Mixed Emotions about Living in Emergency


The Opportunities Skepticism Brings


Building Effective Measures of Performance


Is More Bureaucracy the Answer for the Sector?


May 17, 2010, Filing Deadline Reveals Confusion, Leads IRS to Offer Relief to 990-N Filers

Last month was ... exciting for many of us in the nonprofit sector. The first round of automatic revocations of tax-exempt status, which was triggered by the May 17 Form 990 filing deadline, brought to light widespread confusion about which organizations needed to file and the revocation process in general. On May 18, when it became apparent that many smaller organizations had missed the deadline for filing Form 990-N and would therefore lose their exemptions, IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman issued a statement assuring them, "The IRS will do what it can to help them avoid losing their tax-exempt status." He noted further that guidance would be forthcoming and urged small nonprofits that had missed the deadline "to go ahead and file" Form 990-N. Read the statement

How User Reviews Can Contribute to Fundraising Success

Reprinted from the GreatNonprofits Newsletter

We've heard a number of stories from nonprofits about ways they have already benefited from user reviews:

Oral Cancer Foundation, Newport Beach, Calif. This nonprofit sent an e-mail out to major donors highlighting some of its GNP (GreatNonprofits) reviews. As a result, two new donors each gave $50,000 to the organization (which represented half of OCF's annual budget); and another, based on GNP reviews, awarded OCF $300,000 in unrestricted funding.

Chewonki Foundation, Wiscasset, Maine. This nonprofit has been around for 94 years, and thus has a very large alumni pool. When Chewonki heard about GNP, they sent one e-mail to their contact list of about 5,000 people, and within a week, 168 people had posted stories of their experiences, some of which dated back decades, on the GNP site.

North Hills Community Outreach, Allison Park, Pa. This organization has used reviews by volunteers to fine-tune their process for recruiting and training new volunteers. NHCO has a link on their home page to their GNP reviews, which has noticeably increased both the number and size of donations to the group.

Springboard Forward, Belmont, Calif. Soon after some reviews from their volunteer career coaches were posted to GNP, this organization was approached by a local business that—based the reviews—gave them an in-kind donation of much-needed office supplies.

Operation Understanding, Washington, D.C. After it attracted 188 reviews last year, this organization was able to raise an extra $3,000 in its year-end campaign from donors, despite the difficult economic climate, and it attributed this support to the GNP reviews. Now, the group is incorporating quotes from the reviews in its new brochure and other marketing materials.

Ohio Valley Goodwill Industries, Cincinnati, Ohio. After receiving 12 glowing reviews in the January Job Training and Placement Campaign, this organization was prominently featured in a local news story highlighting their placement on the top-rated list. See the video here

Ways To Use Your Reviews

If you already have reviews, use them to demonstrate your credibility and impact! You can showcase your reviews easily:

  • Link your home page to your GreatNonprofits profile.
  • Tweet your great reviews!
  • Post your reviews to your Facebook page!
  • Share your reviews internally with your staff. Your staff will appreciate it and learn from it.
  • Use your GreatNonprofits reviews in your marketing brochures, on your Web site, and in your outreach to donors, volunteers, and clients.
  • Place a free, personalized GreatNonprofits badge your Web site by following these easy steps:
    1. Find your badge at:
    2. Choose a color and size.
    3. Cut and paste the code into your Web site.

© 2010, GreatNonprofits. Reprinted from the GreatNonprofits newsletter (spring 2010). Reprinted with permission.

GreatNonprofits is a Web site where people who have firsthand knowledge of a nonprofit—board members, volunteers, donors, recipients of services—can tell others about their experiences with the organization.

Lessons for All Nonprofits from the IRS Interim Report on Colleges and Universities

For the past few years, the IRS has been researching how some of the largest and most complex organizations in the nonprofit sector comply with reporting regulations. First up were hospitals (see the 2009 study on tax-exempt hospitals and their community benefit and executive compensation) and now a report on colleges and universities.

