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

Sunday, December 31, 2006

Regifting is Good!

Last week, I received an email from Ashley Gatewood of saying, in part:
Since the holidays are now over, we’re encouraging people to consider regifting items they received but don’t have a use for by selling them on eBay and donating the sale to a nonprofit. It can also be a great way for people who got a new item, like a digital camera, to turn the older model into funds for their favorite cause.
MissionFish is an official nonprofit partner of eBay and makes it easy for both organizations and individuals to set up charity fundraising auctions online.

Nonprofits can register on the site and either run their own auctions, or have their supporters auction items for their benefit. Individuals who have items they want to sell can search for a cause by name, type, or topic, and select a beneficiary for their personal auctions.

Early in the new year I will be experimenting with a "regifting" auction and reporting back to you about my experience here.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Bay Area nonprofits score well, Learning from SPAM, and a Happy New Year

First off, I want to thank all of my readers and subscribers for your support in 2006. This has been a great year, and I've been very pleased with the reaction to this blog since starting it a few months ago.

Second, I apologize for having taken a slightly longer than anticipated break during the holidays, but there was a bit of family business that needed my attention. All is well and good now, and I am looking forward to a great and productive 2007.

On to the news...

According to the Mercury New, most large Bay Area nonprofits spend the majority of their funds on programming. Of course, that's what we expect them to do, but in this business, we all know how administrative and fundraising costs can creep upwards.

MediaNews researched and analyzed 100 large Bay Area nonprofits and found that 85 of them reported spending at least 75 percent of their annual revenue on programs. The benchmark the study looks in "healthy" nonprofits is 75 percent or more for programming, 15 percent or less for administration, and 10 percent or less for fundraising.

The warning signs for donors (according to the survey), and the reason why some nonprofits failed to meet their guidelines, was the use of high-cost telemarketing or other outside fundraising services. Companies that collect and sell used vehicles on behalf of nonprofits were also called out for passing too little of the sales price of the vehicles on to the causes they claim to represent.

Knowing that donors are looking at these reports, and are aware of the costs of outside services, do you need to re-evaluate how you're raising money for your organization? Would you have passed the test?

While we're on the topic, "a fundraiser" of the Don't Tell the Donor blog, asks, "What can nonprofits learn from spammers?"

No, he's not suggesting that we spam our donors or potential donors. But, he does point out the sophistication of some the spammers research and techniques and asks, "Are your approaches to fundraising emails this sophisticated?"

Just some interesting food for thought as we begin a new year.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Doing it the old fashioned way

Nancy Schwartz of the Getting Attention blog had a great and simple post the other day: Don't Forget to Call...

As Nancy points out, those of us who blog on nonprofit topics often get so hung up on pointing out new technologies and nifty tools for reaching more people, or different people, or doing it all quicker, that we often forget to point out the obvious: What we already know works.

In her blog, Nancy says, "I think phone calls have more impact than ever, just because so much communications goes on online."

Now, nobody likes to be hounded by phone or at home, which is why we like online communications. But, a well-timed "thank you" call can go a long way in surprising your donor with a personal touch that's so often missing today.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Change One Thing

This is a story about about how the Internet brings people closer together. This is an example of why political borders are becoming increasingly insignificant. This is a demonstration of how a web 2.0 community like YouTube can be used to aid an individual or a family without the help of intermediary organizations or governments. Enough of an introduction, let's get on with it.

It begins more than six months ago in Australia, when the daughters of Ben and Amanda (YouTube username "Orbvious") were abducted by their birth father. He has kept them apart from their mother and step-father ever since. They've been running into roadblocks in the Australian legal and family court system, unable to find assistance. Amanda, of course, is wreck over this.

Ben wrote an email to Scottish singer-songwriter (and YouTuber) Peri Urban telling his tale. Peri was inspired to write a song for Ben and Amanda, which he posted on YouTube. This cheered Amanda up considerably.

That's when I stepped in and said, "If one song can cheer her up that much, what would fifty songs do?" And so, with Ben, Amanda, and Peri's permission, I started the "One Tube Group" on YouTube. We got our fifty songs, poems, and well wishers. We also got people from all over the globe to write letters on Ben and Amanda's behalf to the Australian authorities. And, we managed to raise a few dollars for their mounting expenses.

The video below is the latest part of this effort, and represents a great collaboration of the members of the OneTube group. Peri and I co-produced it, I wrote the bit of dialogue at the start, together we solicited clips from about thirty other members, and then Peri did the amazing work of writing and producing a new song and editing the entire thing into a cohesive whole.

Please take a look at the video, and if you are moved to join us, or read more about the situation, please visit us at The OneTube Challenge (on

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Welcome to Capaciteria

Capaciteria? Yes, Capaciteria, "Serving up peer-rated nonprofit capacity resources 24/7." According the site's home page, Capaciteria is...
... a comprehensive, searchable database directory of administrative resources that help nonprofits leverage their own capacity. It promotes peer review because MEMBERS can comment on and rate individual resource links as well as add useful new links.
The site appears to still be very new (although I suspect it's been up a while) and some of the categories don't have much information in them yet, but if enough users join and input their links and rate the other links, this could be a very useful site, given time.

Right now, you can still search, or dig through the directory, and find some great resources, but the concept of the site is that each resource will eventually carry a rating. The ratings will come from us, the end users, who are ourselves experts in the nonprofit field.

Whether or not Capaciteria becomes an indispensable resource, or just another e-ghost town, will depend entirely on whether or not users are enticed to contribute. I'll withhold my feelings on its odds of success for a while, watch it grow (or not), and see what happens. Meanwhile, check it out and let me know what you think.

Monday, December 04, 2006

The future of online fundraising

I received an email from a college student asking if he could interview me about ePhilanthropy and the future of online fundraising.

The questions gave me an opportunity to think creatively about the application of some web 2.0 concepts, such as tagging and feeds, and how they can improve our practices.

His questions and my answers follow. Let me know what you think...

> * How did Internet change the way nonprofits fundraise?

Maybe a better question would be, "HAS the Internet changed the way nonprofits fundraise?" Because for a lot of organizations, it still hasn't.

There are certainly plenty of new tools, but most nonprofits (outside of universities and hospitals) are traditionally very slow to adopt new technologies. This is for a few reasons, including: budget, being "people focused," lack of staff/resources, and budget (did I mention budget?).

Still, for those organizations that are on the ball, technically speaking, it has broadened their tools for appeals. The most obvious direct items are "Donate Now" buttons (either their own or using an ASP) and email. The less direct way is using the 'net for promotion, communications, and visibility.

Email can be used for a direct appeal, or for newsletters with indirect asks. But, again, limited budget and staff to implement these has kept most smaller and medium sized organizations from fully realizing the potential benefit of these tools.

I mention budget a lot. Email is cheap to use, and scales cheaply, but can be costly to implement effectively (opt-in systems to avoid spamming, software or ASP's beyond the basic MS Outlook, and the staff to actually manage lists and write the messages).

> * Is traditional fundraising still part of the fundraising mix?

Most definitely so. For the reasons listed above (slow implementation, budget, etc.), but also because of human nature.

While online tools are fabulous for meeting new donors, and younger donors, there is nothing that can ever compare to the personal touch of the in-person ask.

Even snail mail has a place, as it's far easier to make an emotional connection with a photo you can hold in your hand than with an email that may or may not properly display images based on the user's software settings and operating system.

In the area of Foundation grants, the worlds are merging somewhat as more and more Foundations accept online applications. It is traditional fundraising in terms of the skills required for completing the applications, but they are adapted to the online world.

For that matter, you could say that all online fundraising is just an adaptation of traditional methods. It's the medium that has changed - or expanded - not the message or the appeal.

> * The future of online fundraising?

More effective integration of cause and effect using tags and feeds. For example, it's entirely feasible for a news website to automatically match stories (IE: flood in India) to donation opportunities (IE: International Red Cross).

