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3 Things Nonprofit Branding is NOT

#1 Just a Pretty Face

How to Deliver an Effective Speech

I recently finished writing a couple of speeches for one of my nonprofit clients, and it gave me pause to reflect on my own 20+ years of speech writing for a range of people from a former governor to countless industry executives and CEOs. As I look back, there were some terrifically delivered speeches that make you feel like a “proud momma” and plenty of not-so-good ones where you honestly would not mind if the fire alarm went off in the middle of the person’s speech!

Tax Exemption at a Crossroads?

In the wake of the IRS issues with determining the tax-exempt status of organizations that had applied for 501(c)(4) status, there seems to be more and more discussion about the purpose of tax exemption in the first place, and what sorts of activities should be supported by tax-exemption and other tax breaks. Senate Finance Committee Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and ranking Republican member Sen. Orrin Hatch (Utah) have proposed starting with a blank slate and forcing other Senators to make anew the case for any tax breaks that they favor.

More Charitable Organizations Using Single-Member LLCs

Many section 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organizations are using single-member limited liability companies (SMLLCs) in their structures. With the recent IRS guidance that donations to a domestic SMLLC of a U.S. section 501(c)(3) organization are treated as charitable contributions to the parent tax-exempt organization, the practice may increase (IRS Notice 2012-52, 2012-35 I.R.B. 317).

Working with students to expand your capacity

Every organization is constrained by limited resources. Organizations have long worked to find ways around these constraints and expand their capacity, whether through increased revenue generation, grant opportunities, technological advancements, or other innovations.

Seven Anxieties about Asking for Money And What to Do about Them

It’s been said over and over in a thousand different ways: fundraising is not about money – it’s about relationships. But still, the vast majority of people who have not earned their Major Gifts Cultivation badge get snagged by various forms of anxiety about money. If we can name some of those anxieties, maybe we can disempower them, so we can get back to talking about relationships. Here are seven that I have heard frequently.

Why Inefficiencies Might Be Damaging Your Volunteer Relationships... And What to Do About It

Most volunteers just want to show up and start helping. However, from your organization's perspective, it is important to have best practices in place for registration, check-in, hour tracking, check-out, and other processes. In this article, we'll offer some tips for streamlining your queue, building efficiency, and solidifying volunteer trust.

Simply Meeting Expectations Just Doesn’t Cut It

People usually come to a work environment with some basic assumptions. These can include aspects such as a clean, well-lit workspace and office equipment that functions as it should. Also in this category, and most apropos to our article, is the assumption that a business is efficiently run. Of course, it’s not hard to apply this theory to the volunteer world. The interesting thing here is that, although these trust-building factors by themselves will not help retain workers (and volunteers), their absence is a fairly clear indicator that individuals will not remain with an organization for long.

With this in mind, it may not hurt to look around your office — and perhaps your entire volunteer program — to take stock of it through the eyes of a volunteer. (Click here for additional tips on reviewing your volunteer program.) What happens around the organization that your volunteers probably see as time and/or money wasters? In many instances, these issues can be solved with technology, specifically those that might impede the volunteer from performing the respective task(s).

Leveraging Tech to Build Trust and Rapport

Corbit Harrison

At first thought, the idea of leveraging technology to improve personal concepts like trust and rapport may sound strange. However, start thinking beyond the surface level, and it’s really not. When volunteers show up for an event, they don’t want to be greeted by disorganized staff members riffling through papers. The same goes for hour tracking and check-in/out processes. Bottom line: your agency looks much more professional when processes are managed by a streamlined system.

Your Volunteers Have “Gone Mobile”…Shouldn’t You?

Once again, technology can be a key component of your program, but now let’s talk about mobile technology in particular. According to consumer information company Nielsen, over half of Americans now own a smartphone, with that number jumping to 66 percent in the 25-34 year-old demographic. In fact, some estimates suggest that in 2013 the sum of mobile devices and tablets will exceed total PC usage. People have integrated these mini-computers into their lives, so why not take advantage of it when they donate their time? Having volunteers use their smartphones to check into an event is an excellent way to speed up the process for them and take up fewer resources for you. Also, while participants have their smartphone on, it’s very easy for them to do a quick mention on their favorite social media sites. Encourage this behavior as most people enjoy spreading the word about one of their favorite causes, and it’s great marketing for your organization.

