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GuideStar Blog

Leverage Social Platforms to Raise Awareness for Your Cause

Nonprofit Social Media Advocacy for Beginners

Social media has revolutionized advocacy. Today, it's a no-brainer that you should be getting your hands dirty with Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, and Instagram to expand your reach, tap into new audiences, and connect with like-minded individuals who are eager to support your nonprofit efforts.

Helping You with Your Year-End Giving



5 Resources To Help Build Your 2015 Fundraising Plan

Sure as the sun rises, the end of one calendar year brings the time for planning for the upcoming year. Every fundraiser reading this blog has this prime opportunity to create your 2015 fundraising game plan. But...

Help Choose GuideStar’s 2015 Webinars!

Jenny Taylor

Big Data Starts with Strong Relationships

In the past few years, nonprofits have begun to wade into the ever-deepening ocean that is big data—an ocean from which corporations and governments have been pumping for a while now. In some respects, NPOs have been fast learners. These days, many are wise enough in the ways that data can help track fundraising dollars. When it comes to gathering, let alone leveraging, information for strategic purposes, though, too many otherwise capable organizations aren’t really sure where to start.

Questions I'm Most Often Asked about Building a Planned Giving Program

The reality is that if you're not asking for planned gifts, someone else is.

2015 Heralds a New Openness for Grantmakers

As we move into 2015, we are witnessing a fairly dynamic and aggressive set of changes in the world of philanthropy. Transparency and communication are both playing a large role in these changes.

I am not a big proponent of referencing too much historical information when it comes to deciding which grantmakers an organization will approach for funding. I generally encourage those doing research on grantmakers to be very cognizant of what the funder wants to fund today, rather than what they have funded in the past. If, however, a grantmaker hasn't changed focus for a number of years, then reviewing that funder's grant award history can help attract savvier applicants.

Today, of the largest 25 foundations (by assets), 15 have online, searchable databases of grants they have awarded. And 7 of them update their grants listings daily or weekly. So we're seeing a definite trend here that could be quite helpful for the person doing research.

A good example is the Kresge Foundation, which offers an interactive, searchable database that includes a map showing which states and program areas receive money from Kresge in any given year.

I wouldn't go so far as to say that these grant award databases are more important than other resources that the foundations provide, but I do think they are starting to play a helpful role in the research process for grantseekers.

And here's another interesting trend! It has been my experience that the public really has little expectation for any level of engagement with grantmakers in their communities. I think we are all pretty used to a one-way flow of information and, if not completely satisfied with that one-way flow, then at least tolerant of the decision making about how grants are distributed in our communities.

But that seems to be changing. Today, there are some grantmakers that are trying to share a lot more information about themselves with the public, such as the David and Lucile Packard Foundation. On their website they clearly encourage grantees' feedback. And they engage the Center for Effective Philanthropy to provide an annual Grantee Perception Report, which assesses the foundation's application process and responsiveness and the charities' overall experience with the grantmaker. Their website even offers an opportunity to provide feedback to a company acting as an independent ombudsman that collects comments from anyone who visits the site, whether a grantee or not.

There appears to be a new mind-set among grantmakers for openness. Part of that is because there is a new generation moving into leadership positions at these grantmaking agencies, so you're seeing less adherence to the old ways of doing things (i.e., everything the grantmaker does is heavily cloaked) to a new openness, an attitude of sharing and collaboration.

The Center for Effective Philanthropy does another interesting survey, the Declined Applicant Perception Report. Like the Grantee Perception Report, this report is conducted as a way to provide funders with comparative, actionable feedback based on responses to a grantee survey. I don't think there is a way for the public to access either report, but just the fact that foundations are undertaking these kinds of surveys is a good sign.

It appears that philanthropists across the globe are committed to looking at their failures as well as their success stories. According to a report published not long ago by New Philanthropy Capital out of the United Kingdom, the United States is the "frontrunner in the idea of failure in philanthropy, with organizations and campaigns springing up to help the non-profit sector 'fail forward.'"

All of these different ways of sharing information originally started as someone's bright idea and have matured into true movements being embraced by philanthropists throughout the world. At GrantStation, we survey grantseekers twice a year regarding the State of Grantseeking, and share the results with the world at large. It is an exciting time to be involved in philanthropy, whether you're looking for funding or making grant awards!

Cynthia M. Adams, GrantStation
© 2014, GrantStation

Cindy Adams is CEO of GrantStation, a premiere online fundraising resource that provides information on more than 6,500 funders accepting inquiries. You can learn more about trends in philanthropy in her weekly podcast: Talk2020, part of GrantStation's Vision2020 series to help nonprofits prepare for future grantmaking.

Ready or not, here comes the new single audit

It is hard to believe we are approaching the end of another year. With the commotion of holidays and end-of-year requirements, some – particularly smaller non-profits – may have forgotten about the latest update from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), which has new requirements for those who receive federal awards.

Maximize End of Year Giving While You’re Out of the Office

You worked hard all year. Then came #GivingTuesday. Now it’s end of year fundraising. You’re ready to leave the office and go spend time with family and friends. But wait. There’s one simple thing you can do to put a bow on your hard work all year, especially your year end fundraising.

How to Measure Impact on #GivingTuesday to Apply Next Year & Every Year

The annual day of global giving known as #GivingTuesday (now in its third year) is now behind us, and we in the nonprofit sector are gearing up to acknowledge, celebrate and thank our donors. From the early indications and reports, the day was an astounding success with event close to raising almost $50M (we are being optimistic)!

How Your CEO Can Use Social for Thought Leadership

Slide Share:

How Technology Impacts Your Relationships with Senior Citizens

Today’s senior citizens may take nonprofits by surprise in a variety of ways. Baby Boomers are leaving the workforce and remaining active both socially with friends and relatives and in their communities through volunteerism.

Why Big Data Is Such A Big Deal

In a recent TED Talk, Kenneth Cukier looks at what's next for machine learning and human knowledge.

Kenneth Cukier believes that most people are “probably sick of hearing the term big data.” He notes: “it is true there is a lot of hype around the tool, and that is very unfortunate because big data is an extremely important tool by which human knowledge is going to advance.” In his recent TED talk, posted below, Cukier asks and answers the question: “why big data is such a big deal.”

The New GuideStar Home Page

Last June, we began updating our website, offering a new home page to users who haven't registered with GuideStar or to visitors who have registered with us but aren't logged in. We also revised the nonprofit reports to make them easier to navigate. A few weeks later, we introduced revamped pages for four of our products: GuideStar Premium Search, GuideStar Charity Check, GuideStar APIs, and Financial SCAN.

Today, we launched a new home page for visitors who use our persistent log-in as well as responsive layouts for people who access our site with mobile devices.

New Home Page

#1: GuideStar's Homepage Overview

Registered users who clicked the "Keep me signed in box" when they logged in to GuideStar will soon see the page in the illustration when they visit our home page. Like the home page we introduced in June, this new page puts our nonprofit search front and center, because most people who come to our site do so to search for nonprofits.

Note: you'll need to click the advanced search link (see image #1) to use our knowledge base search, which is available to all users, or our people search, which is available to GuideStar Premium Search and GuideStar Pro Search subscribers.

The new page also adjusts the navigation links, based on what our users told us when we asked them to review and comment on different navigation schemes for our site.

The links at the top of the page have also been simplified:

#2: New navigation bar close-up

But don't worry—the old links are still available. They've just been moved to the bottom of the page:

#3: Relocating links close-up

To get to your My Account page, shopping cart, and sign-out link, you'll click the arrow beside your name at the top right of the page:

#4: My Account

The new navigation will also appear throughout the site as we introduce our new mobile-friendly pages.

Mobile-Friendly Pages

Right now, our site is mobile unfriendly. That's about to change. Although relatively few people visit our site using mobile devices, we want to improve the experience for them. Our new pages will automatically adjust to the screen size you're using, changing horizontal layouts to vertical ones, using larger type that's easier to read on small screens, and displaying larger buttons.

We're excited about the changes we're making to our site. We'll be introducing new upgrades in 2015 to continue making easier to use.

The preceding post is by Scott Menzel, GuideStar's Product Manager.

To Increase Your Organization’s Impact, Work With People Who Reflect Your Values

As consumers, we constantly make purchasing decisions that express our values. A consumer seeking to live a healthy lifestyle might buy organic produce; a consumer conscious of her carbon footprint might purchase a Prius.

How Independent Schools are Focused on Endowments and Fundraising in a More Competitive World

There have been many recent articles on the challenges that private colleges in the U.S. face including lower enrollments, higher costs and tuition increases. Many of these same trends are also impacting independent schools (K-12), which are an important part of our educational system.These trends in the independent school arena include (see Wilmington Trust Report for further discussion):

Top Strategic Mistakes Nonprofits Make, Part 3

Over the last two months, we have published 8 of the 13 key strategic mistakes nonprofits often make. Here are the final 5 mistakes, listed in no particular order.

9. Failing to view marketing $ as an investment

Any money that you put into your marketing, website, social media, search engine optimization, and other promotional and fundraising services should be viewed as an investment that will generate a positive return, ideally within about one year. Along these lines, as you are looking for grants to apply for, don't only look for grants that directly fund programs and services. Also apply for grants to cover overhead costs, including marketing and the other related services mentioned above. There are a surprising number of grants that cater specifically to these types of needs. Good places to search for grants online include Foundation Center and GrantStation.

10. Not considering partnerships

Many nonprofits were founded by well-meaning visionaries who are passionate about providing specific programs and services to pursue their missions and make the world—or at least their local communities—better places. Unfortunately, many nonprofit founders, boards, and management don't consider whether there is already a nonprofit that does the same or similar things, even in a different geographic area. For most nonprofits, there are other organizations that are:

  • Doing exactly or almost exactly the same thing
  • Doing complementary things
  • Serving the same clients (but with different services)
  • Serving a similar geographic area as other similar nonprofits

By partnering with organizations you may be able to:

  1. Avoid reinventing the wheel
  2. Learn from others' mistakes
  3. Capitalize on others' strengths

Ultimately, joining forces—through mergers, acquisitions, and strategic alliances—can enable you to attain a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.

11. Failing to cross-sell and upsell

If a donor gives you $100, you should obviously ask him or her to give again in the future. You should not, however, ask the donor to give $25. You should ask for $100, $250, $500, or "other." Moreover, when someone supports you in one way, he or she is then more likely to support you in other ways. For example, ask your volunteers to donate, ask your event attendees to volunteer. And so on.

Also, use wealth research and prospect screening to assess the giving capacity of your supporters. For example, you could use Zillow to assess the value of a donor's home. Finding out that a donor's home is worth $200,000, or $2 million, or $20 million should have dramatic implications for your future cultivation of that donor.

This leads to the concept of relationship cultivation. The moment a new person begins a relationship with your nonprofit—as a client, donor, volunteer, event attendee, even website visitor, e-mail list or blog subscriber, or social media follower—you should already have a plan for how you are going to cultivate that relationship over the long term so that it produces maximum results—not only for you but for that person as well. For example, you may want to get new contacts' e-mail addresses so you can initiate an e-mail "drip campaign," whereby they will automatically receive specific e-mails on a regular basis to help improve the relationship, inform them about what you do, and get them to take various actions to support you. Before and during the cultivation of each relationship, it's essential to figure out what you want that person to do. Which leads us to our next point ...

12. Failing to understand what you want and ask for it

If there's something you want and you don't ask for it, you're unlikely to get it!

For example, ask yourself if you want more donations. Of course, the answer is yes. But now ask yourself if you want recurring donations, donations via eCheck, more event registrations, membership dues/renewals, product sales, in-kind donations, investment donations, or planned gifts. Chances are there are some elements on this list that you want—but you're not effectively asking for them—for example, on your website and in social media. You may also not be asking for them effectively via e-mail, print, U.S. mail, or in person. Notice that these were all financial transactions.

There are probably some non-financial things you want, too. For example, you may want people to volunteer, refer your organization to friends and family, sign up for your e-mail list, friend/follow you on social media, provide feedback, and much more. Again, if you're not asking for these things effectively, especially online, you are unlikely to get them.

13. Not running your nonprofit as a for-profit

The main difference between a nonprofit and a for-profit is that the for-profit pays taxes. Unfortunately, there are a lot of nonprofits that aren't run like for-profits, but should be.

Just like any well-run for-profit, your nonprofit should:

  1. Invest in growth. As mentioned above, consider the cost-benefit analysis behind each key decision, especially financial decisions.
  2. Streamline your decision-making process. Many nonprofits do not empower their executive directors to make strategic decisions. Instead, these decisions must be made by a board that often meets monthly for a short time that is chock full of other agenda items. As a result, decisions can take a long time to make or be made with without properly considering and discussing the best information.
  3. Plan. If you don't know what you're trying to achieve, you won't know when you've achieved it! Create a business plan, strategic plan, marketing plan, Internet or technology plan, and fundraising plan. At least start with just one of those. Each plan should not only include a frank assessment of where you are today and a realistic target as to where you want to get to but also specific strategies and tactics to get you from here to there.
  4. Free is not always best—as discussed in part 2. Yet, many nonprofits are so used to getting volunteers and other things for free that they are lured into the siren song of a well-meaning person or vendor who offers them something for free—when the right decision might be to pay to get it done better, more quickly, more effectively, and with a higher return on investment.
  5. Make everyone accountable for results. Most successful for-profits realize that their boards, management, and staffs will behave in a way most conducive to the organizations' goals if their compensation is tied to those goals.
  6. Realize that you are competing. Of course, for-profits compete for customers. Yet, nonprofits also compete with each other (and sometimes for-profits) for scarce donations, grants, event attendees, volunteers, investment donations, corporate sponsorships, planned gifts, capital gifts, and more.

Other Articles in This Series

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Allan Pressel, PowerSite123
© 2014, PowerSite123

Allan Pressel is CEO of PowerSite123, which helps nonprofits create world-class websites, social media, SEO, and marketing. Allan is a world-renowned ePhilanthropy speaker. Allan is co-author of Internet Management for Nonprofits. He was given the Volunteer Service Award by President George W. Bush. Allan was co-founder of i-Cube, which had a highly successful IPO. Feel free to contact Allan with any questions at (310) 363-0095 or

Statistics and Damn Lies (and Your Case Statement)

Even 19th-century British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli had something to say on the subject. "There are three kinds of lies," he said. "There are lies, damned lies, and statistics."

I'm careful about statistics. I much prefer inspiring and convincing anecdotes. Statistics have all the spontaneity and passion of drying paint.

The typical reader doesn't have the time or patience to slog his or her way through a sludge of stats. But you'll find he or she is open to anecdotes. They provide action and feeling and more dramatically reveal your organization.

I'll give you an example.

It's late. I turn off the lights in my office and begin walking to the parking lot. I'm crossing the quadrangle when I feel a hand on my arm. It's one of our students. It's obvious she wants to talk.

First, let me tell you about Helen. It's one of the most extraordinary stories we've had at the College. When Helen first came to us as a student. ...

Something like that is so much more striking than saying, "A third of our student body is on some type of financial assistance."

Think in terms of the pelican.

You could write about "the odious British Petroleum spill off the coast of Louisiana. The worst ever. Over 680 million gallons of oil." But it's impossible to comprehend that much oil. And it certainly doesn't make the heart race.

Try this instead:

On the shore you can see pelicans—thousands of them. A rescuer is feverishly working on one whose wings are stuck like glue. Solvent can't undo the damage.

When the rescuer tries to open the pelican's beautiful long beak, he finds it stuck, too. He knows he's going to lose this majestic bird. He's working against time. The death will be slow and painful. But inevitable."

That's a lot more concrete and descriptive than recording that an estimated 3,000 pelicans were killed as a result of the oil spill.

Here's another example. Let's say your student body has increased dramatically over the last 10 years, or your membership has skyrocketed 15 percent every year for the last 5, or your admissions to the emergency room have grown exponentially in the last 3 years. All of these lend themselves effectively to statistics and a graph.

If your statistics are impressive, by all means you should use them. It's what Walter Carpenter, former CEO of DuPont, referred to as "the eloquence of facts." But use them as a drunk might use a lamppost. Only for support, not illumination.

Long rows of statistics will make an actuary or accountant weep with joy. But for most, the eyes glaze over. Instead of the drudge of numbers, use graphs. They tell the story with impact and in a flash.

Here's when to consider statistics:

When showing your program is relevant. The need for your proposed program must be relevant. Donors look for that. The case you build and substantiate must be faultless and impregnable. To demonstrate relevancy, you need facts, details, and back-up information. This is where statistics lend a helping hand.

At St. Mary's, we treat patients day and night. Every day. Every hour. Every minute. Last year, 128,000 people used our emergency room.

There isn't another hospital within 60 miles. The flow through our emergency room is unending. It's impossible to calculate how many would not make it through the night if it weren't for St. Mary's.

You can't fake relevancy. That would be like what the former governor of Texas, Ann Richards, described as "putting lipstick on a pig and calling her Monique."

When demonstrating the allure of your program. The case for your program must have dramatic and emotional appeal. It has to sizzle.

Statistics won't really help in adding drama, but at times they do open the door a crack for you. The great film director Fellini said: "Sometimes if you pull a little tail, you will find an elephant at the other end."

Use statistics when you want evidence of impressive growth.

When demonstrating urgency. There's nothing more critical to the success of your program than describing the urgency for the funds. As the great German philosopher Martin Heidegger wrote, "Urgency is the source of everything."

This is one place where statistics can be a welcome friend—when substantiating urgency. The increase in the number of people served. Admissions to the emergency room. The number of homeless on the streets.

Your job is to convey the gravity of the situation—to make the situation dire:

It is February and frigid weather has struck. If we don't have the funds now, there will be 900 on our streets tonight without dinner or shelter. More than 350 of them are children.

But tread lightly. If you present a barrage, it can have all the drama of a diva in decline. Whereas used judiciously to prove a point, stats can strip the flesh bare.

Other Excerpts from This Book



Jerold Panas
© 2014, Jerold Panas. Excerpted from Making a Case Your Donors Will Love. Excerpted with permission.

Jerold Panas is author of Making a Case Your Donors Will Love, from which this article is excerpted. His other books include Asking, The Fundraising Habits of Supremely Successful Boards, and Mega Gifts.

Program Redesign & GuideStar Membership

2014 has been an exciting year for GuideStar. We celebrated our 20th anniversary and launched several new products and initiatives, all aligned with our GuideStar 2020 vision for building the information infrastructure for social change and ensuring that the nonprofit sector is equipped to tackle the great challenges of our time.

The Gift of Technology: Maximizing the Holiday Giving Season

A trip to the mall, a stroll through the neighborhood and the latest TV commercial say it loud and clear: the holiday season is here. In addition to shopping, presents and time with family, a big part of the next several weeks will include donors looking to give to charitable causes.

When Storytelling Isn’t Enough

A lot has been written about storytelling this year – from articles calling it the Biggest Business Skill of the Next 5 Years to foundations creating tool kits and resource centers focused on nonprofit storytelling.

On Walking the Walk: Being a Better Donor

It’s December already – that time of year for cold weather, holiday spirit for those who celebrate, and the nonprofit end of year campaigns! It’s also the time of year that donating with your head, rather than your heart, tends to fly out the window.

5 Insights Into Nonprofit Board Practices You Should Know

Recruiting and managing an effective board of directors is easier said than done. Many nonprofit struggle with engagement, volunteerism, giving and overall health.

3 Steps to Smart Year-End Fundraising

It's that time of year again! People are out there, actively searching for good charities to support. Sure, some of them just want to make a tax-deductible donation before the end of the year – but all of them want to make the most out of their charitable donations. Money for Good II research shows that 9 out of 10 donors care deeply about the impact that their donations are having. So how can you break through the noise that inevitably comes at this time of year to ensure that these well intentioned individuals find your nonprofit?

Web Forms Are This Year’s Santa’s Little Helpers

Year after year December is the prime time of months when it comes to charitable contributions. Report findings show that December is held accountable for 17.5% of yearly donations, and let’s not forget, Giving Tuesday is just around the corner. Therefore, it’s clear that for nonprofits this is the busiest time of the year and making the most out of it is a must.

Another Billion Reasons to Love GuideStar: Our Impact through Your Impact

As we move forward with GuideStar’s 2020 vision, an important part of our work is improving the methods we use to measure our success and impact. And since our primary mission is to serve as the definitive resource for the nonprofit sector, the best way to measure our impact is through your impact!

For the second year in a row, GuideStar asked you what you were able to accomplish by leveraging the resources we provide in our annual Impact Survey. We’ve often heard the adage that there are no stories without data and no data without stories. Your responses to our Impact Survey provide the much needed human, real-world stories that provide context to our own internal usage data. Together, we have both stories and data.

And, just like last year, we are doing amazing things together! GuideStar is a nonprofit ourselves. Every donation that we receive helps power our organization while we work together to build a better sector.

Our survey asked you to complete this sentence, “In the last year, GuideStar helped me or my organization to ….”

Collectively, you told us that GuideStar has helped you …

- Save 1,194,080 acres of land.

- Provide 60,980,761 meals to the disadvantaged.

- Distribute 320,216 diapers to children under 3 in the United States.

- Teach 29,930 children through various programs.

- Save 42.5 million disadvantaged lives across the world.

-Move $1,036,461,414 through the sector. This anecdotal evidence is in addition to the $5.5 billion we know were granted by just the top 10 foundations using our tools in their grantmaking process.

These are just a few highlights of the answers we received. Our true impact is considerably higher considering these were pulled from less than 500 voluntary responses and a tiny fraction of the millions of visitors to our site, thousands of customers, and many other diverse partners.

More stories, more impact

We received many answers and more are included below as a testament to the powerful work that you are doing. We are incredibly proud to support nonprofits as they accomplish great change in the world and we are grateful to everyone that took the survey!

c/o Second Sense


-Teach 5 undergraduate courses or workshops about nonprofits

-Solicit 15 million dollars in donations

-Teach about 250 different programs to funders

-Teach 1,500 nonprofit professionals and volunteers in California


-Secure 23 donors to provide funding for food in Mexico

c/o OBAT Helpers

-Gain 20 more donors and sponsors for students and programs in Uganda

-Teach 800 disadvantaged children in Nicaragua

-Treat 103,826 patients in North Korea

-Deliver 18,000 advice sessions to the disadvantaged in Israel

Disadvantaged Populations

-Provide one-to-one counseling to 2790 disadvantaged children in the four county Philadelphia region

-Enhance the lives of 41,000 disadvantaged in Colorado

-Donate 173,000 “Smile bags” to the disadvantaged in Arizona

-Provide 2,016 bilingual, culturally competent counseling sessions to the disadvantaged in Delaware


c/o Seeds of Literacy

-Help 361 first generation college students graduate in California

-Teach 10,000 blind or visually impaired students in the world

-Provide 2.3 million scholarship dollars to students in Virginia

-Deliver 25,000 solar lights to students across the world

-Teach 1,500 teens and young adults to appreciate the arts in Florida

c/o Fellow Mortals Wildlife Hospital

Environment and Animals

-Deliver 31 water systems to youths in Vietnam

-Save the lives of 4,230 homeless and unwanted animals in the US

-Provide care to 2,000 injured and orphaned wild animals in California

-Monitor 4 animal rescue nonprofits in Pennsylvania

-Teach 600 people about wildlife rehabilitation around the world

-Begin the expansion and upgrade of an animal facility in North Carolina


c/o Guardian Angel Settlement Association

-Find 555 adoptive families for children in California

-Transform the lives of 1.2 million children by letting them grow, explore, play, and learn through a museum in Indiana

-Advocate for 142 abused and neglected children in foster care in Maryland

-Save 150 children in orphanages around the world

-Prevent 220 children from going to families involved in domestic violence in Connecticut

Health Care

-Deliver 42,800 room nights to patients across the world

-Donate $4 million worth of dental care in Virginia

-Deliver 800,000 health care services to women and children

-Grant 4 wishes for children with a recurrence of cancer in the US

As a nonprofit ourselves, every donation that we receive helps power our organization while we work together to build a better sector.

James Lum is GuideStar's first full-time CFO, responsible for orchestrating multi-million dollar financial turnarounds in cash flow and operating income over the past two years. He is responsible for coordinating strategic and financial oversight across the organization and also heads fundraising. James received BAs from the University of Virginia in Economics and Biology and earned an MBA from Columbia University's Graduate School of Business with concentrations in Finance and Entrepreneurship. James recently won the 2014 Nonprofit CFO Transformational Leader Award, demonstrating excellent leadership and commitment to the nonprofit sector.

Lean Startup and Impact Philosophy Falls Short in the Nonprofit Sector

When is it appropriate to edit your nonprofit? When is it time to cut programs and make changes to your structure, and how do you go about making those changes?

I posed this question a while back, offering some guidance for nonprofits finding themselves in this position while alluding to some experience with the subject.

To offer full transparency, I’d like to share the specifics of my experience.

Last month we hosted Nonprofit Boot Camp and made a surprise announcement: we were putting the event on indefinite hiatus.

Whether or not this program will come back is impossible to predict at this time (though I’d like to think it can), but I wanted to share with you the reasoning behind this decision, in the hopes that others in the sector can avoid having to learn – as I did – the hard way.

The decision to take on Nonprofit Bootcamp was made in 2012. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I’ve come to realize it was a bad decision for our organization.

I have spent the better part of the past year revisiting that decision, rethinking the program, talking to industry leaders, reflecting and meditating on whether I can really do justice to this program and community.

Here’s what I've learned:

Beware Emotional Decisions. I made the decision to take over Nonprofit Boot Camp and run it under the Social Media for Nonprofits umbrella without fully considering all other factors at play. I’d been involved with the Nonprofit Boot Camp run by Craigslist Foundation as a volunteer and also as a contractor. I credit that program for my robust start in the SF Bay Area nonprofit community, and I had an emotional and historical connection to it.

I’d found out Craigslist Foundation was set to close the day before it was to happen. Over the next two to three weeks, I made the decision to take the program on. My emotional attachment to the program and the impact it had on me colored my view of the situation. What's worse, I was also traveling and under a tremendous amount of stress at the time, making me more susceptible to an emotional decision.

I did not allow enough time to weigh everything that needs to be weighed when making a decision like that, and I did not take a step away and separate my personal bond with the program from its potential role in SM4NP.

Ask The Big Questions. In taking on a new program like that, it would have made sense to consider whether or not I had the expertise to not only continue it, but to scale it. It would have made sense to ask how Nonprofit Boot Camp fit into our current programming, how that would be communicated or even whether I had the deep knowledge needed about this particular space.

I didn't ask the big questions, and I believe it's because I had the wrong hat on.

I wore my hat of event planner and primarily looked at whether or not could I do another event in addition to my existing 12-13 events. As an event planner, the answer was an easy yes.

