From the President's Office, May 2006

Dear Friend:

If you were at the Michigan Nonprofit Superconference in Detroit earlier this week, you may have heard my colleague Dan Moore speak, or you might have met him and another colleague, Karen Rayzor, at the GuideStar exhibit. If you missed the Superconference, you will have another chance to meet a number of us at the Council of Foundations conference next week or at several other events over the summer (see the list at the end of this article).

Why this attention to conferences? It's simple: we are determined to make GuideStar an organization that is driven by your needs and interests. We want to learn everything we can about what data to collect, how to present it to you, and what types of products and services we can offer to help you do your job more easily and more effectively.

GuideStar gains so much from attending these gatherings. They give us the opportunity to introduce new people to our site and database. They enable us to show current users features and services of which they are unaware. Most important, they give us the chance to get feedback from you.

When we meet GuideStar users at conferences, they generously share how they use our site, what they like about it, what does not meet their needs, and what they would like to see us provide in the future. We use these comments to improve the services we offer.

I hope we will see you soon in Pittsburgh, San Jose, New York, New Orleans, Palm Beach, Nashville, Hampton Roads, Las Vegas, or Orlando. If you have an upcoming event that we can attend or if you would like us to make a presentation or speak to a group of GuideStar users, please write to me at And if we can't meet soon in person, I hope you'll e-mail me or call with your ideas on how to make GuideStar better.


Bob Ottenhoff
President and CEO

Yes, Virginia, We Have Tutorials: April Question of the Month Results

We've long suspected that users aren't aware of everything available on GuideStar. That's OK, as long as people can find what they need, when they need it. We also suspected, however, that users didn't realize that we have tools to help them do just that. Thus, the April Question of the Month asked, "Have you ever used one of GuideStar's tutorials or demos?"

These Seven Donor Newsletter Flaws Are Killing You

Excerpt from Raising More Money with Newsletters Than You Ever Thought Possible

Almost every donor newsletter I see suffers from at least one of the following fatal flaws. You would be shocked by how many donor newsletters suffer from all seven.

Flaw #1: Your newsletter fails the "you test." ... A good donor newsletter is friendly, even intimate, in tone. If you insist instead on an institutional voice, you distance yourself from your readers.

Flaw #2: Your newsletter skimps on emotional triggers. You already know that charity starts when you move a heart. In a donor newsletter, tugging the heartstrings is a full-time job.

Flaw #3: You claim it's a newsletter (i.e., a bearer of news), but it's really just an excuse to say hi. Here's a dead giveaway: you devote your front page to a ponderous letter "from the desk of" an executive director or board chair.

Beware: A newsletter with no news value is a waste of time and money. And donors are quite demanding: they want very specific kinds of news. Their interest in your organization can quickly wane if you fail to deliver.

Flaw #4: Your newsletter is not "donor-centered." It does not make the donor feel needed or wanted. Remember: people don't give to your organization. They give through your organization, in an effort to change the world. You have to give the donor credit as well as thanks.

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. If you bury important information in long articles, most people will miss it.

Flaw #6: Your newsletter has weak or dysfunctional headlines. If any of the fatal flaws deserves the title of "Most Deadly," this is it. Headlines have a function: to summarize the key points of the story. Almost every nonprofit newsletter I've run across has suffered to some degree from poor-to-worthless headlines. Of all the fatal flaws, inept headlines do the most damage. They make it impossible for your newsletter to succeed.

Flaw #7: It depends far too much on statistics (and far too little on anecdotes) to make your case.

Tom Ahern, Ahern Communications, Ink.
© 2005, Tom Ahern. Excerpted from Raising More Money with Newsletters Than You Ever Thought Possible. Excerpted with permission of Emerson & Church, Publishers. All rights reserved.

Tom Ahern, an authority on making nonprofit communications consistently effective, is author of Raising More Money with Newsletters Than You Ever Thought Possible and president of Ahern Communications, Ink., a consultancy specializing in capital campaign materials and other nonprofit communications. He speaks frequently in the United States and Canada on reader psychology, direct mail principles, and good (and not very good) graphic design as applied to fundraising and nonprofit branding.

Do This, Don't Do That: How to Get Your Proposal Funded

Excerpt from "Thank You for Submitting Your Proposal": A Foundation Director Reveals What Happens Next

In my role as executive director of the Cedar Tree Foundation (Boston, Massachusetts), I've noticed over time that certain questions come up again and again, because they're on the minds of many people who apply to many foundations. I'd like to deal with two of those questions here: How can I get my proposal read? and Are there common mistakes proposal writers make?