They do this now, manually, with major disasters. But with proper use of tagging, RSS, etc., it's entirely possible that even "minor" local stories (IE: car crash kills drunk driver) can automatically linked to local causes (IE: local United Way or MADD or AA chapter).

What I'm saying is really, technology gives us the opportunities to be more pro-active and less passive in our efforts. Rather than waiting for a potential supporter to come to our web site or sign up for our email newsletter, we will be able to find them based on what they're reading and hook directly into their online experience.

> * Why are many nonprofit are still waiting with their online fundraising?

Money, or the perception of no money. While many of these tools are low or even no cost (use of as a communications platform), they are loath to give even the impression that they are wasting resources.

Example: An organization I know of that was given very nice, high quality office chairs from a defunct dot-com. They were not allowed to use them because it gave the impression that they were extravagant. Many nonprofits live in this poverty mind-set.

Any assets must go to the clients. Anything that doesn't directly benefit them is seen as a waste. What they don't see is that a small investment in online tools will create a return that can be used for mission and services.

> * What will make a website a good ePhilanthropy site?

See "the future" question above. It's the integration of information and ask. Don't make the potential donor search for the means to give.

Have the opportunity linked directly into the inspiration. This is the answer.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

The Temporality of Digital Knowledge and Copyright Bozos

Pam Ashlund of the Nonprofit Eye Blog has a new posting about "the Temporality of Digital Knowledge" - the notion that for all the wonderful online information we have at our fingertips, the idea that the Internet is a permanent repository of information is a false one. How many times have you gone to your bookmarks to find a particular reference and landed at a blank screen marked, "401 Error - page not found"?

Pam suggests downloading and saving the information you need, rather than rely on bookmarks or tags, but acknowledges the ethical problems regarding copyrights. She then calls for some sort of permanent solution to the problem of vanishing online data:
I'm not proposing new legislation here, but rather the quest for a solution. Maybe a volunteer effort to archive this fantastic, but vulnerable virtual library. It would be a shame to have to continually re-create the wheel every time a user gets tired of administering a website.

This is my battlecry - save our on-line nonprofit resources! Otherwise all the social bookmarking in the world won't matter.
I second her call, but also recognize the many legal and ethical issues involved in saving information that one does not "own."

I also found Pam's posting relevant in relation to a book I'm reading currently, called Freedom of Expression®: Overzealous Copyright Bozos and Other Enemies of Creativity by Kembrew McLeod (follow the title link for a free pdf download or instructions for ordering in print).

McLeod blames new, stronger copyright and patent laws for the death of creativity and a dangerous situation in such far-flung fields as agriculture and medicine. Drawing a line from Woody Guthrie's This Land is Your Land to the patenting of the human genome, McLeod argues that being able to build on another's work is central to the creative process. As Isaac Newton said, "If I have seen farther it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants."

He doesn't argue against copyrights or patents, just the over-enforcement and extension of copyrights virtually forever. He refers often to the Constitution, and the founding fathers concept that copyrights were for a limited term to encourage and support creativity, but that eventually all knowledge and creativity would belong to "the commons" for the betterment of all mankind.

How this relates to Pam's dream project of a repository of nonprofit information will be clearer if you read some of McLeod's book, but it's a fascinating idea.

NOTE - I apologize for the irregular posting here as of late. Between holidays, personal health issues, and, of course, working it's not always possible to write posts that are up to the quality that I strive for. December may also be spotty, but I am not giving up on blogging. Please bear with me - thanks!

Sunday, November 26, 2006

How generous is your state?

Thanksgiving is done with (hope yours was peaceful and happy), and we're now officially into the Holiday Season. That means plenty to each of us personally, of course, but as nonprofit professionals it also means quite a bit work-wise as well.

As you hope for the best return on that holiday pitch you should have already prepared, and as you get set for those final big asks of the year, you might want to see where your state stands in the new state-by-state assessment of charitable giving.

Prepared by the Boston College Center on Wealth and Philanthropy, this second annual survey takes into consideration such factors as each state's religious and ethnic group mix, the existence of nonprofit organizations, and the local cost of living and tax burden, "including changes within states that are driven by levels of urbanization-which affects cost of living at the more local level," in order to more fairly index the comparisons.

Now, however you interpret the results, don't make the mistake of calling this a "generosity index." The authors caution:
"Generosity is a moral, spiritual or social psychological characteristic of individuals and perhaps families and households. We do not believe that the term generosity should be associated with our measures, nor any other measures that do not directly study the inner disposition ... of generosity. In truth, every purported generosity index that has ranked states is, in fact, a charitable giving index."
And the top five states for charitable giving are... New York, the District of Columbia, Utah, California, and Connecticut. And, at the bottom, Iowa, South Dakota, Vermont, West Virginia, and North Dakota.

You can download the full report from Boston College at

Thursday, November 16, 2006

What are we compaining about?

According to a new report from the Urban Institute, the growth of the nonprofit sector has outpaced the growth of the economy over the past decade. The report says that, "While the nation's gross domestic product grew by an inflation-adjusted 36.6 percent from 1994 to 2004, the nonprofit sector's revenues increased 61.5 percent." So why are we always whining about needing more?

Probably because all that growth and resources is concentrated in hospitals and universities. Some of the data from the report:
  • Hospitals and other health care organizations, 12.9 percent of all reporting public charities, accounted for 58.7 percent of the sector's revenues in 2004, 41.1 percent of its assets, and 60.0 percent of its expenses, dominating each category.

  • Colleges and other higher education nonprofits, less than 1 percent of reporting public charities, received 11.6 percent of the sector's revenue, controlled 22.3 percent of its assets, and recorded 10.9 percent of its expenses.

  • Human service organizations, 34.5 percent of reporting public charities, had only 13.6 percent of the sector's revenues, 11.5 percent of its assets, and 14.0 percent of its expenses.
Get more information from the Urban Institute's web site.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

What about that election last week?

I generally try to keep politics out of this blog (not always successful), but I thought this was an interesting short article in the Philanthropy News Digest: Nonprofit Leaders Weigh Impact of Election.

The article tackles the question of whether or not the incoming Democratic Congress would be "better for the nonprofit sector" than the exiting Republicans. The short answer is, "marginally."

In the Senate, where the Finance Committee chairmanship will go from from Charles Grassley (R-IA) to Max Baucus (D-MT), no change in direction is expected. Grassley and Baucus have a close working relationship and have traded this position back and forth before.

In the House of Representatives, however, Charles Rangel (D-NY) will take over the chairmanship of the Ways and Means Committee from Bill Thomas (R-CA). This leadership change does make the committee more receptive to some our issues.

Perry Wasserman, managing director of 501(c) Strategies, a D.C.-based lobbying group, cautioned nonprofits not to expect too much of the Democrats. "[It's] important to have realistic expectations of the next two years," he said. Although Democrats have articulated an agenda for the next session, "they're focusing on 2008, so not everything is on the table."
Will things be better for nonprofits under the new Democratic Congress? Well, at least they won't be any worse.

By the way... This is posting number 100 at the Nonprofit Consultant Blog. In a minor technical note, this posting also marks a change from the "old Blogger" to the "new Blogger beta." Please excuse any glitches as I transition to the new platform.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Care2 join an online community?

I've written before about nonprofits using MySpace and YouTube and other mass market social networking platforms. One of the complaints about these sites is that the users are not really there to look for volunteer or philanthropic opportunities. Most users are there for fun, networking, or just killing time.

What if I told you about an online community that was designed to link nonprofit organizations to people who are looking for action opportunities? Would you give that a try?

The site I'm referring to is - "the global network for organizations and people who Care2 make a difference!"

Like most all social networking platforms, Care2 allows users to create personal profiles to share their interests, but here the focus is on activism. There are groups, much like MySpace, etc., but again the focus is on solving community problems. Most groups are user started, but many are created and moderated by nonprofit organizations.

