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

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

On A Mission

When I teach fundraising workshops, I always ask how many of my students can remember their organization's mission statements. Typically, only a couple come even close. Rare is the student who knows their mission word for word.

This is not usually the individual's fault. Generally speaking, most mission statements are over-written statements of principle that have very little to do with the actual work of your nonprofit. The flip side of that problem is the mission statement that's just a laundry list of programs, but doesn't explain why the programs are important.

The mission statement should be a clear and simple statement of what you intend to do to make the world a better place. Your mission should reflect your programs, not enumerate or push them.

What that means is that your mission should be sufficiently broad without being too limiting. The broadness is to define the area or problem that you work in (hunger, a disease, low-income housing, school readiness, etc.). The warning on being too specific is to allow you flexibility in how you address the problem.

"We do good things to help hungry people." - Too broad.

"We supply one bag of groceries each week to low-income families below 40% of area median income, each bag to contain items from each of the major food groups." - Too defining.

"We provide services and programs designed to end hunger and build food security among low-income families in the tri-county area." - Probably about right.

If your mission statement has you either "maximizing synergies for optimum resulting outcomes" or tied in to one specific solution to your issue, it may be time to take another look and do a little re-writing.

For further tips, Quality Service Marketing just completed a three-part article on writing mission statements on their blog. See Memorable & Meaningful Mission Statements, Part I, Part II, and Part III.

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Friday, May 26, 2006

Comparing Organizations and Coming up Short

I'm sure my readers are all fully aware of the difficulty of raising money from individuals, but consider this: "Giving to charity has become more challenging for donors in recent years." Or, at least, so says Cristine Cronin (Seeing the Big Picture on Charities - Yahoo! News).

Cronin writes about how well-publicized problems at such well known organizations as the American Red Cross, the United Way, and the Nature Conservancy have hurt the sector as a whole. We are all under more scrutiny, and donors we've known for years are beginning to eye us with suspicion. No longer do they feel comfortable writing checks and just assuming that their money will go for the mission that they support.

There are also more official and semi-official watchdogs issuing reports on nonprofit effectiveness, and using data that may be misleading to rate which nonprofits are "the best." Many of these watchdogs use 990 data, that is available to the public through sites like, and simple ratios of administration to program expenses to make their calls.

"Tax returns were never intended to be an all-inclusive indicator of an organization's effectiveness in carrying out its mission," Cronin writes. "Nor are administrative expenses necessarily the best or the only indicator of an organization's fiscal responsibility. Ratios can be helpful if comparisons are made among organizations with essentially similar missions and programs, or where there's comparability of such factors as charities' size, longevity, or location."

These are things to keep in mind when our donors call us with questions about the next big scandal to surface, or when they ask about a line on your 990. Donors doing their due diligence is a good thing. A well-informed donor is one we can have a long-term conversation with and cultivate for more future donations. The point here is simply to welcome their questions, and to be prepared with serious and honest answers.

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Thursday, May 25, 2006

Full Disclosure in Board Recruitment

Liz Heath, executive director of The Nonprofit Center in Tacoma, Washington, has an article in the Tacoma News Tribune advising nonprofits to let future board members in on whole truth.

This seems like it should be such obvious advice, but it is unfortunately necessary. Many times we're anxious to recruit new talent to our boards, so we soft-pedal the requirements and expectations. Worse, we are not honest about the challenges facing our organizations and paint a rosy picture of fiscal health and sustainability that may not be entirely true.

We do the new member and ourselves a disservice when we operate that way. First we surprise them with fundraising responsibilities that they're not properly trained for, then we hit them with budget realities and possible cuts in services. The new member feels they were lied to, and wonders what else is coming around the next corner. Our relationship with this new member is compromised from day one.

On the other hand, a board prospect who was briefed on all aspects of board service - the rewards and the challenges - comes to the first meeting ready to work, and prepared to take on the tough decisions (and maybe write a check).

Nobody likes to be surprised by additional work or questions they have not had time to consider. Proper preparation and full disclosure makes board life run much smoother and is the key to good governance.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Capacity Building Versus Achieving Mission

Jonathan Peizer has a new posting on his "Philantherapy Blog" addressing the systemic flaw in traditional nonprofit capacity support.