Tech Builds Trust

Take this opportunity to re-evaluate your volunteer program and think about ways management apps can improve it. Although some may argue that with technology comes impersonalization, I have to disagree in this case. It’s often overlooked that, because systems are automated and create efficiencies, there’s now time for more personalized interaction between volunteers and staff. Less time organizing operations means more time making sure the volunteers are having a great experience and connecting more deeply with you and your mission. Isn’t that what trust and engagement is all about?

The preceding is a guest post by Corbit Harrison, Chief Operating Officer for VolunteerHub, a cloud-based volunteer management software application that offers online event registration, email and SMS (text) messaging, report generation, and much more. Corbit has been actively helping non-profit organizations better engage constituents for over 10 years. Connect with Corbit on LinkedIn. This is part of our ongoing VolunteerCorner series – focusing on issues that you need to know about in the nonprofit sector.

Survey Says! Boomers Dominate Charitable Giving

There is a truism when it comes to charitable giving in this country that we are, by and large, a generous people, with most Americans giving some monies to charities and nonprofit organizations over the course of the year.

But what about bragging rights across the generations? Who is the most generous? Well, let’s find out.

In our most recent study, the Next Generation of American Giving, we looked at the charitable habits of donors across four generations – Matures (age 68+), Baby Boomers (age 49-67), Generation X (age 33-48), and Generation Y (age 18-32).

Fact #1 -- Boomers rule. By virtue of being far more populous than other generations when it comes to charitable giving, boomers dominate the amount donated to charities as well. A whopping 43 percent of all dollars donated to charity in this country come from Boomers. And the truth is, this is a trend likely to continue into the foreseeable future.

Matures also pull their weight when it comes to charitable giving, with approximately 88 percent of this generation’s population giving to charity. Combined, Matures and Boomers account for nearly 70 percent (69 percent, to be exact) of all dollars donated to charity. Hint: It’s not all about the young whippersnappers.

Now, that’s not to write off the younger generations altogether. They still account for 31 percent of all dollars donated and will continue to grow in prominence and stature over time, but this is the time of the Boomer. In short, the odds are strong that for the vast majority of causes, a charity’s next donor will be older than 50.

So, how do Boomers give and to whom do they give and why? Well, that’s a large question (or series of questions), but a little digging might just give some answers.

Boomers give more online (42 percent) than through direct mail (40 percent). Wait. What? Boomers are actually a bit ahead of Generation X (40 percent) and just slightly behind Generation Y (47 percent) when it comes to online giving. This certainly doesn’t mean direct mail is going away, but this observation might be that either Boomers use the online donation form after they read the direct mail from your organization or that as predicted, online is continuing its strong move from simply being a supplemental giving channel to being a dominant giving channel.

Moreover, think local…act locally, in the case of Boomers. Boomers favor places of worship (38 percent) and local social service organizations (36 percent) over all other types of charities, with children’s charities (22 percent) coming in a distant third. Trade unions (0 percent) and election campaigns (2 percent) get the big thumbs down from Boomers.

So, what motivates a Boomer to give? Data point to an emotional appeal from a charity coupled with a strong and positive reputation play a significant role in the type of charity a Boomer will likely support. Interestingly, the younger generations appear to be far more interested in accountability and transparency, with a full understanding of how a donation is making a difference than the older generations (60 percent of Generation X and Y feel this way, but only 37 percent of Boomers say this is important).

There are a lot more goodies and insights in the full report at that provide further insights around different engagement channels, the role of direct mail and a number of other topics. Stop on by.

Dennis McCarthy

The preceding is a guest post by Dennis McCarthy, vice president of strategy, Target Analytics, a division of Blackbaud Inc. Dennis has been serving nonprofits for more than 30 years in the design and implementation of integrated marketing solutions; and building and managing technology solutions for some of America’s largest and most complex nonprofit organizations. At Convio, Dennis has managed the Strategic Services Practice, comprised of consultants in Business Analytics, Design & Information Architecture, Deployment Services and Agency Services.