Members also get involved through creating and signing online petitions, using Care2's sister site, Again, individuals can start petitions, or they can be sponsored by organizations. When organizations create petitions, they can also give the signer the chance to join their mailing lists.

Basic, individual memberships are free and open to all. Currently, there are about 6.6 million members. Many of the expanded features that are available to nonprofit organizations do carry a fee. But, if you consider the cost of direct mail or other advertising to get your message in front of 6.6 million self-described activists, it's probably a bargain.

Even without these fee-based add-ons, just being involved in group discussions as a regular member where you can talk about your organization, and how you're helping out, could be a great way to network and attract new supporters.

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Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Get younger, wealthier, (better looking?) donors online

Network for Good, an online service that facilitates online charitable donations, has just released a report looking in detail at $100,000 in online giving to 23,000 nonprofits. Some of what stands out from the results are the differences between online and offline donors: they're younger and more generous.

Some more highlights (click here for their summary and link to full report):
- Online givers are young (38-39 years old) and generous, giving several times more than offline donors on average.
[Compare that to an average age of 60+ for "traditional" donors]

- Virtually all of them (96%) have given to charity before, but a sizable proportion (38%) is new to online philanthropy.

- Online giving is tracking to the trends of online shopping and banking, and it is the avenue of choice for donors during disasters.

- Most people give online during the week, during business hours - most commonly, between 10am and noon.

- Giving online follows the same "long tail" phenomenon seen in online sales of books and music.

- Most online giving goes to disaster agencies.

- People say they give online because it's easier than writing a check and a fast way to respond to disasters.
You don't have to be responding to a disaster to get in front of these young, generous donors - They also use the net (and Network for Good) to find organizations for their year-end giving as well.

Does that give you any ideas? If you're not already set-up for, and actively promoting, online fundraising this better give you some ideas.

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Monday, November 06, 2006

Carnival of the Nonprofit Consultants

Welcome to the Carnival of the Nonprofit Consultants. This traveling carnival was started by Kivi Leroux Miller of the Nonprofit Communications Blog to bring you the best postings on nonprofit issues each week. This week I am honored to be the guest host.

Soul Resources starts us off with Sacred cow tipping - Making a difference. The sacred cow in question? "An individual can't make a difference" - well worthy of tipping this day before elections.

Speaking of "sacred cows," a bit of controversy was kicked up recently when the Donor InSite blog posted a link to an article from Inside Collin County Business called Running a nonprofit like a business.

First, "a fundraiser" at the Don't Tell the Donor blog posted a rebuttal to the original article titled I could not disagree more, which I seconded and added to in my posting, Pressing our buttons.

Well, the Agitator disagreed with "a fundraiser" and me, and said so in his posting, We're flabbergasted. Where do you stand on this issue?

Finally, a nonprofit related article you may have missed in the tech press was a posting at ZDNet UK called Web 2.0: A step backwards for accessibility?. Sure, your organization makes its office accessible to those with special needs, but what about your web site?

Next week, Nancy Schwartz of the Getting Attention blog will be hosting the carnival with a focus on social networking tools. See the Carnival homepage for more information.

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Friday, November 03, 2006

The Carnival Is Coming (again)

On Monday I will again be hosting the Carnival of Nonprofit Consultants. For those who are not familiar with the blog carnival concept, it is a collection of the best posts on a particular subject (in this case, nonprofit management and fundraising) from the previous week.

If you have a post you'd like to submit, there's still a few hours left to submit your blog by clicking here and following this link.

Be sure to come back on Monday to join us at the carnival! I promise lots of good reading.

Meanwhile, your reading assignment for the weekend is to spend some time with your sample ballots and voter information pamphlets and get ready for Tuesday's election...

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Thursday, October 26, 2006

Pressing our buttons...

Stewart James, of Inside Collin County Business, writes that:
American's trust and confidence in nonprofits is alarmingly low. Confidence in charitable organizations stands roughly 10 to 15 percent lower today than it did in the summer of 2001.
Today, nonprofits need to operate like a business. Budgeting funds is a must, along with executing careful and appropriate fund raising with outcome measures in place to asses its use of funds and success. Measuring outcomes is more than just good management. Having accessible outcomes data also improves the organizations' capacity to fund raise and advocate on behalf of its mission and clients.
I'm not quite sure what Mr. James' agenda is, but it's obviously not support of the nonprofit sector, and he obviously doesn't have much experience in the sector either.

First off, his comparison of confidence ratings is to "the summer of 2001" - before 9/11, and before the resulting Red Cross scandals. That would also precede the Enron scandal as well. How far have confidence rates in the "business" sector dropped in the same period?

As "a fundraiser" at the Don't Tell the Donor blog points out, confidence in the nonprofit sector - while a problem - is still higher than confidence in the "business" sector. "A fundraiser" goes on:
Nonprofits weren't the ones that forced the government to pass Sarbanes-Oxley reform, yet we now spend the time and money to do our national duty and restore trust after corporate businesses destroyed public trust.
Beyond Mr. James' use of the tired old admonition to "be more businesslike" is his assumption that nonprofits need a lesson from him on the importance of budgeting and measuring outcomes. We know how to budget, and our budgets are often far more detailed than the budgets of similarly sized for-profit businesses, with the tight managing of restricted funds.

Our budgets are reviewed by our funders in the foundation and corporate worlds, and those funders are not shy about asking questions about those budgets, and making us justify every expenditure. Likewise, those funders have already let us know about the importance of outcomes measurement, and we have included our evaluation plans in our funding proposals.

Mr. James really should learn more about nonprofits. He might be surprised to learn how professional and efficient the nonprofit sector really is. Then he might be able to write a business column about nonprofits that is actually informative, educational, and of benefit to the community.

Yes, we know that we have to work hard to earn and maintain the public's trust in nonprofit charitable organizations. It does not help, however, when columnists perpetuate misunderstandings and false assumptions about our sector. When you see these in your local paper, be sure to write a reply, and let people know what you're doing to make the community stronger.

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Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Good news for your donors

Here's a real benefit that you can sell your donors when explaining what they get for supporting your organization: A good feeling!

Researchers, writing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, have scientifically proven that charitable giving activates the brain's reward center. Known as the mesolimbic pathway, the reward center is responsible for the euphoria associated with sex, money, food, and drugs.

Joanne Fritz, at About Nonprofit Charitable Orgs, asks, "Now, how can we write a donor solicitation that promises actual physiological well-being just as good as sex and romance?"

How will you use this information in your agency?

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Monday, October 23, 2006

Goodbye Miriam

I just got word that the nonprofit world has lost a great friend, co-worker, and champion. On the 17th of this month, Miriam Engelberg lost her long battle with cancer.

I first met Miriam during my time with HandsNet and knew she was somebody special. I got to know her much better once I joined the CompassPoint Nonprofit Services staff, where she was a technology consultant, teacher, and the artist/writer behind CompassPoint's in-house comic strip Planet 501c3.

Miriam's positive attitude and great sense of humor is what made her a pleasure to know and to work with. Even after her first bouts with cancer she returned to work with a smile and a joke about her condition. I remember that one time her return coincided with an all-staff meeting. In preparation for that event, we all (about 35 of us) purchased crazy colored wigs so that she would not be the only one wearing one. This was Miriam's type of humor, and wig day was a fitting and appreciated welcome back and tribute.

In addition to her Planet 501c3 comics, Miriam soon turned her creative talents to dealing with her cancer. She self-published several comics detailing her struggle with the disease, and her ability to laugh at it. The comics received national attention and were re-published by Harper Collins as "Cancer Made Me a Shallower Person."

Although I'm fighting back the tears now, I don't think that's what Miriam would want. She'd want us to remember her laughing and fighting back against the odds. I think I'll go to the garage and find my purple wig and put it on again, just for the hell of it. Just for Miriam.