I didn’t look at it as a marketing professional and consider the ramifications of communicating two very diverse programs to two completely different demographics; one is geared towards marketing professionals and the other towards everyone else in a nonprofit organization.

I didn't look at it from the perspective of my community. Is this what they want? Does taking on this added responsibility serve them?

Instead I banked on my past experience of creating and managing successful events around the globe and assumed it would be much the same. I just leapt. The cost was trying to reconcile two very different programs in scope and style. It was a huge drain on resources because one didn’t lead to the other. They each attracted completely different audiences.

Looking forward, I know I can wear a multitude of hats in any given situation. The leadership opportunity is to be discerning about which hat to wear and even to demand the time for myself and my team to examine the situation from all our viewpoints of expertise.

Have The Resources. That might sound ridiculous, since it’s the nonprofit battle cry, and something we are always struggling with and overcoming. But there’s a difference between treading water and being under water.

With my event planner hat on, I assumed I knew the resources needed to present Nonprofit Boot Camp. I did not realize the program would not fit inside our very successful, tested and tried SM4NP model. In fact, the amount of time and resources it takes to produce this program is equal to the time/resources to produce three or four other events around the globe – and those leaner events are a lot more profitable.

Beside the purely logistical needs of the program, I did not look at the expectations of the community. I now know that it takes several times more work and revenue to meet the minimum expectations of nonprofit professionals for an event like this, let alone to thrive and scale. For a tiny nonprofit with two (albeit mighty) full-time staffers, we just don’t have the capacity to continue without compromising quality on all our programs.

The Risks of Failure. The biggest lesson of the past year, as a new nonprofit executive, has been understanding the depth and weight of the responsibility I shoulder.

I started in the for-profit sector, in Silicon Valley, and the way failure is perceived there is very different from the way it is perceived in the nonprofit sector. In the for-profit sector and especially the startup and the tech ecosystem, there’s a positive association with failing. “Failing forward,” they say, recognizing that failure promotes growth. In the commercial sector, the person you let down most is yourself – but you pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and get back to business, lessons learned.

In the nonprofit sector, failure has very high stakes. It’s not just YOU that you let down. It’s your constituents, your donors, partners, sponsors and institutional funders – the entire community.

I’m not saying you can never take risks, but the kinds of risks encouraged in the for-profit sector with much touted, lean startup models are not advisable in the nonprofit sector. Any risks in our sector must be so much more calculated.

In the social sector, when you fail, you don’t fail and move on – you fail an entire community of stakeholders and that’s a lot of weight to carry.

There is one more risk in failure: its personal toll. We actually examined this at Nonprofit Boot Camp this year.

I want this to be a productive failure. It would be easy to berate myself. To wallow in a pity party – but that wouldn’t really accomplish anything, would it?

I’m not happy that this happened – understand that – but I AM grateful. It was a hard way to learn a valuable lesson, but my hope is that this serves as food for thought for social enterprise and nonprofit leaders who are themselves considering starting new nonprofits or programs. My advice for you is this:

  • Take as much time as you need to think through all the points mentioned above. If you find yourself with a shortage of time or false deadlines, then don’t start or take on something new until you’ve had the full opportunity to think it through.
  • Talk to stakeholders – they know better than you what it will take to meet expectations
  • Ensure that you are fulfilling a need in the community and have everything you need to meet that need
  • Experiment with lean startup and minimum viable product models in limited scopes –defined projects like a new website or app development, not overall nonprofit direction.

We have incredible challenges that we are trying to overcome with just as incredibly small resources. When we are frivolous with those, it’s hard to wear the failure as a badge of honor because those small resources could’ve fed someone or clothed someone. All decisions in our sector must be meaningful and thoughtful.

The preceding is a guest post by Ritu Sharma, the CEO and Co-Founder of Social Media for Nonprofits, an organization committed to bringing social media education to nonprofits worldwide. She convenes thought-leaders and leading practitioners in the social media space in the unique TED meet Twitter style conferences in 14 cities in three countries. She speaks frequently around the world on a variety of topics in the nonprofit and social media spheres with a passion for effecting social change through social technologies. She writes a blog at the Huffington Post on the intersection of social media, social change and leadership. Follow Ritu at LinkedIn or on Twitter at @ritusharma1

Coming Soon to the GuideStar Website

Last June, we began updating our website, offering a new home page to users who haven't registered with GuideStar or to visitors who have registered with us but aren't logged in. We also revised the nonprofit reports to make them easier to navigate. A few weeks later, we introduced revamped pages for four of our products: GuideStar Premium Search, GuideStar Charity Check, GuideStar APIs, and Financial SCAN.

Get Ready for #GivingTuesday with the GuideStar Exchange

Questions I'm Most Often Asked About Raising $1 Million

Does the mere thought of asking for a six- or seven-figure gift unnerve you?

Do you wish someone would level with you and help ease the gulp-inducing part of fundraising?

Allow me to try.

Here are answers to key questions I'm asked time and again by both board members and staff. You'll find fuller responses in my book, How to Raise $1 Million (or More!) in 10 Bite-Sized Steps.

Can we approach individuals like Bill Gates and Oprah to give big gifts? What we do is so important.

While it's easy to imagine such people would want to support your cause, I'm afraid that unless you know Gates or Winfrey—and your cause touches on something they're keenly interested in—it's magical thinking to imagine they'll be large donors to your campaign.

We've never received a gift of even $100,000. Is it really possible we can raise a million dollars?

While it may seem unlikely, it's not so unusual. Think about it this way. Most small or young groups don't ask for big gifts until they're ready to take a leap in their growth. An organization with an annual budget of $750,000, for example, wouldn't usually ask for a gift of $100,000 toward their operating budget. But they may well ask for that much and more for a special project—perhaps a new science center or launching a new program. In the context of a larger goal, requests for large gifts make more sense.

Which comes first, our plan or the money? It seems foolish to develop a big plan if there's no chance we can fund it.

As I make clear in my book, you have to work on your plans first! You'll be pleasantly surprised by the power of big, exciting ideas to inspire donors and leaders. And while it's possible you'll establish ambitious goals you can't fund, at least not yet, these plans will help shape a direction that could become a reality over a longer time.

Our organization is about to celebrate its 50th anniversary. Would this be a good time for us to have a campaign to raise $5 million?

People often ask me this question. While birthdays are worth celebrating—longevity is worth something—by itself a big birthday is NOT a good reason for a campaign. That said, you can use an upcoming anniversary to inspire a breathtaking plan for what your organization hopes to accomplish over the NEXT 50 years. And that may well be a good reason to have a campaign!

How do we calculate what percentage of our capital campaign goal our board should give?

Lots of people would like a simple, specific answer to this question—say 20 percent or 10 percent. But in reality the percentage of the goal your board should give has everything to do with who happens to be ON your board!

If you're a small organization without people of means on your board, it's unlikely you can raise 25 percent of your goal. But if yours is a "fundraising board" comprising people who serve specifically because of their ability to give and raise money, then 25 percent is probably way too low.

We don't have any donors who seem ready to make a big gift. What's the best way to get them involved?

The old saw "Ask for advice and you'll get money. Ask for money and you'll get advice" turns out to be true. The catch is that you can't ask for advice just to get money. That doesn't work. You've got to be genuinely interested in what people have to say.

Obviously every organization should bend over backwards to make their donors feel appreciated and valued. That's a hugely important part of the process. But there's no better way to draw people in than to actively involve them in the process of developing bold plans for your organization. In my experience, this is the best way to get your major donors ready to give sizable gifts.

How can we get our board members to actually go out and ask for gifts?

I've found that people will go out and ask for gifts if they feel confident they'll succeed. And that takes training. Which is why Andy Robinson and I wrote Train Your Board (and Everyone Else) to Raise Money, a book of 51 fundraising exercises for boards. All too often staff members assume board members know how to ask. But in reality they don't. Every nonprofit would be wise to have a board training program specifically on fundraising. I don't mean a one-time workshop. Board members should be trained in one way or another at every board meeting. You'll see a huge difference in their confidence and willingness to ask.

Andrea Kihlstedt
© 2014, Emerson & Church, Publishers

Andrea Kihlstedt is author of How to Raise $1 Million (or More!) in 10 Bite-Sized Steps and co-author with Andy Robinson of Train Your Board (and Everyone Else) to Raise Money.

How can you Fundraise SMARTER -- not harder?

We’re just full of paradoxes, aren’t we?

Rolling Out a Platform to Provide Diversity Data

Transparency and accountability are great goals
but without data, it is like a stool with two legs. Good luck with that. Consistent, visible data and goals keep us on a stable platform, and allows organizations and leaders to learn, build and improve. Data about who is leading and working in organizations is just as important as financials and environmental or social change indicators to understanding how an NGO or foundation works and its responsiveness to community needs.

Collaborative BRIDGE Project Makes Big Progress Toward Sharing Crucial Information Worldwide

The Basic Registry of Identified Global Entities (BRIDGE) is a new collaborative project that aims to revolutionize information sharing, in order to better understand the flows of philanthropic dollars and enhance transparency and effectiveness in the global social sector. BRIDGE is a system that assigns non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and other entities in the social sector with a unique identifier, a “numerical fingerprint” for nonprofits.

Keep Financial Statements Simple

While it’s challenging to stay current with constantly changing compliance requirements for non-profits, and the increasingly complex accounting standards, the reporting requirements are slightly relaxed compared to other entities. The Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) has an Accounting Standards Codification (ASC) with requirements specific to non-profit financial statement presentation (ASC 958-205).

GuideStar Receives $3 Million Strategic Investment towards $10 Million Capital Campaign

Earlier this year, GuideStar unveiled its new strategic plan, GuideStar 2020, to build the information scaffolding for social change to help ensure the nonprofit sector is capable of addressing the great challenges of our time. It is an exciting and ambitious vision, true to the innovative and transformational spirit that has been the cornerstone of GuideStar’s work for the past 20 years.

The #1 Reason Board Members Fail

Most board members fail because the proper expectations weren’t set in their recruitment. On top of recruiting great talent your single greatest blueprint for board member success is setting clear expectations. A detailed robust board contract takes you across the finish line. If you need some help setting clear expectations in your board contract, try this free sample board contract.

Join Us for a Live Special Announcement During Our Third Quarter Impact Call

Dear Friends,

Nonprofits: Ban These Phrases from Your Vocabulary

GuideStar, the BBB Wise Giving Alliance, and Charity Navigator don't ever want to hear you say these words again:

"Only X% of your gift goes to overhead." OR
"Only X cents on the dollar go to overhead costs."

Why? Because you do both your organization and your donors a great disservice when you focus on overhead as the key indicator of your worthiness to receive donations.

Your overhead ratio—the percentage of total expenses devoted to administrative and fundraising costs—tells people nothing about your organization's effectiveness. It fails to measure the most important thing of all: how well your nonprofit is accomplishing its mission.

The heads of the BBB Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Navigator, and GuideStar have joined together to demonstrate why the Overhead Myth is harmful and how nonprofits can battle it.

Say Goodbye to the Overhead Myth

In a letter released October 21, 2014, Ken Berger (president and CEO of Charity Navigator), Jacob Harold (president and CEO of GuideStar), and Art Taylor (president of the BBB Wise Giving Alliance) note:

While overhead can help us identify cases of fraud or gross mismanagement and serve as a part of an organization's dashboard of financial management metrics, it tells us nothing about the results of your work (i.e., how you meet your mission).

The focus on overhead, they continue, leads nonprofits to shortchange their organizational needs, which in turn limits their results. In the end, everyone suffers:

This starvation cycle hurts nonprofits and donors, but, most important, it hurts our shared work for a better world.

We hear you panicking. "Donors expect us to talk about overhead," you say. "If we invest in infrastructure, donors won't give to us."

We can help you with that. In fact, we can all help each other with that.

It's true that over the years, donors have been taught (brainwashed) to rely on overhead ratios to evaluate nonprofits. Working together, however, we in the nonprofit sector can change this state of affairs.

Say Hello to the Overhead Solution

So what exactly do Messrs. Bergen, Harold, and Taylor say you should do? Three things:

  • Demonstrate ethical practice and share data about your performance.
  • Manage toward results and understand your true costs.
  • Help educate funders (individuals, foundations, corporations, and government) on the real cost of results.

The letter elaborates on these goals and provides resources to help you achieve them. The Overhead Myth/Overhead Solution website also offers free tools to turn myth into solution.

Working toward the Overhead Solution won't be a quick fix, but it's one whose impact will increase as more nonprofits embrace it. In the words of the three leaders, "Let us drive a conversation about nonprofit trustworthiness and performance that is worthy of the people, the communities, and the ecosystems we all serve."

  • How useful did you find this article? Give us your feedback

Suzanne E. Coffman
© 2014, GuideStar USA, Inc.

Suzanne Coffman is GuideStar's editorial director and editor of the GuideStar Newsletter.

Fundraising Training Exercise: Fundraising from the Inside Out

Excerpted from Train Your Board (And Everyone Else) to Raise Money

Top Strategic Mistakes Nonprofits Make, Part 2

Last month we published numbers 1-4 of the 13 key strategic mistakes nonprofits often make. Here are mistakes 5-8. Again, they are listed in no particular order.

5. Failing to understand what makes donors give

If you examine what makes donors give, here are two factors that consistently bubble to the top:

The first is feeling like they're making a difference. The closer you can tie donor action to results—past, present, and future results—the more likely you are to get more people to give more. Consider these two scenarios. In scenario one, you simply ask someone to donate $100, perhaps online. In scenario two, you first demonstrate that $100 can house a woman and her children in your domestic violence shelter for one week—and THEN you ask donors for their $100. Or better yet, you permit them to choose one of the women in your shelter (names redacted for privacy, of course) and sponsor her and her kids for one week for $100. In that case donors might even get periodic updates on how their sponsees are doing, or a thank-you note directly from them. Now, in which of these scenarios do you think the donor is more likely to give?!

There are effective ways of using your website and social media to help convey to existing and prospective donors what you are doing with their money. For example, when Living Homes wanted to create the "greenest" home in America, they posted a one-minute video showing the complete construction of the home, starting with the foundation. For donors who already gave, the video was tangible evidence of the impact of their donations. For prospective donors, the video showed that the organization could truly deliver impressive results.

Another great donor motivator is gratitude. Again, consider two scenarios. In the first scenario, a $1,000 first-time donor is either never thanked, or thanked weeks later in an impersonal manner. In the second scenario, that donor is thanked in an immediate, personal, and meaningful manner, perhaps even thanked in more than one way. Again, the Internet can be a powerful way to accentuate your gratitude. Of course, you could send donors an immediate, perhaps automatic e-mail (for online donations). But beyond that, you could send them a personalized thank-you video. You can send such videos for free from MailVu. Better yet, the next time you have a fundraising or educational event, each attendee could, that day, receive a personalized thank-you video from your executive director, founder, or board chair. These personalized thank-you videos are surprisingly inexpensive—as low as a couple dollars per recipient.

As a recent headline in the Chronicle of Philanthropy aptly stated: "Donors Say They Would Give More If They Saw More Results."

6. Failing to deliver some services online

Traditionally most nonprofits limit themselves to serving people in their local community, and even then, their programs and services are typically delivered face to face. Why not reach out to people who need your help but cannot access it in person—whether they are 1 or 1,000 miles away?

For example, a nonprofit that helps special needs kids could offer online counselling to the children's parents, online discussion forums, resource referral, application for various funding, educational training, and much more—all online.

You can deliver a surprisingly wide variety of services to desktop or mobile devices through:

  1. E-mail
  2. Social media
  3. Chat
  4. Texting/SMS
  5. Instant messaging
  6. Skype, FaceTime
  7. Webinar
  8. Podcast
  9. Interactive website/training

In this way, you may be able to deliver more services at lower cost more quickly to more people. Equally important, you can deliver online services to people far from your office. Some nonprofits object to this concept with the rationale that "we were created to only serve our local community." If so, why, and why can't this change? If you truly have value to add to those in your community and can easily expand that value to those far beyond your community, why not do so? The key here is easily. If doubling the geographic area you serve would double the personnel and money you need to offer those expanded services, then you may not want to consider doing it. If, however, the additional cost is minimal, or perhaps close to zero, why not do it? In fact, by offering some of your services online—without discriminating against potential recipients of your help based on where they live—you could even LOWER your costs while serving more people.

Moreover, expanding the geographic reach of those you serve may result in a similar geographic expansion of those who support you. Serving people in, say, Vermont makes it much more likely you'll get donations from Vermont.

7. Failing to encourage feedback

Most nonprofits do not actively solicit feedback. They should—even if that feedback seems critical.

Consider the following two cases: Several years ago, both Hewlett-Packard and Dell created Facebook and other social media outlets for their PC customers to give them feedback. Both were quickly deluged with complaints. HP's approach was almost to sweep these criticisms under the carpet and hope they would go away. (Of course, they didn't.) In contrast, Dell assigned a team dedicated to handling these complaints. They would immediately, in a personalized way, acknowledge the complaint. Then they not only did whatever it took to resolve the complaint but they also implemented systemic changes within Dell to minimize the likelihood the problem would occur for anyone else. Finally, they not only communicated the resolution back to the person who originally aired the complaint but also to the online community at large. As you can imagine, Dell saw positive results. HP did not.

Some nonprofits reject the idea of permitting anyone from the public to air their complaints about the organization online, for fear of negative publicity—especially if it emanates from a disgruntled party. Consider these four points, however. First, if you run a nonprofit, or a portion of it, wouldn't you WANT to know if people are thinking or saying negative things about you, your staff, your employees, your programs, or other aspects of your organization? Second, if someone does post something harsh about you online, often you'll see lots of other people from outside your organization jumping to your online defense by offering their positive points of view. This can be a healthy dynamic. Third, if you take an approach like Dell—where you acknowledge the complaint, fix it, make organizational changes so it never happens again, and communicate all of that to everyone transparently online, you look good! Finally, if you don't provide people with a convenient forum for airing their grievances, in a way that you have visibility into and control over, they will certainly find lots of other online venues in which to do so.

Here are some specific ways you should solicit feedback:

  1. Feedback cards(print and online)
  2. QR codes (create your own QR codes for free at
  3. E-mail (even video e-mail)
  4. Surveys, polls, questionnaires ( is one good place to do this)
  5. Website
  6. Discussion forums
  7. Interactive blog
  8. Social media (especially Facebook and Twitter)

8. Failing to consider internal costs—and benefits

Let's say that you want to build a new website. You are offered two choices. One website developer offers to build you a site for free. The other want to charge you $20,000. Many boards and executive directors would immediately conclude that they should go with the free option. They may, however, fail to consider such additional details as:

  1. The free website might not bring in any additional revenue, while the paid website might help raise an additional $50,000 per year. In this case, a simple cost-benefit analysis shows that the paid website is the far better investment.
  2. The free website might not lower costs at all, but the paid website might—perhaps substantially. Again, this helps create a potentially significant return on investment (ROI).
  3. The free website might require lots more time and effort from you and your staff and board to implement and maintain. Of course, your time has value, and must be factored into your decision.
  4. The free website might take longer to implement, causing you to wait in order to start benefitting from the new site.
  5. The free website might be of inferior quality relative to the paid website. If this is true it could end up costing you in increased costs and/or decreased revenue. For example, an online donor who would have donated to you if your website looked professional and portrayed your organization in a highly positive manner might not donate if the website looks shoddy or doesn't portray you in the best light. Moreover, if the free website does not incorporate effective search engine optimization techniques, it might get far less traffic than the paid website.
  6. If you have any issue with your site before or after it goes live, you might get delayed and/or poor support for the free website. After all, the person who builds the site for you is likely busy, and his or her priorities may emphasize spending time in ways that will generate money, no matter how well meaning the developer is. On the other hand, the paid website may come with 24/7, effective support.
  7. The free website might require some maintenance by people outside your organization (since they have the technical skills to do so), causing you to wait for and potentially pay for each change to your site. On the other hand, the paid site might include the ability for your staff to make any changes to your site immediately and without technical skills—or cost.
  8. The free website may never get implemented!

Often there is a reason for the adage "you get what you pay for"! So, whether your decision involves a website or any other way to spend or raise money, consider the full impact of the decision, including benefits and internal costs—not just the surface costs.

Allan Pressel, PowerSite123
© 2014, PowerSite123

Allan Pressel is CEO of PowerSite123, which helps nonprofits create world-class websites, social media, SEO, and marketing. Allan is a world-renowned ePhilanthropy speaker. Allan is co-author of Internet Management for Nonprofits. He was given the Volunteer Service Award by President George W. Bush. Allan was co-founder of i-Cube, which had a highly successful IPO. Feel free to contact Allan with any questions at (310) 363-0095 or

GuideStar Exchange + #GivingTuesday + AmazonSmile = your nonprofit’s fundraising success

On Tuesday, December 2, 2014, charities, families, businesses, community centers, and students around the world will celebrate #GivingTuesday by coming together for one common purpose: to celebrate generosity and to give. Is your nonprofit ready?

The free GuideStar Exchange gets your nonprofit in front of millions of potential donors and funders. Make sure you’re maximizing your nonprofit’s #GivingTuesday donation potential by claiming and updating your nonprofit’s report on the GuideStar Exchange here.

Let the power of Amazon help your cause

Did you know your charity can receive donations through the AmazonSmile program? As long as your nonprofit is listed on GuideStar and meets AmazonSmile’s eligibility criteria, customers will be able to select your organization. When customers shop at, Amazon donates a portion of the purchase price to eligible charities.

As the countdown to #GivingTuesday begins, make sure your nonprofit’s information is accurate and up-to-date! The GuideStar Exchange allows you to manage the information available to the public on GuideStar—and AmazonSmile—for free. Take full advantage of AmazonSmile this giving season! To update your GuideStar Exchange report, click here.

Don’t forget!

GuideStar Exchange participants at the Gold and Silver levels have access to a huge number of great discounts and free products. Click here to learn more.

Warmest wishes from your GuideStar colleagues, and may you have a profitable #GivingTuesday!

The preceding post is by Lindsay J.K. Nichols, GuideStar's senior director of marketing and communications.

Reactivate Your Email List (Case Study)

The following is a cross-post by Karla Capers from Nancy Schwartz's blog, To read the original article, click here.

Karla Capers

I’m Online Director at the Union of Concerned Scientists, and we were faced with a real challenge—how to re-engage the many folks who were not reading or acting on our emails.

Here’s our three-part reactivation method:

We Segmented Our Inactives
We defined “inactive” as anyone who’s never given the organization a donation (online or off) and hadn’t opened, clicked, or taken any action online in the last year.

Then, in February, we started to segment out the “inactive” people on our list and excluding them from all outgoing messages. That “inactive” segment turned out to be about 25% of our deliverable email file.

Then Sent Our Campaign
Next, we set up a three-part series of emails to try to re-engage those inactive people:

1. Initial email

  • Goes out when someone first falls into the “inactive” file.
  • Subject line: “We miss you [first name]“
  • Asks them to click on a link to let us know they still want to receive emails from UCS.
  • The landing page that click gets them to says something like “Thanks and welcome back….” and automatically adds them back into the “Active” file.

2. Second email (if recipient doesn’t click on first email)

  • Goes out one week later.
  • Subject line: “Science still needs you [firstname]“
  • Tries to re-engage people with an action alert, talks about recent attacks on science and asks the person to sign a generic pledge to “stand with science”.

3. Third email (if recipient doesn’t click on second email)

  • Goes out one week later.
  • Subject line: “thanks and goodbye”
  • Informs the person that since we haven’t heard from them in a long time we are going to unsubscribe them and offers one last chance to click to still receive emails from us.
  • The landing page is a survey where they can update their email subscriptions by issue topic and type of message and give us feedback on why they have been out of touch.

Our Results—Good, But Want to Do Better
Since February, we have re-engaged almost 5% of our inactive file. That’s a value of about $13,000 if we were paying for those names so that seems worth it to me.

Of the three emails, the third email performed the best re-engaging 3.17% of the inactive file. Email one re-engaged 1.56% and email two only 0.88%.

Next Steps—Before Inaction
One thing I would like to do is add another email to the series to try to re-engage people *before* they fall into the inactive pool–so maybe when they haven’t clicked or acted on anything in 3 months or 6 months. I think if we tried to reconnect with them sooner we might pull even more people back into the active file.

How do you reengage inactive supporters, whether those on your email list who don’t respond or lapsed donors? Please share your reactivation methods here.

P.S. Get more nonprofit marketing tools, templates, case studies & tips delivered right to your in-box! Register here for the Getting Attention blog & e-news.

Since 1996, Karla Capers has been working for advocacy organizations, figuring out ways to use the internet to raise visibility for progressive issues, engage people in campaigns, and try to make the world a better place.

Note from Nancy: I came upon Karla’s terrific guidance for re-engaging folks on the Progressive Exchange list serv, and got her permission to repost here.

Help Your Supporters Do Good with These Apps

Should the Pareto Principle Apply to Fundraising?

In 1906 Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto observed that 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population. He also noticed 80% of the peas in his garden came from 20% of the peapods, if that gives you any insight into the kind of man he was. Since then, his "Pareto Principal" has been applied to almost everything under the sun.

Beth Kanter Keynotes Social Media for Nonprofits in Chicago

Chicago friends: Ready to launch your year-end fundraising? Need to boost your social media acumen? Want to learn how to better use social media in your storytelling efforts?

Then join Social Media for Nonprofits as it returns to Chicago on October 29th, and learn how to:

  • Create results-driven fundraising strategy around #GivingTuesday
  • Use video to enhance your fundraising campaigns
  • Make your stories more powerful by using visuals

Learn directly from heavyweights such as Beth Kanter, David Gunn, Susy Schultz, Bridgett Colling, and Ira Horowitz. Use this code to get $30 off of registration: SM4NP

Scholarships are available for nonprofits to learn how to leverage resources & social media:

See you there!

Help move the sector from an Overhead Myth to an Overhead Solution

In 2013, I joined with colleagues at BBB Wise Giving Alliance and Charity Navigator to write an open letter to the donors of America explaining that “overhead ratios” are a poor way to understand nonprofit performance. As you know, these ratios—the percent of charity expenses that go to administrative and fundraising costs—tell us nothing about an organization’s performance against its mission.

Overhead Myth letter to the nonprofits of America

We believed that the nonprofit sector was hungry to dispel this “Overhead Myth.” The field’s extraordinary reaction to the first letter has thunderously affirmed that belief. Today, we build on that momentum by offering a second letter, this one addressed to the nonprofits of America. In this second letter we suggest a set of steps nonprofits can take to help us all move beyond the Overhead Myth. In simple terms, we must—collectively—offer donors an alternative. We believe it will take a shared effort to focus donors’ attention on what really matters: nonprofits’ efforts to make the world a better place. Please join us as we seek to move from the Overhead Myth to the Overhead Solution.