Starting a Bequest Program Is Easier Than You Think: Interview with David Valinsky

David Valinsky, co-author of Raising Money Through Bequests, recently spoke with his publisher about the art and mystery of charitable bequests. GuideStar has published an excerpt from the book, and we're pleased to be able to share Mr. Valinsky's additional thoughts with you.

How big a pie are we talking about? In other words, how much total revenue do charitable organizations earn annually from bequest giving?

Raising Money in a Changing World

Reprinted from the Chronicle of Philanthropy

The State of Grantseeking: A Story of Growth and Strategy for Nonprofits

GrantStation runs an informal survey every six months to help illustrate the current state of grantseeking in the United States. Organizations can stay competitive in the world of philanthropy by using the survey results as an informal guide for their own grantseeking programs.

The most interesting fact to emerge from the spring 2013 State of Grantseeking survey, which had more than 1,000 respondents, was that 81 percent of organizations that applied for grants won awards. Which supports the old adage that if you don't ask, you won't receive. The really interesting figure, however, was that the number of organizations that received awards increased 6.1 percent.

How should this information affect your own grant strategy?

First, you want to make sure you keep your grantseeking pipeline full. Second, you should set a goal of increasing your success rate by 5 percent or so over the next six months.

How do you do that?

Keeping the Pipeline Full

Keeping the pipeline full is tough unless you have a few powerful tools to help you manage your grants program:

  1. Full access to a searchable database (such as GrantStation or Foundation Directory Online), so you can determine the most likely candidates for funding your programs and projects; and,
  2. A super-easy-to-use project management tool, such as SmartSheet, that allows you to capture information about grantmakers; create and attach documents such as grantmaker profiles and draft letters of inquiry; attach application guidelines; and perform other administrative tasks, such as noting deadlines.

There's a lot more to keeping the pipeline full, but these two step will let you start!

Increasing Your Success Rate by 5%

Start by putting together a grant strategy around every program and project you have. A strategic approach to securing grant awards always pays off.

If you have specific stumbling blocks that seem to get in the way of making applications—be they issues of geography, such as being located in a rural community, or of grantmakers not understanding the scope of your issue—sit down, roll up your thinking sleeves, and address them.

For example, in the case of geography, you might decide to develop collaborative partnerships with organizations in a larger community (one that isn't located in a rural area) who have similar or complimentary missions. An honest collaborative partnership can open doors to grantmakers you could normally never apply to (for both you and for your partner). This door swings both ways.

When grantmakers don't understand the scope of your issue—say funders always want to support specific projects, but what you really need is funding for your overall mission—you need to change the conversation. It's hard work, but it can really pay off in the long run.

Geoffrey Canada at Harlem Children's Zone explains how he changed the conversation in the early days of his work: "We honestly would not take money that was not multi-year, and it had to be unrestricted. You had to fund the plan, not a specific program."

These are just a few ways to apply the information via the State of Grantseeking survey results. To learn more about the spring 2013 State of Grantseeking, download your free copy of the full report.

Cindy Adams, GrantStation
© 2013, GrantStation

Cindy Adams is CEO of GrantStation, a premiere online funding resource for organizations seeking grants throughout the world. Providing access to a comprehensive online database of grantmakers, GrantStation helps nonprofit organizations, educational institutions, and government agencies make smarter, better-informed grantseeking decisions. GrantStation is dedicated to creating a civil society by assisting the nonprofit sector in its quest to build healthy and effective communities.

5 reasons you should be a GuideStar Exchange participant

There are myriad reasons you should consider joining the GuideStar Exchange program, the only program of its kind that encourages nonprofit transparency on a national scale and allows nonprofits to supplement the public information that is available from the IRS, but I’ll only touch on five here:

Mastering the Art of Story: An Effective Fundraising Strategy

“Story-telling” is a non-profit’s life-line to raising funds, cultivating new supporters, and maintaining stewardship with existing donors.

