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

Saturday, May 30, 2020

The Virtual Interim ED

A few weeks ago I began a new consulting gig as the Interim Executive Director of the Friends of Oakland Animal Services (FOAS).

No big new thing there. I've taken Interim ED assignments half a dozen times before. But I've not taken an assignment like this during a time of official Shelter-in-Place orders (but, really, who has?).

Previously, the only "virtual" consulting I've done has been limited to very short engagements. A few conversations, and advice, dispensed by phone or email. I've also been conducting my Basic Grant Proposal Writing course online, but again, for each student, it's a limited amount of contact and a few messages exchanged while they complete the class.

This is an entirely new adventure, with my work - at least to start - being conducted entirely online, via email, phone, and a seeming endless number of Zoom and Google Meet video calls. It's a very different experience, having staff that I've never in person, and building relationships with them, and with my Board members.

Hopefully, it won't be too many more weeks before the Shelter-in-Place restrictions in the Bay Area ease to the point where we can meet "in real life," but even after that, it won't be a daily thing. This is a small organization, with no actual office space. They mostly worked remotely already. When shelter-in-place ends, many of our regular meetings may be in person, but the bulk of the work will still be done remotely.

At FOAS, our work is changing along with the rest of the world during this global pandemic. We will find ways to transform the organization that will be stronger and even more successful than before shelter-in-place. This is a new and different way for me to be an Interim ED, but the challenge is exciting, and I'm looking forward to seeing what develops.

Monday, May 04, 2020

Budgeting for Bequests

One thing about shelter-in-place; I’ve been going through notes and files and finding half-written ideas for blog posts that never made it here.

One such germ of a post began with a question from another website (I’ve lost the link, not sure where the conversation started), “Do Bequest gifts to your organization at least total seven to nine percent of all charitable gift dollars each year? That’s the national average.”

My response (now edited for posting):

Bequests may be 7-9% of overall charitable giving, but it’s wrong to assume that it’s an “average” that organizations should shoot for. That’s an overall figure for the sector, including organizations large and small. And including religious orders and nonprofit universities, which are “typical” (as dangerous a word as “average”) bequest recipients.

This made me wonder if there’s a better way to come up with a nonprofits' target bequest expectations. Rather than bequests’ overall ranking, maybe it would be more appropriate to look at it in relation to individual giving? After all, bequests are simply the final gift of the individual donors who we've properly stewarded for many years.

So, if individuals are about 74% of overall national giving, compared to bequests being about 8% (changes slightly year-to-year, but roughly the about that), then we’d say bequests, overall, are about 11% of individual giving.

Then, an organization could see if they’re doing well on bequests using that 11% of individuals figure.

IE: If individuals are 50% of your income, bequests “should be” 5.5%. If individuals are 25% of your income, bequests “should be” 2.75%. If individuals are 85% of your income, bequests “should be” 9%. IF that were a good benchmark.

Reality, however, includes many other factors. Do your donors skew older or younger? It seems likely that if you have older donors, you may be expecting more bequests. What is your average donor turn-over? Do you retain a high percentage of donors each year? Organizations that retain more donors, rather than churn them over, may be more likely to have higher bequests.

In the end, even when donors notify us that they’ve included us in their wills, bequests are never a “pledge” that you can count on. They will nearly always be unexpected, and are not something you can put in your budget. And, as they are frequently larger amounts, it may be that your board will designate them for an endowment.

Bottom line: Encourage planned giving. Be grateful for the bequests that do come in (and make it through probate). But don’t plan for them, and don’t fall into a trap of trying to benchmark where you “should be” in bequests.