-Jacob Harold, President and CEO, GuideStar

The preceding can also be found on the Overhead Myth Blog:

System Automation: Trusting Technology To Help You Do More

With the advent of readily available APIs, more and more systems are "talking" to each other these days. However, connecting the systems that you use each day can be a scary idea.

In this article, we'll offer tips for approaching system integration and how nonprofits can do even more good with technology.

Why is system integration important?

No matter what data it contains, an isolated application ultimately decreases in value. System integration helps nonprofits recapture this value and do more with less – especially when funding is results-driven. Linking applications together reduces time spent on duplicate data entry and minimizes the chances of clerical errors.

Advantages go well beyond the reduction of administrative burdens. Integration can also help streamline workflows and can deliver more meaningful reports for grants or donors engagement. For example, by allowing volunteer and donor databases to communicate, nonprofits automatically multiply their fundraising potential and have access to a more global view of their supporters.

Does integration makes sense for my organization?

If fractured data is hurting your organization (instead of helping it), then system integration might add value. Here are a few scenarios to consider:

  • Are your donors annoyed? If they are getting mail with their names misspelled, calls when they prefer email, or fundraising appeals addressed to a deceased spouse, this can tarnish your reputation and decrease your donation stream.
  • Do you see the whole picture? If you can’t easily identify trends and patterns because your data is too scattered among different applications, then you are missing out on important information. This data could drive changes in procedures, marketing, fundraising, and more.
  • Do departments mistrust each other’s data? If each department is using a different database for the same individuals, who really has the correct information?

Do any of these challenges sound familiar? If so, it’s time to consider an integration strategy.

How do I prepare for an integration launch?

  1. Establish that your tools can be connected. Most vendors list out their integration partners on a webpage. Start by exploring tools that integrate with one another. Cloud-based applications are often open to integration.
  1. Define what you want to accomplish. What problems do you wish to resolve? What benefits do you want to achieve? These questions will guide you and help you define exactly what you require a system integration to do.
  1. Communicate with staff and stakeholders. Be sure to make clear why you have opted for integration and how it will benefit your organization. This will be critical to your project’s success.
  1. Ask for information about the integration. Be sure that it meets the needs you outlined, and then dig deeper. You’ll want to find out how long the integration has been in use and ascertain if it is still in beta testing. When talking with the vendor, request case studies or references of satisfied customers so you can do your own research into it.
  1. Consider hiring a consultant who has successfully lead these types of transitions. An experienced integration consultant can help relieve the stress of integration and serve as a point person for your questions.
  1. Don’t be afraid to provide feedback to the vendor. If you’re experiencing an issue with the integration, the vendor would probably like to know about it. Don’t be shy.

Your data sets are just like your employees: when they communicate and work together as a team, you get the best results. From expediting internal processes to creating better marketing and fundraising approaches, software integration brings together important data that will synergistically further your nonprofit’s mission.

The following is a guest post by 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 what you need to know about volunteering for nonprofit.

A Nonprofit Board’s Fiduciary Responsibility

Both the recession and wide-ranging scandals over the past few years have changed the perceptions of duties required of boards of directors in all industries - including nonprofits. Additionally, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), through its revisions to Form 990, requires reporting by nonprofits on a range of governance issues that go far beyond financial reporting, including board member “fiduciary duty.” What is fiduciary responsibility and what does it mean to the board of a nonprofit?

NPC’s Four Pillar Approach

The following is a guest post by Anne Kazimirski, Deputy Head of Measurement & Evaluation and co-author of NPC’s four pillar approach. To read the original article, click here.

Major Gifts Fundraising: The Questions I Hear Most Often

Having worked as a fundraising consultant and trainer for almost 20 years, I'm often surprised that the same questions come up again and again.

Happily, recurring questions can generate new answers: my responses keep evolving as I learn from donors, peers, clients, and from my ongoing experience soliciting gifts.

What follows is a "greatest hits" collection of questions. You'll find more extensive answers in my books How to Raise $500 to $5000 from Almost Anyone and Train Your Board (and Everyone Else) to Raise More Money.

What would you consider a "major gift?"

The concept of a "major gift" varies wildly based on the size and sophistication of organizations. For big-league universities, the major gifts category probably begins at $100,000. On the other hand, for some grassroots groups, $250 might be considered a big gift.

In the first book mentioned above, I focused on $500 to $5,000. These amounts are large enough to justify the time required to cultivate and solicit donors, yet small enough to include a wide range of prospects.

Taken in the context of a major gifts campaign, with many askers talking to multiple prospects, gifts of $500 to $5,000 can add up to a lot of money.

What's the most effective way to raise money?

Look someone in the eye and ask for it. Unfortunately, this is also the scariest way to raise money. If we're going to be successful, we have to confront our fears and doubts about money, where it comes from, who gives it, how to ask for it effectively, and so on.

If fear is the biggest barrier, how do we address it?

In a word, training. Lots of training interspersed with hands-on practice.

You might remember the first time you learned to ride a bike, which included the fear of falling and skinning your knees. A family member or friend probably coached you through it: you tried, you fell, you got up, you received more coaching, and pretty soon you were riding around the block.

Fundraising is the same. You learn, you fall a few times, you get up, you try again, and pretty soon donors are saying yes and handing you checks. For more training tools, visit

Nonprofits can spend a lot of money on trainers and consultants to engage their boards in fundraising. Does training really work?

Yes and no. While I continue to lead a lot of one-day workshops—often, with the client providing little advance prep or follow-through after the event—I'm beginning to question the model. A good trainer can move the needle, but when he or she leaves the room, everybody begins to backslide. Old habits, as they say, die hard.

On the other hand, when training is part of a long-term process of board education and engagement, rather than a one-off event, yes—training works. A lot of ongoing board education can be driven by board and staff leaders rather than relying on outside consultants.

Let's talk about donor meetings. What's the best location?

When we meet with donors, we generally have three goals:

  • Learn more about them
  • Look for ways to connect them to the work of our organization
  • Ask for their support (unless this is a get-to-know-you meeting or a personal thank-you after a recent gift)

With that in mind, you want a comfortable location that allows a certain degree of privacy and quiet. If the venue inspires the donor, even better. I would suggest the following hierarchy:

  • The donor's home. If someone invites you into his or her home for the purpose of being asked, this is a very good sign.
  • A show-and-tell opportunity: the site of your new clinic, a forest you are working to conserve, your preschool in action, and so forth. Following the site visit, make sure you have a quiet place to talk.
  • The donor's place of business.
  • Your organization's office or place of business—with the reminder that if you have good engagement opportunities, this moves up to item two on the list.
  • A restaurant or coffee shop. If this is your best option, take it—but beware of the loud diners at the next table or the waiter who delivers the check just as you are making your case. In a public location, it's impossible to control the distractions.

How about materials? What do you need to bring?

It really depends on the ask. Is this annual fundraising, a special project, or a capital campaign? As a general rule, keep it simple. We tend to overload donors with too much stuff. With that in mind, here's the basic list:

  • Pledge form (name, contact info, terms of payment, recognition information, etc.)
  • Case materials: a brochure, fact sheet, or newsletter
  • Something visual: a map or graph, photos, a site plan—specific to your mission and funding request
  • Gift chart showing the range of gifts needed to reach your goal, and progress toward that goal

Remember, materials don't make the ask, YOU make the ask. Even the strongest materials aren't as effective as a thoughtful face-to-face request, spoken from the heart.

What's your single best advice for those who want to learn face-to-face fundraising, but don't know where to begin?

If you're a novice, embrace that. Use it to your advantage. Pick three people you know well enough to call on the phone and have the following conversation:

"Sally, I'm on the board of [your organization]. We're learning how to meet with donors and ask for their support. To be honest, I'm a little intimidated but I really need to learn how to do this. May I come and practice on you?

"Just so we're clear, it's a real ask—I hope you will give. But more than the money, what I really need is feedback, and I think you would make a great practice partner. Can we practice this together? I would so appreciate your help."

The advantages of this approach: it's authentic, it's honest, and it shows a lot of humility. Most donors find that appealing.

As the famous fundraising saying states, "If you want advice, ask for money. If you want money, ask for advice."

Andy Robinson
© 2014, Emerson & Church, Publishers

Andy Robinson is a trainer, consultant, and the author of six books, including Great Boards for Small Groups, Train Your Board (and Everyone) Else to Raise Money, and How to Raise $500 to $5000 from Almost Anyone. Learn more about Robinson at and

Does Organizational Staff Size Affect Grant Activity?

After a recent State of GrantseekingTM webinar, an attendee asked about differences in grant awards and grantseeking styles, based not on annual budget but on organizational size when measured by number of employees. It was a good question because we know that a lack of time and staff is the most frequent impediment to successful grantseeking, regardless of organization size. The following is a synopsis of grant activity as defined by number of employees: all volunteer, 1 to 5 staff members, 6 to 10 staff members, and, as a counterpoint, more than 200 employees. Here is what we've learned. ...

Let's start with some basic, and unsurprising, demographics: to state the obvious, organizational age and budget size increased in conjunction with staff size.

Staff Organization Age Budget Mission Focus
All volunteer <5 years (37%) <$50,000 (60%) Arts, Culture, Humanities (15%)
1-5 people 10-25 years (38%) <$500,000 (59%) Arts, Culture, Humanities (19%)
6-19 people 10-25 years (40%) <$5,000,000 (81%) Human Services (18%)
200+ people >100 years (42%) >$25,000,000 (62%) Education (33%)

It takes time to grow an annual budget, and that budget is what enables increased staff.

The question, however, was, "Does staff size affect grantseeking activities and success?" The short answer is "yes," but let's looks at some of the data that are available.

Because all-volunteer organizations usually lack personnel dedicated to grantseeking, it becomes a less consistent, ad hoc affair, resulting in few awards. Moving an organization from all volunteer to having 1 to 5 employees increases the likelihood of grant funding; moving the organization to 6 to 10 employees increases that possibility even more. Organizations with more than 200 employees rely less on grant funding because they have other revenue streams, including tuition and donations.

In addition, organizational size is affected by mission focus, or vice versa. According to the Spring 2014 State of GrantseekingTM Report, the median largest grant award for Arts, Culture, and Humanities organizations was $20,000, for Human Services organizations it was $50,000, and for Educational Institutions it was $200,000.

Median largest award size also increased with larger staff size:

Organizations that employed 1 to 5 people reported a median largest award of $24,000—nearly five times larger than the $5,000 received by all-volunteer organizations. Organizations that employed 6 to 10 people reported a median largest award 10 times larger than that of all-volunteer organizations, and over double that of organizations employing 1 to 5 people. And organizations that employ more than 200 people reported a median largest award of $375,000.

Does staff size affect grantseeking activities and success? Without a doubt, and there are two main change points. When an organizations moves from all volunteer to having employees, the consistent focus on the organization's mission and budgetary needs results in more dedication of time to grantseeking and larger grant awards. And when an organization moves beyond five employees, grantseeking becomes more than a filler task, resulting in even larger and more frequent awards.

Ellen Mowrer, GrantStation
© 2014, GrantStation

Ellen Mowrer is director of business and marketing for GrantStation, a premiere online fundraising resource that provides information on more than 6,500 funders accepting inquiries.

Good News Travels Fast

It seems these days everyone is enamored with social media.

It's hard to go to a conference that doesn't offer sessions titled, "How to Leverage Social Media to Benefit Your Organization" ... "10 Ways Social Media Can Help You Raise More Funds" ... "Social Media: Getting Your Story Out. What Every Social Marketer Needs to Know."

I'm no Luddite. But in full disclosure, even though I use it sparingly, I'm no big fan of social media for numerous reasons, including issues related to privacy, security, and time management, just to name a few.

Despite any of my personal biases, however, the axiom that "Good news travels fast; bad news travels faster" holds more weight in this age of incredibly fast communications technologies than ever before.

In short, when it comes to social media, be sure you've done your homework.

A Few Things to Think About

What follows are just a few things to ponder as you explore your initial, or expanded, use of social media.

  • How well do we understand this technology, and do we know the best—and correct—ways to employ it?

    For example, do we know the differences between social networks (Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.), bookmarking sites (Delicious, StumbleUpon, etc.) social news (Digg, Reddit, etc.), media sharing (YouTube, Flickr, etc.), microblogging (Twitter, etc.), and the countless blog forums that are out there?

    Do we need to employ all of them, or will just one or two do?

  • Are we staffed to use social media in a timely manner?

    Social media is meant to be interactive. In other words, it's a dynamic—not a static—form of communications, and much of it is extremely time sensitive.

    For example, if someone posts a question on your blog, Facebook, or LinkedIn page, how long will it take you to respond? Hint: It better be sooner rather than later. Social media almost demands real-time turnaround.

  • Who within our organization should have access to and be responsible for our social media communications?

    Keep in mind that social media is a window to your brand. Subsequently, the person(s) responsible for messaging on it in many respects become the online face of your organization. Choose them not only for their ability to know and understand the technology but also for how well they know and understand your brand and the image you want to project to the public.

    Which leads us to ...

  • Do we have guidelines for online behavior?

    Do you understand that anything you say on social media is in the public domain, that it is all being archived, and that it can be retrieved at any time by anyone with a search engine—which means nearly everyone in the world?

    Subsequently, do you have written policies in place regarding such things as the accuracy of information you are putting online, the use (or non-use) of vulgarity, respect for others (individuals as well as organizations), and how to address online criticism of your organization?

    Which also leads us to ...

  • Do we have a crisis management plan in place should something negative about our organization go viral?

    If someone in your organization becomes aware that your organization is being challenged or criticized online, to whom should they report, and how should the organization respond?

  • Are we aware of privacy issues?

    Do you know not to provide personal or organization-related information on social media sites that scam artists or identity thieves could use?

  • Do we know when we may be overexposing ourselves to our audiences?

    At what point might you be sending out too many tweets or other online messages that, instead of holding the attention of your intended audiences are causing them to consider your messages spam?

  • What are our lost opportunity costs?

    Is social media taking up so much of your time that it is preventing you from doing things more directly related to the success of your mission?

Let's be clear. I'm not trying to dissuade anyone from using social media. Used knowledgeably and thoughtfully, it certainly has proven to have its advantages and revered place in organization communications.

I'm just saying ...

Larry Checco, Checco Communications
© 2014, Checco Communications

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

The Two Faces Of Data

The following is a cross-post of Markets for Good's September 29 article, The Two Faces of Data by Chris Delatorre. To read the original article, click here.

Good strategy needs sound data: response to ‘Strategic Philanthropy for a Complex World’

The following is a cross-post of an article by Angela Kail that first appeared on Latest from Alliance, the blog of Alliance magazine. To read the original post, click here.

Managing Attention Online

The following is a guest post by Beth Kanter, the author of Beth’s Blog: How Nonprofits Can Use Social Media, one of the longest running and most popular blogs for nonprofits.

7 Perfect Responses to Overcome a Donor’s Objections to a Visit

It takes a lot of "no’s" to get to a "yes," but the truth about fundraising is that the hardest part isn’t the ask, is getting the visit to make the ask! To help you get that all important face to face visit I’ve outlined seven of the most common objections a prospect or donor might have to taking a meeting and how you can overcome them.

The Lake Washington Declaration

This past summer, GuideStar’s President and CEO Jacob Harold worked with 70 nonprofit leaders to draft a set of principles with the goal of helping the social sector build a data-driven infrastructure. What came of that workshop is now known as the Lake Washington Declaration.

Questions I'm Most Often Asked About Case Statements

Excerpted from Making a Case Your Donors Will Love

Top Strategic Mistakes Nonprofits Make, Part 1

Nonprofits do a lot of things well, particularly making our world a better place. Many nonprofits, however, could do an even better job of pursuing their missions and raising more funds if they avoid the 13 key strategic mistakes nonprofits often make. Mistakes 1-4 are listed below, in no particular order. Mistakes 5-13 will appear in articles published in November and December 2014.

1. Failing to help people find you online

There was a time when nonprofits used to have to search for virtually all their donors, volunteers, clients, staff, board members, event attendees, partners, and even grants. Now there's a new paradigm in which those people are increasingly trying to find you online. Even when you pursue these people the old-fashioned way—say by meeting them at a networking event—no matter how effective a job you do of convincing them of the merits of your nonprofit, sometime after that encounter they will probably try to find you online. If they can't find you online, or if they are underwhelmed by what they do find, the chances of them supporting you or engaging with you diminish.

Inbound marketing is a collection of techniques designed to help people—the right people—find you online. Inbound marketing has three overriding goals. First, maximize the number of people who find you online. Second, maximize the quality of those leads—otherwise you might get a lot of tire-kickers. Finally, maximize your conversion rate—that is, the percentage of your online visitors who become "converted" into donors, volunteers, or into doing the other things you want them to do. Since most nonprofits have an online conversion rate of 0 to 2 percent, inbound marketing can only help them improve.

Here are some of the key inbound marketing techniques:

  1. Search engine optimization (SEO): SEO includes techniques within your website to boost your search engine standing and thereby help you get more traffic to and support through your website.
  2. Search engine marketing (SEM): SEM is like SEO but includes techniques external to your website.
  3. Pay-per-click (PPC): PPC enables you to buy your way to the top of the search engine standings. Through Google Grants, most nonprofits can easily get a grant entitling them to up to $10,000 per month in free Google AdWords.
  4. Content creation: You should be consistently creating fresh, relevant content—and posting it to your website, social media, blog, e-newsletter, and articles.

2. Not measuring outcomes

Nonprofits typically need to do a better job of setting goals—and then creating/deploying strategies to achieve those goals. Furthermore, each of those strategies and techniques should be measured periodically. Those that prove effective should be continued. Those that are ineffective should either be tweaked so they become effective or discontinued and replaced with other techniques.

Here are potential areas for which you may want to establish goals:

  1. # clients served
  2. $ raised (online, offline, and total)
  3. # event attendees
  4. # website visitors
  5. # e-mail list subscribers
  6. # Twitter followers
  7. # Facebook likes

Each of your goals should be specific, measurable, and attainable.

3. Failing to attract board members beyond your inner circle, and failing to hold them accountable

Some nonprofits recruit board members from the close circle of friends or colleagues of existing board members and management. This may be an effective and convenient place to start but should not be the end of looking for good board members. For example, nonprofits should be recruiting board members online, especially via LinkedIn and other social media connections. You may want to use professional board recruiters as well.

Hold board members accountable for the results they achieve. This means setting and measuring goals, as discussed above. It also means making each board member responsible for a specific amount of fundraising. If a prospective donor finds out that some of your board members don't donate, he or she may question why he/she should donate. Take this objection off the table by requiring each board member to "give or get" a specific amount.

Each board member should sign up for (or get assigned) specific tasks with designated outcomes.

Hold some board meetings via webinar. Board members are often busy and difficult to schedule in the same place at the same time. So hold some of your board meetings via webinar—either with or without webcams, screen sharing, and slides. They'll be able to participate from wherever they happen to be, as long as they have Internet access—even through their mobile phones.

4. Not paying for performance

The way an employee performs is often highly correlated with the way he or she is compensated. Most nonprofit employees, especially development and executive directors, have little or none of their pay tied to performance-related goals. Each employee should have specific, attainable, measure goals that are directly correlated with his or her compensation. This principle should apply to management, staff, and consultants. Even though they are not paid, board members and volunteers may become more productive if their goals are made more in alignment with your nonprofit's goals.

Allan Pressel, PowerSite123
© 2014, PowerSite123

Allan Pressel is CEO of PowerSite123, which helps nonprofits create world-class websites, social media, SEO, and marketing. Allan is a world-renowned ePhilanthropy speaker. Allan is co-author of Internet Management for Nonprofits. He was given the Volunteer Service Award by President George W. Bush. Allan was co-founder of i-Cube, which had a highly successful IPO. Feel free to contact Allan with any questions at (310) 363-0095 or

Help Us Help You! Take GuideStar's Impact Survey

Please complete our very brief Impact Survey, so we are better able to understand what you are accomplishing with GuideStar.

Donor Data is Your Friend! 5 Steps to Get You Started

The following is a cross-post by Donna Mehr from Pamela Grow's May 22nd blog post on her website, Pamela is an author, coach, copy-writer, nonprofit marketing consultant, and regular contributor to The GuideStar Blog. To read the original article, click here.

Super Short is Super Sweet: Storytelling that Hooks Digital Donors

The preceding is a cross-post of Jim Lynch of TechSoup’s September 17th guest post onKivi’s Nonprofit Communications Blog. To read the original article, click here.

The Overhead Myth meets your Overhead Reality

Like more than 3,000 of you, and countless others who nodded their heads in vehement agreement, I signed the Overhead Myth petition 18 months ago. We are united in our belief that it is short-sided to draw conclusions about our work when watchdog groups, funders, and donors simply divide our expenses by our revenue to assess our impact. For its part, the Myth perfectly framed what we have all thought – and gave it a megaphone.

2014 GuideStar Nonprofit Compensation Report Now Available

The 2014 GuideStar Nonprofit Compensation Report is now available! Pick up your copy here:

ISO … A Great Development Director

Lately I’ve been talking to a lot of nonprofit executives who are searching for a great Development Director. Much has been reported on the difficulty of finding a Development Director who is a good organizational fit AND has the skills and experience to get results. For a detailed analysis of the problem, refer to Underdeveloped, the seminal report on the issue published by Compass Point.

Listening to Feedback Improves Fundraising Results for Nonprofits

WebThriftStore recently released a completely redesigned website and mobile shopping experience based on the valuable feedback collected from many charity partners and their supporters. The website’s new, totally streamlined design is a perfect example of how charities and the companies providing complementary fundraising services can work together to improve the experience for everyone.

WebThriftStore allows any nonprofit to open an online thrift store for free with no risk or physical inventory. Charities encourage their supporters to donate goods online, WebThriftStore sells the goods in our online marketplace, and supporters receive tax write-offs for the sold value of their items.

Because it’s a completely online platform, WebThriftStore depends on its nonprofit partners and their loyal supporters to provide feedback and opinions about their experience and make suggestions on improvements. This feedback is gathered in the form of conversations with charity executives, email exchanges, surveys, website feedback forms and unsolicited questions and ideas. Nonprofit partners recommend improvements. We listen and then act on them. Everyone wins.

The result is that new features and upgrades to our platform have been realized, including our simplified checkout process, now featuring PayPal. Other enhancements like streamlined searching and browsing, as well as faster performance across the entire platform, prove that listening to partner feedback is critical to the success of both our venture and all of the nonprofits that we serve.

In any partnership, communication is key. At WebThriftStore, we have learned that considering our partners’ needs and acting on what we hear is among the most valuable actions that any business supporting charities can take.

Find Out More

Please contact us for more information about how partnering with WebThriftStore can provide a complementary way for their support bases to contribute to the causes about which they care so much.

The preceding is a guest post by By Michael Sher, WebThriftStore Board Member.

Questions I'm Most Often Asked About Keeping Your Donors for Life

The nonprofit sector is bleeding to death. It's hemorrhaging donors and losing millions monthly. Attrition is a horrible word. Its antonym, retention, has a golden ring to it.

What follows are the questions I'm most often asked about retaining loyal and committed donors.

Why do we hear so much about donor retention today?

Because for the past decade, donor-retention rates have been sinking. Today, they're at an all-time low. According to studies by the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP), every $100 raised from new donors is offset by $100 in losses because of attrition.

All this despite the facts:

  • Organizations have a 60 percent to 70 percent chance of obtaining additional gifts from an existing donor.
  • A 20 percent to 40 percent chance of obtaining an additional gift from a recently lapsed donor.
  • But less than a 2 percent chance of obtaining a gift from a prospective donor.

So one thing should be blindingly obvious. The bulk of your fundraising expenditures should be aimed at holding onto and building relationships with existing donors, not in acquiring new ones.

Are there primary reasons why donors stop giving?

Yes, I detail them at length in my book Retention Fundraising. In short the main reasons are:

  • Failure to properly thank and involve donors.
  • Failure to place the focus of communications on the donor, rather than the organization.
  • Failure to be consistent, both in message and in service delivery to the donor.

Organizations that brag about themselves and ignore donors will ultimately fail. Yet it's surprising how many organizations simply don't understand this.

Are there any easy, inexpensive steps we can take to hold onto our donors?

Surprisingly, there are. The three that come to mind quickest are:

  • Say Thanks. You don't have much competition here. Our research shows that more than 60 percent of all nonprofits thank their donors impersonally, slowly, or not at all.
  • Be Consistent. If you're consistent with your message you build trust. To a donor who gives money for feeding the hungry, switching the thank you to all the great stuff you're doing in the area of social justice is joltingly inconsistent, and you're likely to lose the donor.
  • Be Reliable. Just as in personal relationships, reliability is essential. If a donor calls your service center with a question or a request for an address change and is met with a rude or unknowledgeable representative, you're on your way to losing that donor. Don't stint on donor service. It's the best investment you can make.

What experiences or outputs of an organization matter most to donors?

It's certainly not because you have 10 regional offices, a bright CEO, or even a great rating among the charity watchdogs.

Donors "hire" an organization for a variety of reasons, most of which have nothing to do with what the organization thinks is important. That's why it's key to understand which organizational actions inspire donor loyalty. I call these "drivers."

I've identified more than three dozen in my book, but seven are essential if you hope to retain your donors.

Is there a way to tell if a donor is about to leave us?

These are the telltale signs that a donor is about to abandon ship:

  • Downgrading of gift levels
  • Unsubscribing from your various e-newsletter and email lists
  • Cancelling a recurring gift, such as a monthly retainer/sustainer payment
  • Negative comments about you in social media
  • Cancelling an event reservation

On the other side, are there obvious signs that a donor cares and is likely to be more loyal than others?

Absolutely. In my experience, the tip-offs are when he or she has:

  • Taken the time to complain
  • Reached out to change his/her address
  • Gone to the effort to have his/her gift matched by his/her employer
  • Attended a conference call briefing or actual meeting

The key to retention seems to be understanding donor attitudes. Is that correct?

Without a doubt. Attitude determines behavior. And that means donor behavior (giving) is determined by the actions you take to influence his or her attitude positively or negatively.

Few organizations understand that the actions they themselves take determine the donor's attitude—positively or negatively.

Importantly, all these positive and negative actions can be measured. The "good" reinforced. The "bad" eliminated, and the "weak" improved.

So if you could sum up the message in your book, it would be?

Not a single message, but several:

  • Donors are made, not born. It is the actions you take—not the economy, not the competition—that determine whether your donors will stay or leave.
  • You can measure commitment. This is not some fuzzy, loosey-goosey concept. There are methods, as outlined in the book, to determine what drives donors to you or away from you.
  • Retention is hard work. Unlike acquisition that is as easy as signing a purchase order, retention takes time, skill, evaluation, and investment.