Fundraising Events in the New “Normal” Economy: Communication is King

In the “new normal” economy, fundraisers have to work smarter to earn their share of a more modest pie. Even with the Dow soaring to new heights, donors remain sober in their giving. Nonprofits must abandon “the usual” to realize even usual results.

Craft Calls to Action That Get You to Goal

Believe me. Your audiences so often see nonprofit campaigns that lack any call to action so, no matter how compelling the issue or message, they have no idea how to get involved. I know, because I see them too.

Root Cause and the Highland Street Foundation Invest in Massachusetts

Our veterans are broadly viewed as heroes and role models, but our admiration for their service has not translated into a national agenda to serve our veterans. Many lack access to gainful employment, vocational training, disability services, and support for their families. Mental health issues are widespread, and in 2010, 22 veterans committed suicide every day.
The lack of public resources directed to veterans should be a source of national shame, but the crisis provides foundations and social impact investors with a unique opportunity to build solutions from the ground up by investing in nonprofit innovators working to give veterans comprehensive support.

BRIDGE to Somewhere: A Conversation with GlobalGiving, GuideStar, the Foundation Center, and TechSoup Global

Victoria Vrana

Hard Truths Your Board Members Must Face If They Want to Raise Big Money

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

Branding Beyond the Logo

Adapted from Branding for Success: A Roadmap for Raising the Visibility and Value of Your Nonprofit Organization

Many organizations continue to spend an inordinate amount of time, energy, human resources, and money developing logos and taglines, believing they are creating their brands.


Logos and taglines are simply banners for your brand. Your brand itself penetrates much deeper into your organization's culture and values, far beyond what any attractive icon or a few catchy words attempt to represent.

What follows are some tips to help you brand beyond your logo.

Focus on Building Value as Well as Visibility

Rationale: Developing an effective brand entails more than raising visibility through consistent and widespread use of a logo. Such efforts help to raise name recognition; an effective brand, however, is built around a vision that reflects a positive identity, namely the "value" that the brand represents.

When defining your brand, ask yourself: What do people think when they see our name or logo? Do they truly understand who we are and what we do? Have we given them reasons to view us as effective and trustworthy? What's in it for funders, companies, foundations, government entities, other nonprofit organizations, and customers when they do business with us?

In short, what's our value? What's our identity? Why should anyone care about who we are and what we do?

View Branding as a New Way of Doing Business

Rationale: There are no quick fixes for creating a solid and successful brand image. On the contrary, it takes a great deal of introspection, time, effort, coordination, and collaboration. And once you've defined your brand, you must manage and maintain it.

Therefore, consider brand maintenance an ongoing commitment that needs to be incorporated into your everyday business activities.

View Branding as an Organization-wide Effort

Rationale: Maintaining your brand should not be the responsibility of your organization's communications and/or marketing units, but rather must be viewed as an organization-wide effort in which every department and/or business unit understands that it has a role to play.

Moreover, staff at all levels of the organization, regardless of job description, need to be involved in raising the visibility and value of your brand, and they need to know what part they are expected to play in achieving that goal (see Educate Your Staff below).

Keep the Effort Manageable, Yet Meaningful

Rationale: For staff in most small- to medium-size nonprofits, just keeping up with day-to-day operations can be overwhelming. Consequently, keep branding efforts within the range of what is doable.

For example, it doesn't take much in the way of time and resources to ensure clear, consistent messaging; to educate staff about the purpose and goals of branding; and to promote your brand actively through already scheduled public speaking engagements, events, and publications.

Promote Open Communication and Collaboration Among Staff

Rationale: For any branding effort to succeed, everyone needs to work in an atmosphere of open communication and collaboration so that the organization conveys clear, consistent, and accurate messages to target audiences. Branding also requires that everyone work toward common, rather than individual business unit, goals.

For the sake of uniformity and message consistency, you more than likely will need to centralize some of the message-creation and delivery processes.

Educate Your Staff

Rationale: People can't represent or promote what they don't know or understand. Therefore, to build employee pride and understanding around your brand, incorporate a strong educational component into your branding effort. Describe the brand, underscore the importance of promoting it accurately and consistently, and define what different employees' roles are in the effort.

