Nine Nonprofits Join the Next Wave of Performance Measurement: Root Cause's Peer Performance Exchange

The following is a post by Anne Radday, Senior Manager of Research, Social Impact Research at Root Cause.

Gender Norms: A Key to Maximizing the Return on Charitable Investment

The following is a cross-post by Riki Wilchins, executive director of TrueChild, an organization that helps donors, policy-makers and practitioners reconnect race, class and gender through "gender transformative" approaches that challenge rigid gender norms and inequities. You can read the original post on the Council on Foundation's RE:Philanthropy Blog.

5 Ways for NGOs to Drive Retention

The following is a guest post by Ashley Halligan, nonprofit analyst at Software Advice.

Measuring Your Social Media Performance is Easy as 1-2-3

The following is a guest post by Frank Barry, a Sr. Digital Marketer at Blackbaud and blogger at npENGAGE.

The Yin and Yang of Celebrity Leaders

The board of directors of a well-known, well-respected national nonprofit announced all agog to staff that the organization had just landed a high-profile former politician as its new president.

For all intents and purposes, the organization's selection for new president could best be described as a celebrity leader, someone with the personal charisma, cachet, and connections that could, in relatively short order, bring in millions of dollars from any number of corporations and industry titans as well as the general public.

Quite an envious catch! But as with all things, even celebrity leaders come with a price.

Is There a Celebrity Leader in Your Midst?

Celebrity leaders come in multiple versions. The one noted above was a national, if not international, public figure with high media visibility and public recognition.

But small communities often have their own versions of celebrity status, which may include prominent local business people, politicians, socialites, and philanthropists.

My experience with small and medium-sized grassroots nonprofit organizations is that popular, longstanding leaders or founders of these organizations often, over time, can take on a larger-than-life celebrity-like status of their own.

In the short run these folks may turn out to be good brand ambassadors, fundraisers, and even good leaders for their organizations.

But they also bring their own set of issues.

What to Be Mindful Of

Whether you currently possess a celebrity leader or are considering hiring one as part of your succession plan, here are some things to be mindful of:

  • Access.
    Upon arrival at her new job, the high-profile former politician I opened this article with brought along an entourage of loyal, long-time aides and advisors who effectively served as a buffer—nay, barricade—to accessing the new president.

    Having been a consultant for years to this particular nonprofit, and having had easy access to its former president, it soon became obvious to me, as it did to staff, that this was no longer to be the case, with negative consequences.

    I don't know about you, but I prefer a leader who gets in the trenches with us little folk, someone who seeks to understand the issues we and the organizations we serve face, rather than a celebrity who sequesters him-or herself in an impervious ivory tower, who dictates from on high—and whose decrees often do not reflect the organization's or staff's reality.
  • Who's giving to what—and why?
    As I previously mentioned, celebrity leaders have the potential to be good, if not excellent fundraisers. As we're all (painfully) aware, funding is the lifeblood of all nonprofits.

    With respect to celebrity leadership, the caveat here is that donors, large donors in particular, often give not necessarily to the organization and its mission but rather to the star-studded leader—for any number of reasons, including personal friendship, the need to cozy up to someone of note, or simply to share in some of the limelight the celebrity casts off.

    This is all well and good as long as the celebrity leader remains in favor—and with the organization. But what happens afterwards, when the leader leaves? Will the organization be left with both a huge leadership and fundraising hole to fill? Just something to think about.
  • Charisma doesn't always equate to leadership.
    Let's be honest, we're a star-struck nation. We're drawn like moths to a flame when it comes to people of fame and status.

    But just because someone has charisma and an aura of celebrity that intrinsically draws people and attention to themselves doesn't always mean he or she has the ability to lead us—or the organizations he/she has been hired to serve—to any meaningful destinations.
  • Ego.
    Need I say more about the complications this can bring to the dynamic of an organization and its staff?

I'm not saying exclude high-profile personalities from your leadership wish-list.

What I am saying is be sure to do your due diligence. Know with whom and what you're dealing—and don't allow stardust to blur your vision and decision making.

Larry Checco, Checco Communications
© 2013, Checco Communications

Larry Checco is president of Checco Communications and a nationally recognized public speaker, workshop presenter, and consultant on branding and leadership. His first book, Branding for Success: A Roadmap for Raising the Visibility and Value of Your Nonprofit Organization, has sold thousands of copies both here and abroad. His second book is Aha! Moments in Brand Management: Commonsense Insights to a Stronger, Healthier Brand.