But it's worth it, you're saying, and all this effort will ultimately produce loyal donors?

I'll go out on a limb and say that anyone who follows the recommendations that our research has uncovered can expect as much as a 130 percent increase in income in the next 36 months.

Roger Craver
© 2014, Emerson & Church, Publishers

Roger Craver is author of the new book Retention Fundraising: The New Art and Science of Keeping Your Donors for Life.


Benchmarks to Guide Your Grantseeking

GrantStation conducted its eighth semi-annual survey focusing on grantseeking, the State of GrantseekingTM, this past March. More than 1,200 nonprofits participated, providing data and experience that can be turned into actionable information to help your organization succeed at grantseeking.

The results of the survey are important because change in all fields, including philanthropy, is happening at a faster rate than ever before. From the immediacy of social media to the focus on overhead and transparency to volatile shifts in government funding, waiting for a year or more to learn current trends simply doesn’t cut it.

And, whether you are an experienced grants professional leading a team of grantwriters or a volunteer preparing to write your first grant application, having recent, trending data will help you prioritize, manage your time and expectations, and quantify your level of grantseeking success.

Somewhat shockingly, 95 percent of the respondents to the spring survey told us that they do not use any grant industry benchmarks to compare their grantseeking performance with external standards.

So why is it important to understand benchmarks and trends, especially if only 5 percent of organizations are doing so?

Without understanding current benchmarks, you are planning your grants strategy in a vacuum. You are for all intents working entirely alone, with no input to guide your planning.

Clearly, most organizations have experienced leadership with the knowledge and wisdom to guide their organizations successfully, but most people lack objectivity. While organizations can quantify their own grantseeking success by measuring their performance against the past, benchmarks enable organizations to determine how their results stand up against those of similar organizations and to plan for the future. The results of surveys, such as the State of Grantseeking, provides you with some basic guidelines as you build your own grant strategy for the year.

So, what does that mean to you? The best way to explain this is through some examples taken from the spring State of Grantseeking report.

Median highest grant awards vary dramatically by mission, ranging from $20,000 for organizations focused on arts, culture, and humanities (ACH) to $200,000 for educational institutions. Without benchmarks to add to their analytical toolbox, an ACH organization that was awarded a grant for $40,000 could think that they were underperforming (compared to the $47,000 median largest award of all respondents), when instead that award is actually double that of other ACH organizations.

This table shows benchmarks by mission focus:

  All Organizations Arts, Culture, Humanities Community Improvement Education Institutions Education Nonprofits
Lowest $ $35 $100 $2,000 $169 $500
Highest $ $80 million $25 million $2 million $80 million $9 million
Median $ $47,000 $20,000 $46,000 $200,000 $26,000
Average $ $586,866 $386,060 $154,403 $3,016,745 $363,531
  Environment Health Housing, Shelter Human Services Youth Development
Lowest $ $999 $35 $500 $500 $3,000
Highest $ $650,000 $12 million $1.3 million $80 million $5 million
Median $ $42,244 $60,000 $35,000 $50,000 $37,500
Average $ $102,603 $495,907 $112,146 $797,690 $204,311

Another example, big-picture this time, concerns the simple truth that applications equal awards. For the respondents to our survey, the breakpoint on grantseeking success is three or more applications. The spring survey indicated that in the last six months of 2013, 84 percent of organizations that applied for grants won awards. When we delve into that statistic, we find that 90 percent or more of organizations that applied for three or more awards won at least one award.

If you are just launching a grantseeking program for your organization, you now know that you will want to submit at least three applications in the next 12 months if you are to receive an award. Sharing this kind of information with your board can help guide their expectation, as well as assist them as they establish specific goals and objectives for any grants program.

This is just a glimmer of how you can use the benchmarks articulated in the spring 2014 survey report to help you grow your own grants program.

GrantStation uses the report to help illustrate the current state of grantseeking and to stay out in front of trends that will affect grantmakers and grantseekers. We use this information as a steering mechanism for growth, and as a real-word lens, to ensure that we continue to provide the tools and resources organizations need to stay competitive in the world of philanthropy.

Our participation goal for the fall 2014 State of Grantseeking survey is 1,500. The survey is open until the end of September. Please participate in this very revealing snapshot of what is happening in grantmaking today! And more important, begin to use this information to help guide the development of your grantseeking program. The resulting reports and associated webinars are always free, because we believe that this information is imperative to creating healthy, sustainable organizations.

To take the survey simply go to our home page for an overview, or go directly to the survey itself!

Cynthia M. Adams, GrantStation
© 2014, GrantStation

Cindy Adams is CEO of GrantStation, a premiere online fundraising resource that provides information on more than 6,500 funders accepting inquiries. You can learn more about trends in philanthropy in her weekly podcast: Talk2020, part of GrantStation's Vision2020 series to help nonprofits prepare for future grantmaking.

Giving Honest Feedback to Your Board on How They're Doing with Fundraising

Every executive director I've known has at one time or another felt that his or her board could be doing more to raise money for the organization. It's a frustrating situation—how do you tell your bosses that they're not doing their job? Addressing the issue directly is fraught with danger. You can, however, hold a mirror up to the board's fundraising performance in a way that will allow you to identify problems without naming names or pointing fingers.

Start by suggesting the idea to the board chair or Executive Committee: "Wouldn't it be a good idea to look at an anonymous profile of our board members to see how active and effective they are at the board's various responsibilities?" Getting board leadership behind collecting and sharing the data is important—the issue then belongs to someone other than the executive director.

Next, gather data on how much each individual board member has personally given to the organization and how much in donations he or she has facilitated.

Create a profile for each of the items you're measuring. The images below show how you can report the information.

Note: When you report on donations board members have facilitated, use the broadest definition of facilitated that you can. If a board member made an introduction that eventually led to a gift, participated in a fundraiser, helped cultivate a donor, or in any way assisted with efforts that culminated in a donation, that individual should get credit for facilitating the gift. More than one board member may have facilitated a single donation; there is nothing wrong with that. If you split hairs and do not acknowledge everyone involved in securing a gift, you'll bring the credibility of all of your data into question.

It will quickly become apparent how many (but not which) board members are active—and inactive—in fundraising. In my experience, presenting this information in this manner normally generates productive discussions among board members about their own fundraising activity levels, how they can help in this area, what roles they may play, and prospects the executive director needs help cultivating. A chart with more detail (but no names) can also be made available to board leadership to help frame the conversation and answer any questions about the data. (I have rarely found that this process has led to questioning of the data, but it's good to have the backup available for scrutiny.)

The full profile of the board is also invaluable to the Membership Committee in analyzing potential areas of need for future board membership. Not every board member may have been recruited with the expectation of helping with fundraising; some board members serve roles in line with other areas of expertise. For board members who were recruited with the expectation that they will be contributing to fundraising, however, it's healthy to use this anonymous process periodically to give honest feedback on how the board is doing in this crucial area.

Note: The process described here can also provide insight into other aspects of the board and its activities, such as tenure, areas of expertise (e.g., business, law, finance, community), demographic profile, geographic representation (if the organization serves multiple geographic areas), and board meeting attendance.

Bill Hoffman, Bill Hoffman and Associates, LLC
© 2014, Bill Hoffman and Associates, LLC

Bill Hoffman has more than 30 years' expertise in various aspects of the nonprofit sector, having worked at all levels of nonprofit organizations, including serving as chief executive of a $6 million education foundation for 9 years. He and his firm have written and presented on topics ranging from board development to community and volunteer engagement, organizational development and performance, and best practices in national, regional, and state publications and symposia.

Taking Nonprofit Inbound Marketing Automation to the Next Level

The following is the second part of this two-part cross-post series by Social Media For Nonprofits. Click here to read yesterday's part one post, Basics of Social Automation for Nonprofits. Click here to read the original version of today's post.

Basics of Social Automation for Nonprofits

The following is a cross-post from Social Media For Nonprofits' July 24th blog article. Click here to read the original post. Please visit our blog tomorrow for the second part of this two-part series.

11 Tips On How to Write Original Appeal Letters

If your appeal letter isn't pulling in enough money in the last few years, it might be the downturn. It might also be because your appeal letter reads like a grant proposal.

The importance of slowness in the development office

Alvin Toffler’s 1970 mega-hit Future Shock described “too much change in too short a period of time.” 1970! Anyone remember how slow things were then?

What’s your good deed for today?

Today, GuideStar staff remembers. We remember the victims of the September 11, 2001, attacks. We remember those that rose in service in response to the attacks. We remember the way our nation joined together that day. And we pay tribute to the importance of working more closely together in peace to improve our world.

10 Ways Board Members can Help their Nonprofits find the Right Software

The following is a cross-post from Board Assist's September 2nd post. Click here to read the original article.

Standards for Excellence Proud to be ‘External Perspective’ Program Listed on GuideStar

With interest and a bit of nostalgia, I read Jacob Harold’s recent post on this blog, “Celebrating Our Past, Looking to Our Future.”

Nonprofits' Special Data Needs

The Big Data revolution is upon us. Everywhere you look or listen there are people ruminating about how the mass generation and collection of consumer information in unimaginable quantities has heralded a new dawn in marketing, sales and organizational structure. Data scientists, organizational behaviorists and sociologists can't seem to stop writing about how this glut of information will soon be utilized to build corporate and municipal infrastructure.

Celebrating Our Past, Looking to Our Future

Buzz Schmidt was frustrated. As a fundraiser and a donor, he’d encountered the same roadblock: he couldn’t find the nonprofit information he needed.

How do we think about political nonprofits?

Editor’s note: Lee Drutman is a visiting fellow at GuideStar. Lee has a Ph.D. in political science from the University of California, Berkeley and studies lobbying and money and politics. Formerly, he was a senior fellow at the Sunlight Foundation.

Throwing in the Towel

The following is a cross-post from Philantopic's May 7th blog post. To view that original article, click here.

Fundraising Training Exercise: Building a Board Fundraising Ladder

Excerpted from Train Your Board (And Everyone Else) to Raise Money

Celebrating Our Past, Looking to Our Future

Dear Friend of GuideStar,

Buzz Schmidt was frustrated. As a businessman, he was accustomed to having the information he needed to compete for and allocate funds. He found that having consistent information reduced the cost of doing business and made managers and investors stronger and more accountable.

Later as a fundraiser for a major international development agency, and as a donor, he was struck by how little information was available to facilitate effective philanthropy. Without readily available information about nonprofits' programs, achievements, objectives, and finances, philanthropy was ineffective, enormously expensive, and fundamentally unaccountable.

Buzz reasoned that with greater nonprofit transparency, donors could be more proactive and responsible, nonprofits could benchmark and improve their performance, and society as a whole would benefit.

Thus an idea was born. On September 6, 1994, Buzz and four colleagues opened the doors of a small organization that would become GuideStar USA, Inc. Its goal? To gather nonprofit information and make it available to the public so that donors could make better decisions and nonprofits would be more accountable.

The first years were tough. Money was tight, and getting information out of nonprofits was a monumental challenge.

But Buzz and his colleagues persevered. In 1996, they released the Directory of American Charities, which contained reports on 42,000 nonprofits. They quickly put that database online. And then, in October 1999, GuideStar became the first organization to post nonprofits' 990s on the World Wide Web.

Things exploded. GuideStar became the go-to place for nonprofit information, sparking a revolution in nonprofit transparency.

Fast forward to 2014. GuideStar is still the premier provider of nonprofit information. We're proud of what our first revolution has achieved. Transparency is now an expectation, one that the public and (most) organizations embrace. Learn more about GuideStar's history

Today, as we approach our 20th anniversary, we've embarked on a second revolution: nonprofit transparency that drives nonprofit effectiveness. We've outlined that vision in our new strategic plan, GuideStar 2020. We're building the information scaffolding for social change and helping to ensure that the nonprofit sector is capable of tackling the great challenges of our time.

We invite you to read GuideStar 2020 to learn more about our goals and how we will achieve them. We'd value your feedback on our plan—let us know what you think by posting a comment on the GuideStar Blog.

Thanks to everyone—nonprofits, donors, journalists, researchers, government officials—for contributing to GuideStar's success during our first 20 years. We're honored to be building on that history.

On with the next revolution in nonprofit transparency!

All the best,

Jacob Harold
President and CEO
GuideStar USA, Inc.

P.S. Has GuideStar had an impact on your life or work during the last two decades? If it has, we'd love to hear from you. Please share your experiences with us.

Pouring Lukewarm Water on the #IceBucketChallenge

It starts with a nagging muscle cramp. And then there’s a twitch in your leg that won’t go away. Weeks later you notice that half your body is inexplicably weaker than the other half. Soon thereafter your breathing becomes labored. You go see one doctor, who sends you to another doctor, who sends you to yet another doctor. After a myriad of tests rule out other possible causes, you are diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Statistically, you will be dead within three to five years, but within a year there is a good chance that you will be trapped inside your own permanently frozen body. You will be able to think clearly, move your eyes, and control your bowels but beyond that you will have no function of your legs, arms, feet, hands or any other voluntary muscle systems.*

Four Fun Ways to Show Donors Your Heartfelt Thanks

As many managers of non-profit organizations know all too well, getting someone to donate for the first time can be difficult. But getting them to give a second or third time is even tougher. Researchers who looked at a group of 1.8 million donors found that only around 43 percent of them gave money to the same group two years in a row, Urban notes. In many cases, these generous souls are probably still donating money — it might just be to a different cause. NPEngage also notes that getting repeat donors can be tricky; the typical non-profit organization in the United States will not see about 70 percent of people again after their first donation. In addition, only about 10 to 15 percent of people will make five annual donations in a row.

Follow-Up from Vanessa Chase's August 21 Webinar with GuideStar, "Storytelling Basics for Nonprofits"

The preceding is a follow-up post where Vanessa Chase answers some popular questions from her August 21 Webinar, "Storytelling Basics for Nonprofits." To view the recorded webinar, click here. To access the slides from that presentation, click here. To download Vanessa Chase’s Story Collection Template, click here. For a comprehensive list of recorded GuideStar Webinars, click here to visit our Webinar Archives.

How to Work When No One is Watching

Recently, I moved from my office job in Washington, DC to working remotely in a small town in North Carolina. To say this was a huge change is an understatement. I left the bustling, fun offices of GuideStar, where most of us eat lunch together every day, and co-workers know more about my personal life than my mother, to working full-time out of my apartment in a strange, new city.

Measuring Fundraising Progress

(This is the last post in a series of five about building fundraising momentum in your organization. The first covered the discovery that major gifts fundraising principles can be applied at this organization. The second discussed the importance of building a team. The third was about the power of the first big gift. The fourth described the momentum of a vibrant campaign.)

How Major Charities Like the American Red Cross Are Energizing Supporters with WebThriftStore

Psst: How effective do you think the #ALSIceBucketChallenge has been? Take this super short GuideStar survey here: Thanks!

The New Donor Engagement Reality: A Shifting Definition in the Era of the Online Experience

"There is a struggle in how donors tell you they want to be engaged, but when approached in that way, they don't want it. For example, a new donor came in to set up a fund. He nodded and agreed with everything that was said about outreach and what is available to donors, but we expect he will just act on his own."

That's a real quote from a community foundation. And that's a sneak preview of one of the most powerful findings in the 2014 Donor Experience Study. This comment, of course, relates to the shifting definition of donor engagement that is present among community foundations in this new era of leveraging technology to build meaningful relationships.

This statistic from the 2014 Donor Experience Study might surprise you:

Nearly 95 percent of community foundations included in the research identifies donor engagement as a top priority, but only 27 percent of the strategic plans reviewed demonstrate that a foundation has adopted a well-defined metric to measure success.

Donor engagement is often a product of the community in which the foundation resides. A foundation can influence the outreach to its donors regardless of what phase of growth it may be in—operating with a large endowment, leveraging programs, or even just initially growing. But staff is often also responsible for recruiting new donors, maintaining donor relationships, handling administrative tasks for donors, and sometimes managing programs—which limits the quality time spent with donors. Defining donor engagement must be a key part of the strategic plan and a key conversation across the entire organization.

To understand and define donor engagement, a community foundation needs donor intelligence; that is, data and metrics about donor behavior to inform the most effective strategies and use of resources. Data and metrics, of course, are assets that technology can build for your organization, creating a true return on investment on a foundation's online donor engagement systems. But before a foundation's leadership team can determine the role of technology in donor engagement, it must define donor engagement in the first place—which is much more than just donors' activity online.

For example, a common definition of donor engagement is whether a donor is actively making contributions into existing donor-advised funds. And many foundations take a comprehensive approach by including donor activity when a donor "engages" with another fund. For example, what if a donor adds a significant contribution to a nonprofit endowment fund held at your foundation? Should this count? According to emerging best practices, yes. This activity is an example that would be included in a definition of donor engagement.

The next question is whether your system can actually track donor engagement efficiently. Before a foundation can answer that, the management team must address the synergy among donor engagement, technology, and measuring results at a systems-wide level.

Here are two questions for your team to consider and discuss to take your donor engagement game to the next level and to prepare you to create data and metrics through technology.

How Do You Define It?

To get started, check in on the basic question: What are the key elements that define "donor engagement" in your organization? And how have they changed as more and more donors rely on online tools, especially related to their philanthropic pursuits? How has it changed as the donor base gets younger and more mobile?

When it comes to technology, do you view donor engagement as more than just getting donors to go online? Are you considering the quality of the online experience that you are providing, versus merely the existence of one?

Donors want a clear, relevant, accessible, and interactive experience when it comes to online technology so that they can easily find information on their own. Does your foundation provide an online experience that is seamless for donors from the second they land on your website all the way to processing a grant in your online account management system, as demonstrated in the image below? Or does the experience fall short?

How Will You Measure It?

Next, start thinking a little bit more about measurement. What are your organization's goals for online donor engagement? Are there success metrics included with these goals, metrics that are both quantitative (analytics or numbers) and qualitative (donor or staff feedback)?

Consider these ideas to get you started:

  • Systems Integration: Is your online donor account management system fully integrated with your accounting system so that donors aren't calling with questions about their fund balances?
  • Content Synchronization: Do your online donor account management system and your website work together to synch content automatically, so that the information on your website can be viewed when donors log on, as demonstrated in the image below?
  • Web Traffic Tracking: Are you able to track, through web analytics, the activity on your website and online donor account management system? Are you benchmarking the activity on your site with other foundations of your size to see where you match up?
  • Objective Review: Do your digital assets accurately reflect your brand as an organization? If you were a first-time visitor to your website, would you feel that the content and usability of the site and donor account system were forward thinking and user friendly?

Donor engagement. How do you define it, and how will you measure it? Those are two questions you might ask to begin to re-energize your donor engagement strategy—starting with the definition and then setting goals. After you've laid the groundwork, you and your colleagues can get the right systems in place to truly engage donors, and tackle the shifting definition of donor engagement and what it means for your organization. In turn, with the systems up and running, you'll get a robust batch of data, or "donor intelligence," that in turn creates value for your organization and drives return on investment.

The new donor engagement reality. Are you ready?

Learn more about the new donor engagement reality or download the Donor Experience Study

© 2014, Crown Philanthropic Solutions

Crown Philanthropic Solutions creates a powerful donor engagement platform that empowers clients with the ability to create passionate donors by managing their donors' experiences.

Top Five Damned Fool Questions about Charity Golf

I get asked all kinds of questions about charity golf tournaments by people who have never done one. I've answered them all in my book, Going for the Green. But here are five that are continually teed up.

Our budget has been cut this year and we need money right away. What do you think about our hosting a nice charity golf tournament? I've heard these can make a lot of money.

You watched a lot of Disney flicks when you were growing up didn't you? Those of us in fundraising are always looking for the magic wand. Who can blame us? But believe me, charity golf isn't it. Sure, golf can make you a pile of money, but for that to happen you've got to be able to wait six months to a year to cash in, and, even more challenging if you're having a budget crisis, you'll have to ante up some of your own money for up-front expenses.

My first experience with charity golf will seem to contradict what I just said, but in reality it was the exception that proves the rule. In six weeks we put together a first tournament and cleared $19,000, which isn't bad for a debut effort. First tournaments usually net around $2,000, and many actually lose money. There were two reasons we came out ahead. First, we had a wealthy oilman as tournament chairman who fronted the money, could organize a golf tournament in his sleep, and whose wealthy buddies owed him for his own support for their charities.

Second, we had a development director who enjoyed asking for money as much as a crack addict enjoys cocaine. He was relentless. The oilman lined up players and pointed out potential sponsors who were friends and our DD went after them like a coon hound on a scent. The man was tireless. If you can find two people like that, your tournament will be a success, and you might pull it off fairly quickly. If not, forget the tournament and go ask people for money. It's not nearly as much fun, but it's more effective.

Can we get the golf course for free?

Short answer: NO. Slightly longer answer: Not bloody likely.

Charity tournaments are a golf course's bread and butter. Asking clubs to let you have the course for free is like asking a herd of starving wildebeests if it's okay to mow the grass. Occasionally, some private club might host a tournament gratis, but you can bet it'll be their idea and they'll choose the beneficiary.

Won't a golf tournament be good for PR and a nice boost to staff morale?

That depends. A successful tournament may be good for public relations and even kick up staff morale (once everyone recovers from their collective nervous breakdown). However, if you don't watch the booze and, say, your alcoholic mayor makes a spectacle of himself at the awards dinner, you may find yourself getting some very bad press. Also, a tournament that loses money gets you bad PR, which causes staff morale to sink.

When do we start planning for our golf tournament?

Now would be good.

I have a friend who runs two golf tournaments a year to support his private cancer foundation. He started next year's tournament planning a week before this year's tournament was held.

You have to start early because most of your serious funding will come from companies and individuals that put you in their advertising budget well in advance. Many companies date their fiscal years from the first of January. So budget decisions regarding advertising and charitable donations tend to be made during the last quarter of the year. You need to appear on their radar sometime in September to give them time to slot you into their budgets.

Selling sponsorships is the most important thing you'll do in preparing to host a tournament. If you don't have your tournament entirely paid for a month or two before tee-off, it's probably best to cancel it. A tournament that loses money is worse than a tournament that's cancelled.

What kind of tournament should we do?

The kind that makes money.

The most popular format is the scramble. The structure is much looser. Good players can help the team, but even a poor player who gets lucky can make a contribution. But, really, all kinds of formats work. Just don't be boring.

* * * * *

People make hundreds of thousands of dollars with charity golf tournaments. And don't worry if you don't know anything about golf. A charity golf tournament is first and foremost about making money. If you focus on that, the rest is easy. The club pro will walk you through the tournament details.

I've laid out all the steps for you, in sequential order, in Going for the Green. You have no excuse to fail. Go forth and raise funds whacking little white balls into little round holes. It'll probably be one of the most fun ways you've ever raised money.

Tom King
© 2014, Emerson & Church, Publishers

Tom King is author of Going for the Green.

Whoosh, Doldrums, Whoosh: The power of an ambitious goal

(This post is the fourth in a series of five about building fundraising momentum in your organization. The first covered the discovery that major gifts fundraising principles can be applied at this organization. The second discussed the importance of building a team. The third was about the power of the first big gift.)

Low Donor Retention Takes More Than A Board Meeting To Solve

How involved is your board in the fight against low donor retention?

Business owners, executives and other for-profit professionals are used to customer renewal rates of 90% or more. That's why most board members are shocked when they learn that the charity they serve has a low donor retention rate.

In my last blog post, I told the story of how this shock spurred a strategic discussion that ordinarily would not have occurred had our nonprofit's dismal donor retention rate not been brought to light. While there are many benefits to such discussions, they alone are not enough to fix the retention problem. Action was needed.

Obtaining the second gift is the key to donor retention

Nearly every board member fully understood the vast difference in average first-year retention rates (22.9%) and repeat retention rates (60.8%). Our discussion focused squarely on what could be done to bridge the immense gap between first and the second gift among our donors.

Numerous theories and strategies were explored from top to bottom. The board concluded that it might be best to move many of our resources and activities from donor acquisition activities to donor stewardship and relationship-building activities! This was a eureka moment; one that seldom happens in any board meeting. Most of the board volunteered to help.

What can your board members do?

Board members can make a difference!

They can make thank you phone calls, write handwritten thank you notes, and get involved in face-to-face follow-up meetings for first-time donors who make above-average gifts.

Perhaps the most important part of this type of board involvement is the example it sets for the staff at the nonprofit. Improved donor relationship-building must become a mindset that permeates far beyond just the fundraising team.

It should be firmly entrenched in the mind of every single member of the team!

Strategic discussions lead to strategic actions

It's amazing what can happen when the true power of a board awakens. There are very few strategic items more vital to achieving mission success than improving donor retention.

Hopefully, the discussion outlined above can prompt a similar discussion at one of your future board meetings. If it does, please let us know the result!

Jay Love, Co-Founder and CEO of Bloomerang

The preceding is a guest post by Jay Love, Co-Founder and CEO of Bloomerang, which helps nonprofit organizations to reach, engage, and retain the advocates they depend on to achieve their vision for a better world. A veteran of the nonprofit technology sector, Jay is a founding member of the AFP Business Member Council and chair of the AFP Ethics Committee.

New Startup Creates Virtual Online Fundraisers

When it comes to marketing and fundraising, nonprofits have hit a wall. It is harder than ever for organizations to raise both awareness and funds in a cost-effective manner. Traditional news blasts are outdated, in-person events are overpriced, and donations to the nonprofit sector are stagnant. With no other alternatives, nonprofits are left with two unappealing options:

5 Steps For Identifying a Trustworthy Tech Vendor

Just because vendors say they're trustworthy, it doesn't mean that they are. When making technology decisions for your nonprofit, it is important that you take the time to evaluate your options and select a vendor who can earn your trust.

In this article, we'll offer five steps for identifying and selecting a trustworthy technology vendor.

Step 1: Determine a Functionality Match

Does the product actually do what the vendor says it does? Most vendors these days offer the ability to try their platforms risk-free. Take advantage of the free trial period to see if the tool could possibly meet your organization’s needs. You should also make sure it really works the way it is advertised. If the software application doesn’t live up to its billing, you may consider seeking other vendors.

Step 2: Investigate the Vendor’s Reputation

Along with evaluating the software’s functionality, make sure to do your homework on the parent company. You’ll want to look for a company that is firmly established and financially stable. The company should be happy to give you the contact information of a few satisfied customers. It’s always a good idea to talk with an organization that already has the product in use. Don’t just assume that everyone loves the tool. Collect some evidence and make that determination for yourself.