Six Things You Can Do to Help Your Proposal Make the First Cut

  1. Write a compelling summary. What if you knew that huge sums of money, perhaps a month or two of your organization's payroll, were riding on 200 or 400 words? Wouldn't you pay scrupulous attention to that writing? Your proposal will only get read if the summary provides a reason for the program officer to dig deeper. Fuss over the summary until it sparkles.

  2. List concrete, specific outcomes of your work. People want to know exactly what they are going to get for their money. That's why so many of the things we buy come in transparent packaging. Your proposal should be a clear container that shows exactly what will result from the funder's investment. Concrete, measurable results provide core reasons for funders to support you.

  3. Connect each step of your work with your goals. Many proposals fail to show how specific actions will lead directly to meeting goals. Strong proposals are like railroad bridges—they have steel girders connecting every point. Most often, proposal writers fail to make those connections because the relationship between what they want and what they do seems obvious to them. It needs to be spelled out.

  4. Present a budget in standard format that is legible and patently sensible. People who have never used a spreadsheet as well as those who live and breathe spreadsheets can be equally injurious to explaining your money plan. Spreadsheet jockeys need to be kept from creating dense forests of tiny numbers. But also don't let someone take their maiden spreadsheet voyage creating the budget that will be vetted by a foundation's experts. And make sure everything in the proposal is accounted for in the budget. Conversely, omit items in the budget that are not fully explained in the proposal narrative.

  5. Get the proposal in early. Ostentatiously beating the deadline gives the impression that you can plan well and get things done. The reality of foundation deadlines is that if your proposal arrives early, it will stand out, because most proposals arrive at the last moment.

  6. Offer to meet. Once. Let the funder know you would be glad to come by and talk about your work, and, if appropriate, bring other staff or board members. If the funder says OK, set up the meeting on their terms. If they're reluctant, let it drop, so you don't provide a reason for the funder to stop taking your calls.

Let's now move on to some of the common pitfalls of proposal writers.

Five Mistakes Too Many Grant Applicants Make

  1. Talking mainly about problems, not solutions. Grantseekers sometimes confuse writing proposals with authoring pamphlets meant to educate and mobilize the public. Your proposal should show that you're familiar with the details of the issue, but most of a good proposal will focus on exactly what you're going to do about the problem.

  2. Describing specific problems with general solutions. A proposal will succeed to the extent it provides a clear picture of what will be done about the issue being addressed. Too often proposal writers pour their hearts into the details of the problem, and then resort to vague generalities about their actual activities.

    This lack of concrete action in a proposal might result simply from the proposal writer not having a clear picture of what's being done by others in his or her organization. Much worse, it might mean the group needs to slow down the fundraising until they have done a better job of strategic planning.

  3. Prolific use of buzzwords and jargon. Some proposal writers confuse density with erudition. What sells the work to funders is clear, simple prose that tells a story or paints a picture. Vague claims, fuzzy or trendy language, and obscure terms don't impress funders—quite the contrary.

  4. Budgets that don't add up. It seems so obvious, but enough proposals arrive on the desks of foundation executives with math mistakes to make it worth pointing out how much these careless errors undermine credibility. The budget should not only add up, it also has to support the logic of the proposal's narrative. Therefore a $100,000 budget to reconstruct 16 flooded houses won't make sense, nor will $700,000 to hire two new staff.

  5. Parroting the funder's guidelines without linking them to the work. It's difficult to understand why so many people think that pasting phrases from the funder's guidelines into their proposal will unlock the money box. If the funder says they seek to support people working to improve the health of city children, don't tell the funder that your organization exists "to improve the health of city children."

    All successful proposals need to fit within the foundation's guidelines, but detailing how and why they fit is the key to success, not simply showing you have read the funder's Web site.

Martin Teitel
© 2006. Excerpted from "Thank You for Submitting Your Proposal": A Foundation Director Reveals What Happens Next. Excerpted with permission of Emerson & Church, Publishers.

Martin Teitel is executive director of the Cedar Tree Foundation, a private foundation headquartered in Boston. Previously he served as senior fellow and executive director of the CS Fund, a philanthropic foundation, and also western field director for a public charity, The Youth Project.

Shortage Decade: Where Will the Next Generation of Nonprofit Leaders Come From?

There are half as many Generation X'ers as there are baby boomers. This is why demographers and policy analyst talk about the impact of retiring baby boomers on Social Security and Medicare and why we hear about impending shortages of leaders and managers in every sector from government to big business to the nonprofit sector. This major demographic change is headline news regularly across the country and was acknowledged by the Chronicle of Philanthropy in their January edition with a front-page story on succession planning.