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Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Posting annual reports online and donor poachers

I heard an interesting comment from another consultant this afternoon that I'm not sure I agree with. The topic was nonprofit annual reports, and whether or not yours should be posted on your web site.

For a long time we were all recommending this. Digital annual reports were a part of the paperless society all this technology was supposed to be working towards. As more and more nonprofits got their web site up and learned to make them informative and interactive, more and more took the advice of having their reports available for all to read. In some circles, it even became a matter of pride.

The consultant today said that the trend is now reversing. Fewer and fewer organizations are posting their annual reports online. The reason? Donor poachers!

Now, I'm well aware of the practice of reviewing other group's donor lists for ideas (whenever we go to a museum my wife has to remind me that the donor wall plaque is not the exhibit we went to see), but I was not aware that this had put a chill on sharing annual reports digitally.

How big a problem could this really be? You should be thanking your large foundation, corporate, and major individual donors publicly and frequently already - this list should not be a secret - so what is so different about the annual report? Are development officers now afraid that other organizations are stealing their smaller donors as well? Who is matching the names in annual reports to phone books to make contact lists? Nobody that I know of.

I'd like to know if this is really true. If you work with an organization that has previously posted your annual report online, or at least considered it, and now will not because of donor poachers, please let me know! What led you to that decision: a real problem with people contacting your donors, or just the perception of a potential problem? Send me an email, or comment here on the blog. Thanks!

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Friday, October 13, 2006

Disaster Fundraising

No, I'm not talking about fundraisers that turned into disasters. I'm talking about fundraising for a disaster. If you haven't run such a campaign for your nonprofit, you are certainly aware of the massive fundraising pitches that go out on the heals of any natural or man-made disaster.

Gorik Ooms, head of MSF-Belgium (Medicines Sans Frontieres, or Doctors Without Borders), claims that such fundraising tactics are wrong, and often do more harm than good:
Emergency donations are too late to be of use, and swiftly turn to poison as they encourage incompetent interventions by NGOs desperate to dispose of earmarked cash, he said during a debate at the London School of Economics.

"If we take this money we end up doing things we shouldn't do," he said. "Many NGOs don't have real disaster relief capacity but they go for an appeal because it is a source of funding. NGOs that have real capacity are crowded out by those that don't."
Ooms called for "education" of the public into giving regularly, out of emergency time instead of emotionally at the time of crisis. But he admitted that this call goes against a powerful public sentiment.
(Read the whole story on Reuters)

I don't think "pre-need" fundraising for emergencies will ever fully replace the emotional pitch that rides alongside media coverage of the latest disaster, but Ooms has made several valid points.

It is up to us, as nonprofit community leaders, to educate the public about the need for building emergency reserves of disaster supplies and cash. When people are forced from their homes by earthquake, flood, or fire, they don't have time to wait while you mail out an appeal and recruit volunteers for phone-banking. You need to educate your supporters about why you need to be ready before disaster strikes.

And then there are those agencies, referenced by Ooms, who send out an appeal after each disaster, whether or not they provide services that are needed for that event. An agency I know of in California raised quite a bit of money to help them assist victims of Hurricane Katrina. True, a few Katrina victims did make their way out west, and were being served by the agency. But, the services they received were reimbursed by government contract. The private money raised "for Katrina victims" went to their general fund.

This type of fundraising is always dishonest, and an embarrassment to the entire nonprofit community. But it is especially cynical and detrimental to defraud your donors (and the public) at a time of emergency. This type of fundraising hurts the entire nonprofit community, as it teaches donors to not trust any of us.

Which brings us to Ooms' third point: Agencies that raise money for a particular disaster, and want to be honest about how they spend the money, may not spend it as wisely as they could. Such agencies try to make the solution fit the budget, rather than budget to fit the solution.

As Ooms says, "Educate." If your nonprofit provides emergency services, raise money for preparedness and pre-need supplies and reserves. Such money is earmarked for "future emergencies" and not any particular emergency. This gives you maximum flexibility, and - when disaster does strike - the ability to focus on services, not fundraising.

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Thursday, October 12, 2006

The economic impact of nonprofit organizations

When you work in the nonprofit sector, you will occasionally speak to people who are a) shocked that you get paid to do "charity work" and b) act as if your work, while well-meaning and good, is an economic drain on the community.

At those times, it's good to have an idea of the true, positive impact our sector has on the community. Not just in terms of the people served in fulfilling our missions, but in the size of our sector as a part of the business community.

A new report from the UCSB Economic Forecast Project has completed that task for San Luis Obispo County. Among the findings:
  • Nonprofits contribute more than $260 million ($242 million plus an additional $20 million impact on construction spending) annually to the county's economy.
  • Nonprofits employ more than 2,700 county residents. In total, about 4,000 jobs were supported because of local nonprofit activity.
  • Taxes totaling at least $23.8 million were generated as a result of nonprofit spending.
  • As well, the 99 nonprofits surveyed - of the more than 1,000 organizations in the county - for the study reported more than 20,300 volunteers.
This is a great resource that should be duplicated for each county and city in the State. For a list of reports completed by the UCSB Economic Forecast Project (some with downloads) see their web site.

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Thursday, October 05, 2006

Staff giving requirements

I subscribe to a number of e-newsletters and discussion lists, including the Consultants Forum at Charity Channel. One conversation currently raging on that list is whether or not nonprofit staff should be (or can be) required to donate back to their organization.

I will try to summarize the main points of the discussion here for you to mull over...

The arguments for such a policy are to create a "culture of philanthropy" where all staff are involved in, and fully understand, what it takes to run the organization. Staff giving ensures that they are involved in, and believe in, the mission of the agency, and do not simply consider this "just another job." Moreover, it is impressive when you go to other funders to say that you have 100% staff participation in your annual campaign.

The arguments against the policy range from the personal ("We already give by working for 25-40% less than we'd earn in the corporate sector") to the legal (if giving is mandatory, it could be seen as a kickback, and potentially a rouse to get around minimum wage laws). Even "voluntary" giving can get you into potential legal trouble with employees if the ask is made in a way that creates implied pressure ("Will my next review be poor if I don't give?" "Will I be passed up for promotion?").

Certainly, employees should not be overlooked when building your prospect lists. They should receive the same newsletters and mailings that any other prospect receives. And - like any other prospect - if they ask to be removed from the list, that request should be honored. There should also be a strict policy of not linking an employee's giving habits with his or her personnel file in any way.

I have never worked in, or knowingly consulted to, an organization that required all employees to give. I have worked in, and directed, organizations where all management and supervisors were required to be a part of the development process. That meant they were encouraged to give, and required to find and cultivate other prospects.

I have involved staff at lower pay levels in development through other types of fundraising activities. An example would be the selling of raffle or event tickets. We have had success by offering prizes to the employees who sell the most tickets. In this friendly competition, employees who we would never make a direct ask to - and who would never consider themselves "fundraisers" - wind up raising plenty of money selling tickets to their families and friends, and buying tickets themselves.

So... my take on employee giving... Be extremely careful of even implying that giving is a job requirement, but don't give up on it either. Involve middle managers and supervisors in planning and strategy, and mentor them in prospecting. Involve line staff through voluntary activities and competition.

In this way, you will achieve broad employee participation in your campaign, without any of the ill-will, poor morale, or legal troubles that a more heavy-handed approach can bring.

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Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Using video to enhance your web site

If you've been following this blog, you know that I've written about nonprofits using and DoGooder.TV to promote their causes, and that I'm a believer in keeping up with the technology revolution.

I just visited a site that makes excellent use of embedded videos to demonstrate the power of their programs. The Camp ASCCA Journal includes several short videos about life at the Easter Seals camp for therapeutic recreation.

It's one thing to read about disabled kids going to camp, and how the experience helps them to overcome their difficulties. It's quite another to see the interviews with them and experience it in sound and color. Throw in a "donate now" button and this is a very powerful tool.

