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

Friday, April 28, 2006

Daring to Lead 2006

CompassPoint Nonprofit Services and The Meyer Foundation have just released a new report, "Daring to Lead 2006," exploring the leading causes of nonprofit executive burnout; in particular, widespread frustration with boards of directors and funders, and dissatisfaction with their pay.

We've heard much of this before - this report is a follow-up to their 2001 Daring to Lead - but the numbers are updated, and some of the recommendations are fresh. Perhaps the new report is most instructive, however, in pointing out how little actually has changed in the five years since the original report.

In both 2001 and 2006, 75% of executive directors reported that they were planning on leaving their position within five years. Nine percent of the current respondents are already in the process of leaving. Despite good recommendations in the original report, the complaints of EDs are largely the same (boards, funders, money).

As a sector are we not taking care of ourselves? Most of us get into the sector precicely because we put the needs of others ahead of our own needs. We know we could make more money in the private sector, but we do this work because we want to help, we want to make a difference.

But, at some point, we have to step back and make sure that our own needs are met. Nobody can give indefinitely when they are harming themselves. I believe that this realization is what is behind a lot of the nonprofit executive turnover.

The rapid turnover of leadership, however, harms the sector even more. So, what can we do to make the nonprofit sector more welcoming and nurturing for our executive leaders? The recommendations in Daring to Lead are a start, but this is something we all - board, staff, consultants, and volunteers - must come to terms with and make a priority for our organizations.

Download both, the 2001 and 2006 Daring to Lead reports from CompassPoint's web site.

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Thursday, April 27, 2006

Show Me The Money in Santa Cruz

The California Association of Nonprofits (CAN), in partnership with the Community Foundations of Santa Cruz and Monterey Counties, are presenting Show Me the Money, a one-day conference on nonprofit finance practices.

The conference -- which will be held one week from today: Thursday, May 4, 2006 -- is designed to help you:

* Manage your finances.
* Enhance your human resources.
* Align management with mission.
* Get the inside scoop on policies impacting the way you work.

I won't be able to be there due to other obligations, but I've been to several CAN conferences in the past (both as participant and as a presenter) and they're always informative and fun events.

Our tendency in the nonprofit sector is to put a low priority on our own professional development. We tell ourselves that we simply don't have the time or the money. But we pay the price anyway in burn-out and staff turnover (more about this tomorrow). A few dollars spent on conferences and workshops is a direct investment your organization's future that continues to pay dividends long after the seminar is over.

See CAN's web site for more information and registration.

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Tuesday, April 25, 2006

What's a Squidoo?

Blue Sky Collaborative's blog has an excellent post about Squidoo Lenses and Nonprofits, and specifically, why nonprofits are not flocking to Squidoo the way founder Seth Godin thinks they should. What was that? ... Squidoo? ... Lenses?.

In brief, Squidoo is a free web site that allows users to build one-page mini-sites - called "lenses" - that focus on a particular topic that the "lens master" is an expert in. For nonprofits, the idea is that you would build a lens (or two, or three...) about your issue areas for the purposes of public education and self-promotion (and the possibility of earning a few cents in ad revenue). You could also get each of your supporters to build their own lens on the topic and link to you (and donate their ad revenue).

Now, just a few days ago, I was suggesting that you keep a blog. Am I telling you to do this too? Not necessarily. But I do think that both Squidoo and blogging are things that you should consider.

Direct mail is minimally effective. I can't think of anybody who likes to get phone solicitations. I believe is that the web is the best way to prospect for new supporters, and that to use it correctly requires that you keep up with the latest tools available. And that's why I take the time to blog about blogging and to tell you about things like Squidoo.

Here's an example of a personal biography lens (mine) to show you what a basic lens looks like. I've also made a lens on Fund Development Planning. I posted each of these based on things I had already written, and neither took more than 10-15 minutes to get set up.

For some excellent examples of how a nonprofit organization can use Squidoo to promote their cause, see the lenses put together by the Grameen Foundation: "Microfinance - Empowering the world's poorest people", "Poverty", and "The ONE Campaign".

By the way - The Blue Sky Collaborative and this site are each members of the Nonprofit Blog Exchange.

Triple A Prospects

When fundraising discussions get around to "who should we ask?" a few answers typically appear: "If only we could get Bill Gates...," "What about Oprah? Let's send her a letter..." I'm sure you've been a part of one of these discussions. They're fun, but not very productive.

The reason why this is not a fruitful road to go down is that you're only qualifying prospects by one criteria: They're rich. They have - in theory - the ability to donate large sums of money.