The less frequently told story is the impact of this societal sea change on leadership of the third or not-for-profit sector. For our critical social and community institutions—our local nonprofits—these demographic trends and their potential consequences are more critical for a number of reasons. First, because nonprofits have a social welfare mandate as opposed to a profit mandate, they often allocate a higher percentage of their resources to providing services than to building infrastructure or supporting management functions. Thus they have thin management structures; according to a recent survey released by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, fewer than 15 percent of small nonprofits with zero to five staff have deputy director positions, and under half even have program manager or director positions. These numbers translate into few people "waiting in the wings" to take on leadership. Further, many senior nonprofit managers (in the organizations that do have them) are baby boomers over age 40. Again, the recent survey notes that 70 percent of deputy directors are over the age of 40, meaning that many in this second tier of leadership will also be leaving their positions and will be unavailable as new leaders.

Second, nonprofits have traditionally paid lower wages and offered limited health and retirement benefits. These are significant barriers to attracting employees, especially college graduates who have increasing amounts of debt. Further, Generations X and Y are particularly interested in balancing work and family, a recent study by the American Business Collaboration shows. The long hours often required in nonprofit leadership positions combined with low wages and mediocre benefits are not conducive to a balanced work/family life. It isn't that younger people are not interested in nonprofit work—surveys continually show their interest in volunteering and philanthropy—it is simply that the sector is not structured to make it easy for them to continue working in the jobs they love.

Finally, there are currently few opportunities for nonprofit employees in their 30s to take on significant leadership or management challenges; there are few middle management positions in general and older, more experienced baby boomers seek many executive director positions. Young people interested in the sector are trying to compete for these jobs by getting nonprofit certificates and graduate management degrees. The number of these types of programs has blossomed in the past few years. Unfortunately, these degrees and certificates are unlikely to equal the credibility that many boomers have amassed from their longer work experience. As one young leader said in a recent study by Frances Kunreuther,  Up Next, "I'm not on the board of one organization anymore because a lot of older people came in [and] told us we're doing it wrong. Because I didn't live through the '60s and struggle the same way, our legitimacy as leaders is questioned or not understood or challenged because we haven't had the same life experiences." Another young nonprofit staff person said, "The challenge for our generation of leaders is credibility—being celebrated when we know what we need to know but being chastised by other leaders ... a Boomer who believes we don't know enough. Balancing on someone else's beam becomes frustrating." Generation X may be the "missing generation" of nonprofit leadership—by the time the sector needs those young leaders (when they would be experienced leaders in their 40s), many will have left the sector seeking new opportunities and challenges.

So what will happen to our nonprofit sector as it is forced to compete for new leaders?

  • Will Generation Y Come to the Rescue?
    By the time the baby boomers are all reaching retirement age and the squeeze for talent is most pronounced, the baby-boom echo (Generation Y) will be just beginning to enter their 30s and may be a source for leadership. The baby boom generation numbers about 77 million. Generation X is about 38 million people; Generation Y is about 60 million people. Of course, this group is also being heavily recruited by businesses and will have significant college debt.

    Nonprofit Strategies: Examine salary and benefits and slowly raise them to be more in line with government; consider innovative means of engaging Generation Y as volunteers and board members—continually engaging them in the sector so they will be aware of employment opportunities.

  • Innovative Shared Leadership
    Baby boomers are likely to remain relatively healthy and continue to want to contribute to the nonprofit sector, and there are currently younger leaders in the sector who'd like more opportunities for management and leadership.

    Nonprofit Strategies: Work to engage younger leaders from both Generation X and Generation Y in innovative shared leadership models that draw on the expertise of baby boomers while nurturing new leadership.

  • An Increase in Immigration Will Fill Leadership Needs in All Sectors
    Even with significant immigration, in the shorter term there is likely to be a significant squeeze on leadership talent. Most immigrants entering the United States are not coming into leadership positions, and most are not working in nonprofits at all. In fact, many may not even know about the opportunity of professional work in the nonprofit sector. Foreign-born workers are much less likely to have a high school education than the native born. Foreign-born workers are also less likely to be in executive and managerial positions than their native-born counterparts. For example, 9.9 percent of foreign-born workers were employed at executives, administrators, and managers, compared to 15.3 percent of the native-born population. Seniority, language barriers, and hiring practices that eliminate anyone without a college degree are reasons that immigrants are underrepresented in senior positions.

    Nonprofit Strategies: Examine hiring practices and consider means of encouraging immigrants to apply for positions; consider marketing and promotional campaigns in immigrant communities.
With forethought and a variety of strategies, there are sources of new leadership, and the sector may even benefit from healthy, supported transitions.

Paige Hull Teegarden, Managance Consulting
© 2006, Managance Consulting

Paige Hull Teegarden, MPP, is vice president for research and client services at Managance Consulting. Managance's mission is strengthening the management of socially responsible organizations to enhance performance that changes lives and communities.