Step 3: Inquire About Customer Support

Even if you take great care to select the best software available, sometimes the best technology will still experience the occasional glitch. An important hallmark of a trustworthy tech vendor is the ability to give support to its clients. Of course an active knowledge base is helpful, but don’t stop there. You’ll also want the ability to submit support tickets, and, optimally, the company should give an emergency tech support telephone number as well.

Step 4: Review Security Precautions

Everything is moving to the cloud these days, so you may naturally be concerned about your data. A top-notch vendor will alleviate those worries. Your data should be protected by a powerful firewall with servers under constant monitoring. Additionally, the information should be mirrored to a reliable back-up system.

Step 5: Evaluate Integration Opportunities

There’s an old adage that says, “No man is an island.” The software you choose shouldn’t be an entity unto itself either. Vendors should be looking at the larger picture to make sure the products they are developing integrate with other software you already use (or may plan on taking advantage of in the near future).

For example, VolunteerHub recently announced its partnership with Blackbaud, the premiere name in constituent management and fundraising. VolunteerHub works seamlessly with Blackbaud’s fundraising systems (The Raiser’s Edge, Blackbaud CRM, and eTapestry) by automatically converting volunteer records from VolunteerHub into constituents in Blackbaud’s products.

Trust is Earned

You don’t have to feel like you’re in a maze when searching for new technology. Use this article as checklist. Strong technology vendors should score highly in these areas and provide you with the peace of mind you deserve. Just remember to look beyond the software to the provider and its reputation in the industry.

The following is a guest post by Shawn Kendrick, a researcher and blogger 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 what you need to know about volunteering for nonprofits.

Transparency, Inclusion and Collaboration: Three Ways Philanthropy Can Take Its Own Medicine

The following is a cross-post from Transparency Talk, the Glasspockets blog March 20th, 2014 article. To read the original post, click here.

Is Your Content Missing this Vital Ingredient?

Nancy Schwartz

Call for Applications to the LeaderSpring Fellowship Program for Nonprofit Executive Directors

Are you an executive director of a nonprofit based in the East Bay who wants to improve your leadership and management skills? Enhance the capacity of your organization? Build collaborative relationships with other nonprofit leaders? If yes, LeaderSpring invites you to apply to a two-year, on-the-job Fellowship program. Applications are due Friday, August 29th, 2014. Click here for more information, visit or contact LeaderSpring at (510) 286-8949 or

Top 10 Major Donor Fundraising Trends for 2014-2015

Reprinted from the Fired-Up Fundraising Blog

Making a Case: The Magic of the Word

Excerpted from Making a Case Your Donors Will Love

Join Social Media for Nonprofits in Austin, Texas August 13

Does your Austin-based nonprofit need to explore social media strategy, how to use visuals and memes to increase engagement, how to raise more funds, and how to measure and benchmark your social media efforts, among other topics? If so, don't miss the Social Media for Nonprofits Conference in Austin, Texas on Wednesday, August 13th!

Five Great Ways to Get Your New Board Members on Board

The following is a cross-post from Board Assist's February 17th blog post. Click here to read the original article.

Dialogue about the Hewlett Foundation’s Nonprofit Marketplace Initiative

The following is a (slightly edited) response from GuideStar president and CEO Jacob Harold to the blog post by GiveWell co-founder Holden Karnofsky. In his blog post, Karnofsky reflects on the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation’s Nonprofit Marketplace Initiative (NMI) – specifically Karnofsky experience with it, his opinion of its strengths & weaknesses, and his take on its conclusion.

Measuring Nonprofit Effectiveness: Interview with Lindsay Nichols

(Editor's note: This interview originally appeared on the blog on July 17th, 2014)

Peace of Mind – It’s as Easy as Pushing a Button

For over ten years, Versaic has been helping corporations and foundations manage their giving programs. Like many of our clients, we started small, with programs focused on community events and donations. Today, Versaic is the engine behind programs for more than 100 clients across a spectrum of industries, representing tens of thousands of transactions, and supporting thousands of non-profits and community groups. We’re pioneering software solutions for some of the most pressing challenges faced by corporate and private foundations, including reporting on impact, engaging effectively with stakeholders and ensuring transparency and consistency.

How One Question Changed This Nonprofit Board Meeting

After attending various board meetings from numerous types of nonprofits over the last 20 years, one particular gathering of the board for a local charity stands out as my favorite. Surprisingly, it wasn't a board retreat or a strategic planning session.

Clearing Up the Myth about GuideStar and the Overhead Ratio

There's a scene in the movie French Kiss in which Meg Ryan tells the clerk at the Hotel George V in Paris that his rudeness is making her "completely insane." And then she starts pounding madly on the service bell until he snatches it away from her.

How to Be Unique: 3 Creative Ways to Amplify Your Reach

The preceding is a cross post of Ojanjo's June 3rd article on their blog, "3 Creative Ways to Amplify Your Nonprofit Reach." To read that article, visit here.

4 Tips to Create a Powerful Nonprofit Video Marketing Strategy

Video traffic already accounts for two-thirds of consumer Internet traffic and will encompass 79 percent by 2018, according to Cisco Visual Networking Index. As video's popularity expands, video marketers are able to reach larger audiences as illustrated by YouTube's 1 billion unique visitors per month. Advertising and PR consultants are taking note of these trends, with Nielsen reporting that 64 percent of marketers plan to focus their future promotional strategies on video. Marketers promoting nonprofit campaigns are beginning to tap into these trends as well, realizing the power of video to promote their causes to bigger as well as more targeted audiences.

GuideStar Unveils Strategic Vision for Strengthening the Nonprofit Sector by 2020 during Next Impact Call

Like you, GuideStar is a tireless supporter of nonprofit transparency, and yet we know there is still more progress to be made in this area. We know that it takes a lot of time for data and information about philanthropy and nonprofits to travel through and across the social sector, just as we know transparency needs to be to be more timely, interactive, inclusive, and comprehensive. We know this – and we’re prepared to do something about it. We’ve introduced a new avenue to get outcomes to key stakeholders in a more meaningful way: the free Impact Call. Loosely based on the quarterly earnings calls held by publicly owned companies, our Impact Calls are open to everyone and are meant to be:

Rising Expectations in a Rapidly Changing World

We live in a digital culture which give us immediate, real-time data, access to all kinds of information, and provides new ways of connecting and engaging. This culture also emphasizes a new expectation of donor engagement and new demands to show results.

Unleashing Organizational Possibilities, Part Three: The First Big Gift

This post is the third in a series about instituting major gifts fundraising at an organization that has been funded by a membership program, events, government or foundation grants, membership, or any combination. The first two posts (Post 1 & Post 2) described how the possibility of big gifts gets sparked at an organization and how that idea gains traction when it is embraced by a handful of people. In this post we will explore the importance and the impact of the first big gift.

How Your Charity Can Avoid the Donor Fatigue Trap

Many nonprofits are constantly asking themselves a single question: How can we consistently keep donations flowing in to support our cause?

Justin Bieber vs. the Gates Foundation

This following post first appeared on Glasspockets’ Transparency Talk blog. Click here to view the original post. Glasspockets, which champions philanthropic transparency in an online world, is a service of the Foundation Center.

Branding yourself as a nonprofit consultant

Mazarine Treyz of Wild Woman Fundraising

The New Donor Engagement Reality: Bottom-Line Priorities for the Online Experience

Community impact is all about people—the customer experience. Making a difference through philanthropy is the result of donors getting connected to causes they care about. The deeper the engagement, the deeper the impact. That's nothing new.

But what does donor engagement mean now, in 2014? And what does it mean to your institution's future success? The answers to those critical questions might just be online. Literally. Here's the reality:

  • The online environment continues to transform our lifestyles. Cloud storage, mobile devices, social media, and "big data" analysis are now part of contemporary life.
  • Software will continue to shift its emphasis to the quality of the user experience. Donors want a clear, relevant, and interactive digital experience. Online applications must be engaging, easy to navigate, and compatible with mobile devices.
  • Online transactions are the accepted norm and an integral part of society.
  • An organization that delivers an engaging online experience will drive asset growth and will secure the long-term loyalty of its donors.
  • A few years ago, the mere existence of an online transaction-oriented platform could be a compelling selling point for a philanthropic institution. Now, the mere existence of a system is not enough. The overall online experience, not simply a system's existence, is the key.

For donor-advised funds, it is essential that the online account system continuously improves so that it meets donor expectations. For Internet users, the absence of a positive, effective online experience is like fingernails on a chalkboard.

Consider the reported by the Pew Internet & American Life Project:

In addition, a growing number of Americans now trust and use online services for a variety of financial transactions. Even large corporations understand the importance of online technology to the customer experience. Consider these statistics:

  • In 2013, 51 percent of American adults, or 61 percent of Internet users, banked online. In 2010, the numbers were 46 percent and 58 percent respectively. These figures are up from 18 percent in 2000.
  • Some 60 percent of executives note that they plan to invest most heavily in websites, 40 percent in e-commerce, and 51 percent in mobile applications.
  • In 2013, 35 percent of mobile phone owners banked using their mobile phones, up from 18 percent in 2011.

And here's the real kicker for donor-advised fund programs. Consider these statistics of affluent individuals (those earning more than $70,000 a year), the population most likely to engage in philanthropy:

  • Some 96 percent use the Internet and 75 percent bank online.
  • Some 44 percent with mobile phones use them to conduct banking.

The upshot here is that savvy philanthropic institutions—especially community foundations—are figuring out how to respond to donor demands for a comprehensive online experience. Donors expect a high-quality and integrated online experience that meets all of their online needs, from accessing contact information to finding dates for events to recommending a DAF grant. Oh—and it has to be visually pleasing, too. Clunky just doesn't cut it anymore.

Why does a comprehensive online experience matter? Because what's at stake is the bottom line. How would your bottom line change for the better if you knew your website—and your online account platform—were working hard, synergistically?

Consider this chart:

What can you do to get started? Begin by testing a few theories internally. For example, consider the following scenarios in an executive team brainstorming session:

  • Evaluate the cost of a major event, involving 100 or more donors. Could the goals of that event have been accomplished through online engagement? Donors are faced with too many events pulling for their time, and they might welcome an alternative to an evening out. The math can be compelling. For instance, if the event cost is $50 a head, 100 donors at an event is a $5,000 expense. Staff time would likely add an additional $5,000, for a total $10,000 expense. The question here is, might there a better use for the funds and staff time? Would the organization be better served through a content-rich website that gives donors great information and a place to collaborate and make grants with other donors?
  • Conduct a scan of multi-generational donor families engaged with existing funds. If your foundation is already working with more than 10 multi-generational families, ask yourself whether you offer a compelling online option to encourage family members to work together and communicate? If you don't, you may be missing an opportunity to retain the next generation and generate those powerful donor-to-donor referrals.
  • Pretend you are a donor preparing to make an online grant. Hop onto your website. What is your honest impression of your foundation's brand and quality of technology? Pay attention to the look and feel of the online environment as you are walking in your donors' shoes, toggling between the core website content and the online account system. Is it a seamless and pleasant experience? Or do you feel whiplash?

So, the key to the new donor engagement reality is simple. Philanthropic institutions must acknowledge that it is the quality of the online experience that matters, not the mere existence of an online presence and transactional system. A positive online experience creates a positive return on investment. A negative online experience creates a negative return.

It's time to take it seriously.

Learn more about the new donor engagement reality or join the conversation

© 2014, Crown Philanthropic Solutions

Crown Philanthropic Solutions creates a powerful donor engagement platform that empowers clients with the ability to create passionate donors by managing their donors' experiences.

What Does Your Organization Do? How to Answer This Question with a Compelling Story

Reprinted from The Storytelling Nonprofit Blog

Questions I'm Most Often Asked About Raising Major Gifts

I'm not sure who first engaged in organized fundraising. Some say a trio from Harvard College in the 1630s, others point to Charles Ward and Frank Pierce, who in the early 1900s spearheaded the Y's early campaigns.

A list of social enterprises: why does it not exist?


Despite the buzz, energy, and enthusiasm surrounding social entrepreneurship, we are missing something fundamental: a list of social enterprises. Several leading organizations have begun to compile such lists but we will need a shared effort if we are to build something comprehensive.

5 Strategies to Generate More Donations at Your Nonprofit

While generating donations for your nonprofit can seem like a never-ending battle, there are ways to make it easier. The Internet has changed the face of nonprofit fundraising, and as an ever-increasing number of donors give online, it is crucial to ensure that your organization is up to the task of accepting these gifts.

Balancing Philanthropic Travel and Voluntourism with Family Time

The tourism industry represents one of the largest service industries in the world, employing 102 million people around the globe in 2013, according to the World Travel & Tourism Council, and generating $2.1 trillion in economic output in the U.S., claims the U.S. Travel Association.

The Next Big Thing

There is a lot of talk, across many diverse industries, about “big data.” But what does that really mean? It’s really nothing more than what it sounds like, data – and a lot of it. The real value is in the information and insight it can provide, if it is used properly.

Millennials and Philanthropy: Musings from the Field

Two weeks ago, I abandoned my Metro card, business casual attire, and commuter shoes for a brief foray into an alternate universe filled with camping, live music, port-a-potties, and crowds of millennials known as Firefly Music Festival 2014 in Dover, Delaware. Naturally, one would think that this festival is great opportunity for charities to engage with millennials and enlist new donors and volunteers, and why wouldn’t it be? With 80,000 people in attendance and performances by artists such as Jack Johnson, Ziggy Marley, and OutKast, concertgoers were relaxed, friendly, and listening to the type of music that makes one feel as if they are on the verge of a social revolution or spiritual breakthrough—otherwise known as the perfect captive audience.

Fundraising Training Exercise: What Drew You to This Work?

Excerpted from Train Your Board (And Everyone Else) to Raise Money

Many boards and committees are all business and devote little time to discussing the personal and emotional aspects of an organization and its work. Nobody ever joined a board or volunteered for a nonprofit because they loved going to meetings, talking about policies and procedures, or looking at spreadsheets. They join because they want to make a difference in the world.

As a fundraiser, your greatest asset is your enthusiasm for the mission and work of your organization, so it's helpful to remind yourself why you care. This exercise can generate useful language for building your case and talking with donors.

Why Do This Exercise?
It reduces fundraising to its elemental level: two people talking about something they both care about

Use This Exercise When
You want your board members and volunteers to know one another better and understand their motivations for serving on the board

Time Required
10-15 minutes

Anyone involved with your fundraising campaign: some combination of board, staff, and volunteers

A quiet space large enough for people to pair up, talk, and hear each other


  • Flip chart paper and markers (optional)

Facilitating the Exercise

  1. Ask people to pair up, preferably with someone they don't know well.
  2. Instruct the partners to ask each other the following questions:
    • Why are you involved with this organization?
    • Why is our work important to you?
    • Tell me about a time when you saw our mission in action and what it meant to you.

    Encourage partners to add whatever follow-up questions are needed to flesh out the answers. Such a follow-up might be "Can you tell me a specific story or example about your involvement with our work?"

  3. Give the pairs five to seven minutes to complete this task. Part-way through, you might warn them, "You've got another two minutes, so if you haven't told your own story yet, please do so now."
  4. Reconvene the full group. Debrief the exercise with the following questions:
    • What was the most memorable thing you heard from your partner?
    • What did you learn about our organization?
    • As we’re discussing this, what common themes are you hearing?

    If you like, you can write key phrases on the flip chart.

  5. Conclude the exercise by summarizing the range of reasons why people choose to be involved. Skilled solicitors are always listening for the link between the work of the organization and each individual donor’s interests, passions, and experiences.

Training Tip

Writing ideas or comments from the participants lets them know that they've been heard and that they're doing valuable work. If you choose to paraphrase, check with the speaker first and ask permission before changing the words: "May I write that as ...?"

Other Excerpts from This Book


Andrea Kihlstedt and Andy Robinson
© 2014, Andrea Kihlsted and Andy Robinson. Excerpted from Train Your Board (And Everyone Else) to Raise Money: A Cookbook of Easy-to-Use Fundraising Exercises. Excerpted with permission of Emerson & Church, Publishers.

Visit the website for this book

Andrea Kihlstedt is author of How to Raise $1 Million (or More!) in 10 Bite-Sized Steps. She has served the nonprofit sector for more than 30 years as a fundraiser, trainer, consultant, teacher, writer, and speaker. She has trained nonprofit boards and staff throughout the United States on effective major gifts fundraising, capital campaigns, and how to ask for gifts. Kihlstedt is cofounder (with Gail Perry) of Capital Campaign Magic, providing online learning about capital campaign fundraising.

Andy Robinson provides training and consulting for nonprofits in fundraising, grantseeking, board development, marketing, earned income, planning, leadership development, and facilitation. Andy has worked with organizations in 47 U.S. states and Canada and is the author of six books. His latest include How to Raise $500 to $5000 from Almost Anyone, The Board Member's Easier Than You Think Guide to Nonprofit Finances, and Great Boards for Small Groups.

What You Need to Know about Giving USA 2014

Reprinted from the Fired-Up Fundraising Blog

New 1023-EZ Form Makes Applying for 501(c)(3) Tax-Exempt Status Easier; Most Charities Qualify

IR-2014-77, July 1, 2014

The Future of the Nonprofit Workplace: Introducing the Mobile Office

From GenMobile to telecommuting, the nature of work and the office are fast changing: nonprofits, are you ready to cut the cord?

Friends Don’t Let Friends Use Excel to Manage Grants

Most nonprofits rely on grant funding to support their programs and services. In fact, 41% report that grants make up over a quarter of their funding.

Yes, the Donor Pyramid is Really Dead: An Open Response to Andrea Kihlstedt

[I am responding to Andrea Kihlstedt’s Open Letter to me, Is The Donor Pyramid Really Dead, posted in the GuideStar blog June 25th. She was responding to my recent posts on the death of the Donor Pyramid in Fundraising Success Magazine: R.I.P. Donor Pyramid? and Maximize Social Business Blog How Social Media Toppled the Donor Pyramid – What that Means for Nonprofits.]

Key Questions to Engage, Upgrade and Solicit Your Donor

Our time with donors is a precious commodity. To make every second count we have to be prepared to ask strategic questions to reveal their interests. Ask the right ones and your donor will tell you how to engage, upgrade, solicit and steward them. They can reveal how much they’d like to give, how, what for, and who should make the ask.

Build Strong & Lasting Relationships -- A Case Study

Our daughter, Charlotte, is away at Camp Harlam for 3 1/2 long weeks this summer. It’s her second time, and our pleasure in relaxed evenings and quiet weekend mornings is punctuated by severe pangs of missing her.

12 Ways to Liven Up Your Board Meetings – And Your Board

If your board meetings are regarded as an unpleasant obligation, it’s time to bring a fresh perspective: board meetings are an opportunity to exchange ideas, resolve issues and deepen commitment.

3 Ways Companies Can Reach Millennials Through Cause Work

It’s not exactly a new concept: Millennials (individuals born from 1980 and 2000) are changing the ways businesses, organizations and communities operate. Millennials are arguably the most studied and critiqued generation of all time, and that is because they’re rapidly becoming the leaders and innovators directly shaping our culture.

GuideStar Exchange June 25 Webinar Follow-up Questions

Below is a follow-up by Erinn Andrews, GuideStar's Senior Director of Nonprofit Strategy, to a handful of questions submitted by participants during our June 25th, 2014 GuideStar Exchange Demonstration Webinar. To view the presentation or listen to the recording of the Webinar, please check here.

Thinking of a new CRM system? Keep these tips in mind!


4 Reasons To Involve Your Board In Choosing Donor Software

Most nonprofits rarely, if ever, utilize or even think about the role a portion or all of their board should have in selecting this key strategic tool for their organization. Such an important tool should never be an afterthought or merely a budget line item.

Is The Donor Pyramid Really Dead? An Open Letter to Claire Axelrad from Andrea Kihlstedt

Inspired by her recent posts on the death of the Donor Pyramid in Fundraising Success Magazine and Maximize Social Business Blog

4 Incentives To Offer International Volunteers

High staff turnover and poor performance have been continuous issues for both international and local organizations and the root of the problem is often in motivating staff and volunteers. Financial constraints and multicultural environments make this issue even more difficult to tackle. Luckily, it's not impossible; there are plenty of ways to show your appreciation and keep your people happy.

How to Partner with Programs to Raise More Revenue

Everyone wants to raise more money. One of the best sources to help you achieve that could be sitting in a cubicle across from you right now. Who, you ask? Did we hire someone new in development? The fact is they don’t work in development. They work in programs.

Turning to Strategy after the Audit: A Calendar of Activities

Andrew Schwalm

GuideStar’s 2020 Vision

...a nonprofit sector strong enough to tackle the great challenges of our time.

Fundraising Questions I'm Most Often Asked

When you've been in this field long enough, and maybe have a few books to your credit, you're often invited to speak at conferences. It's a great way to stay in touch with the many wonderful people in this profession. I get to reconnect with the wise elders and meet the passionate newcomers.

Invariably at the end of my presentations I'm asked a number of wide-ranging questions. Many are highly specific, but others pertain to most every organization. Here are some of the questions I'm most commonly asked.

What's one of the biggest obstacles preventing someone from giving?

As we all know, every survey that probes why people give and don't give indicates that the main reason for not giving is because they "weren't asked."

To some extent, this may be true. But the average person is asked to give almost on a daily basis. And individuals make a lot of decisions not to give.

So we need to consider other reasons. Maybe people weren't paying attention when they were asked. The timing was bad. It wasn't the right proposition. Money is tight right now. Maybe there wasn't an emotional connection. The list is long.

But there is one critical and overlooked reason, in my opinion. Organizations fail to make giving as easy as possible.

I'm sure everyone reading this has visited a website where they've tried to make a gift or buy a product. And it's frequently painful or overly complicated. It's not uncommon to be asked to provide information you don't want to offer. As a result, many decide to abandon the transaction.

We need to examine every channel we use and discover how to remove any barriers. When we focus on the donor experience, we make it easier for him or her to give—a simple landing page, taking credit card donations at an event, a toll-free number. It all adds up to make a significant difference.

In my book, The 11 Questions Every Donor Asks, one of the questions I discuss is this: "Is it easy?" As time goes by, I increasingly think this question is the second-most important of the 11 core questions.

What's the easiest way for donors to give?

That's simple. Monthly giving. When individuals become monthly donors, you don't have to continually solicit them. They'll give you 12 gifts a year—for many years—often for the rest of their lives. I've been on one monthly program for 35 years now. There's no chance I'll ever cancel it. And to date I've made 420 monthly gifts. I've also made many other single gift donations to this organization, as well.

Monthly donors contribute billions of dollars globally—in $10, $25, and $100 amounts each and every month. And because the gift comes in every 30 days, it adds up to be a fabulous amount of money.

Should organizations move all of their fundraising online?

We were conducting a fundraising audit recently and interviewed Claire, a $250,000 donor. She said her one complaint about the organization was that they moved their print newsletter to online.

She loved having the printed version around, so she could show it to people (wealthy friends!) and it reminded her of the cause. Is it worth reviving the print newsletter for just this one donor? I think the answer is yes. Are there more donors exactly like her? Absolutely.

Older donors may book cruises online or use Facebook to connect with their grandchildren, but they are still heavily print oriented. We abandon this medium at our peril.

As we know, older people control the vast amount of wealth in our society. Virtually all really large gifts come from people over 60 and frequently over 70. As a population, these donors are more loyal, more philanthropic, and approaching the age when they'll start leaving legacies. Organizations that focus on their preferences will raise the most money. And print still makes a lot more money than digital.

Last year, online fundraising grew by about 13 percent. This sounds great, but we have to put it into context—going from about 1.8 percent to 2 percent of giving is still pretty small. Moreover, many organizations spent a lot more money and time growing their digital programs.

I'm all in favor of investing in digital when it makes economic sense. But for many if not most organizations, a massive investment shift to this channel will cost them.

How can I stop my communications and marketing staff from messing up my fundraising?

At organizations that depend on gift income, I believe the communications and marketing staff should be at the service of the development department. Pretty much every senior fundraiser around the world will vouch for the fact that communication and marketing staff almost always reduce fundraising income.

This shouldn't be surprising since fundraisers and communication staff have different priorities and experience.

Here's one example. The communication and marketing staff at an organization I worked with hired a big commercial ad agency to conduct a branding and fundraising campaign. The organization paid the ad agency a whopping $1 million.

The campaign they developed was all about ego. It talked about how great the organization is—"cool" really. As for donors, it barely gave them a second thought. And the result? An appalling fundraising campaign that raised a total of $7,000!

In this case, the organization's leadership preferred a brand campaign that made them feel good about their organization. They could go to parties and collect compliments.

The harsh truth is I've seen too many organizations spend lots on branding or rebranding, and in every case either it didn't help or had a negative impact on fundraising.

I'm familiar with your book, The 11 Questions Every Donor Asks. Tell me, if you had to make it an even dozen, what is the 12th question you would add?

While researching the book, I spent a hefty number of hours narrowing down hundreds of questions. When I started, my objective wasn't to have 11. I would have been just as happy with 10 or even 12.

One question I considered was: Should I leave a legacy to this organization? But the reality is the majority of donors won't ever think about this. Keep in mind, however, that when you can answer the 11 questions I address, it does set the stage for a donor to seriously consider leaving a bequest.

Harvey McKinnon
© 2014, Emerson & Church, Publishers

Harvey McKinnon is one of North America's leading fundraising experts and president of the Vancouver/Toronto-based fundraising consultancy Harvey McKinnon Associates. In addition to The 11 Questions Every Donor Asks and the Answers All Donors Crave (Emerson & Church), his works include Hidden Gold (Taylor); the audio CD How Today's Rich Give (Jossey-Bass); Tiny Essentials of Monthly Committed Giving (White Lion Press); and (as co-author) the international bestseller The Power of Giving (Tarcher/Penguin), which was selected as an Amazon Best Book for 2005.

Three Steps to Move a First-Time Giver into a Major Donor

Reprinted from Kivi's Nonprofit Communications Blog

Knowledge-Based Grantseeking: What Is It?

A decade ago, when someone referred to something as "knowledge based," they were talking about technology—basically how to store complex structured and unstructured information used by a computer.

Over the next several years, that term evolved to encompass the entire Internet.

But today, I'm using it as a way to distinguish between writing a grant proposal that is based on the topic or issue at hand and one based on knowing and understanding the leading-edge trends in the world of philanthropy.

Let me begin by saying that I'm fairly confident that by the year 2020 philanthropy, not only in the United States but throughout the world, will wear a new face. These changes will expand opportunities in the area of grantseeking for nonprofit organizations, educational institutions, and regional governments.

A global sensibility combined with an array of innovative technologies and attitudinal changes on the part of philanthropists will birth a new way, and perhaps a new wave, of giving. We are witnessing the beginning of many of these changes today.