This morning, I'd like to share the "Triple A" system of rating prospects. In this way of thinking, ability to donate is the third and final "A" qualifier. Why last? Because there a plenty of rich people (and foundations and companies...) out there. I suggest you start with an "A" a bit closer to home:

Access: Big gift or small gift, your best prospects are those you already know or who are close to those you know. Because if you don't have a way to get to the ask, it's all just a fantasy. If one of your board members is Melinda Gates' first cousin, you might be in luck. Otherwise, you can probably take Bill off your list.

You might want to rank your prospects by level of access, beginning with those already on your donor list, going out one level to the friends and family of your staff and board members, then another level to the business associates of your current donors, etc. Start with that inner circle, and build gradually into the outer concentric circles.

Affinity for your cause: After access, affinity is a must requirement. If the prospect hasn't shown an interest in your cause - or worse, has shown that they oppose it - you're not going to get anywhere no matter how close you are. When brainstorming prospects with your team, be sure each name added includes some evidence of an affinity for your organization or the type of work that you do.

Only after you've rated your prospects by level of access and weeded out those for whom there's no affinity, can you go on to the third level:

Ability: I'm careful here to label this "ability," and not "affluence." While affluence might describe the donor's current financial standing, ability can also imply growth potential. A middle-income donor who has the potential to be a steady donor over many years, including a potential planned gift, is just as good (and maybe better) than a richer person may make a one-time gift then move on to the next cause.

Yes, you have to rank your prospects by their potential gift size, but don't be too quick to discard those whose resources aren't immediately apparent. This is why we use all three "A"s in our rankings, and don't just allow ourselves to be blinded by the money.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Join Together and Find Your Funding!

The other day, I posted about a great general grants resource newsletter from Charity Channel. Today, I'd like to share one that is a little more specific.

It is the Join Together Direct Funding News from There are far fewer resources listed each week in this newsletter, but they are all specifically targeted to fighting alcohol and drug addiction and related issues.

These aren't your organization's issue areas? Fine! This is just an example of what is out there for you. Use Google to search on your issue areas plus "funding" plus "newsletter" and see what comes up. You may be pleasantly surprised by what you find that you've been missing.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Board Member Compensation

The subject of board member compensation came up in a conversation I was having yesterday, and then this morning I came across an article about it in Philanthropy News Digest, "Nonprofit Board Compensation Continues to Spur Debate."

For the organizations that I work with - mostly small to mid-sized community organizations - it would be a shock to find that any of them pay their board members. For many of the largest nonprofits (hospitals, universities, some foundations), however, compensation is considered a requirement in order to "attract the best talent."

My personal feeling is in agreement with Daniel Borochoff, president of the Chicago-based charity watchdog American Institute of Philanthropy,"If a board is not willing to volunteer, why should anyone else?"

I spend a good part of my time emphasizing why every board member needs to commit to making a significant financial contribution to their organization. I can't imagine any scenario where I'd encourage them to ask for a paycheck.

Okay, for a national or regional board I can accept limited reimbursement of travel expenses to an annual meeting, but even then I'd expect most board members to refuse it. For a board where all members are locals, I wouldn't even go along with that level of reimbursement. Such expenses are tax-deductible by the individual members as the cost of volunteering; they don't need to be paid back by the nonprofit that they are supposed to be governing.

What do you think? Am I taking too much of a hard line on this issue? Do you compensate your nonprofit board members? Write to me (email link below) and let me know.

Also see Paid boards spur not-for-profit debate

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Grant Opportunities Resource

All grant opportunity research can be divided into two general categories: passive or active. When I have a new client or project that needs funding, I go into active mode, which includes specific searches in various databases and web sites for particular keywords. Today, however, I want to talk a little bit about passive prospecting, and one of my favorite resources.

Passive research is the term I use to describe the items that come to me automatically, without my having to search for them. The most typical type of passive research is newsletters. I'm reminded to post about this because one of my favorites arrived in my email box yesterday. It is Don Griesmann's Grant Opportunities, from Charity Channel. You can read it on their web site (active), or subscribe to the weekly email (passive).

Each week Don comes up with more than a dozen newly researched funders, with a good summary of their guidelines, and what they are looking for. Obviously they won't all be a good fit for your nonprofit. Some weeks you may not get any good leads from it at all. But when you do... well, it makes it all worthwhile. Over the years, Don's tips have resulted in several new funders for the organizations that I have worked for.

Charity Channel also has many other excellent resources, both on their site and by email subscription. Subscribing is not free, but it is very reasonable, and on the honor system.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Tax Returns for the Tax Exempt

Did you remember to file your personal income taxes on time? I'm sure you did. And I'm sure you put a lot of care and effort into it.

What about your nonprofit organization's filings? As a public charity, your 990 filing each year is public information. You should be sure to remember that when preparing it. Most of us would be content to let the accountants handle the 990 and send it in without reviewing the text, but that would be a mistake.