IRS Updates, March 2013: Changes to Form 990 and Form 990-EZ, Nationwide Tax Forums, and EO Internship Opportunities

Excerpted from Exempt Organizations Update

Are You Boring Your Donors? Interview with Master Nonprofit Communicator Tom Ahern

Tom Ahern, author of Seeing Through a Donor's Eyes, How to Write Fundraising Materials That Raise More Money, and Raising More Money with Newsletters Than You Ever Thought Possible, recently spoke with his publisher about how to craft more effective donor communications. GuideStar has published excerpts from Mr. Ahern's books (see the links on the right), and we're pleased to be able to share his additional thoughts with you.

You had a bracelet made for your wife, Simone. It won't strike many people as romantic, since the words you put on it were—well, you tell us.

I commissioned a bracelet for Simone that had seven flat links, with one word inscribed on each link. The words: anger, exclusivity, fear, flattery, greed, guilt, salvation. These are the direct mail's industry's "top seven" emotional triggers. Both of us teach these triggers in our workshops. We'd occasionally forget one or two. This seemed like a fun remedy, at least for her.

In Seeing Through a Donor's Eyes, you suggest a simple way—an exercise, really—for how an organization can discover its true importance. Describe it, please.

I ask staff and board to pretend that tonight at midnight your organization suddenly ceases to exist. Tomorrow, when people wake up to your absence, what will they truly miss? What will they regret losing? I use this exercise with boards to get them focused. Messaging is NOT about what insiders think. Effective messaging is about what OUTSIDERS think of you.

You say that most nonprofit communications are boring because they "swaddle themselves in interest-draining veils." What are those veils?

Look, would I rather read something written by a journalist at the Wall Street Journal, or something by a local environmental advocate? The question answers itself. Nine times out of ten the local environmentalist will put me to sleep with data and jargon. To be fair, charities don't usually have professional journalists on staff. So charity prose tends to be dull. It doesn't tell stories well, either. Which is a fatal flaw. The human brain is hard-wired to crave narrative. If you can't tell a good quick story, you won't hook many readers. Period.

What I gather from your books is that most donors, at best, glance at an organization's materials—they don't really read deeply. Considering the time and cost involved, why keep sending them?

I teach a workshop called "Writing for Results." It's about winning new donors and keeping existing donors. The first thing I tell the audience is this: Donor communications are NOT about reading; donor communications are about getting people to ACT on your behalf—either now or later. What does a newsletter do for a charity? It helps retain donors. Not because they read the articles and decide they'll stay, but because you show how you love and need them as they skim the photos and headlines.

In your books, you cite nine flaws that sabotage most nonprofit communications. We don't have time to discuss all nine, but maybe you can describe two or three of the most harmful.

I do a lot of audits, evaluating the "donor readiness" of nonprofit communications. And the big problem is always the same. Charities want to talk about themselves ... how good they are at their work ... how they do their work ... how their people are eminently qualified. They don't often talk about the donor, except as bystander who can be placated with perfunctory thanks. This gravely undercuts the potential of most communications programs.

CEOs need to realize that there are two very different types of communications a nonprofit can produce. You can do 1) "corporate" communications, which are all about how great the organization is. Or you can do 2) "donor" communications, which are all about how great the donor is.

Most nonprofits incorrectly choose #1. It's a bad strategy. Corporate communications raise the LEAST amount of money. DONOR communications raise the MOST, because they flatter the donor rather than try to impress him or her. I watched a hospital improve giving to its donor newsletter 1,000 percent between one issue and the next, to $50,000 in gifts per issue, by simply changing from a corporate communications approach to a donor communications approach.

Like others in fundraising, you talk about the importance of anecdotes. In fact, you claim that almost any complex issue can be—should be, in fact—revealed to donors through an anecdote. Got a good example?

There's this charter school. And like a lot of charter schools, they have an angle, which is using music to teach the ABCs. Sure, they could explain the science and pedagogy behind their method, but they don't. Instead they say this: "We had a mom show up with her 2nd grader. And mom was desperate. Her daughter was already falling behind because something wasn't clicking for her in the classroom. We asked the little girl, 'Honey, would you go to the chalkboard and spell "cat."' She got it wrong: K-A-T. That was a year ago. Flash forward to right now? That same girl can now spell Tchaikovsky." That's an anecdote. And in the course of that anecdote, we got to see the school through its amazing results. It's tempting to explain WHAT you do, because you have all the details at your fingertips. But don't lead with your pedagogy; only insiders care. Your donors care about results. So lead with a quick, illustrative story.