In part, JP writes (the bold is my emphasis):
"There is a distinct difference in the way capacity is supported in the for-profit and non-profit sectors. Nonprofit capacity support is often dictated by an external donor base and not internal organizational need as it is in most other sectors. Nonprofits are used by donors as intermediary vehicles to meet Donor mission objectives. ... This creates a unique situation for the nonprofit sector, making it the only sector that does not have control of its own institutional capacity investments. ... Consider the success, or lack thereof, of a business that could not invest in itself because the funds it generated were restricted."
JP contends that the primary villain behind this conundrum is mission-based grants. The very structure of our sector is that foundations determine their mission, then achieve that mission by operating through their grantees with similar missions. For a foundation to use its limited available funds to support more capacity building grants would mean less money for achieving their mission.

JP argues in favor of foundation support for capacity building organizations. (His focus is on technology, so he mentions NPower and the Erider's Network, but the argument also goes for financial, management, and fundraising capacity building organizations). By supporting a neutral third party NGO, foundations could achieve some economies of scale over funding the same solution over and over at each individual nonprofit. They would build best practices once, and have that intermediary distribute it, if you will, to the mission-based nonprofits.

I tend to agree with most of his thesis. For several years I worked for CompassPoint Nonprofit Services, which is a large Bay Area nonprofit management support organization (MSO) and we applied for grants using much the same logic (I still occasionally teach workshops for CompassPoint). The problem we faced, and which JP also notes, is that it's difficult for a large MSO to properly serve the smallest of grass-roots organizations on an individual basis.

That's where small, independent consultants, such as myself, are able to fill in the holes by working with the smallest of nonprofits that are overlooked by the MSOs and capacity building grants. The trouble is that what little funding for capacity building that does exist goes to the MSOs that are themselves nonprofits, not to self-employed consultants. Again, that's just the nature of the system.

I'm not certain what the solution is for all of this, I just found JP's posting to be thought provoking and important, and wanted to share it with more readers.

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Monday, May 22, 2006

Money is Easier than Helping

A new study by Thrivent Financial for Lutherans finds that most Americans find donating money to a charity to be easier than volunteering, and would rather write a check than help you out with physical tasks.

Still, in 2005 more than half of Americans did some volunteer work (57%), including 75% of people with household incomes of $75,000.

This is good news for your fundraising efforts. If these statistics are right, then it should be easier to ask for a donation than to recruit volunteers, and easier yet to find wealthier donors.

See Americans flip-flop on volunteerism on the Thrivent web site for the full press release regarding the survey results.

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Friday, May 19, 2006

Come to the Nonprofit Consultants Carnival

No, you don't have to take any time off of work - this carnival will be happening online. From mid-June through July, the Carnival of Nonprofit Consultants will taking place in the blogosphere.

What's a virtual carnival? Here's how founding organizer Kivi Leroux Miller describes it: "This 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."

Basically, each week the organizer posts a topic of interest to nonprofits - maybe it will be communications, maybe it will be grant writing, maybe something else. Participating bloggers (including this site) write on that topic. The best seven posts of the week are collected onto the organizer's site in a sort of weekly eZine.

For the bloggers, it's a bit of friendly competition to see whose posts will be chosen, as well as a bit of inspiration in the form of a writing prompt.

For the readers, it's a great way to discover new bloggers and resources that you can turn to for more advice long after the carnival is through.

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Thursday, May 18, 2006

Maximizing Volunteer Impact

Are you fully utilizing your volunteers skills? Are you putting volunteers in positions where they can use their professional skills most effectively, or are you having asking lawyers to sweep up?

According to the 2006 Deloitte / Points of Light Volunteer IMPACT Study, you're probably missing the boat. The study found that the "vast majority of non-profit organizations are not capitalizing on the valuable professional skills of their volunteers."

This is not only a problem for your organization, but for the volunteers as well. Surveys find that most people do want to be used to their maximum potential, and enjoy what they are good at for a good purpose. When volunteers are given chores that they didn't select and are not in line with their skills, they get bored and are less likely to continue volunteering.

