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!