Take a look at the site, and see if you can imagine how your organization could use embedded videos on your site to communicate with your supporters and spur them to action.

BTW, the Camps ASCCA Journal and this blog are each members of the Nonprofit Blog Exchange.

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Sunday, October 01, 2006

Fraud, Burnout, and Getting What We Deserve

Pam Ashlund of the "Non-Profit Eye" blog has posted an interesting piece about the trend of fraud committed against nonprofits by their own staff and volunteers. Pam lists a few samples (all from the last month) and asks:
Are non-profits just sitting ducks? Is it easier to steal from a non-profit? or is it a limit of imagination... our hearts are in the right place so much so that we can't conceive of someone setting out to take advantage...
I agree with Pam's analysis so far (we're too trusting, etc.), and will suggest that there is one more factor at work here: Burnout.

The very nature of the sector is to spend long hours solving other people's problems for less money than our skills would earn elsewhere. Each of us has a limit on how much we can take before things start slipping or we start wondering why we're doing this.

I believe that for some of those committing the fraud this burnout turns to thoughts of, "I deserve this money I'm stealing. I've earned it. It's my turn to benefit." Obviously this is faulty thinking, obviously these people need to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, and thankfully it's only a handful of our dedicated staff and volunteers who feel this way.

A handful, compared to the legions of supporters who do the hard work of the nonprofit sector, but a problem never-the-less.

Now let's take a look at the oversight part of the problem. Managers and board members (if they're actively involved) are not immune to nonprofit burnout themselves. Some of the lax oversight that allows these scandals to occur may be from over-worked managers who are already bearing a maximum stress load delivering services to the community.

It's far easier to convince yourself that "nobody would steal from us" than to put more hours in to oversight and fraud prevention. And so, the organization winds up "getting what it deserves" as well.

As "human services professionals" we have to remember to take care of ourselves, and those we work with. Too much selflessness leads to an industry where we open ourselves up to this kind of fraud and theft.

I suggest a new movement today: The Nonprofit Selfishness Movement. We all need to set aside certain times and days to something entirely selfish (and legal). A little "me time" to guiltlessly get away from the stress of constantly being other-focused. Time for our own families, time to take a vacation, and time to recognize our own worth without resorting to embezzling.

Obviously a call for avoiding burnout is not the only step we need to take to prevent the sort of fraud that Pam wrote about. A little more attention to oversight couldn't hurt either. I just wanted to applaud her for bringing the subject up, and add one more point on what should be a long conversation.

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Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Senate bill could spur charitable giving

New legislation, recently introduced in the Senate, would create tax-free "personal philanthropy accounts" to encourage pre-tax charitable giving. S 3881, introduced by Senators Isakson (R - Georgia) and Lautenberg (D - New Jersey), would allow workers to contribute up to $15,000 to nonprofits annually by payroll deduction.

By making these deductions "pre-tax," it increases the employee's take-home pay (compared to making the donation after-tax) by reducing the amount on which taxes are calculated. This, of course, is should act as an incentive to charitable giving in the workplace.

It will probably be the next session of Congress that will actually vote on this, in both the Senate and the House, but depending on the wording of the final bill it could be a good giving incentive, and a vehicle for nonprofits to base their annual campaigns on.

I learned about S. 3881 from the 501 strategies Nonprofit Blog. We are each members of the Nonprofit Blog Exchange.

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Wednesday, September 20, 2006

It's a dot-org world, after all

According to the Public Interest Registry (PIR), the folks responsible for the ".org" top-level domain, there are now over 5,000,000 registered dot-orgs worldwide.
"This is a significant milestone for the .ORG registry and we are excited that the number of .ORG registrations worldwide has increased by over 25 percent in less than 1 year," said Edward G. Viltz, President and CEO of PIR.

The .ORG domain, which has come to be associated with noncommercial activities, is the Internet's third largest "generic" or non-country specific top-level domain."
PIR, itself a dot-org and a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, has achieved much of the recent growth in dot-org registrations through promoting it in "developing regions" of South America, Asia, and Africa.

So, the question I have to ask you is this, "Has your nonprofit organization registered its dot-org name yet?"

Even if you don't think you need a web site (you do), you should be concerned about protecting your brand and your identity. That means, getting your organization's name (dot-org) before somebody else does.

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Monday, September 18, 2006

The Carnival of Nonprofit Consultants - #13

Greetings and welcome to the Carnival of Nonprofit Consultants, edition #13. This carnival is the creation of Kivi Leroux Miller of the Writing 911 blog (and more). Each edition of the carnival is a collection of the best advice and resources that consultants and other support organizations are offering to nonprofits through their blogs each week. I am your guest host/consultant for the week, Ken Goldstein.

In choosing this week's entries, I wanted to focus not simply on what the authors had to say, but on the questions that their posts raise for other nonprofit organizations. Each issue raised here is important, but each also leaves room for us to question our own business practices and find new lessons to learn. So... on with the carnival!

"A Fundraiser" of Don't Tell the Donor submits Ashton Kutcher - the fundraiser and asks, "a celebrity, a movie promotion, and a myspace profile... tri-fecta?" When celebrities use their charitable gifts to promote their projects, is it still "philanthropy?" Check out the links, then discuss amongst yourselves.

Nancy Schwartz of Getting Attention (dot org) submits CDC's Verb Campaign to Get Kids Active Drops the Ball on Engaging Teachers and Parents. "[T]he end of the campaign comes just as the data is coming in, showing that it was surprisingly effective.... [E]ven though the campaign appeared to be working, Congress failed to renew funding, and now Verb's out of money." Have you experienced data coming in too late to save your nonprofit's program?

Mike Burns of Brody Weiser Burns submits Nonprofits and Sarbanes-Oxley 3. "An independent Audit Committee is the third principle outlined by the American Bar Association (ABA) in considering the corporate governance implications that arise from Sarbanes-Oxley reforms," she begins. Does your organization have an independent Audit Committee?

Leila Johnson of Data-Scribe Blog submits Grant Writing Tips from a New Funder. The four basic items discussed are: Show specific examples of success, Be positive, Do some research on the funder, and Address all of the application's criteria. Yes, you recognize these as pretty much common sense, but how many do you regularly follow in your grant writing habits?

Finally, as this week's host I also get to select a posting from the blogs I've been reading. Pam Ashlund of Non-Profit Eye wrote about Non-Profit Doublespeak: Excessive Compensation. Have you heard this complaint? That nonprofit executives are overpaid? Pam pulls no punches in comparing nonprofit CEO pay to for-profit sector CEO pay. Think you could do with a raise?

Thank you for joining us this week. For more information about up-coming carnivals, and to submit your own posts, please see the carnival home page.

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Friday, September 15, 2006

The Carnival is Coming to Town!

Well, maybe not to town, but to this blog.

On Monday I will be hosting the next edition of the Carnival of Nonprofit Consultants. ... "What's a nonprofit consultant carnival?" ... It is a collection of the best advice and resources that consultants and other support organizations are offering to nonprofits through their blogs each week.

My posts have been featured in several previous editions of the carnival, and on Monday it will be my responsibility to choose the best recent postings from all the other nonprofit consultant blogs.

If you blog on nonprofit topics, you can still get in your entry... Go to to submit your post using the form there or send an email to npc.carnival AT yahoo DOT com with your name, your blog's name and the URL of the post (not your blog homepage). The deadline is tonight, Friday, September 15, 8:00 p.m. ET.

Come back on Monday to join us at the carnival!

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Thursday, September 14, 2006

Delays in IRS Nonprofit Approval

Posted to the IRS' web site:
Where Is My Exemption Application?

Many exempt organizations and practitioners may have noticed an increase in the timeframe to process an application for tax-exempt status.

We apologize for any delays you may be experiencing and we are taking steps to decrease processing time. This delay is the result of a backlog of exemption applications.
The page goes on to explain the process and you can do about it (not much: "There is no need to call.").