The Wall Street Journal recently did an article on this problem from the volunteer's perspective, calling it the Volunteer Trap. The last thing you want is for your valuable volunteers to feel that they've been trapped!

It's not just the potential productivity of your volunteers that is at stake here: This relates to your fundraising as well. Here's a little something to remember:

Money follows involvement. 90% of long-term volunteers to an organization wind up as donors. That's a phenomenal number to consider. Don't blow it by giving that potential donor the wrong task.

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Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Starting a New Nonprofit? Act Now...

If you've been taking your time filling out your IRS tax-exempt application paperwork, here's some motivation to complete them before July; the IRS filing fees are going up!

For most organizations, this will mean a 50% increase in fees, from $500 to $750, and for small organizations (receipts under $10,000) it will be a 100% increase, from $150 to $300. While the dollar amount can still be called "reasonable," the percentage climb of the increase is a bit shocking.

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Monday, May 15, 2006

Seven Donor Newsletter Flaws

Tom Ahern has a new book called Raising More Money with Newsletters Than You Ever Thought Possible, with an excerpt posted on on the seven donor newsletter flaws that are killing you.

This short piece contains some good information and things to remember when putting your newsletters together. One of the most important, in my estimation, is Flaw #5: "The newsletter is not set up for rapid skimming and browsing. On the contrary, you assume people will read long articles. Here's the harsh truth: most of your audience won't have time to give your newsletter more than a glance."

I fully agree, and have often told people that it's a mistake to assume that anybody reads anything anymore. As a writer, I find that terribly sad. But true.

This piece of advice is important to remember, not just when seeking donations, but in all your communications. Do you have important information to get out to your clients, suppliers, volunteers, collaborators, or anybody else?

Rather than using text-dense letters, break up the message into bulleted lists, using bolding, italics, and underlines (each sparingly) to draw out the key points. Longer explanations, if needed, may follow, but make sure any necessary take-aways (next required meeting, due dates for applications, changes in regulations, etc.) can be easily picked out without reading the full letter.

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Friday, May 12, 2006

If Your Fundraising Budget was $20...

Yes, twenty dollars. This is not joke. What could you do to bring in money to your nonprofit if all you had to spend on your fundraiser was $20?

That is basically the question that Reverend Michael Eden, of the Church of St. Peter & St. Mary in Stowmarket, England, asked his congregation. Eden took a £900 donation (just under $1,800) and distributed it in £10 notes to ninety of his parishioners with the request that they do something with it to increase the donation within six months.

As reported in the Telegraph, "Vicar puts his faith in a parable and harvests the profits." Yes, the investment paid off, with a total return of about £5,000. (The point of the fundraiser was to increase the repair fund for their 14th century church building).

Here are some of the ways that they increased the donation:
  • One parishioner bought ingredients to make cakes, scones, and jams. She kept re-investing the profits into more baked goods until her total raised was £410.
  • Five parishioners pooled their money to organize a barn dance.
  • One woman bought materials to knit scarves and tea cozies that she sold at a profit.
  • Another took in ironing.
  • One cooked breakfasts to sell at the church.
  • A group of children bought candy that they re-sold at a party.
  • The Reverend himself made pickled onions that brought in £35.
The more religious among my readers will recognize this as being inspired by the parable of the talents. In the story, a master gives his three servants money before leaving on a sojourn. He returns to find that two have doubled their money, while the third buried it in the ground. As Eden told the BBC, "I challenged the congregation to use their God-given talents and they responded accordingly."

You do not need to be religious, however, to recognize that there are some great fundraising ideas and practical lessons to be learned from this small news item. Personally, I am fascinated and inspired by it.

If you gave each of your board members and volunteers a $20 bill and asked them to use it to raise money, what would happen? What other $20 ideas can you come up with that would at least double the investment? I have some ideas of my own, but I want to hear from you first.

Send your $20 ideas to me at ken at - I'll compile them and post them here at a later date.