Did you know that your 990 can be read by anybody with a free log in to In my work, I use GuideStar regularly to research the foundations that I send proposals to for my clients.

As a donor, I also look at the 990s on GuideStar to see things like executive compensation, mission statements, and income and expenses by program. More and more, savvy donors are using this resource before writing their checks.

So, what does this mean for you? Make sure that your finances tell the full story of your organization. Is there anything that would bring up questions from donors? Ensure that your reporting is clear and above-board. Also, that where you get to put in text about your programs, be sure to use that to tell your success stories.

Your 990 is not just a filing between you and the IRS; it is a public relations document which will be read by the public.

Friday, April 14, 2006

New Report on Donor Attitudes

According to a new report by the nonpartisan research organization Public Agenda, "typical giving tends to be based on personal experience and emotional connections." Hopefully most of us knew that already, but it's good to be reminded of it occasionally anyway.

The report, The Charitable Impulse, finds that "American donors are passionate and positive about the charities and nonprofits they support. But at the same time ... they are concerned when these organizations market themselves in ways that mimic 'big business.'"

Spending too much money on fancy brochures, mailing unsolicited "gifts," and using the dreaded telemarketers, all tend to backfire on the organizations, and sour donors on giving their support. Donors want their money spent on programs and advocacy, not promotional items.

The report goes into detail about the average donor's reaction when scandal hits the charitable world, and how it hurts us all.

For a longer review of the report, see New Study Shows Givers See Nation's Charities as Crucially Important But Wary of Slick, Pushy Marketing (on Independent Sector) - Or go to Public Agenda to download the full report (pdf file).

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Hiring a Fundraising Consultant

Are you thinking of hiring a fundraising consultant or independent grant writer for your organization? (That's likely the search that landed you on my site). I just came across a great article by Kim Klein in the Grassroots Fundraising Journal (pdf file) with some sound advice on how to go about it.

Ms. Klein goes beyond the obvious (check references, make sure you're compatible) to explain exactly what a consultant can - and cannot - do for your organization. Any nonprofit looking to bring on a consultant should take a moment to read this short piece. It will be time well invested.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Are You Blogging?

Does your organization's web site include a blog? Why not? Nonprofit agencies need to communicate with their constituents just as much as any other company - maybe more.

By adding a blog to your web site you can tell your potential supporters what you are up to, brag about success stories, explain the need that your group fills, and how the reader can become a part of that solution through volunteering or donating.

I know. You don't have time to write a blog. We're all wearing so many hats already. I understand. Even so, somebody - maybe it's your development person, maybe it's your ED - needs to be in charge of public communications, and part of that duty is making sure you get your message out there. An easy, low-cost way to do that is maintain a blog.

Why blog when you already have a web site? Because I'm betting that the web site is fairly static. When was the last time anything on it was updated? That's fine for a brochure, but if you want to be in the forefront of your supporters thoughts, you need to give them a reason to return to your site often. That's where a blog comes in.

By posting regularly (it doesn't have to be every day, but get it as close as possible) you will get your readers hooked, and that will lead to involvement in other areas, and that will lead to donations. Regular posting will also help in your search engine rankings, which will make it easier for people to find you when they search for information on your issue area.

Do you already have a nonprofit organization blog? Let me know about it and I'll post the link here. I'm also interested in your comments and input on any of my posts. Send me a resource to blog about and I'll mention your organization (with a link) in the posting.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

About Restaurant Fundraising

Many restaurants will allow your organization to claim a night (or day), promote it to your supporters, and earn anywhere from 5-15% of their order as a donation. So, are these restaurant worth it?

First, you need to put together the numbers. What is the average cost of a meal at the restaurant? Usually, these offers are available at low-cost, family eateries, not top-of-the-line dinner places. What is the percentage offered? And how many people (staff, , clients, etc.) are likely to show up on any given date (be realistic, not everybody is going to come)?

So, let's take an example of an average meal costing $8, your agency collecting 10%, and a possible turn-out of 150 supporters and their families. That's $8 x 10% x 150, which give us a possible gross income of only $120.

Figure in that you've got to spend some resources on printing and distributing a flier or other means of promotion, and you can see that this is a much better deal for the restaurant than for your nonprofit. You've just filled their restaurant for the day, and not put a dent in your fundraising plan.

If yours is a large organization, with lots of money to be raised, you probably won't want to put any staff time (and certainly not a consultant's time) into this. If a volunteer or board member wants to take it on as their own project, great. Otherwise, leave these restaurant fundraisers to the small, all-volunteer community groups who will be thrilled to have another $120 to spend.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Raising Money the Old Fashioned Way

An article in the New York times the other day looked at "something called 'face-to-face' or 'street fundraising,' trolling city streets and taking credit card information from donors on the spot." This, the Times says, is in response to donors no longer responding to phone calls (thanks to caller ID) and being burnt out on TV telethons, etc. They call this one-on-one, in-person fundraising a return to raising money "the old-fashioned way."