Make 2010 the Year YOU Start Planned Giving, Part III

Hello again!

Telling Tales in Tight Spaces

Reprinted from Contributions Magazine

A few years ago, Dr. Jane Goodall came to Los Angeles to meet with film, television, and commercial producers who were using chimpanzees as actors. Dr. Goodall had assembled indisputable evidence that these chimpanzees were being cruelly beaten by trainers to make them "more compliant" performers. She had come to Hollywood to plead with the producers to help end the abuse.

Nearly 200 members of the creative community attended Dr. Goodall's briefing, and each received a 25-page report documenting the abuses. Given the notoriously short attention span of Hollywood types, Dr. Goodall didn't expect her audience to read every word, but she was hopeful they'd open the booklet and at least read the introduction on the inside cover. It was deliberately brief—less than 250 words—but it still packed an emotional punch:

In the late 1960s, Washoe, a female chimpanzee, was taught American Sign Language under the care of Drs. Allen and Beatrix Gardner. The Gardners hired a young researcher named Roger Fouts to work closely with Washoe, and Fouts would later write about his remarkable experience in the book, Next of Kin: What Chimpanzees Have Taught Me About Who We Are.

In the following excerpt, Fouts describes an incident involving Washoe and a volunteer researcher named Kat. Capitalized words and phrases are used to indicate the signs exchanged by Washoe and her human friends.

"In the summer of 1982, Kat was newly pregnant, and Washoe doted over her belly, asking about her BABY. Unfortunately, Kat had a miscarriage, and she didn't come in to the lab for several days. When she finally came back, Washoe greeted her warmly but then moved away and let Kat know she was upset that she'd been gone. Knowing that Washoe had lost two of her own children, Kat decided to tell the truth. MY BABY DIED Kat signed to her. Washoe looked down to the ground. Then she looked into Kat's eyes and signed CRY, touching her cheek just below her eye. When Kat had to leave that day, Washoe wouldn't let her go. PLEASE PERSON HUG she signed."

This report is dedicated to Washoe and all great apes who, for better or worse, are now reliant on their human cousins for protection and survival.

The third paragraph of the introduction is an excellent example of a "connecting narrative moment," a term coined by Frank Dickerson (a fundraising expert). In just a few sentences, you are pulled into a scene featuring two characters. You witness an exchange revealing the humanity in the character you wouldn't have identified as human, and when Washoe signs, PLEASE PERSON HUG, you simply have to feel something.

The paragraph is not a full-fledged story, but it has enough of a narrative thread to engage us, and it stands as a reminder that even when we think there isn't enough room, we can still tap into the power of storytelling.

On the Web, everyone reads content like a Hollywood executive, so if you're going to tell a story, keep it brief. The United Ways of California demonstrate this nicely on its site with the mini-story of the Lopez family, one of thousands in America struggling to survive without health insurance.

The Lopez family story runs just 200 words, but it has a beginning, middle, and end, and a sympathetic protagonist in Sylvia Lopez. The story is accompanied by a picture of Sylvia and her kids, which helps establish an emotional connection with the reader. And once the connection is made, motivated readers can easily link to another page to learn more about the United Way's efforts to cover more children with health insurance.

"In a complex environment," writes Annette Simmons in The Story Factor, "people listen to whomever makes the most sense—whomever tells the best story." Our environment is getting more complex every day, and the time we have to listen (or read) seems to be getting shorter by the minute. So take advantage of every opportunity you have by telling a story, or as much of a story as you can. More often than not, even a little narrative is better than none.

Andy Goodman
© 2010, Andy Goodman. Reprinted from Contributions Magazine, vol. 24, no. 5 (May 2010). Reprinted with permission.

Andy Goodman is a nationally recognized author, speaker, and consultant in the field of public interest communications. Along with Storytelling as Best Practice, he is author of Why Bad Ads Happen to Good Causes and Why Bad Presentations Happen to Good Causes. He also publishes a monthly journal, free-range thinking, to share best practices in the field.