Whether you are a professional grantwriter or a novice just dipping your toes into the world of grantwriting, it is now important to stay abreast of trends that may be able to provide you with that special edge you need to secure grant awards.

Two of the most predominant changes are in the area of technology (no surprise there) and attitude on the part of grantmakers.

Technology: Opening Doors and Changing Processes

More and more grantmakers are engaging in social media, sharing information with grantseekers that has previously been only for the privileged few. This is a positive trend, demonstrating the grantmakers' inclination towards transparency, and giving those of us seeking funding more information.

This means you now have the opportunity to learn more about what the grantmakers are trying to achieve. These social media posts provide an inside look at what the grantmakers are thinking and what interests them. Reviewing the grantmakers' social media—be it Facebook, Twitter, or blogs—plays an important role in researching and analyzing grantmakers to see if they are, indeed, the right ones to approach.

A variety of technologies has also begun to crop up, everything from online eligibility quizzes to submitting letters of inquiry and full grant requests via the Internet. Online grantee reporting is almost commonplace, and communication with the grantmaker via e-mail has never been as easy, or as productive. Having a staff member or volunteer who can help you develop Web grant applications is going to become more and more important.

If you want an example of where this trend is going, check out the application for the New Music USA awards. Instead of filling out a grant application, they ask you to create a simple project page on their site with all of your artistic work samples and project information. These pages remain invisible to the public through the course of the review and decision processes. Nonetheless, you are building a Web page as your grant application!

I have also noticed that the IT person is getting a seat at the table when it comes to reviewing grant requests, simply because there are so many requests with technology components. Reviewers feel they need advice from someone who can analyze these pieces of the proposal.

This means you need to develop the IT part of any grant request carefully, as a knowledgeable person will be analyzing it on the other end! Budget detail and budget justification are very important in this section of a grant request.

While the increased use of social media and a variety of technologies is the most noticeable change, there are also numerous attitudinal changes happening within the field of philanthropy.

Changes in Attitude

More and more grantmakers want to see that the outcomes of your program or project strengthen your community. This idea of positioning the outcomes of your grant request as community assets isn't necessarily a new trend, especially for those of us working in the area of community and economic development, but it has taken on more importance and is now being applied throughout the grantmaking world.

If you want to understand this trend better, you can download a workbook called Shifting Focus: Alternative Pathways for Communities and Economies. The workbook helps you think through this idea that people, not industries or government or social service agencies, not buildings or even natural beauty, are the assets of a region. It is the people, their energy and skills, that make a community grow. The workbook gives practical, hands-on examples of how people can come together and learn to see themselves as the main resource of a community. It was published in 2001, but much of what it offers is helpful today. And it's free.

But there are also other changes in grantmaker attitudes. Many leading grantmakers are aware that high-performing nonprofits are data driven, and effective nonprofits use data for improvement.

The good news is there are a number of new websites that provide the ability to add your own data (about your organization or about your community or neighborhood), which is then linked to other data, allowing you to compare your statistics with others. This kind of self-fed, accessible information is the new starting line for developing a robust need statement and helping to paint a clear picture of your organization's particular situation.

These are just a few trends that you need to be aware of as you develop grant requests. There are many others that I cover in my webinar Knowledge-Based Grantmaking: Tips, Trends, and Tools, which we offer through GrantStation every few months!

Cynthia M. Adams, GrantStation
© 2014, GrantStation

Cindy Adams is CEO of GrantStation, a premiere online fundraising resource that provides information on more than 6,500 funders accepting inquiries. You can learn more about trends in philanthropy in her weekly podcast: Talk2020, part of GrantStation's Vision2020 series to help nonprofits prepare for future grantmaking.

Our Site Is Changing

You may have noticed some changes on We're updating our site to make it easier to use. We've spent almost half a year learning how you and your fellow visitors use GuideStar and finding out what you need us to do better. We've tested new copy and designs, then refined and tested them again. This week, we unrolled our first new pages.

Unleashing Organizational Possibilities, Part Two: Build a Team

The first post in this five part series, "Unleashing Organizational Possibilities, Part One: The Big Idea at the Beginning of Serious Fundraising," talked about the impact of one person with a big idea at the non profit. That person who has a sense of adventure starts asking questions (Isn’t there a more stable route to funding than foundation grants? Why aren’t our board members introducing us to their networks? Is there a more efficient way to raise money than putting on a gala every year?). Suddenly, new possibilities become possible.

Do You Have a Culture of Philanthropy?

We’re all in development. It doesn’t matter if you are the CEO, major gift officer, program director, communications VP, CFO or Board chair, we are all in fundraising. We may not all be soliciting gifts but we are all in development.

Trying to Make Sense Out of Fundraising Data

As part of the redesign of the Form 990 for fiscal years beginning in 2008, the IRS created Schedule G, "Supplemental Information Regarding Fundraising or Gaming Activities". Part of the information requested is a list of paid fundraisers compensated at least $5,000, the gross receipts generated by the engagement, the amount paid to the fundraiser, and the amount received by the organization. I have been puzzling over how to use this and other Form 990 data to reach some understanding about how organizations go about fundraising. What I have gotten, as much as anything, is a reminder of how easy it is to lie with statistics, and how hard it is to work with problematic data.

Error Discovered in 2013 GuideStar Nonprofit Compensation Report

The following is a message from GuideStar's Vice President of Research, Chuck McLean.

GuideStar DonorEdge Learning Conference: Reflections from the Innovation Lab

Beth Kanter

Aunt Frances’ Recipe for 5-Star Fundraising

I’ve been thinking a lot about my Great Aunt Frances, who passed away last year at the age of 107. Until that day, she was as warm, loving and sharp as ever. She unknowingly taught me so much, including this recipe for fundraising success that I want to share with you today.

4 Business Skills That Can Help Your Nonprofit Succeed

There are more than 1.5 million nonprofit organizations across America all competing for the nation's charitable contributions. The average person is only willing to give so much to charity organizations each year, so it's a battle to compel those individuals to contribute. To succeed, it's vital that your charity has an edge. These business skills will help it gain the advantage it needs to thrive.

Three Questions to Ask before You Finalize That Fiscal Year Budget

Reprinted from the Big Duck Blog

Flowers are blooming, grass is growing, and ... boards are approving budgets for organizations whose fiscal year begins July 1! Before this magical moment slips away into the haze of summer, consider these three questions:

Have we budgeted for smaller projects that will help us move toward bigger projects?

A big project often begins by conducting research, an audit, or a feasibility study. If you anticipate launching a major capital campaign, rebranding, overhauling your website, or tackling other really big projects downstream, consider budgeting a smaller amount for Phase One this year to get the ball rolling and to offset the overall cost of your projects over time. If you've already begun the first part of the project, you might also find it's easier to get approval for its second phase next fiscal year.

Have we budgeted adequately for website updates?

Best practices and technology can change fast in the online world. If it's been a while since you've done so, you might want to budget for website testing, to explore how donors, clients, or other important audiences are engaging with your site. If possible, give yourself a budget to fix any problems or fill any gaps this testing uncovers.

We generally encourage nonprofits to budget for some online work every year. In years when bigger changes are needed, the dollar amount is greater. But even in years when no big changes are made, it's useful to have a discretionary budget you can spend on testing, editing, creating campaign-specific pages or microsites, or any other "rainy day" projects.

Have we budgeted for help where we need it most?

Dan Pallotta's 2013 TEDtalk "The way we think about charity is dead wrong" got people talking about how a Puritan cultural hangover has resulted in nonprofits underpaying or neglecting things generally associated with a professional working environment. So what's getting in the way of you doing your best work? Is it an out-of-date content management system (CMS), your database, or a piece of software? Perhaps you need to learn about a new trend in the sector or develop your skills by attending more conferences? Maybe you could use help from a freelance writer or graphic designer to professionalize your materials? This might be the moment to budget for projects that will help you get to the next level.

There are, of course, an overwhelming number of projects worth pursuing and never enough time or money to tackle them all. But if you can focus on a few discrete projects that move things forward, you might find the long-term implications are stronger than you think.

Sarah Durham, Big Duck
© 2014, Big Duck. Reprinted from the Big Duck Blog; reprinted with permission.

Sarah Durham is principal and founder of Big Duck, which works exclusively with nonprofits to help raise money and increase visibility.


Offers Wanted (in Donor Newsletters)

Excerpted from Making Money with Donor Newsletters

Sprinkle offers across your newsletter. Offers give your donors new things to do.

Like discover: "What's it really like to be desperately poor? Sign up for our Poverty Simulation. See for yourself why it's so hard to break the cycle." (Crisis Assistance Ministry in Charlotte, N.C., makes this offer.)

Like grow: "You can be the mentor that changes a child's life."

Like contribute in a new way: "Join us in this special campaign to. ..."

An Introduction To Promoting Yourself On LinkedIn

With over 187,000,000 members from 200 territories, LinkedIn is a truly vast professional networking platform. With an average of 2 members signing up every second, LinkedIn provides an opportunity for professionals to ingratiate themselves with others working within their field of industry. If you can effectively promote yourself on LinkedIn, it can offer you a wealth of career opportunities, as you are interacting with potential clients and business partners. Subsequently, listed below are a few simple yet highly effective methods through which you can promote yourself competently upon LinkedIn.

Unleashing Organizational Possibilities, Part One: The Big Idea at the Beginning of Serious Fundraising

“A nonprofit can’t generate major gifts in this economy unless it’s already supported by the wealthiest one percent of the population.” A consultant shared this opinion with me a few months ago. Fortunately, it’s not true. I have witnessed many organizations leap from dependence on galas and grants to a full-fledged engagement with affluent and generous individuals. This series will describe the sequence of that metamorphosis. The first step is the spark of an idea: there are people in our circle who could write big checks.

Conducting a User Feedback Session

Just as businesses have customers; nonprofits have constituents. While customers are typically paying customers, constituents are just as vital to the nonprofit. In both scenarios, user feedback is vital for an organization’s success, as feedback sessions allow nonprofits to understand how well they are providing your services, what needs their constituents have, and how they can reevaluate their needs for the future.

Free nonprofit information available

In March I posted about the new way you could search comprehensive charity information and even integrate a due diligence tool into your website or product, thanks to our new suite of APIs.

The Development Corner: Beth Suarez on "The Great Debate"

GuideStar is pleased to announce a new monthly series of posts from our Development team, including Director of Development Beth Suarez, and Jessica Walker, development coordinator.

Getting Your Board on Board with Social Media: Part II

We are pleased to share the second part of BoardAssist's two part cross-post below. To read Part I of Getting Your Board on Board with Social Media, click here. Getting your board on board with social media may not be easy, but the fight is well worth it!

How to entice your board into the social media waters

Getting your board engaged and on board with social media can prove to be a challenging task at many nonprofits. But your board members want to make a difference and have a real-world impact, right? Otherwise, why are they there.

So we’ve assembled this short list of ways board members can help support your organizational goals via social media.

• It is important to start small with your social media requests and to frame their initial engagement with social media around organizational programs that they understand are important to support. For example, you might want to ask them to do three LinkedIn updates around your upcoming gala or benefit. It’s important to be very specific about the asks and have them understand what the end goals and deadlines are.

• Because their engagement will likely start off involving only specific programs or initiatives, it’s important to write messaging for them that they can easily share with their networks. Providing them with sample posts and engagement language is always a good idea and will increase the likelihood that it gets shared.

• You will want to encourage them to personalize the posts (you can write it out for them) by adding how excited they are about a particular program or event, and their personal thoughts about the content. This type of sharing is most effective because it goes beyond the reposting of organizational information but also includes the most important part: sharing their passion and enthusiasm with their influential network, which can be the hook their colleagues and friends need to learn more, donate, attend an event, or get involved somehow.

Opening the conversation about social media to your board

1. Start with your social media plan and ensure that your CEO is clear on what you want and what you’ll be asking board members to do. Your CEO is the board’s default sounding board, so it’s important that s/he be clear and know what initiatives you’re proposing to them and how they can help.

2. Before a board meeting, have a conversation with the board member you feel will be your greatest ambassador to the rest of the board. This person could be either the head of your board’s communications committee or, if there is none, just a person who you know is already a good messenger or advocate. Talk to this board member about your plans for board participation and ask them for feedback. This way you can anticipate concerns and questions early, and then you already have a de facto board advisor, which boards like since they generally appreciate being consulted with.

3. At the board meeting, ask the board ambassador to sit with you and support you during the presentation, perhaps leading a part of the discussion that centers on how board members can take initiative. These types of conversations can have greater sticking power and impact when coming from a board peer instead of a staff person. Also, board members can apply peer pressure in a way that communications staff cannot.

4. Discuss a first set of initiatives (perhaps for the upcoming quarter) and explain to them how and when you will be reaching out to them for support. Explain to them the benefits of their outreach and how you all plan to learn and benefit from these experiences.

5. Follow up and send a thank you email. Then promptly follow up with something they can add support to. Use your board ambassador to send out a message and showcase their “share” with the other board members. Gentle peer pressure can be a useful tool.

6. Let them know that you’ll be following up periodically to see how the outreach has been working. Explore ways they can evolve their outreach that matches their comfort level and advances your communications and social media goals.

Social media outlets for board members to focus on

LinkedIn. LinkedIn is one of the most promising social media outlets for use by board members. You’ll find that most board members have a LinkedIn account, with some board members using it with more frequency than others. Either way, it’s an outlet that most are familiar with and it has a great ability to immediately reach their network.

Facebook. Facebook can be a great personal tool since you’ll find many board members using Facebook to connect with colleagues, friends and family. Many nonprofit leaders also use Facebook in their professional capacity. So encourage them to post via Facebook as a way to connect their networks of friends and colleagues to your organization. It’s important to be selective on which items you ask them to post, but encourage them to personalize, personalize, personalize. They’ll get a higher degree of engagement and responsiveness.

Twitter. Twitter is a great tool to connect with other organizations, potential partners, journalists, thought leaders, and influencers. It will be helpful to find out which of your board members can retweet for you and tag other thought leaders or influencers in their networks who would benefit from the post.

Blogging. A great goal around blogging is to encourage board members to write at least one blog post per year. The post could be tied to initiatives you are trying to support or could be a way to generate new supporters. The title of the post could simply be along
the lines of, “Why I got involved in XYZ organization and why you should, too.” It’s a powerful way for you and them to recruit new supporters and even take that first step in helping them outline ways they can start a conversation with potential new board members or donors.

• Email marketing Do your board members already do outreach to their networks via your fundraising team? If they do, they should be including your organization’s social networks at the bottom of their emails.

The preceding is a cross-post from our friends at BoardAssist, a New York based nonprofit corporation. The original post can be found here on their new blog. BoardAssist is the leading personalized board recruiting resource available to the tri-state nonprofit community. They offer New Yorkers who want to make a real change in the nonprofit world a wide selection of board options and advice on selecting the right one for them. Nonprofit clients range from start-up organizations to some of the most established names in the nonprofit community, and serve interest areas from arts and education to the environment and poverty relief. Though most BoardAssist clients are New York-based, they serve locally, nationally and internationally. BoardAssist has been responsible for bringing over $55 million into the nonprofit community through our board placements over the last 10 years.

Caroline Avakian, author of preceding article and Socialbrite’s managing partner, is a nonprofit social media strategist in the New York City area with a focus on strategic communications, social PR, blogging and training. Caroline has worked with both international and US-based organizations, helping them lead the conversation on the issues that drive their cause.

Top 6 Tips for Taking Your Cause Mobile

Whether compared to adoption of the wheel, the car, or even fire, the mobile phone is the most popular tool in human history. But the real question is, how can your nonprofit leverage this device for social change?

Stepping up your nonprofit's social media engagement

Nonprofits are, more often than not, notoriously “strapped for cash.” However, social media greatly increases the reach of nonprofits’ cause platforms and brand awareness to the general public. Currently, most nonprofits engage on social media channels as one of their primary forms of community building, alongside emails, newsletters, and advertisements. There is a colossal amount of information on how to improve engagement on social network channels, since engagement does not generate itself. Don’t forget the “social” part of social media. Nonprofits must engage with the general public through posting, listening and responding on all of their channels. Here’s how GuideStar uses four different engagement metrics to guide our social media strategy and increase donor and volunteer engagement in our community:

5 Reasons Why Every NPO Board Should Have Term Limits

Board governance is often taken for granted in the early stages of creating a nonprofit organization. Everyone involved is so excited about the first steps in achieving the mission of the fledgling NPO or the inevitable early funding issues to discuss board governance.

Getting Your Board on Board with Social Media: Part I (of II)

Getting your board on board with social media is a challenge many nonprofits face as social media becomes a more important part of everyday nonprofit life. Rather than fight social media, embrace it! Social media is here to stay, and can become your nonprofit’s best friend, if you let it. For advice on how to get your board excited about social media, we turned to one of the top nonprofit social media pros out there: Socialbrite partner Caroline Avakian. We hope you find Caroline’s guest post on social media as useful as we did.

Google Ad Grants: Providing Nonprofits $10,000 Free In-Kind Monthly Advertising [Infographic]

The following infographic explains Google’s generous Ad Grants program that provides nonprofit organizations with $10,000 per month in in-kind pay-per-click to promote their missions and causes on Google’s search results. Nonprofit organizations that have a current 501(c)(3) status can apply for the grant as long as the fall within the organization eligibility requirements as outlined below. The ads are displayed in the same search results as the paid advertisers, although there are some restrictions. There is a daily budget set at $329, and there is a maximum cost-per-click limit of $2. Take a look at the infographic below for complete information about one of the largest missed opportunities in nonprofit marketing.

How to Maximize Fundraising Using Social Media

Hundreds of nonprofit organizations could dramatically increase awareness and donations if they used social media more effectively. Most nonprofits rely on volunteers, who engage in a variety of offline marketing efforts such as direct mail, flyers, and phone banks. That’s fine, of course, but the smart nonprof will use every tool at its disposal, and these days, that means supplementing offline tools with online ones such as social media. Why use social media in fundraising? Here are a few reasons:

Thinking about Networks


I was at the Ford Foundation this morning, attending a presentation of Generation Schools Network, a nonprofit with a bold mission of transforming public schools as a pathway out of poverty and preparing the future workforce for the 21-century economy. In a short time, the model has achieved impressive success.

Anne Sherman

We heard from several Generation Schools staff and stakeholders: a member of the senior team, a principal, a director of career and college readiness, two alumni, and representatives from a corporate partner. Each shared their compelling perspective on the model’s quality and impact. I was struck by how they don’t just talk to students about college and career; they’ve made college and career integral to the curriculum. Their objective, in the words of co-founder and Chief Learning Officer Jonathan Spear, is to “blow open the walls of the school” and engage colleges, employers, and other community partners in their students’ education.

Generation Schools clearly demonstrates the critical importance of networks. If kids are to succeed, they need to know about the worlds of college and work, and they must be comfortable navigating them.

This is all particularly meaningful to me because I work for the Social Impact Exchange. Our mission is to build growth capital markets that will increase the access effective nonprofits have to funding that will allow them to scale their impact. Nonprofits like Generation Schools that have both evidence of success and plans to scale their impact are of great interest to us. Yet, reflecting on this morning’s presentation, I find myself more curious about how Generation Schools has built and leveraged networks as part of their model than I am about their evaluation results or business plan.

We at the Exchange believe that if we are going to make progress on solving our society’s more intractable social problems, funders and nonprofits need to be able to work toward shared goals in a more coordinated way. For the past several years, we have worked diligently to build a network of funders and other sector leaders interested in scaling impact. We’ve learned a lot of things. For example, we have come to understand that we will only realize our vision of a functioning growth capital marketplace if we can build a vibrant and engaged network of supporters. We’ve also come to appreciate just how challenging this work truly is!

Our annual conference is a central component of our network development strategy. Our fifth anniversary conference is on June 18-19, 2014 in New York City. This year, the agenda will pay special attention to how cultivate and strengthen the network of funders that can support scaled social impact. We are delighted that Lance Fors of Social Venture Partners and Heather McLeod Grant will lead the entire audience in discussion on this subject. Related sessions include Tonya Allen, CEO of The Skillman Foundation, and Kenneth Zimmerman, Director of U.S. Programs at the Open Society Foundations talking about social movements and the role of philanthropy. Jacob Harold, CEO of Guidestar, will speak about the critical role of data in creating social change. I hope that you will also be there to help us broaden and deepen the networks we’re building to scale social impact in the U.S.

The preceding is a guest post by Anne Sherman, Vice President, Nonprofit Strategy at Growth Philanthropy Network. Before GPN, she was Director of Strategy at TCC Group, a consultancy that assists nonprofits, foundations, and corporate community involvement programs. Prior to TCC Group, she was community initiatives manager at Minneapolis Way To Grow, a citywide school-readiness initiative. Sherman holds a master’s degree in public affairs from the University of Minnesota Hubert H. Humphrey Institute for Public Affairs. Her volunteer work includes serving as chair of the governing body of the Center for Family Life in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, and as a member of the board of SCO Family of Services. She also serves on the selection committee of the New York Community Trust-New York Magazine Nonprofit Excellence Awards. Sherman is the co-author of Building Nonprofit Capacity: A Guide to Managing Change Through Organizational Lifecycles, published in 2011 by Jossey-Bass.

Seven Ways to Avoid Toxicity in the Workplace

Are you married? Do you have a partner or significant other in your life?

Most of us do.

If you identify, think how difficult it often is to come to consensus on issues, both large and small. ...

How much hashing and compromising needs to take place before some kind of agreement (hopefully) can be reached. ...

How painful the process can be at times. ...

How unhappiness can easily seep into the relationship when one or both parties feel taken advantage of, abused, or disrespected by the other—with dysfunction always lurking in the shadows.

And this is between just two people who ostensibly love, or at least care about, one another to some degree, have consciously chosen each other as soul mates or life partners, and sometimes even come from similar cultures, backgrounds, and value systems.

Now think about your workplace.

How many people must you interact with there? One? Three? A dozen? Scores? All of whom have been randomly selected to work together by a board, executive director, or HR department, and many of whom you have little, if anything, in common with or could care less about.

It's not hard to understand how things can get out of control and workplaces turn toxic pretty quickly.

Such work environments are not only unpleasant to wake up, shower, and brush our teeth for in the morning. More often than not they are less efficient and productive than they can be, lose focus on providing quality programs, products, and services, and, in turn, do great harm to the positive brand image the organization may be trying to project to outside stakeholder audiences, including funders.

So, what to do?

Some Suggestions

Denial or blaming others is not an option. Quite frankly, the quality of a workplace environment is everyone's responsibility.

  • Those who do the hiring need to look at more than just an applicant's skills set. How well will this person fit within the culture of our organization? What evidence did they project in the interviewing process that tells us that their values, work ethic, and personality are what we're looking for? Do they have a history of working well with others? How good a job will we do to orient this new employee to our workplace expectations?
  • Those who lead must do so by example. It's not enough to talk the talk. Good leaders need to walk the walk. They need to set the standards for civility and good behavior and constantly reinforce the valuable—and valued—role everyone, from board members to support staff, plays in the organization achieving its mission. They must provide not only the vision but also the mechanisms that make for a healthy work environment. Which leads to ...
  • Those who are being led need to have a voice and a fair opportunity to air what's on their minds. In short, employees must feel free to speak their truth to authority without fear of retribution or being labeled. Grievances not aired fester into negative relationships difficult to repair.
  • Those who excel need to be acknowledged. This does not always call for an awards banquet. A simple heartfelt "thank you" often will do just fine.
  • Those with new ideas deserve a hearing. We live in a dynamic age. Disruptive technologies are forcing all organizations to take a new, fresh look at nearly every aspect of their businesses. "This is the way we've always done it" is no longer a good excuse to resist change and often suppresses creativity and lowers morale, especially among Millennials.
  • Those who are intolerant of others should be sensitized to the maxim that some date back to the ancient Greeks: Be kind. Everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.
  • Those who fail to be accountable for their behavior and do not fit the profile of a cooperative, collaborative, and congenial coworker need to be reassigned or removed. Everyone deserves a warning and a second chance. But if things just aren't working out, for the sake of the entire workforce action needs to be taken.

I'm no marriage counselor, nor do I play one on TV, but I can attest that some of the above suggestions work in the home as well. Let's face it, there's no substitute for living, working, and playing in healthy environments. And most of it simply starts with respect for and sensitivity to others.

Larry Checco, Checco Communications
© 2014, Checco Communications.

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

Board Wrinkles: The Questions I'm Most Often Asked

I wrote a book about it, but darn it not everyone in the country has read The Fundraising Habits of Supremely Successful Boards. [Editor's note: see the list on the right for excerpts from the revised edition of this book.]

I still am asked for solutions to a host of board problems: "How do I fix this? How do I fix that?"quot; And invariably I'm cornered just as I'm rushing to make another flight.

In the brief space I'm given here, let me answer the five questions that come up most often.

  1. What's the single most important trait I should look for in prospective board members?

    By far, devotion is the most important.

    When I find men and women who are ho-hum about their organization, I gently suggest they move on to something they can give their heart to.

    You don't want directors who sit on a board. You want those who serve, who become cheerleaders for your vision and dreams.

    Months ago I was at a cocktail party. You know the scenario. We had gathered 50 or so of the college's most likely donors. For the first time, they were hearing about the bold plans for a new library.

    About midway through, I saw Peter (a director) who had cornered a would-be donor against the wall. Peter was vigorously gesturing and chatting away. I knew what he was doing. He was being a roaring advocate for the project.

    To make such advocacy easier, here's something I recommend.

    Print business cards for your board members. On one side put the name of your organization and its mission. On the other, the name of the director with all necessary information for making a contact.

    I've known directors who give these out by the dozens. It serves.

  2. How do I get board members to contribute financially?

    In today's world, it's unthinkable a board member wouldn't give.

    I work with many organizations where there's a minimum amount directors are asked to give. Yes, I know, I hear all the time that some board members are selected to ensure community representation or specific skills they can bring to the table. I understand that. These individuals may not meet the minimum of giving—but they should still be expected to give generously.

    I like what Claremont College does. Every board member is asked to give one year's tuition. That could be translated up or down for any organization. It also gives a clear picture of how the gift is used. In the case of Claremont, I particularly like it because each year the amount goes up!

    In another organization I work with, board members are expected to give a minimum of 1 percent of the organization's annual giving goal for the year.

  3. How can I get board members to make personal visits?

    This is the toughest nut, since directors don't routinely queue up to ask for gifts.

    In this short space, I can't go into the details—my book Asking lays out the strategy to use with your board.

    But one thing you want to make unmistakably clear is that no board member need venture out alone. A staff person or another director will always be at their side, if they wish.

    What is perhaps most critical is that the board member secure the appointment. Once that's done, you're 85 percent on your way to getting the gift.