Also, make supporting and promoting the brand part of your employees' overall performance reviews.

Lead by Example

Rationale: Executive officers and board members need to champion your branding efforts. Leading by example demonstrates their commitment as well as the importance they place behind these efforts. It reinforces the message to staff that "we are working together" to raise the visibility and value of the organization.

Be Flexible and Interactive

Rationale: Branding is a dynamic, not a static, process. Maintain flexibility in your thinking and be open to suggestions from all parties for strengthening your brand. Flexibility and openness will enable better, more efficient use of resources as well as make for a more dynamic, interactive, and collaborative process that takes advantage of branding opportunities as they arise.

Live Your Brand

Rationale: Your brand reflects your promise to the public and your commitment to your staff and volunteers.

If the brand that you seek to convey is one of an organization that is effective and efficient; caring and responsive; a responsible steward of public and private funds; and a reliable, trustworthy organization to partner and do business with, and to work for, then live that brand through all of your words and deeds.

Your Brand Is a Referendum on How You Treat Your People

Rationale: Your brand is only as good as the people who live it day to day. Staff and volunteers who are knowledgeable, who take pride in the brand, feel secure in their jobs, and are appreciated for the good work that they do make excellent ambassadors for your brand.

Larry Checco, Checco Communications
© 2013, Larry Checco. Adapted from Branding for Success: A Roadmap for Raising the Visibility and Value of Your Nonprofit Organization; excerpted with permission.

Larry Checco is president of Checco Communications and a nationally recognized public speaker, workshop presenter, and consultant on branding and leadership. This excerpt is from his first book, Branding for Success: A Roadmap for Raising the Visibility and Value of Your Nonprofit Organization, which 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.

Update on the Overhead Myth Campaign

In mid-June, our CEO, Jacob Harold partnered with Charity Navigator and the BBB Wise Giving Alliance to pen an open letter to the donors of America denouncing the "overhead ratio" as a valid indicator of nonprofit performance. The letter and accompanying campaign marked the first time in history that the leaders of the country's three leading sources of information on nonprofits had spoken clearly with one voice: overhead is necessary to nonprofit success.

So far, more than 2,300 people have signed the pledge to end the Overhead Myth. The comments we've received have only affirmed our conviction. For example:

I am a professional that works exclusively with nonprofits, and I absolutely agree that the emphasis on overhead leads to a lack of investment in the business of being a nonprofit that seriously jeopardizes long-term performance and fulfillment of the charity's mission.

—Christa Divis, CPA, MBA

It's about time. The story you shared is being played out again and again by hundreds of nonprofits setting themselves up for failure. Like any industry aiming for long-term sustainable success, International Development needs systems, tools, HR, and general infrastructure, all of which require appropriate investments.

—Paula MacKinnon

Thanks for your leadership in making it clear that overhead ratios are not a way to assess the effectiveness of nonprofits. The field has unfortunately allowed overhead to become a proxy for understanding how well a nonprofit is managed. As we move away from using overhead numbers, let's focus even more rigorously to understand what factors truly matter for nonprofit effectiveness—and how funders can help!

—Mario Morino

Of course, some people have also raised concerns—especially around fundraising expenses. The detractors have a point: an established charity that devotes most of its expenses to fundraising should be carefully scrutinized. We addressed this question in more detail on our blog.

Ultimately, the overhead ratio doesn't get at what really matters when you're evaluating a charity: how well it accomplishes it mission. Impact is what really matters. We at GuideStar are working hard to bring you more and better information about nonprofit impact and success. Between the GuideStar Exchange, Great Nonprofits stakeholder reviews, and Philanthropedia expert recommendations, we are giving you the tools to make better philanthropic choices.

It's not too late to take part in the campaign. Please visit to sign the pledge and spread the word.

Kjerstin Erickson
© 2013, GuideStar USA, Inc.

Kjerstin Erickson is a special projects fellow at GuideStar who is about to leave us for the adventures of graduate school. We send her off with our thanks and best wishes for continued success.