In How to Write Fundraising Materials That Raise More Money, you advise all fundraising writers, once they have a draft, to conduct the "You Test." What is that?

The "You Test" is easy in Microsoft Word. Select your text. Then do a "find and replace": replace all your black you's with red you's. When you've done that, you can easily spot the word's presence or absence. Rewrite any passage that is "you-less." Wondering why? The word you is a profound—and unique—emotional trigger as well as a pronoun. Uttering the word you, either in print or vocally, instantly causes the human brain to pay more attention. You is among the 10 most persuasive words available to copywriters in English. Without you, your communications seem distant. With you, they seem personal.

Other than presenting interesting copy, what's the secret to keeping someone reading?

Flatter me. Make me feel important. Make me feel loved. Make me feel good about myself. Make me welcome. Make me feel smart. Surprise me. Delight me. Give me something great to do.

Can someone who's not particularly good at writing measurably increase their skill by reading books like yours? Or is it the case that you either have it or you don't?

In my view, writing to donors successfully is mostly about training. The more training you have, particularly about how the brain works, the less doubt you'll have when pen meets page (and, yes, I handwrite all my first drafts). In that sense, reading books is pretty much a requirement if you want to be any good at the science and art of persuasive writing. But, truly, anyone can learn the skills. Writing to donors isn't like writing novels. It's advertising copywriting, which is straightforward, action-oriented stuff. Copywriting seeks to please and win the customer. Who is our customer? In fundraising, the customer is the donor. Every attempt to communicate with donors should begin with the same question: What do they need—and want —to hear?


© 2013, Emerson & Church, Publishers

Tom Ahern is recognized as one of North America's top authorities on nonprofit communications. He began presenting his top-rated Love Thy Reader workshops at fundraising conferences in 1999. Since then he has introduced thousands of fundraisers in the United States, Canada, and Europe to the principles of reader psychology, writing, and graphic design that make donor communications highly engaging and successful. His consulting practice, Ahern Communications, Ink, specializes in capital campaign case statements, nonprofit communications audits, direct mail, and donor newsletters. His efforts have won three prestigious IABC Gold Quill awards, given each year to the best communications work worldwide.

Build Trust with Donors by Answering These Questions

The following is a guest post by Dean Vella, a writer about business and nonprofit leadership on behalf of University Alliance, a facilitator of transformational leadership and leading nonprofit boards courses.

Accelerating Black Male Achievement

The following post is by Zeina Fayyaz, Program Manager, Social Innovation Forum & Social Innovation Accelerator at Root Cause.

The Giving Partner: Exemplary Leadership in Collaboration and Long-Term Strategy for Increasing Philanthropy and Building Community in Southwest Florida

I was fortunate to be invited to represent GuideStar and experience the live-action excitement of The Giving Partner’s 2013 36-Hour Giving Challenge on March 5-6, 2013. Although this was only the second Giving Challenge event, the Southwest Florida community surpassed 2012 numbers of:

Words to Avoid—2013 Edition

The following is a cross-post by Dan Gunderman, creative director at Big Duck, a marketing and communications firm that works exclusively with nonprofits to help them raise money and increase visibility. You can find the original post here. This is the latest in our series called A Quick Quack – focusing on best communications practices for nonprofits.

3 Steps for Building Trust with Corporate Sponsors

The following is a guest post by Corbit Harrison, vice president of business development for VolunteerHub, a cloud-based volunteer management software application that offers online event registration, email and SMS (text) messaging, report generation, and much more. This is part of our ongoing VolunteerCorner series – focusing on issues that you need to know about in the nonprofit sector.

Nonprofits sometimes view building relationships with their for-profit brethren as a significant challenge. However, it doesn’t have to be this way. In fact, as long as you reach out and ask, you’ll find that many for-profit businesses are more than willing to help. Like all partnerships, the key to the nonprofit and for-profit partnership is creating win-win situations. Below are some tips on setting yourself up for success when dealing with potential corporate sponsors and donors.