My first fundraising job was door-to-door canvassing for Campaign California, a now-defunct organization in Santa Monica, in the early 1980s. Of course, I didn't realize it was a fundraising job at the time. We were all recruited to be "activists" to gather signatures on petitions and get folks to join the organization. We considered ourselves to be door-to-door salesmen for a better world. But the bottom line was coming in from the field at the end of the evening with a pocket full of checks.

It was a great learning experience in so many ways. The good experiences (meeting some wonderful people) and the bad experiences (being threatened with assorted weapons people keep by their doors) all taught me much about different people, and how to talk to them all without getting myself in too much trouble. I also, without knowing it would someday become a major part of my career, learned about how to ask people for charitable donations.

What I learned then, and still practice now, is that it is your passion that is your greatest fundraising tool. Saying "I want your money" first, and explaining why later is never as effective and sharing your passion for your mission first and letting the money follow as a natural way for the listener to get involved. "Old-fashioned" maybe, but you stick with what works.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Major Gifts Anybody?

A question I often hear in nonprofit discussions is, "How do you define 'major gifts'?" Which always makes me wonder, "Do you consider any gifts to be 'minor'?"

Most organizations have a dollar threshold for what they consider "major." That figure can range from as low as $500 to as much as $50,000+. Which is right?

A better answer I've heard from a few organizations is to define your major gifts as the top 10% of your donors. That gives you a floating goal that will, hopefully, rise as your fundraising efforts are more successful. Using a floating definition like that, your major gift threshold may be $1,000 today, but can rise to $5,000 in a year or so.

But, again, there's the question of why do we need to define "major" gifts? Aren't all our donors special?

In a perfect world, where we had all the time we needed to do all that we need to do to run our organizations, we could give individual attention to every donor. Each $10 check would result in a phone call from the executive director or board chair thanking the donor for their gift, and we'd be inviting them all for lunch on a regular basis.

The reality is that we need to use our resources wisely (and time is the most scarce of resources). We define what we consider to be a major gift so that we can prioritize our efforts and make sure that we have identified our strongest supporters and are giving them the attention that they deserve.

We do our best to be courteous and thankful to all, but it is a wise business decision to focus a little extra effort and care on those special few. How you define "major gifts" is not as important as defining how you cultivate and keep those supporters.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

The Net Earnings Question

Would you rather have an event that brings in $30,000, a direct mail letter that brings in $25,000, or a grant for $25,000?

Some of you may be jumping for that $30,000 event. But that might not be the best answer. The first question about each of these fundraisers is, "How much did you spend to bring that money in?"

Let's take a closer look at how it might work out:

site, food,

When we look at the net amount added to our budget, the event was our worst option!

Does that mean you should cancel your event and put all your time into grants and direct mail? Of course not. There may be some donors that you will only reach through an event. Events can also generate a lot of publicity for your organization. And, events are a great way to celebrate and thank your supporters publicly.

The point of this posting is simply this: It's fine to brag about how much money your events gross, but when you are doing your fundraising plan, there's much more to consider. A mix of income types is always going to be your best, most sustainable way to fund your nonprofit.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Raising More Money

We all want to raise more money, that's obvious. So "Raising More Money" (RMM) seems like a great name for a fundraising company. And it is. RMM has a very specific method and strategy for helping nonprofits build their base of individual donors, and make it a sustainable and growing effort.

Their system involves having regular, free, "point-of-entry" (POE) events where you introduce your organization to potential supporters. At these POEs you do not ask for money. You simply get them interested, and in the loop (volunteering, on the mailing list, etc.).

The ask comes only at the annual event - also free - which RMM's system will help you script out to the minute. Really, their books explain the impact of every second of your presentation and how to time it for the maximum impact and giving.

It's a wonderful system, and I know lots of organizations that have used it successfully. It's also time consuming, can involve a large investment, and may not be right for every group. Also, in some areas, there are already so many nonprofits using the system that donors may be tiring of it.

Still, even if their full system isn't right for your group's needs, it's still worth checking out and seeing what they have to offer.

Going to one of their three-day seminars or hiring them as consultant can run you some bucks, but, luckily, they offer free introductory workshops where you can learn about the system, maybe buy one of their books, and decide for yourself if it's the correct approach.

Whether or not you go with their full RMM system, I do believe that every organization can learn from what they have to offer, and should take advantage of the free session to learn a tip or two, and - hopefully - raise some more money.