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Thursday, May 11, 2006

Giving and Communications

Here are some great statistics I just came across on the web:

Why people give money
  • 60% will give when asked by someone they know well
  • 40-50% will give to a fundraiser when asked by a colleague at work
  • 10-20% will give to a cause they learn about from news media (print, radio, TV, telethons)
  • Fewer than 10% will give when solicited by a stranger at the door, on the phone, in print ads, or from letters
- Gilmore Research for Washington Gives

I found that on the web site of Good News/Good Deeds: Citizen Effectiveness in the Age of Electronic Democracy. The main focus of this online report is communications and better linkages between the nonprofit sector, the media, and new technology.

Here's some more food for thought from the report: "Not-for-profits are usually passionate about their work. Such fervor is guaranteed to raise the eyebrow of any journalist who has been trained in the fine art of skepticism."

Read the report on their site or download it as a PDF to find out what they think you should do about that problem and others, such as the sectors weak sense of identity. The report was written for and about the Pacific Northwest (specifically, the Puget Sound area), but most of it is relevant to organizations everywhere.

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Tuesday, May 09, 2006

The Nonprofit FAQ

The Nonprofit FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) from is another great resource with answers to just about any question you may have about nonprofit management, development, regulations, or technology.

From the main page, select one of the dozens of topic headings, from Boards of Directors to Telemarketing. From the topic page you'll find anywhere from one or two, to over sixty sub-topics or questions.

Many of the answers are presented in short articles posted directly to the Nonprofit FAQ site. Others are links to outside resources. All are authoritative and well-written.

Monday, May 08, 2006

DonorData Versus the Foundation Center

A friend recently asked my opinion of a new online foundation research site called "" They offer a free 20-day trial membership, so I signed up for the test drive.

As a baseline for comparison, I used the Foundation Center's "Foundation Directory Online." I decided to do the same search on each service. Here are my results:

DonorData (trial subscription) - $!9.99/month
Search: California & Civil Rights
86 foundation results
No sub-categories available

On the Foundation Center site the "Civil Rights" field of interest has several sub-categories. I did the search twice, first just with "Civil Rights" and again with all the sub-categories.

Foundation Center's Foundation Directory Online - basic subscription $19.95/month
Search 1: California & Civil Rights
37 foundation results
Search 2: California & Civil Rights OR Civil Rights sub-categories (including: women, voter education, race/intergroup relations, minorities, immigrants, gays/lesbians, disabled, aging, advocacy)
152 foundation results

Interesting note: included in DonorData's 86 hits were a few foundations that were not listed in the Foundation Center's 152 hits!

Another thing DonorData has over the Foundation Center is the Celebrity Donors database, although it remains to be seen how accurate or effective the data is.

In the Foundation Center's corner, however, is usability. They've been at this for a long time, and their web design and ease of use makes searching and reading the results a breeze. DonorData has good information, but it is not very intuitive and search results are not formatted in an easy to read or print manner.

While the foundation records contain much of the same basic information, the Foundation Center's is far more flexible in how you create a search. DonorData insists on starting with choosing a state and then a field of interest. From those basic results you can narrow it down by city or another column. With the Foundation Center, I can begin a search on any key field, or run a text search across all fields.

There is also a question of where the data is coming from. The Foundation Center constantly surveys foundations to update their database, along with the latest 990 filings. The foundations are all familiar with the Center and aware of the importance of these surveys and are good about responding. DonorData doesn't explain where their data comes from, which makes me wonder how accurate or up-to-date it really is.

What we do know, however, is where they get information on their potential customers: For a 20-day free trial of their $19.99 monthly service, DonorData required me to enter more personal information (including a credit card number) than Adobe did to download a 30-day trial version of their $399 GoLive software.

I will continue to play with this during the rest of my 20 days, and will let you know if my opinion changes, but for now, stick with the Foundation Center.

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Friday, May 05, 2006

When Community Foundations Merge Do Nonprofits Win?

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The San Jose Mercury News reports that the Community Foundation Silicon Valley (CFSV) and the Peninsula Community Foundation (PCF) appear to be headed for a merger. This would create one of the largest community foundations in the nation, and is being promoted as way of bringing additional resources to "struggling nonprofits."

Both are excellent organizations that I have had the privilege and pleasure to work with and get to know over the years as both a funder as a partner on various projects. Still, I question whether or not this will result in a "one-plus-one-equals-three" situation, as suggested by Carl Guardino, CEO of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group. I fear that it could just as easily result in one plus one equaling less than two.