Thanks to the Charity Channel's Don Griesmann for the alert.

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Thursday, September 07, 2006

Corporations Versus Nonprofits - A real question?

This morning I was searching out blogs with "nonprofit" as a keyword when I somehow stumbled across the "Esdena: Student Marketplace" blog and read a post called "Welcome back MIT! and Why Do People Hate Corporations." Now, I'm fine with the MIT part (welcome back to school), it's the rest of the post where the writer has some interesting things to say about our nonprofit sector.

The writer, Dominic Lee, says (in part - typos included):
I don't know about elsewhere, but at least here at Rice, people HATE corporations. Businesses and extreprenuers are seen as mercenary, greedy pigs that care only about money.

These people just never seem to remember their own parents probably will not have a job if it werent for these businesses...

There are several questions I want to ask:
Did Greenpeace invented Hybrid cars? Or did Toyota?
Did Friends of the Earth revolutionized the energy industry by introducing more efficient fuels? Or did BP?

My point here is, I believe for-profit corporations are more effective than non-profits organizations in achieving social means. ...
Okay. Good introduction. Good questions. Wrong conclusion.

First off, I don't hate corporations. I hate corrupt corporations, of which there appear to be many these days. But I am not a knee-jerk, anti-business death-to-McDonald's type. In fact, I am a small businessperson with two companies of my own, one of which is consulting to nonprofit organizations. So, while I am very much "in the nonprofit world" I am also a businessperson.

Back to the question ... "Did Greenpeace invented [sic] Hybrid cars? Or did Toyota?" Well, obviously it was Toyota (or Honda, or whatever). But it does not logically follow that Toyota is more effective at achieving environmental mission than Greenpeace.

Greenpeace is not organized to invent technology. They are not in the field of engineering. They are advocates and activists. Their mission is about education and getting the public involved in environmental issues.

Toyota is not organized to solve the world's problems. They are organized to devise and sell vehicles that are in current demand by the marketplace.

It's a fairly simple chain reaction:
Greenpeace (and others) influence public opinion on fossil fuels -> Public demands more fuel-efficient vehicles -> Toyota (and Honda, etc.) develop hybrid engines -> Toyota Prius becomes top seller.

I applaud Toyota for their work. I mean to take nothing away from it. But, it is the work of Greenpeace (and a dozen other major and hundreds of smaller nonprofits) that made the change in society that resulted in the Prius being a top seller.

The same chain of nonprofits influencing public opinion, to the public demanding something from the marketplace, also holds true for the Friends of the Earth / BP question. Thank you BP for coming up with cleaner fuels. But first thank you to Friends of the Earth for getting out the message and influencing the market.

This is how it works. Nonprofits influence the market. Corporations deliver in the market. They each play an important role. And then there are the thousands of things nonprofits do that have no market solution - or where the market is part of the problem - such as in the fields of hunger and housing.

Mr. Lee goes on to explain why corporations are better at achieving social goals:
Why? Because of tax breaks provided to companies when they make donations.

What? Yes, because of the tax breaks, very often, a company almost HAVE to donate some money. I mean, financially, they will have to pay anyway, they might as well build a good rep by donating those money they would otherwise in paying in form of tax.
Again, Mr. Lee states a fact (corporations give to nonprofits), but draws the wrong conclusion.

Corporate donations only make up about 4 to 5% of all charitable contributions. It's very nice, and we appreciate it very much, but this alone is certainly not what "achieves social means."

Final quote from the post:
... businesses will always donate to non-profits which fit the following criteria:

1. Have close connections with the corporations
2. Throw a good (by good, I mean luxurious most of the time) charity event
3. Able to create good PR for the business

Ok, so NONE of these 3 says anything about the non-profits ability to achieve their social goals.
Mr. Lee obviously knows nothing about the nonprofit sector, and his picture of us as providing nothing but good PR, tax breaks, and party invitations would be insulting if it weren't so laughable.

Mr. Lee, how about I ask you a few questions? Can you show me legitimate examples of where corporations have done a consistently better job of achieving the social goals of feeding the homeless, or rescuing wildlife, or fighting for civil rights?

Every social advance and achievement in this country over the past century was accomplished almost exclusively through the hard work and dedication of the nonprofit sector.

Yes, corporations have been involved (as they should be). But typically only after the change has been effected in the court of public opinion. The power of the marketplace to complete changes is incredible, and I mean to take nothing away from that. But, without the power of nonprofits to advocate for causes and lead the charges, very little would ever be accomplished in the area of social change.

You can disagree with me, but this is what I know.

crossposted to Random Thoughts, Notes, & Incidents

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Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Thank yous and horn blowing

Last week I completed an Interim Executive Director position that involved merging a small nonprofit child care agency into a larger one. (I will write more about that and the lessons learned in a future post.) Today, I received a wonderful thank you note from the [now former] board chair who hired me. I want to share part of that note and then use it to illustrate some points all nonprofits can learn from.

First, the note:
"Thank you for helping CFS during their interim phase. I appreciate everything you did to assist with the merger and make the transition so smoothly. I really appreciate the relationship and trust you developed with the staff as well. You did a fabulous job!"
Beyond the ego boost I enjoy from posting the note, there are a few things to point out:
  • It was hand-written,
  • it was mailed within a week of the end of the assignment, and
  • it was completely unnecessary.
Imagine if every person who came into contact with your organization got such a wonderful, personal, and timely note? I got paid for my work. What about volunteers, donors, and other visitors?

You know I love to do everything online, but a hand-written note always has more power to convey the personal touch more than any other medium we have to connect with our nonprofit's supporters.

The other lesson I want to point out here is what I did with the note. I posted it right here on my web site for all to see. I'm proud of it.

Does your nonprofit ever receive nice notes from clients or other constituents? What do you do with them? File them away? Or do you post them on your web site and quote them in your newsletter and use them as publicity?

We're always shy in the nonprofit world about blowing our own horns. We're much too modest for that kind of crass self-promotion. And we pay the price for that attitude. Break down the barriers of shyness and share your honors and kudos with the world!

Thank yous are few and far between in the world today. Enjoy them and make the most of them when you can. And don't forget to give out a few of them yourself. And that's today's little lesson.

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Sunday, September 03, 2006

A YouTube for Nonprofits?

By now you've probably at least heard of YouTube - the web site where users upload their home made videos. It's now one of the most popular sites around, with a variety of videos from serious and professionally done to silly little personal rants shot on cell phone cameras.

This week I was introduced to a new site, called DoGooder.TV that intends to become somewhat of a YouTube for the nonprofit community.

The concept behind DoGooder.TV is that organizations can post their promotional videos about their cause and attract supporters through the web site. Unlike the amateurish productions that rule YouTube, DoGooder.TV features very well produced videos and a much cleaner interface.

The production quality of postings so far is due to the fact that the web site is the creation of See3 - a media production company that only works with nonprofits. You do not have to be a See3 client to post your videos, but it looks like the initial postings are all from their client list.

So - Should your organization be posting videos on either DoGooder.TV or even on YouTube? If you have already spent the money to produce a video (maybe you show it at fundraisers, maybe it's something you've provided to the local media), then I'd have to say post away! Get the most out of your investment by having it seen in as many venues as possible.

If you have not already produced a video, the value question gets a bit more tricky. What audience are you after? Is yours an organization that can realistically attract support from outside your immediate geography? Producing a video - at least, a really good one - can be a costly and time-consuming project. But, it can also be a great presentation tool, bringing your potential funders face-to-face (face-to-screen?) with your clients.

Should you post to DoGooder.TV? Right now, the site has just launched in "Alpha" testing, and has a bit of growth and expansion ahead of it. Posting videos is not free here (as it is on the advertising supported YouTube). These factors could each play a role in evaluating the cost versus the potential revenue.