Step 1: Be Proactive

Corbit Harrison

First and foremost: when dealing with businesses, you can’t be shy. Corporations ask for the sale all the time. In fact, it’s what keeps them going. They understand that “a closed mouth won’t get fed,” so they won’t automatically be turned off if you approach them for monetary assistance. The fact that U.S. corporations give 15 billion dollars in gifts annually solidifies the point that companies are often in a giving mood. If you’re not asking, your organization may really be missing out.

Step 2: Be Measurable

Be very clear how donations will be used. Will they go toward continuing an existing program? Purchasing much-needed equipment? Launching a new initiative? Additionally, try your best to quantify the observable outcomes in terms of people served, supplies purchased, et cetera. When companies are deciding which causes to support, they want to be assured that their money is being used wisely.

Most importantly, make sure your corporate partners are getting something in return, and put it in a statistical format when possible. Maybe your partner is getting advertising exposure to a certain demographic that is key to them. State your best estimate of how many of those people will be reached. Or perhaps when a company sends volunteers to your organization, you can make sure their time with you gives them a particular skill or experience to take back to the workplace. Any way you can measurably better your corporate partner’s brand, image, or workforce is a win for you, too.

Step 3: Be Creative

Creativity will help your partnering opportunities stand out from all the rest, and it will elevate your sponsor’s brand. For example, at VolunteerHub we recently launched a corporate sponsorship program that allows for-profit companies to sponsor “hubs” for their preferred nonprofit organizations. We believe such programs serve as a unique way to cement the relationship between nonprofit and for-profit partners and offer targeted exposure for the corporate brand.

In addition to requesting dollars, as we mentioned earlier, you can also ask for volunteer time. There is a growing trend in which companies are establishing employee volunteer programs (EVPs) as part of their corporate citizenship efforts. Companies such as Home Depot, Target, and Verizon are some such examples.

EVP structures vary widely, but most larger corporations offer information about their social responsibility plans on their websites. Make the time to do a little research into those near you, and approach them if it seems to be a good fit. This may be especially helpful when you’re planning a big event -- and a great opportunity for corporate volunteers to be seen in action helping the community, especially if they are wearing shirts with their company logo.

Getting Started with Corporate Sponsors

This article is just a springboard to get you thinking about the many opportunities available with corporate partnerships. The key to forging relationships in this arena is like any other. Being clear about what it is you need and what you will do with the gifts offered will go a long way in building trust with those in the business community. Meanwhile, taking the time to add some uniqueness and creativity to your giving opportunities will help your cause stand out among the crowd.

Corbit Harrison is the Chief Operating Officer for VolunteerHub and has been actively helping non-profit organizations better engage constituents for over 10 years. Connect with Corbit on Linkedin.

Using Your Nonprofit’s Website to Build Trust with Visitors

The following is a guest post by David Hartstein, a partner at Wired Impact, a web design company that focuses on nonprofit website design.

Your Social Media Program - Let’s Tumble

Cody Cassady

Divining a vision for Markets for Good

The following is cross-post of an article by Buzz Schmidt, a visiting scholar at the Tuck School of Business, Dartmouth College, and GuideStar's founder. The article was originally published by Alliance magazine on their website. The original article can be found at

Eventbrite is going on the road!

The following is a guest post by Laura Coltrin, nonprofit marketing manager at Eventbrite.

When Two Charities Share Their Expertise, They Both Grow Stronger

Originally published in the Chronicle of Philanthropy

Three Fundraising Realities Every Board Member Must Face

Excerpted from the second edition of Fundraising Realities Every Board Member Must Face: A 1-Hour Crash Course on Raising Major Gifts for Nonprofit Organizations

Nonprofits Can Find Many Pluses in Google+

The following is a guest post by Erin Palmer, a writer and editor for Bisk Education who covers topics such as online public administration degrees.

Most popular GuideStar Blog posts in 2013

Many of you have asked us which GuideStar Blog posts are trending/most popular. So – we thought we’d blog about it! Each month, we’ll try do a round-up of those posts that received the most views in a particular month. Here are the top five posts of 2013—so far:

5 Useful Social Media Channels for Nonprofits

The following is a guest post by Roxanne Reyes, a writer for Nonprofit Printing by PrintRunner.

Some email marketing questions and answers for 2013

The following is a Q&A with GuideStar's senior marketing director, Usma Ziard. You can find Usma on Twitter @Usma_Ziard.

Helping Nonprofits Make a Measurable Difference: Why Bill Gates’ “Measurement” Credo Matters for Public Sector Human Service Agencies

The following is a guest post by , Co-found and Vice President of Social Solutions.