The idea is that the power and size of the new, combined organization would attract more donations, which would come down to nonprofits in increased grants. That's a great concept on paper, and - if the merger goes through - I hope that they're right.

Unfortunately, however, I fear that turf wars could have just as strong of a negative effect. Both community foundations are very strongly identified with their communities, as should be the case. While there is definitely some geographic overlap between the Peninsula and Silicon Valley, I believe that donors have strong feelings about whether they are part of a community centered in San Mateo or one centered in San Jose.

Re-settling the new foundation in Palo Alto might calm some of that turf battle - or not, as is evidenced by David Vossbrink, spokesman for San Jose Mayor Ron Gonzales, being sure to point out that, "We're the largest city in the region." San Jose has long been the self-declared "capital of the Silicon Valley." Losing a major community foundation to "the suburbs" of Palo Alto or any rival further north is not something that they will take lightly. I'm sure some in San Mateo feel the same about their resources heading south.

At this point a merger is not the only possible result of the discussions. Closer collaboration, joint programming, and sharing of resources could accomplish a lot of the positive results that they are looking for without taking anything away from the community identity that each foundation has worked so hard for over the past half-century.

Are any readers of this blog familiar with other community foundation mergers? What were the results? Did the local nonprofits benefit? Let me know your thoughts, as well as any suggestions for items to post here. The email link is at the bottom of the page.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Free Management Library

Here's a great resource that I've had in my bookmarks for years. It's the Free Management Library assembled by Carter McNamara of Authenticity Consulting. The library contains links to articles on over 675 topics, neatly divided into 75 categories.

Much of the management information is applicable to both for-profit and nonprofit organizations and for those areas where each sector requires a different approach (such as Finances or Fundraising) they've included separate topic headings for nonprofit users.

Some of the most useful information, however, is from the general categories, including resources for employee-employer issues, facilities management, and ideas to motivate board committees to accomplish their tasks.

Because of the sheer volume of links included there are a few that lead to long-gone web sites. I'm sure the task of keeping up with updating the links is quite daunting. Still, a few "401: Page Not Found" errors don't take away from the tremendous work done here to assemble the best management resources in one place.

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Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Network Neutrality for Nonprofits

From previous posts you already know that I am a big believer in the power of the Internet (web and email) for low-cost, high-return nonprofit communications. Unfortunately, current pending legislation in Congress could threaten your easy access to web users looking for information about your organization's mission.

Visit for more detailed information, but the potential changes would give the large media companies the ability to limit what their customers see to those content providers that have paid for that access. (I.E.: If you don't pay a fee to AT&T, users who use them to get online won't be able to get to your web site). An amendment to maintain the concept of "Network Neutrality" (equal access) has already been defeated.

This is not a party-line vote. Groups on the left and the right are joined together in fighting this attack on the first amendment in the name of commerce. Please check the link, read up on the issue, and do what you can (as individuals, and as organizations) to preserve "Network Neutrality." Or be prepared to increase your online marketing budget.

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Monday, May 01, 2006

Donations, But Not Trust

An new poll from Harris Interactive shows that while 92% of household have donated to charity in the last year, nearly a third (32%) feel that the sector has "pretty seriously gotten off in the wrong direction" (Full story with survey results). The most painful statistic is that only one in ten respondents strongly agree that "charitable organizations are honest and ethical in their use of donated funds."

This poor image is a problem for all of us. We cannot be complacent and just accept dollars given to us without trust. We must re-build that trust for our organizations, and for the sector as a whole, for the good of our own fundraising efforts, yes, but mostly for the good of the clients that we serve.

You can start with complete transparency. Make your organization's IRS form 990 available on your web site (or provide the link to Guidestar where donors can research other groups too). Put your administrative costs percentage in your fundraising letters. Let donors know exactly what their donations will be used for.

And if your figures are such that you think I'm crazy to suggest these things, get your budget and fiscal house in order. If your group is not deserving of the public's trust, perhaps it shouldn't be a 501(c)(3). Harsh? Maybe. But we've got some serious PR work ahead of us.

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