A major benefit of DoGooder.TV over YouTube is that the visitors here are looking for nonprofits and service information. They are here because they want to get involved. Every surfer on DoGooder.TV is a potential donor. As the site grows and attracts more attention, that could make it well worth the posting fees.

Should you post to YouTube? If you've got a video, why not? Surfers here are not necessarily seeking out opportunities to donate or volunteer, but a well-crafted message (that includes a way for them to contact you) could catch the attention of somebody who does want to help. Best of all, it's free, and it only takes a few minutes to register and get your first video posted.

Either way, the point here is to keep an eye on new technologies, new media, and new opportunities for you to get out your nonprofit's message. Online videos may or may not be the right answer for you, but it is certainly worth looking into.

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Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Follow-up: When Community Foundations Merge

Back in May, I first wrote about the impending merger of the Peninsula Community Foundation and Community Foundation Silicon Valley. At the time I expressed some skepticism regarding the result. I feared that it could result in a 1+1=1.5 situation, with fewer nonprofit organizations sharing in slightly larger grants.

I said this because I truly admire and appreciate both foundations as they've been. Despite the size of each, they've always managed to remain very grounded in the communities, and very responsive to and approachable by the grassroots nonprofits. It was this quality that I did not want to see get lost in a much larger organization.

So, I've been watching the process... and I have to report back that I am pleased with the direction they've been taking, and the care they've shown in bringing the communities along.

Some weeks back they sent an email to their constituents asking them to fill in an online survey regarding the merger and community needs. I, of course, gladly filled it out, and repeated my concerns - and was grateful for the opportunity.

Then was the announcement of the new CEO for the new, merged foundation (to be called the Silicon Valley Community Foundation), Dr. Emmett Carson. Dr. Carson is formerly of the Minneapolis Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and Louisiana Disaster Recovery Foundation - an impressive resume demonstrating community commitment and activism wherever his assignments have taken him.

This week there have been community meetings to share the results of the survey (over 200 responses) and to introduce Dr. Carson. I attended last evenings event and was quite pleased with the results.

The survey results showed that I was not alone in my concerns. "Loss of personal touch" and "growing bureaucracy" topped the apprehensions list. Beyond simply acknowledging that this was a concern, they expressed agreement that these values were important to them as well.

When I had the opportunity to address Dr. Carson during the question and answer segment, I said:
We look to different types of funders to fill different needs. We look to the Knight Foundation (John Williams from Knight was a few seats to my right) for a few, large dollar grants, specifically targeted to have an impact in their national focus areas. We look to the United Way (Mark Walker of UWSV was in the next row) to fund the human services backbone of the community. What we've always appreciated about each of the community foundations locally is that they filled in all the gaps: they were approachable by all.

What I'd like to see from the new, larger foundation, is not larger grants. Small to medium-sized grants are great. As economies of scale are achieved by combining back-ends, what I'd like to see grow is the number of grantees. I want the community foundation to continue to be approachable by all nonprofits, no matter what issue area they work in, no matter how small they are, and no matter how new they are. I don't want anybody to feel shut out by this new creation.
Dr. Carson listened respectfully (as did Peter Hero, of CFSV, and the others) and agreed. His response was that he did not object to larger grants where warranted (and all agreed), but that his focus was on funding the best ideas. These best ideas could come from any organization, large or small, new or established. "If you have a good idea, I want to hear it."

From the rest of the conversation and answers during the evening, I believe he will be approachable and eager to listen. Dr. Carson will be a great addition to the community. I wish him well and am looking forward to witnessing his leadership of the foundation. He officially starts on November 1. I'm feeling much better now, thank you.

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Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Net Present Value - Are donors costing you money?

Courtesy of the Donor Power Blog, today I share with you the calculation that can chart your future. NPV, or Net Present Value, is a simple calculation that can help you prioritize your fundraising efforts, and possibly leave some out entirely.

Basically, the calculation takes into account the potential for the donor to support your nonprofit over the life of the relationship (not just the first ask) as well as the cost of cultivating and maintaining the relationship.

When it comes to going after certain lapsed donors, according to the Donor Power Blog,
"When you calculate NPV on groups of donors (based on the size of their acquisition gift) you'll discover some amazing things. ... Some donors just aren't worth reactivating, while others are worth going the extra mile to do so."
To calculate NPV for your next campaign, use this formula:
+ Total projected lifetime giving from donor (or group of donors)
- The cost of donor acquisition
- Ongoing costs of maintaining the relationship

Obviously, these figures are going to be approximations to some point. But, the more you study and analyze your costs, and the better you research and understand your donors, the more accurate these predictions will be.

For instance, you should be able to calculate how loyal your donors are at different levels. Do you retain 80% of your donors from campaign to campaign? Or only 30%? That can help you figure out the total lifetime value of the donor to your nonprofit.

You should also know to the cent how much the current acquisition campaign is going to cost per potential donor. And you should have a fair idea of what you spend on maintenance (from newsletters to all donors to lunches with major donors).

What do you think? Are you using NPV, or some other similar calculation already? Do you think this will help you? I'd like to know.

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Wednesday, August 23, 2006

First Giving makes online grassroots campaigns a snap

You can facilitate online fundraising by your nonprofit organization's supporters with a new site called This is not simply adding an online donations function to your group's existing web site, but enabling each of your volunteers and donors to set up their own, personal fundraising page.

Using the site, individuals choose a cause and quickly create a page where they conduct their campaign. Their campaign can go along with a "real world" campaign they're working on, or an event such as a bike ride or walk-a-thon, or it can be in memory of somebody, in honor of an occasion (wedding, birth, etc.), or just because they believe in the cause.

Once the page is created (takes less than five minutes, including registration), they can send emails to their friends and family giving the URL address of the page. Contributions are taken online by credit card. The organization then gets the money from, less a 7.35% service fee.

This is not a replacement for any of your nonprofit's current fundraising activity, but if you have an active contingent of volunteers or supporters who would like to do something more, this could bring in a few extra dollars.

I've been checking out the different donations pages on the site, and some people have collected between $20,000-$65,000 for their organizations. I'm sure the majority of campaigns bring in much less than that, but are you going to turn down the possibility of this kind of income?

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Monday, August 21, 2006

New Nonprofit Resource Site

Here's a new web site from a colleague of mine, Nancy Neal of Augment Direct ( There are, of course, sections about her consulting and coaching services, but also check out the free resources.

Nancy has a monthly e-newsletter, Building Relationships, a long (and growing) list of links, and an excellent download (pdf), Principled Fundraising 101. The download is the first course in what she promises will be the "College of Fundraising Knowledge."

I've known Nancy for several years, going back to my time as Silicon Valley Director for CompassPoint Nonprofit Services and Nancy was one of our workshop presenters. I still see her often at AFP and other nonprofit / fundraising / consulting events.

Speaking of CompassPoint workshops... I have one coming up in 10 days: Introduction to Fund Development Planning. This is a half-day course that will be taught at the Peninsula Community Foundation in San Mateo. (Click for registration details). If you can't make it to San Mateo, consider my book on the same topic.

I am also working on a new workshop on Effective Board Committees. This will be a panel discussion and will probably be held in November at CompassPoint's new Milpitas facility. (Look for the registration link here when details are confirmed).

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Friday, August 18, 2006

New Rules for Charitable Donations

Does your nonprofit accept donations of used items for either resale or use by your low-income clients? You should be aware of new rules from the IRS regarding deductibility of these items. Items that are not in "good" (or better) condition will no longer be deductible.

Old TVs that won't don't work? Games missing half the pieces? No deductions here anymore. This is bound to upset some people who regularly empty their closets and garages at our doors (in exchange for a tax break), but it could be a benefit to the sector over all.

I know that when I've worked with nonprofit organizations that accept in-kind donations from individuals, we've always stressed "gently used" items, but it's difficult to get the volunteers and staff who accept these items to enforce that rule. Much of what we've accepted (and given receipts for) has ended up in the dumpster.

