its commitment to the "Vote with Your Mission" campaign of CalNonprofits. More information on this initiative can be found at

Running for Office

Board Members and staff may decide to run for public office while associated with [THIS ORGANIZATION], as is their right. To ensure compliance with IRS regulations and Organization policy, including conflict of interest and/or a conflict of commitment, a plan to manage potential conflicts must be established upon declaration of candidacy.

Plans must ensure that other Board Members and staff do not experience a compromised work environment or feel pressure to comply with the political goals of candidates.

An employee intending to seek public office must inform his/her supervisor and the Executive Director to develop a plan to avoid conflicts of interest. It is requested that this notification come as soon as the employee is considering becoming a candidate, but, in all cases, notification must be made no later than upon declaring candidacy.

In any case, the Board or staff member running for office may not solicit or accept funds or contributions for campaigns (their own or someone else's) from donors identified through donor rolls or other [THIS ORGANIZATION] records or directories.

Appearances by Candidates

Candidates for public office or their designees are welcome to appear at the program site or [THIS ORGANIZATION]'s sponsored events for non-campaign related activities, such as an educational or informational talk to [THIS ORGANIZATION], our clients, or our supporters.

Such appearances must satisfy the following criteria:

* The individual(s) is/are chosen to speak for reasons other than candidacy for public office.
* The individual speaks in a non-candidate capacity.
* The event and organization maintains a nonpartisan atmosphere.
* No specific organized campaigning activity occurs in connection with the event.
* The event involving a candidate should not be dictated by, or put under the control of, a candidate, their representatives, or any outside organization.

In no case shall [THIS ORGANIZATION] organize an event for the sole purpose of the promotion of a single candidate for any office.

Non-Allowable Activities:

Endorsing Candidates

[This Organization] will not endorse or promote individual candidates or political parties in any election, at any level of government, or take part in any form of partisan political activity.

Substantial Lobbying

While we affirm our free speech rights to engage in nonpartisan issue advocacy, such as endorsing ballot initiatives and engaging in get-out-the-vote activities, we recognize that as a 501(c)(3) organization that does not file form 501(h), [THIS ORGANIZATION] may only spend an "insubstantial" amount of money on such activities that may be interpreted as lobbying.

"Insubstantial" is generally assumed to be 3-5% of annual spending. Any costs associated with any such activities, including related staff time, must fall under this threshold on an annual, Fiscal Year, basis.

Sunday, October 02, 2016

Challenges of an Interim Executive Director
Several weeks ago I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Kirsten Bullock for her Nonprofit Leaders Network podcast. The conversation turned quickly to my experiences over the years as an Interim Executive Director.

Whether your organization is thinking of using an Interim ED, or whether you are a consultant thinking of getting into this sort of work, I hope you will find some advice in this conversation that will help you navigate the relationship successfully.

We talked about staff and board relationships, priority setting, advice gathering, communications, self-care, and the million other considerations to think about when entering into an Interim situation.

Kirsten asked great questions, and the time on the phone with her passed quickly. And she sent me a nice box of cookies when it was all over.

You can listen to our interview, as well as other great podcasts, at the Nonprofit Leaders Network website.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Back to the Future of Philanthropy

I received a kind email from Erik Anderson, of the Donor Dreams Blog, suggesting I take on the subject of The Future of Philanthropy for this month's nonprofit blog carnival. Easy peasy, right? Well maybe not.

In Erik's call for Future Philanthropy blogs he links to a TED Talk from 2007: Katherine Fulton on You are the future of philanthropy. I've watched the video a couple of times now, and Ms. Fulton makes some great points on several philanthropic trends (and I recommend you also watch it), but it didn't really help me answer the question of what I viewed the future of philanthropy to be.

Ms. Fulton begins her exploration with the establishment of the modern foundation form in the U.S. at the end of the 19th century by the Rockefellers, Carnegies, et al, but, indeed, the concept of philanthropy goes back to ancient Greece, meaning "love of humanity," and encompasses the giving of time, heart, and soul, as well as currency.

Even the story of "modern philanthropy" predates Rockefeller by at least 150 years, with the establishment of the Foundling Hospital in London. Established for the "education and maintenance of exposed and deserted young children," the Foundling Hospital is considered by many to be the first modern charity.

Wikimedia Commons
Not long after, "a group of London merchants and gentlemen" met to "discuss a plan to supply two or three thousand seafarers for the navy," founding the Marine Society. They, of course, sought sponsors and donors to support their efforts. Certainly that qualifies not only as philanthropy, but as professional fundraising, and maybe even crowd-funding.

Ms. Fulton references Warren Buffet, and another of her slides bears the image of Richard Branson, but what really differentiates these modern philanthropic leaders from Rockefeller and Carnegie, or even from the gentlemen who founded the Marine Society? Is it their motivation, is it their philosophy, or is it their tools?

Ms. Fulton describes the philanthropy of 100 years ago as "closed-small-slow-fragmented-short" and contrasts that with the "open-big-fast-connected-long" world of today's philanthropy.

"Closed-small-slow-fragmented-short" may seem a somewhat apt description of old philanthropy from today's perspective, but there's no evidence that it was seen as such in 1905, or that it was meant to be "closed-small-slow-fragmented-short" by intentional design.

What draws that comparison is not any change in the concept of philanthropy, it is all about the tools. 120 years ago, Andrew Carnegie building libraries across America was very open, connected, big,  long, and somewhat radical (okay, it probably wasn't "fast," but what was then?). Today his approach might be to distribute iPads to students instead, but his philanthropic ideals would likely be the same.

Even the much vaunted "democratization of philanthropy" is nothing new. If you read my blog, you know I absolutely love crowd-giving sites such as Benevolent, etc., but at their core, they are simply using new tools to expand upon the giving circles of previous decades that were, themselves, just updates of the old mutual aid societies that go back at least 250 years.

I guess what I'm saying is, the impulse to philanthropy is as old as society itself, and that the forms it takes always includes both, the "small and informal" (mutual aid to crowd-funding), and the "large and influential" (Carnegie to Gates). What evolves are the methodologies and tools.

There are certainly trends - I've lived through several: money for technical assistance, money for programs only, highly focused outcomes, more data, less data, forcing mergers, encouraging cooperation, and a few others - but those are changes in bureaucracy, not philanthropy.

So, I suppose my predictions for the Future of Philanthropy are as follows:
  • New developments in technology - particularly communications technology - will continue to drive changes in how nonprofits and donors discover each other and build relationships.
  • Trends in giving will continue to be driven by "thought leaders" emerging out of the currently dominant business sector (IE: Carnegie's steel then, Gates' high tech now).
  • Despite the attention given to the "thought leaders" above, the real work of creating social change and improving the lives of ordinary people will always come in the form of peer-to-peer giving and assistance.
  • Solutions-based philanthropy will continue to lose out to empathy-based charity (IE: eliminating poverty versus assisting the poor) as long as total giving remains at only 2% of GDP.
Solve that last problem, and then we can talk about real change and a brighter future.