  4. How do I deal with poor attendance at meetings?

    I called on the Meadows Foundation in Dallas. Kurt Meadows told me, "Your proposal is excellent. It's exactly what we fund. Now I just need a certified copy of your board attendance for the last 18 months."

    "18 months? Certified? Why?" I ask.

    "If your attendance isn't at least 75 percent, we won't consider your application," he tells me.

    At first I thought this was severe. But on reflection, I could see that if a board doesn't care enough to attend meetings, why should the foundation show interest?

    Having said that, however, please understand that it's up to the staff to make a board meeting productive.

    Shortly after a recent board meeting, I approached a director who we were pretty certain would be making a gift of $5 million.

    We chatted a bit. Then, after a few minutes, Rahib said: "Jerry, I'm going to resign from the board."

    "Why? You seem so interested in the work of the hospital."

    "I come to meetings regularly. But nothing ever happens. It's all just show and tell. It's the three Bs buildings, budgets, and baloney.

    I was deflated like a punctured balloon. I was seeing my $5 million gift sputter out.

  5. How do I get board members to speak up?

    I think back when Bill Bennett was Reagan's secretary of education. Early in his tenure, he came under severe attack. The teacher's unions were after him, the media was after him, and parents were after him.

    At one of his first Cabinet meetings, Reagan pulled out a file and started to read out loud some of the headlines. "Bennett, a dunce in the classroom." "Bennett, the traitor of the second term." "Bennett must be fired." "Bennett has to go."

    Reagan folded the last clipping and tucked it back in the file. Then he said, "Now that's Bill Bennett's first three weeks in office. What's wrong with the rest of you?"

    There are times a director has to speak his or her mind, take a position, and perhaps be all alone. That's one of the responsibilities.

    If you don't speak up, you constrict your value to the organization. There are times you just have to say, "Our baby is ugly."

Excerpts from The Fundraising Habits of Supremely Successful Boards

  • Getting a Donor to See You: 11 Suggestions from a Master Fundraiser
  • Three Fundraising Habits of Supremely Successful Boards

Jerold Panas
© 2014, Emerson and Church, Publishers

Jerold Panas is the author of Asking: A 59-Minute Guide to Everything Board Members, Volunteers, and Staff Must Know to Secure the Gift; The Fundraising Habits of Supremely Successful Boards; and Mega Gifts: Who Gives Them, Who Gets Them.

Stay the Course to Raise Major Gifts

Do you want to raise major gifts for your nonprofit, but feel held back by lack of know-how, courage, or time?

The good news is that those first two obstacles are fairly easy to overcome. You can learn how to raise major gifts fairly easily by reading books (and/or blogs) and taking classes.

As for lack of courage (aka fear of fundraising), the best way to overcome it is practice—practice sessions with your board, staff, and volunteers, and by looking at each major gift ask as an opportunity to practice.

So don't let lack of know-how or fear of fundraising hold you back—I've worked with plenty of people who overcame either (or both!) of these challenges quite easily.

The lack of time excuse, on the other hand, is a tricky one; particularly if you're dealing with it in addition to, say, fear of fundraising. After all, that mountain of paperwork and the next mailing, while routine and boring, can look pretty inviting when you compare them with overcoming fear!

But the fact remains that the most cost-effective way to raise money is by implementing a major gifts program. The good news, though, is that major gift fundraising also takes less time than, say, putting together big events.

The only way, however, to achieve a successful major gifts program is to work on it consistently, every week, 52 weeks a year (minus your vacation time, of course!).

In other words, you have to stay the course in order to boost your nonprofit's bottom line with major gifts.

But don't despair! You don't have to hire extra staff or add 20 hours to your already-overworked week to make major gifts happen. In fact, you—yes, you—can raise major gifts in only five hours a week.

That's right. Just five hours a week. But as I said above, a successful major gifts program means setting aside five hours every week.

So how are you going to do it? Here are my five top tips for consistently setting aside the time you'll need to raise major gifts:

  1. Get buy-in from your staff, board, and other volunteers—and then ask for their support. As you'll learn, you aren't going to raise this money by yourself; a successful major gifts program depends on the active participation of your board, executive director, and development director. By getting them (and the rest of your staff) enthused about the possibilities first, though, you'll also be able to ask for support in other ways, which leads to ...
  2. Delegate! You've made it clear that you'll be able to help significantly boost your organization's ability to change and save lives through raising major gifts. Your board, staff, and other volunteers are excited about the possibilities. Great! This means that you now have leverage to ask a volunteer to help organize the next bulk mail project, for example, or to ask a member of your board to take the lead on an event.
  3. Set aside your major gifts work time on your calendar. Do this for weeks in advance, and be sure to share this information with your staff, volunteers, and board. In other words, let them know that you shouldn't be interrupted from 9 to 10 a.m. each day, because you'll be working on major gifts!
  4. Evaluate your priorities. Do you really need to attend every meeting you have scheduled for the next month? Are you the only person in your organization who can reliably enter donor information in your database? Before you can delegate you need to be clear about which tasks you simply must do, which are okay to pass along to someone else, and which ones you're able to let go.
  5. Take care of yourself. Yes, I know, virtually every consultant emphasizes the importance of self-care (including time off). So why mention it here? Because implementing a brand-new program, particularly a major gifts program, is stressful, and stress makes it harder to raise money—particularly major gifts. Taking care of and pacing yourself as though you're running a marathon (which, in a very real way, you are), will allow you to stay the course and succeed.

For more detailed information on starting and implementing a major gifts program, visit my blog and the Major Gifts Challenge.

Amy Eisenstein, ACFRE, Tri Point Fundraising
© 2014, Tri Point Fundraising

Amy Eisenstein, ACFRE, is a leading fundraising consultant, speaker, and coach who has taught hundreds of people how to raise major gifts. Her latest book, Major Gifts for Small Shops, covers how to defeat the fear of fundraising, how to find time for and stay the course with major gifts, and other proven advice for creating and sustaining a successful major gift program.

When is it appropriate to divert designated funds for general fund uses?


When is it appropriate to divert designated funds for general fund uses?

How to Live Tweet: An Overview

The first week of May, I had the privilege of attending the Office Depot Foundation’s Weekend In Boca VII Civil Society Leadership Symposium alongside two fellow GuideStar colleagues-- Lindsay Nichols, marketing and communications senior director, and Debra Snider, vice president of operations. This event, hosted by the Office Depot Foundation, “gives nonprofit professionals, board members and volunteers an all-too-rare opportunity to get out of the office and spend time learning about best practices and timely strategies for innovation, collaboration and sustainability.” Nearly 500 people attended this conference, which was full of inspiring speeches, exciting announcements, and of course, the annual Listen Learn Car Awards Ceremony.

Get the Budget You Need to Do Marketing Right

The hands-down most hated and most-frequently-avoided marketing task is budgeting. I hear that from you and your peers in the field, time and time again.

Our latest Impact Call: We want your feedback

Today, (Monday, May 12), at 2 pm ET, we are holding our next Impact Call. If you haven’t registered yet,there is still time! Click here to register now.

What Do You Think?

Before, during, or after the call we’d love to hear from you. Please leave your comments below to ask questions that you want answered during the call, or to let us know what you think about the idea or our call itself, or for anything else you want to say.

We look forward to connecting with you soon!

5 Tips for a Happier and More Effective Board

Have your board members become BORED? Many nonprofits that come to BoardAssist for support are indeed in need of an energy infusion. Adding an agent of change to your board is a great way to liven things up, but for some nonprofits, that may not be enough. In this guest post, fundraising guru Gail Perry graciously shares her terrific advice on how to jumpstart your board.

15 Reasons to Re-evaluate Your Nonprofit Financial Management Software

As any CFO or controller will tell you, no financial management or accounting software system is perfect. As a result, nonprofits are quick to develop ways to “live with” a system that really doesn’t meet their needs.

Transparency: Why it matters to your non-profit

More and more, funders of nonprofits are approaching grant making the way an investor approaches a financial transaction. Both seek information that will help them evaluate the likelihood that their “investment” will have the intended return. At a minimum, this involves ensuring that the grantee or investee has the financial discipline to use the funds in a responsible and effective manner.

Small Steps for Effective Board Meetings

Board meetings are one of the most important events for a nonprofit. A lot is expected of organizations during this time-- successfully reporting out last quarter’s progresses, challenges, and expectations for the future are no easy task. A lot rides on the success of a board meeting, and that means stress levels are high for all parties involved.

Informed Giving Does Matter

On Tuesday, May 6, hundreds of communities across the country will engage in Give Local America, a day of online giving celebrating local the 100th anniversary of community foundations.

Important Research Insights about Donor Satisfaction and Community Foundation Value

The Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP) recently released research, “What Donors Value: How Community Foundations Can Increase Donor Satisfaction, Referrals, and Future Giving,” comes at an opportune time for the nonprofit sector. (See my original guest post on CEP’s blog here.) As the community foundation sector celebrates its 100th anniversary, it is not only reflecting on its history but is more importantly, envisioning its future, and why sustainability and resilience of the community foundation sector matters. The CEP research begins with an introductory overview on the many diverse challenges the nonprofit sector is currently experiencing. Whether one agrees with some, none, or all of CEP’s donor satisfaction research findings, this research provides important and much-needed knowledge about donor value and is an important contribution to the field.

Fundraising Training Exercise: Where's the Money?

Excerpted from Train Your Board (And Everyone Else) to Raise Money

If you've ever discussed fundraising with your board—or any nonprofit board—you've probably heard the following phrases: "The economy's not good, people aren't giving," or "I don't know anyone with money." These are perhaps the two most pervasive and persistent misconceptions about fundraising. The data presented in this exercise help to debunk these and several other myths.

Why Do This Exercise?
To reduce resistance to fundraising based on inaccurate information

Use This Exercise When
Your board and volunteers lack a basic understanding of philanthropy

Time Required
20 minutes

Anyone involved with your fundraising campaign: some combination of board, staff, and volunteers

A space large enough to accommodate several small groups of three to five each


Facilitating the Exercise

This activity is structured as a quiz that participants discuss and complete in small groups. You'll need to photocopy the quiz in advance. The answers appear below.

  1. Ask your colleagues to gather in groups of three to five to work on the quiz together.
  2. Hand out copies of the quiz and give participants no more than ten minutes to discuss and complete it.
  3. Reconvene the entire group and review each question, giving the correct answers.
  4. Once you've reviewed all the answers, help the group draw conclusions. Use the following debriefing questions:
    • What surprised you?
    • What are the implications for our fundraising strategy? Do we need to think differently?

    Emphasize that in fundraising, like many areas of life, we have a tendency to project our feelings and experiences onto others, even though our assumptions may not be accurate. For example, "I give money to my church and two other organizations; therefore, everyone else focuses their giving on a small number of nonprofits." In fact, most donors support a range of organizations, as noted in the quiz.

    There are times when what we think we know is actually wrong. When it comes to fundraising, if the data trump personal experience, then we have to respect the data.

    For example, your colleagues may perceive fundraising as competitive. When you show them that a typical household contributes to five to ten nonprofits per year, they may see it as less competitive, since most people who donate tend to spread their money around pretty broadly.

Answers appear below.

  1. In a typical recent year, how much money did U.S. nonprofits raise from private philanthropy?
    1. $100 billion
    2. $200 billion
    3. $300 billionthe total varies somewhat year to year, but this is a good estimate
    4. $400 billion
  2. Here are the four sources of private philanthropy. What percentage of total giving comes from each category? The total adds up to 100%.
    1. Foundations 15%
    2. Corporations 6%
    3. Individuals 72%
    4. Bequests 7%
  3. Which nonprofit community raises the most money from private sources?
    1. Colleges and universities
    2. Health care
    3. Religious organizations receive about 32% of charitable giving
    4. Arts
    5. Social services/human services
  4. How much do U.S. nonprofits receive from all sources: private giving, government funding, and fees and other earned income?
    1. $800 million
    2. $1 trillion
    3. $1.2 trillion
    4. $1.5 trillionthis amout equals roughly 10% of the U.S. economy
  5. What percentage of American households donate to nonprofit organizations?
    1. 60%
    2. 70%some sources say 80%, so that would also be an acceptable answer
    3. 80%
    4. 90%
  6. The typical American household supports how many charitable organizations per year?
    1. 1-2
    2. 3-4
    3. 5-10
    4. More than 10
  7. How much is median household giving per year?
    1. Less than $500
    2. $500-$1,000
    3. $1,000-$2,000
    4. More than $2,000
  8. Which demographic group gives away the most money as a percentage of household income?
    1. The poor
    2. Middle income
    3. The wealthy

Five Steps to Starting an Endowment: Even Smaller Nonprofits Can

Not long ago, GuideStar's editorial director told me that "most of our readers are convinced that endowments are good things; if their organizations do not have endowments, it's because they can't justify diverting money from programs to start endowments."

A Framework to Communicate Philanthropy

Language is a system that allows us to communicate ideas using an agreed structure and process. Variations in languages around the globe increase the level of effort needed to communicate with people across borders, but it's not impossible if you have a way to translate your ideas into a language others can understand. The Foundation Center is currently undertaking the challenge of devising a language that can be used by philanthropic organizations around the world to tell the important story of their work. That common language is crucial for a field as diverse as ours: not too long ago we determined that U.S. foundations have over 250 ways to describe "general operating support," varying from "core support" to "general operations advancement."

In 2012, the Foundation Center began to rethink the classification system that has been at the core of our work, a system largely based on the National Taxonomy of Exempt Entities structure that we helped create 30 years ago. Given how much the sector has grown and evolved over the past few decades, updates to the taxonomy are critical in order for it to more accurately reflect the work of the field and serve as a more relevant tool for a 21st-century global philanthropy community. Why is this important? That language—that communication—enables grantseekers to find targeted support, helps funders collaborate with each other and identify potential grantees, and assists researchers and academics who are analyzing the work of the sector.

Staff at the Foundation Center have spent 18 months evaluating our codes, mining the text of the nearly 5 million grants and 1 million philanthropic institutions in our database, and cross-referencing that information against other international standards to inform the creation of a revised taxonomic system. Our goal is not to create another standard but to develop a framework that meets the needs of the majority of the sector and can serve as the language that organizations use to communicate their work to each other with set terms and definitions. For example, we have added new subject areas related to information and media, including associated technologies. We have replaced "type of support" with two new categories: support strategy, to reflect the goal or approach behind the support, and transaction type to capture the various forms of philanthropy that happen around the world beyond the U.S. tradition of a cash grant.

As with the language you use in your day-to-day life, we expect that people will use the words and phrases of this taxonomy that resonate with them. Has anyone ever uttered every single word currently available in the English language? Of course not, and the classification system is intended to be used in the same way: use the words that help you communicate your work, and the rest are available to help you understand the work being done by others. We want to make sure the parts of the taxonomy that are relevant to you make sense. That's why we've opened up the draft of this newly proposed system for review and comment through May 23, 2014.

Your input is essential, and we invite you and your colleagues to take part in this process. Check out the draft taxonomy and submit your feedback on both the overall structure and specific terms. What do you like? What's missing? We want to know. Together, we can create a system that provides a common language we can all use to communicate our work to each other.

Jeannine Corey, Foundation Center
© 2014, Foundation Center

Jeannine Corey is the director of grants information management at the Foundation Center. When she's not hard at work improving data about philanthropy, you can find her playing roller derby or spending time with her two sons.

Data for Development: How nonprofits can use big data to access new donor networks


Big data analytics has solved thousands of problems for individuals and organizations around the world–from improving bus transportation in Dublin to helping you pick out what to watch on Netflix. So it’s no surprise that even nonprofits, despite typically being slow to adopt new technologies, have begun to embrace the value of data-driven fundraising.

What the rating services should really tell us

The need for data and information about our sector has never been more pressing. The need for multiple layers of information distributed in a myriad of ways by a great number of platforms and processes is here. It’s now.

Use Social Partnerships To Make Your Nonprofit Stand Out

In a recent article for Nonprofit Quarterly, it was posed that nonprofits are just professional beggars and virtual panhandlers. The nature of nonprofit organizations dictates that senior management spend a significant time on fundraising to support the mission of the company. But smart executives know that the founding vision cannot be subordinate to the fundraising. Instead, the corporation has to build a socially conscious foundation that people want to fund. Business sector partnerships can do that if the fit is right and makes sense for both parties to earn revenue.

How to Get People Excited About Your Nonprofit’s Next Fundraising Campaign

Developing a successful fundraising campaign isn’t easy, even if it’s for a good cause. From golf tournaments to banquets and charity concerts, there are plenty of strategies out there to generate revenue, but if you don’t know how to appeal to your audience and get them excited about the cause, your fundraising efforts will fall flat.

A Framework to Communicate Philanthropy

Jeannine Corey

How to Build Trust with New Volunteers

First impressions matter, especially with new volunteers. In today's digital world, volunteers expect a convenient, intuitive process for expressing interest, reviewing volunteer opportunities, and getting trained to do the job.

Top Twelve Tips for Courting New Board Members

With nearly 2 million board seats opening up in the United States ever year, it’s not easy for nonprofit leaders to successfully compete for, and win over, fantastic new board members. Our job at BoardAssist is to do just that – identify and “lock in” those high impact agents of change for our nonprofit clients. If you are navigating this process on your own, here are some useful tips.

The World’s Largest Online Earth Day Celebration, Spring of Sustainability (SoS), Kicks off Today, April 22nd


Register for GuideStar's Next Impact Call

Please join me and GuideStar President and CEO Jacob Harold on Monday, May 12, 2014, 2-3pm ET, for GuideStar's next Impact Call. In this call, we’ll discuss in detail our first quarter results.

James Lum, GuideStar’s CFO

Loosely based on the quarterly earnings calls held by publicly owned companies, our Impact Calls are open to everyone and give you an opportunity to learn more about GuideStar. The call will include our financial and programmatic results, recent developments in our collection of nonprofit financial and impact data and products, and our lessons learned—all in a more timely fashion, and with the ability to question us about those very results.

Our first Impact Call, held on February 24, 2014, was an experiment, and we were incredibly pleased with the outcome. More than 480 people participated in the call, and we had incredible questions during and after the call from foundations, nonprofits, donors, researchers, etc. Our Impact Call was featured in the Washington Post, and there was a robust discussion about the concept of Impact Calls here on the GuideStar Blog. Overall, we felt we took a big step forward in our goal to evolve the definition of nonprofit transparency by providing our outcomes for 2013 quickly, interactively, comprehensively—and inclusively. This time around, we’re incorporating all of your great feedback and honing in even further on the content of our presentation. To that end, we hope you will join us once more as we provide our results in four key areas—financials, programs, new developments, and failures (because all great organizations have failures, and we should all learn from them!)—and give you a sneak peek into our plans for the future.

To register for the May 12 Impact Call, or for further information on GuideStar’s results and outcomes, visit our impact page:

To access the recording of our first Impact Call and all future calls, including the live presentation and PowerPoint slides, visit our webinar archives:

Questions? Thoughts? Please email me at or leave a comment below. We hope to “see” you there!

Black, White, or Gray: How are Your Fundraising Ethics?

Have you ever been in a situation that didn’t feel quite right? Or, where you weren’t sure what to do?

We all have, and it’s probably because some ethical dilemma was taking place.

Sometimes there’s a clear-cut answer when it comes to ethics — such as when ethics and the law intersect. For example, you shouldn’t steal — stealing is both unethical and illegal.

However, sometimes unethical issues are legal. One example of something that is legal, but unethical for a development director to accept a personal gift from a donor. For example, let’s say you have a major donor who gives you an expensive gold watch for Christmas or leaves you a personal bequest in their will. What do you do?

Why Are Fundraising Ethics so Important?

The reason that ethics is so important in the nonprofit sector is that fundraising is all about trust.

Would you give to an organization or individual you didn’t consider ethical?

How do you think donors react when they learn that an organization has engaged in unethical behavior?

When facing an ethical situation, ask yourself if it passes the stink test. If it looks like a skunk and smells like a skunk, it’s probably a skunk.

You have intuition for a reason — trust your gut.

When Good Intentions Go Bad

Yesterday, I received a call from a development director — let’s call her “Mary” — because she was concerned about a situation at her organization.

Mary’s board members agreed to co-host/sponsor a fundraising event with a for-profit company (yellow flag) without consulting her (red flag). Unfortunately, the board members didn’t ask the right questions, because they were so blinded by the promises of an “easy” fundraising event. Sadly, the event didn’t raise any money (high expenses, low revenue), and the for-profit company received all the benefit (high visibility). Not only that, but the company was the one collecting the checks.

Major ethical dilemma here. Oops!

In order to prevent this type of ethical dilemma or deal with any situation that may arise, here are some rules of thumb to follow before you find yourself face-to-face with an ethical quandary.

Rules of Thumb for Ethical Fundraising

1. Check the AFP Code of Ethics

Start at the source — the AFP Code of Ethics. Have your staff and board members read and discuss the code to ensure they understand what is considered ethical and what isn’t.

If you are a member of AFP, you can take their Ethics Assessment Inventory, which is great food for thought and lets you know how you are doing.

2. Front Page Test

If you don’t want whatever you’re doing to be on the front page of your local paper or the sordid topic of some blogger, it’s probably not ethical. Ask yourself: Is there a possibility that your organization could end up on the front page of the paper for this action? Would you be proud or would donors run?

3. How Would Your Parents Feel?

Similar to the front page test, would your parents be proud or disappointed if you took the action you’re considering?

4. Trust Your Gut (and Your Nose)

Finally, once again, if it’s black and white and stinks, it’s probably a skunk. In other words, if it looks like a skunk, and smells like a skunk, it’s probably a skunk. And, if there’s a fundraising event or major gift that comes your way that seems too good to be true, it probably is.

That’s how Mary’s board got themselves into hot water. They didn’t pay attention to the many red flags waiving in front of their noses.

Shades of Gray

The difficulty with ethical situations is that they are not always black and white — in fact, they are often gray.

The most important thing to do when faced with an ethical dilemma is to be open and honest about it with your executive director and board. Discuss the situation and come to an agreement about what to do. Do not keep it a secret — it’s probably a red flag if you don’t want to tell anyone.

Have you ever faced an ethical dilemma at your organization? What did you do? Tell me about it in the comments.

The preceding is a cross-post by Amy Eisenstein, CFRE, author, speaker, trainer, and owner of Tri Point Fundraising, a full-service consulting firm. You can read the original post here. You can also view her presentations and listen recording of her November 2013 webinar for GuideStar here. Amy Eisenstein, ACFRE is a best-selling author, speaker, trainer and consultant, as well as the owner of Tri Point Fundraising, a full-service consulting firm for nonprofit organizations and foundations. Her published books include: Amazon Best-Seller Major Gift Fundraising for Small Shops: How to Leverage Your Annual Fund in Only Five Hours per Week, Raising More with Less: An Essential Fundraising Guide for Nonprofit Professionals and Board Members, and 50 A$ks in 50 Weeks: A Guide to Better Fundraising for Your Small Development Shop. She currently serves as the president of the board of the Association of Fundraising Professionals – New Jersey Chapter. Amy received her Master’s Degree in Public Administration and Nonprofit Management from the Wagner Graduate School at New York University and her Bachelor’s Degree from Douglass College at Rutgers University. Amy became a Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE) in 2004 and became an ACFRE in 2013. Please visit her website for her free eBooks at


Mixed Reports on Nonprofit Fundraising and Welfare

Online giving increased 14 percent in 2013, but demand for nonprofits' services also grew, often exceeding organizations' ability to meet it. These are key takeaways from the recently published 2014 M+R Benchmarks Study and Nonprofit Finance Fund's 2014 State of the Sector Survey.

The Questions I'm Most Often Asked About Donor Communications

I speak to thousands of fundraisers every year, at conferences around the world. And the question I hear most often is a plea for help: "How do I convince my boss?"

Fundraisers might well be the most second-guessed professionals in the world.

Establishing CEO Compensation

The following discussion is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to serve as legal advice. For advice on nonprofit executive compensation, consult your attorney.

Question: We are a new nonprofit trying to determine the appropriate compensation for our executive director. What standards should we go by right now, and what should we look to for standards as the organization grows and becomes older?

Nonprofit organizations that are recognized as exempt from federal income tax under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code are required to act in a manner that does not result in "private inurement." (Many other types of tax-exempt organizations are also subject to this private inurement prohibition.) In the compensation context, this prohibition requires that amounts paid to an officer or other person in a position to exert substantial influence over the organization be reasonable and not above fair market value. In addition to the private inurement prohibition, individual officers and other insiders may be subject to personal financial penalties if they engage in transactions that result in excessive benefits to them. Finally, those organization managers who approve excessive benefit transactions may be subject to individual financial penalties as well.

Having said that, if a person is new to the nonprofit and is negotiating an initial contract to be executive director, there is a strong argument that the prohibition on private inurement and the penalties on excessive benefits would not apply because the person was not an "insider" at the time he/she negotiated the deal.

However, most nonprofit managers and boards would prefer not to unduly risk revocation of tax-exempt status and/or individual excise tax penalties and, even for newly hired executive directors, will want to take precautions that compensation is reasonable. As such, in both instances addressed in the question above (new nonprofit organization and existing nonprofit), the usual process that an organization will undertake to manage against the risks are:

1. Obtain valid comparability data (such as through to see what similarly situated nonprofit organizations pay executive directors with similar backgrounds.

2. Have a disinterested body (e.g., a compensation committee where no member has a relationship with the candidate that would present a conflict of interest) approve the proposed compensation arrangement.

3. Document contemporaneously the decision of that disinterested body and the fact that the body relied on the valid comparability data in making its decision.

Taking those above three steps should give an organization a presumption that the compensation amount paid to its executive director is reasonable and should not be challenged by the IRS. This presumption may be rebutted by the IRS if, for example, the IRS determines that the comparability data was not accurate or proper to use under the circumstances. Note that there are more detailed regulatory requirements to the three-step process described above which need to be followed. Note, too, that states (notably, New York for New York-incorporated nonprofits) have become more active in regulating executive compensation.

For more information, please see:

George E. Constantine, Esq., Venable LLP
© 2014, Venable LLP

George E. Constantine is a partner at Venable LLP in Washington, D.C. He co-chairs Venable's Regulatory Practice Group.



Upgrading Your ERP System? Not So Fast. Consider Reimplementation

Many nonprofits are quick to upgrade software because it is perceived as being simple and straightforward – and sometimes that is true. However, that does not mean that it is in the best interest of the organization.

Terrible Board Members Are Created, Not Born

So much has been written and presented within the nonprofit world about how to work around and/or replace terrible board members. However, nobody seems to want to confess as to where they came from.