Staff and volunteers will have to be trained in the new rules, and be more strict - but still polite - about rejecting certain donations. According to Dave Barringer, vice president of member relations at Goodwill Industries International, the new rules will reinforce what we've all been trying to say all along: "This isn't a place to dump trash."

The only trouble with enforcing the new rules is this: who defines what is "good" condition? Your donor may think the item is worthy, but I believe it is up to the organization to be brutally honest regarding whether the item is usable or not.

Other changes in deductibility rules:
* Any individual item valued at more than $500 must be appraised before the taxpayer can take a deduction.
* All cash donations now require a receipt, cancelled check, or bank record to take a deduction. (No more estimating how much cash you've given in small amounts over the year).

Some donors will try to use that last rule to get out of giving you a small cash donation at public events (neighborhood art festival booths, etc.). Whereas you might have gone into such situations before with just a cash box, you should now be willing to write out receipts on the spot for even the smallest donation.

NOTE: I apologize about having not posted for over a week. I am wrapping up a major project with a client right now and haven't had the time to post regularly. I will be back to regular posting - and have a great case study for you - in another couple of weeks.

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Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Donor Care & Privacy

Mary Allie of Marquette, Michigan is a regular donor to the North Shore Animal League - an animal rescue organization that has a no euthanize policy. Recently, she's received a new benefit of being a donor to North Shore: sweepstakes advertisements in the mail.

No, North Shore is not in the sweepstakes business, they've simply sold their mailing list to the sweepstakes company. Buying and selling mailing lists is a perfectly legal activity, but it is not without ethical issues.

Does your nonprofit organization sell your donor lists? Do you have a privacy policy that spells out under what conditions you will release the names and contact information about your donors?

In the case of North Shore Animal League, their policy is, "if donors want to remove their name from the list, they just have to mention it." The problem with that policy is that it is up to the donor to figure out that their names might be sold and be pro-active about removing it.

If she so requests, North Shore will no longer be able to sell Mary Allie's name, but now that the sweepstakes company has it, who else will they sell it to?

It is a much better policy for the nonprofit to be the pro-active one. First, create a list management and privacy policy and decide if and when you might share your list. Then, make that policy public - post it on your web site, publish it in your annual report or a newsletter. Then, on your donation forms, place a check box for donors to opt-in (I.E. "Check here if we may share your information with other organizations and corporate partners").

Personally, I don't think nonprofits should ever be selling their donor lists. There are times, however, when it might be appropriate to trade lists with another kindred organization. But, before you do so, make sure your donors are aware of how you use their information.

Don't wait for the phone call offering to buy your list to decide what to do. Get your management team and board together to discuss this and create a list management and privacy policy today.

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Friday, August 04, 2006

Nonprofit Times Honors Hate Monger

Each year the Nonprofit Times, a trade publication for those of us in the public benefit sector, releases its "Power and Influence Top 50" - The 2006 honor roll was released this week, and I am shocked and insulted by one of the additions to this year's list.

The honoree I refer to is Dr. James Dobson, founder and chair of Focus on the Family. About Dr. Dobson, the NP Times says:
"Nobody is better at dancing along the tightrope of 501(c)(3) status and the political process than Dr. Dobson. What he and the organization do is closely watched for guidance by other evangelical organizations and by federal regulators."
For this he receives honors? The "leading business publication for nonprofit management" adds somebody to their list of 50 top leaders for bending the rules regarding lobbying by nonprofits in order to spread hate?

Yes, I do not feel the need to be gentle with this issue. Dr. Dobson certainly doesn't hold his tongue when discussing people he doesn't care for. Take this excerpt from his June 2006 newsletter:
"This effort represented an audacious attempt to reshape the beliefs and attitudes of an entire generation, beginning with the youngest and most vulnerable. In so doing, they hoped to undermine the Judeo-Christian system of values in two or three decades and open the door to radical ways of thinking and behaving. It was a brilliant plan, hatched in Satan's own lair.

"Not since Adolf Hitler prepared a generation of German and Austrian youth for war has so grand a strategy been attempted. Kids were then, and still are today, sitting ducks for those who would subject them to carefully designed propaganda."
What grand evil is Dr. Dobson talking about here? Who are the sinister people that are as bad as Hitler and Satan and who are after our children? Homosexuals, of course. Let Dr. Dobson continue:
"The campaign to isolate children from their parents and to indoctrinate them with humanistic ideas is being waged primarily in the public schools. That is where eventual victory or defeat will occur. At this moment, the traditionalists are being mauled. Gay and lesbian leaders have [even] begun a campaign to have topics of concern to homosexuals included in textbooks used in California schools."
I want to be careful to stay on topic here. This is not where I want to debate the merits of acknowledging the historical contributions of gays and lesbians (and whether or not that constitutes "propaganda"). What I wanted to write about today were the merits (or lack thereof) of honoring a hate monger on a list of nonprofit leaders.

Whatever you may think of gay rights, comparing individuals to Satan and Adolph Hitler is deliberately hateful speech. For Dr. Dobson, it is not enough to simply discuss the merits of certain public policy. He must make his adversary something evil, something to be feared, and something to hate. That is his point in making these statements.

Dr. Dobson does not belong on the NPT Power 50. His appointment to the list has made a mockery of the list, and of the Nonprofit Times.

(Cross-posted on the Nonprofit Consultant Blog and Random Thoughts, Notes, & Incidents

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Monday, July 31, 2006

The Fifth Requirement

Leila Johnson, of the Data-Scribe blog, has a great post on 5 Things to Demand from a Consultant. (Data-Scribe provides database, Web site, Internet branding, and software training services for nonprofits, associations, and small businesses.)

The first four are good advice, but fairly basic:
  1. A nondisclosure agreement,
  2. Past project samples or references,
  3. A written contract or a willingness to sign yours, and
  4. Great listening skills.
These are all things that are commonly advised, and I am happy to supply to my clients and potential clients. What got my attention, though, was #5, An interest in what you do.

It got my attention because I consider it to be a basic requirement, but it is rarely said - or, at least, not said enough. When looking for consultants or freelance writers the focus is naturally on the skills, background, and history of the candidate. But a good fit is also essential - particularly for nonprofit organizations.

On the Goldstein Consulting web site, I have always said:
I only accept clients and projects that I believe in. When I accept your assignment, your mission becomes my mission and I am committed to your success.
I believe this completely. I could not accept an assignment - no matter how lucrative it might be - with an agency that has a mission I'm against. I have, in fact, turned such organizations down.

When you are interviewing your potential consultant or freelancer, after you get through the resume, take some time to get to know the person. What do they believe in? Will they be as committed to your mission as you are? Or will they only be committed to sending you an invoice?

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Friday, July 28, 2006

Nonprofit Fights Poverty With Poverty

"In 2005, Helping Hearts distributed over $4,700 in various food and clothing donations, found temporary and part-time work for more than 110 adults, and was instrumental in the passage of increased homeless and transitional housing funding in the city. It also had an operating budget of $18,280, putting it below the federally mandated poverty threshold for a family of four."

Does this sound like your nonprofit organization? Luckily, this is just a bit of comic relief, courtesy of the folks at The Onion. Unfortunately, it does hit a bit close to home in its description of fighting poverty with "a 1995-model photocopier, a fully functional fax machine," and a "windowless, un-air-conditioned office."
"We've raised almost enough money to provide blankets and socks for the most needy in the office, which gets very cold in the winter months... When you see that look of appreciation on the executive vice president's face, it's all worthwhile."
Read the whole article - You'll laugh till you cry with recognition. Then, go home, and have a good weekend.

Then, when you return to work on Monday, maybe we can discuss why we feel required to work in sub-standard offices with out-dated equipment. Why do nonprofit leaders feel guilty when they sit in a new chair? You know, the kind where all four legs reach the floor at the same time?

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