Charitable Design: 4 Ways to Decorate a Nonprofit Office

The best nonprofit organizations encompass hope, determination and endless aspirations. Equally inspiring workplace surroundings can enhance the success of your organization. Welcome employees and benefactors to an environment that sparks innovation and creativity. Do away with fluorescent lights, bare walls and uninspired cubicles. You can have a sleek and efficient office without a pretentious aura that steers away future contributors. The challenge is creating a workplace that's professional, creative and productive without appearing rapacious. Let your energy and intentions show through work place design. Focus on embracing the company culture for a winning look that speaks volumes of your hard-work and ethics.

Purposeful Furnishings

Furnishings don't have to be drab to show responsible spending. Your office space can still be chic with creative touches that tell a story. Focus on utilizing pieces that reflect your cause. Dallas-based non-profit Dwell With Dignity combined elements of design and philanthropy to launch its new studio. Born from the belief that surroundings can change a person's outlook on life, the organization's mission is to create soothing homes for families struggling with homelessness and poverty. For its new studio launch, local designers created a vignette using donated warehouse products. The result? A beautiful office space created from low-cost recycled furnishings to use as inspiration for the cause.

Mirror, Mirror

There's no need for large executive offices. Whether your non-profit is established or just getting started, ensure your office space fits your immediate needs. High overhead is not only a constraint on your budget, but looks questionable in the eyes of future donors. Instead, make the best use of your space with small touches that make a big difference. Tall mirrors at the end of a narrow hallway expand space while accent mirrors add interest to walls and create a spacious feel. Mirrors also promote positive energy with proper placement. Considered the "aspirin of Feng Shui," adding mirrors to a workplace can create a calming presence and help reduce stress.

Display Gratitude

When it comes to donors and investors, a little gratitude goes a long way. Incorporating contributors in your office design provides a daily reminder of those who support you. Whats' more, prospects will love seeing how the company supports and appreciates current benefactors. Take notes from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta). Its new Los Angeles office features a two story high wall painted in black with the names of each donor written in white. The wall stands as a centerpiece of the building, commemorating everyone who made the new building possible.

Stand Out

Donors want to represent the best. To be the best, you'll need a first-rate, winning team. Recruit an all-star lineup by promoting a culture that's both donor-worthy and employee-appealing. Unique touches, like a tree house conference room featured at the Epic Systems Corporate Office, stand out and pique interest. Harnessing creativity promotes a team culture that's second to none. Even simple and cost-effective design, like a chalkboard or whiteboard painted wall, encourage team collaboration that potential investors are sure to be impressed with.

Prohibited Discrimination in Hiring: Disparate Treatment and Disparate Impact

Editor’s Note: For more answers to common nonprofit tax and legal questions, don’t miss our upcoming event on April 17th at 1PM with Jeffrey Tenenbaum, Partner and Chair of Nonprofits Practice Group of Venable, LLP, represented below. Find out more and register here.”

Strategic Financial Management Webinar Series Begins April 15th

In today’s changing environment, it can be difficult for nonprofit leaders to access the tools and expertise they need to make sound, strategic financial decisions—the type of decisions that lead a nonprofit to long-term sustainability. To bridge that gap, Nonprofit Finance Fund has gathered some of its most accessible insights into a six-episode course on strategic financial management in the nonprofit sector. To develop the series, NFF drew on insights developed through thirty years of on-the-ground engagement with nonprofit organizations and its research and experimentation with the up and coming financing ideas that will define the sector’s next generation.

This series, which begins on April 15th, offers practical tools to help decision-makers navigate their financial management, and demonstrates an array of real-life examples and strategies to help inform data-driven decision making for nonprofit professionals. The sessions can be taken as a full financial management curriculum, or can be chosen a la carte for organizations seeking to address specific business challenges. You can find complete descriptions of each 60-minute webinar, as well as an FAQ, here.

Guidestar is happy to offer its readers a special discount on the series: use the promotion code “SAVE 10” to receive 10% off any full-price webinar! Be sure to select “Guidestar” when indicating how you were referred. These webinars are $75 each, and offered at a discount for the series package. Register here through Eventbrite!

The complete list of offerings is below—click on the videos for some exclusive sneak-peeks!

Spring 2014 Webinar Series: Unpacking the Nonprofit Manager’s Toolbox

April 15: Budgeting as a Communication Tool

This webinar provides nonprofit leaders with a review of key budget terms and concepts and demystifies the budgeting process by focusing on the essential nonprofit budget, which clearly depicts the organization’s true financial story. Although this 60-minute webinar is beginner level, the emphasis is not on how to create a line item budget. Rather, the focus is on creating a budget that appropriately communicates the organization’s economic realities. NFF concludes the webinar by pointing participants toward more advanced budgeting concepts, such as addressing key balance sheet needs.

April 22: Monitoring Cash Flow

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Planning in today’s uncertain environment requires that nonprofit leaders know where their organization stands financially. In this 60-minute webinar, NFF offers nonprofit managers the guidance they need to lead during challenging times, offering tips on managing cash flow through use of reports that will identify months of low cash. The session also identifies the ways in which cash flow management can be essential to accessing credit.

April 29: Assessing Program Profitability

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Every program impacts your organization's bottom line. Making informed decisions about critical organizational issues like hiring or fundraising requires a clear understanding or each program's profit or loss. Is it inherently profitable? Does it require subsidy? How does it fit together financially with other programs? NFF’s unique Program Profitability Model provides a clear-sighted way for nonprofit managers to answer these questions. Through real-life examples, this 60-minute webinar will explain how participants can use a program economic assessment to make adjustments and improve financial health with minimal impact on programs.

May 6: Scenario Planning

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At NFF, scenario planning balances exploration and dialogue with a tools-driven approach. As such, this 60-minute webinar introduces participants to several ways of planning through periods of uncertainty and focuses on the financial implications of future scenarios (with respect to the income statement as well as the balance sheet) during single year or over a multiple year period.

May 13: Managing to a Dashboard

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Increasingly popular among nonprofit boards, a dashboard is a reporting tool for communicating with an organization’s key stakeholders and leadership about mission-related goals, capacity-related goals, resource needs, and desired outcomes/outcome measurement. In this 60-minute webinar, NFF will discuss how to engage your organization in thoughtful and relevant conversations about its financial situation, needs, challenges and opportunities before it reaches a crisis point. Participants will explore two types of organizational dashboards that help to measure progress against goals and manage uncertainty.

May 20: Strategic Alliances, Collaborations and Mergers: This content is brand-new!

In a post-recession environment, nonprofits are increasingly looking to collaborate and some are even considering mergers. Through this 60-minute webinar, NFF will lead an informative discussion about how nonprofits can recognize the conditions that contribute to successful collaborations and when a merger would be warranted. Participants will gain an understanding of how partnerships, alliances and mergers can be positive, strategic decisions—and an incredibly powerful tool for two organizations with compatible missions and services.

The preceding is a guest post by Rebekah Caton, Analyst, Strategic Advice for Nonprofit Finance Fund. Rebekah joined NFF in March 2013 as Coordinator for the Eastern Region, where she is responsible for coordinating advisory service activities as well as office management. From 2010-2012, Ms. Caton worked as a TEFL instructor with Peace Corps Madagascar and as Program Coordinator for the Alpine Initiatives Village Sustainability Project. She was the Web and Audio Editor for PennSound, an audio poetry archive based out of the University of Pennsylvania, from 2008-2010, and again immediately prior to NFF. She has a B.A. in English from the University of Pennsylvania.

Nonprofits: Get Ready for Charity Navigator 3.0

One year ago, Charity Navigator announced its plans to incorporate a third dimension into its rating system as part of CN 3.0. In 2016 Results Reporting will accompany Charity Navigator’s two other dimensions: Financial Health and Accountability and Transparency.

What to Do When Pressured to Get & Use Big Data?

Big Data is like teenage sex: everyone talks about it, nobody really knows how to do it, everyone thinks everyone else is doing it, so everyone claims they are doing it,” reports Marketoonist Tom Fishburne.

Remember when your leadership and board members were scared stiff about social media, especially fundraising-wise? And when, in many organizations, that was followed by intense pressure to get on social media pronto to achieve perhaps-impossible goals, WITHOUT additional resources?

Based on what I hear from many of you, we’re in the same boat with big data right now.

Data does have huge potential for enabling the kind of right-things, right-now fundraising and marketing needed to motivate the actions you need from supporters. Affordable and widely-available technologies—with database, fundraising, email, marketing automation and other functions—now produce tons of data. But the data alone won’t get you anywhere.


Take these three steps to get data working for fundraising and marketing impact:

1) Catalog the useful data you already have:

  • Assess what constituent information—preferences, habits, relationships and interactions—is accessible now, and where each component lives across all departments and databases in your organization
  • Select ten to 15 data points max that have the greatest potential to fix gaps or weaknesses in your current marketing such as motivating first-time donors to give a second gift.

2) Set up systems, roles, and responsibilities to harvest, share, and analyze these data points

  • Implement a robust database tool that enables you to connect all data on a single supporter or participant (now fragmented in multiple departments and records) in a single, in-depth profile. That the key to the rich insights (a true 360-degree perspective) necessary for truly integrated marketing and fundraising that reflects your supporters’ interactions with your organization over time, and is delivered consistently—across channels and campaigns—for a more relevant, resonant experience.
  • Log, share, and analyze what you learn about your people across your organization—instead of limiting analysis to actions within a single program, campaign or channel—in a way that’s easy to access for all.

The more coordinated and robust your insight is into each person you’re hoping to engage, the greater the probability you’ll motivate him or her to take the next action (or realize that he/she’s not a likely prospect).

3) Make the changes—in content, format, and/or channel—as indicated

Then rinse and repeat to provide the kind of relevant and connected experience most likely to motivate supporters to take the action you need.


Nancy Schwartz

The preceding is a guest post by Nancy Schwartz, Speaker-Author-Strategist of Nancy helps nonprofits like yours succeed through effective marketing. For more nonprofit marketing guidance like this, subscribe to her e-update at

If a shout doesn’t work, try a whisper -- effectively deepening board engagement

“My board is not engaged enough in fund raising” is a prime complaint of executive directors and development officers. It even outranks “our donor database is a mess” and “we are expected to raise more money every year”! Everyone in the non profit world would like to have the perfect board. That fictitious board everyone covets is populated by corporate heavyweights and trust-fund-endowed socialites, who write big checks and enlist their friends as donors.

3 Smart Strategies to Boost Your Online Fundraising

Gone are the days when non-profits wonder if they really can raise money online. Case studies, news reports and personal experiences have shown that organizations can raise significant amounts of money through websites, e-mail, crowdfunding campaigns and other online strategies.

The dark side of nonprofit monthly giving

"The wider adoption of monthly giving (also known as regular or sustained giving) in the U.S. could itself transform philanthropy.” Dr. Adrian Sargeant

Is It Time for a Murder Board?

You know it's coming. Something unusually bad has happened—maybe an embezzlement, or a CEO who's had an affair with a staff member, or a board chair who's gone crazy—and people in the media, on the city council, or in the state legislature, smelling blood in the water, are now developing long teeth.

Or maybe it's as simple as a new reporter in town, hungry to make a name at your nonprofit's expense.

Whatever it is, you know that you're about to face an unusually hostile media interview or political hearing. A determined, smart reporter or politician with a career incentive will write an investigative piece or hold a hearing that will win him or her new status and money. If that means hard times for your nonprofit's reputation, that's just collateral damage.

Do you just stand there waiting for the bus to hit you, or is there something you can do?

There is. It's what presidential debate teams, CEOs with oil spills, and appointees with Senate confirmations do. It's called a murder board, and you don't need to be a pro to do it pretty well for yourself, with the help of your staff.

Hopefully you've already got a media crisis plan in place; that's the first step. You need one because things might still go south even with good preparation.

But you've got something going for you in this situation that's not common in media crises: you can see the hurricane coming on the horizon—moving fast, but not here yet. And that could make the difference. A murder board takes a bit of time, some practice, and especially a certain type of imagination and intuition.

So what is it, how do you set one up, and why does it work when done well? (And it does work, which is why people in high-stakes situations hire media and political experts to create them.)

In short, a murder board is a small group of people who take the role of the meanest, smartest questioners you could face in this situation. They ask you the most unfair and difficult questions in the most sneering way possible, with the intention of getting you to lose it as quickly and completely as possible and thus be embarrassed, defeated, and publicly humiliated.

EXCEPT—that they also have given you their questions in advance, along with the best possible responses in short bullet points. So actually all you have to do is practice, remain cool, dodge the incoming rounds, and fire back your killer responses, taking the high ground of being steady, calm, and courteous while they are mean, baiting, and asking one question after another of the "How often do you beat your wife?" variety.

Specifically, here's what you do:

  1. Find the right people. Ideally you want about three or four people who understand both the media and your organization's weak points. (You have to assume that a competent reporter will quickly find your soft spots. And if your tough questioner is a member of your association or a donor to your social welfare organization, you're not off the hook; those people are even more likely to know your organizational weaknesses.) Don't pick the sweetest-natured people on your staff for this duty. They don't have to BE mean, but they need to have the capacity to PLAY mean, and even to enjoy the temporary duty, the way fine actors who are personally nice people like to play bad guys now and then. If you have an experienced media relations person on staff, you want him or her as part of the questioning team.
  2. Encourage them to generate the nastiest possible questions for this situation. This is the most important part of the process and the one where it might be most cost-effective to buy some time from a consultant who's done many murder boards before and has seen what works and what doesn't. Ideally this person has had so much direct experience with the media that he or she really can guess fairly accurately what questions WILL arise, what worst-case questions MIGHT arise, and what answers will best work in influencing the questioner and, more important, the questioner's readers or followers. This question generation is best done by each member of the group independently. You really don't want group-think here but independent judgment, from different perspectives.
  3. Have them generate answers to their questions. The answers must be very brief, usually in bullet form, with not more than two or three bullets and in priority order of importance. You may have three great bullets, but if the reporter cuts you off after the first, you need that first one to carry the day by itself.
  4. Vet and refine the answers. At the very least, you've got to be comfortable with the answers drafted by your questioners, and you may want additional staff to review your revisions. Is each answer short enough? Memorable enough? The best way to respond?
  5. Practice, practice, practice. You want each question and its answer bullets on a single page, and then you want to practice with those sheets like flash cards, covering up the answer while trying to respond, then comparing how you did with the actual bullet points. Do that over and over until you've got it down so well that you can say the right things even when distracted—which is exactly what the murder board is going to try to make you feel.
  6. Then face your first murder board session. If they are doing their job, you'll fail, and pretty fast. That's because their job is to make the experience as painful as possible so that you freeze up—preferably so much more painful than the real thing that the real thing will seem a breeze by comparison. They can get as mean as they want, they can vary the wording and order of the questions, they can ask follow-on questions you haven't anticipated—they get to rant and rave, but you have to be consistently unflappable, courteous, gracious, and reasonable.
  7. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off. Take a deep breath, listen to their critiques, take another break, and practice some more.
  8. Hold a second session. And then hold as many as you need until you've got it cold and can handle unexpected variations.

So—why does this work? I think it's because the most important thing going on here is not so much the particulars of your answers but MAINTENANCE OF ATTITUDE. All of this practice and pressure in advance is simply to allow you to avoid freezing up by constantly staying on top of the situation. Think of a champion surfer riding a constantly changing wave, or a great skier adapting to a changing hill at 70 miles an hour—all these preparations are simply ways of making it easier for you to maintain an attitude of being calm while being hyper-alert as you do difficult things automatically. But whether or not that is why it works, it does work, which is why the pros use this again and again.

So—if you're facing a killer media or political situation, try a murder board. Mess up in front of your friends, so the real thing will seem easy by comparison.

Jason Hall, Public Trust Strategies
© 2014, Public Trust Strategies

Jason Hall is principal of Public Trust Strategies, a consulting firm specializing in helping organizations of all sizes build, enhance, or restore deserved reputations and influence with key audiences, and leveraging that increased reputation and influence to secure increased and sustained funding and enduring public trust. He is also a professor at George Mason University, teaching master's courses in media and government relations and in ethics for public administrators. He is the former director of government and media relations for the American Association of Museums (1991-2007).

Most People Skim. Few Read Deep.

Excerpted from Making Money with Donor Newsletters

Watch your own behavior the next time you pick up the newspaper.

You browse first. If you find something of interest, then you start reading. And even then, you often read no more than a paragraph or two before jumping to another story, unless you're enjoying a leisurely morning.

Same goes for donors.

Just Getting On Board or Getting Up to Speed?

Let me share two totally different situations of two new executive directors (E.D.s) taking over leadership of two different nonprofits. In each case the organizations were functioning without glaring problems, although both were suffering somewhat from the normal uncertainty of a leadership change.

In the first instance, the board was cordial and welcoming but not involved in the process of the new executive director's coming on board. The board made it clear they were ready for business as usual and expected everything to continue as if there had been no changes. The new executive director was given the keys to what they considered their well-honed machine and was expected to merge into the fast lane as if no change had taken place. It was no great surprise that within six months organizational performance dropped off. It was not business as usual because there had been a major change; there was a new leader at the helm with a different perception, outlook, and skill set than his predecessor. Almost all stakeholders were still getting used to the new E.D. and holding back as a result.

Now let's look at the second situation. As the change in leadership was taking place, the executive director and board realized it was an excellent opportunity to step back and evaluate the organization's direction. The executive director went on a "listening tour" of board members, staff, donors, and various stakeholders. The E.D. was able to ask for candid feedback, since there was no need to defend past practices and no egos involved. As a result, the E.D. and board reevaluated some programs and approaches and made changes that reflected stakeholders' needs. Here there was an acknowledgement that there would be no business as usual. As a result, changes and new relationships developed, and in 18 months revenues doubled.

I was the E.D. in each of these cases and can attest to the value of the cooperative and transparent approach in the second example. Bringing a new executive director on board is always a challenge, but it can be made into a tremendously valuable opportunity for the organization. It takes a partnership between the new E.D. and the board to bring value to the change. Here are some key components that can lead to a successful transition:

  • Written description of what early priorities will be. The E.D. should develop the priorities with the board, then share the final version with it. The process should exemplify the transparent approach being taken and what expectations exist around early efforts and outcomes.
  • An acknowledgement and willingness on the board's part to use the change in leadership as an opportunity to step back and reevaluate the organization's programs and tactics. This may mean putting some current strategic initiatives on hold. The board should also keep an open mind to making some adjustments if warranted.
  • A possible listening tour, plus an analysis of the organization's programs, staff, financial situation, etc. These initial activities should be scheduled for the E.D.'s first 90 days so that the process doesn't get strung out too long.
  • An inclusive approach to listening to stakeholders. The first apparently defensive comment by the E.D. will shut down candor, when it's that unfiltered input that's necessary.
  • A start on developing relationships. Everyone likes being asked their thoughts and opinions—as long as you truly listen to the answers. Each meeting should be closed by thanking participants for their comments and asking if you can follow up with any further questions and to share the results of your collective outreach.
  • A focus on learning. None of these meetings should be about asking for money.

From personal experience, the most common rejoinder when listening to stakeholders was "no one took the time to listen to me in the past." Participants greatly appreciated being asked for their opinions and having the opportunity to shape the organization's future thinking. And, of course, successful executive directors build strong relationships, and these meetings are excellent opportunities to begin this process.

Therein lies the value of truly getting up to speed in a new position and not simply getting on board. It takes concerted effort by both the board and E.D. as well as the willingness to reevaluate current practices. But it can lead to tremendous organizational success!

Bill Hoffman, Bill Hoffman and Associates, LLC
© 2014, Bill Hoffman and Associates, LLC

Bill Hoffman has more than 30 years' expertise in various aspects of the nonprofit sector, having worked at all levels of nonprofit organizations, including serving as chief executive of a $6 million education foundation for 9 years. He and his firm have written and presented on topics ranging from board development to community and volunteer engagement, organizational development and performance, and best practices in national, regional, and state publications and symposia.

4 ways to make your online auction a success


How (Not) To Manage a Project

Anisha Singh

Become a better storyteller at the FREE Weekend in Boca VII

Please join me on May 2 and 3, 2014, as nonprofits from across the country gather in Boca Raton, Florida, to network, share resources, and learn from the best in the sector at the seventh annual Office Depot Foundation Weekend in Boca Civil Society Leadership Symposium.

This year’s theme is “Innovation and Collaboration – Telling Your Story through Performance, Impact and Inspiration,” and it’s sure to be jam-packed with incredible information. As nonprofits, we inherently are story-tellers, but some of us are better than others – and even the best of us can improve! This year’s Weekend in Boca will teach you how to tell your stories concisely and effectively by focusing on:

  • Performance – communicating your success in accomplishing your goals.
  • Impact – communicating the difference that you are able to make over the long haul.
  • Inspiration – engaging the community in supporting your mission through donations, volunteerism, opportunities to collaborate and other ways both tangible and intangible.

They have an all-star line-up of speakers, among which I am honored to be:

  • Carol Cone, Global Practice Chair for Business and Social Purpose for Edelman
  • Melissa Bradley, Founder and Managing Director, New Capitalist
  • Richard Crespin, CEO, Crespin Enterprises, and Senior Fellow, U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation Business Civic Leadership Center
  • Lindsay Nichols, Marketing & Communications Director, GuideStar USA
  • Stacy Palmer, Editor, Chronicle of Philanthropy
  • Diane Remin, President,

Tickets are FREE, so register today:

I went last year and I can tell you that I have rarely felt so invigorated after a professional development/networking event. The speakers are engaging and have hands-on tips that you can start using that very minute, the energy is high, there is plenty of time for networking—and there is an unbelievable amount of swag that attendees take home! Best of all, you realize you aren’t alone. All of us in the nonprofit sector are working towards a greater good, but we’re sometimes in our own little worlds so much that we forget that. All in all, I remember thinking how lucky I was to be in the audience, and I know you will too. Don’t miss this incredible event!

For those of you that are going, please let me know! I’d love to meet up with you. In addition to taking the stage for a short while, I’ll be live Tweeting—from both GuideStar’s and my own Twitter handles— @GuideStarUSA and @lindsaynichols—using the symposium hashtag: #ODFWIB.

I hope to see you there!

What do you want me to speak about at Weekend in Boca VII? Let me know in the comments below!

Lindsay J.K. Nichols

Lindsay J.K. Nichols is GuideStar’s director of marketing and communications and national spokesperson. Every day she builds on GuideStar’s strong brand position and reputation to sustain awareness of its mission through dynamic and long-lasting relationships with key audiences and influencers. Before GuideStar, Lindsay worked at worldwide public relations firms including Ogilvy PR, Metropolitan Group, Manning Selvage & Lee, and Levick Strategic Communications. Lindsay earned a bachelor’s degree in Broadcasting Communications and Women’s Studies from the State University of New York at Oswego. She is a founding board member of Social Media for Nonprofits and a volunteer of Safe Shores, the DC Children’s Advocacy Center. You can reach Lindsay at

This blog post is being written on a mobile device

This blog post is being written on a mobile device.

For Women’s History Month, Philanthropedia Celebrates 6 Top Women’s Issues Nonprofits

Violence against women and girls is a human rights violation, public health epidemic, and major barrier to solving global challenges such as extreme poverty, HIV/AIDS, and famine. According to the United Nations, up to seventy percent of women experience some form of violence in their lifetime. Although methods vary, violence against women has always been, and continues to be, a global epidemic that knows no national or cultural barriers. The most prevalent forms of violence are rape and domestic abuse. However, practices such as female infanticide, acid throwing, dowry deaths, bride burnings, and honor killings are still widely performed around the globe today.

While the physical effects of violence are devastating in their own right, the emotional and psychological toll is even more detrimental. But violence against women and girls is not inevitable. Prevention is possible and essential.

Nonprofits Leading the Charge in Disaster Cleanup

According to, during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill (also referred to as the BP oil spill), more than 200 million gallons of crude oil seeped into the Gulf of Mexico for 87 days across 16,000 miles of coastline. The initial oilrig explosion killed 11 and injured 17 people. BP must pay upwards of $40 billion in fines and cleanup costs with another $16 billion under the Clean Water Act.

But in the midst of tragedy, more than 30,000 people rallied to help collect oil, clean up beaches, restore the community and assist sick animals. Who are the volunteers and organizations behind the scenes when environmental disaster strikes? Here's a look at some of the organizations working diligently to restore our communities in times of adversity.

The Red Cross

Founded by Clara Barton in 1881, the American Red Cross helps those in need in the U.S. and internationally through other Red Cross networks. The organization primarily focuses on people affected by disasters throughout the U.S., support for military and their families, blood collection, health and safety training and international relief. Their services expand to help those who suffer from anything from home fires to natural disasters, like Katrina, to environmental disasters.

FEMA photo by Andrea Booher via Wikimedia Commons

During the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the Red Cross collaborated with federal, state and local government agencies to get support to affected communities. Specifically, the Red Cross kept an eye on the hurricane season. The dangerous conditions in conjunction with the ongoing leak threatened people's homes and raised alarms for longer evacuation periods and an increase in supplies.

With an eye on educating the public, the Red Cross works to grow its donation base and develop partnerships with both nonprofits and corporations. Together, their partnerships focuses on everything from increasing blood donations to ensuring better disaster preparedness. The Red Cross works to empower business leaders in the community to help carry on the volunteer legacy. Their "Ready When the Time Comes" program helps corporations across the country and everywhere in between engage their employees to volunteer. The program has helped more than 13,000 employees get involved and prepare for relief efforts and disaster cleanup as soon as the next day.


The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) helps survivors of earthquakes, famine, tornadoes, floods and hurricanes around the world. With an eye on international conflict, they also helped communities in Rwanda and Bosnia rebuild their homes and provide training and education to combat hunger and poverty.

Photo by NWS WFO Norman, OK via Wikimedia Commons

The organization also aided the Japanese effected by the triple disaster of earthquake, tsunami and the Fukushima oil spill, in part, by supporting Horikawa Aiseien Children’s Home. The home suffered structural damage from the earthquake and the radiation in the area's atmosphere is still rating high since the nuclear disaster. UMCOR helped upgrade the children's home to provide safer conditions. Because the home also helps protect abused children, who are more likely to suffer when living long-term in emergency shelters, they also help rebuild their trust in adults and provide psychological care.

Photo by Michael Osborne via WIkimedia Commons

UMCOR empowers communities to mobilize and respond through a variety of classes and events. The organization helps mobilize and train volunteers across churches, conferences and neighborhoods to respond to disasters. With global health in mind, UMCOR also focuses on strategic responses to issues such as malaria and helping build self-governing health boards in various African countries. UMCOR's growth continues to flourish as they partner with both small organizations and large like the United Nations Foundation.


In 1975, a U.S. jet with 243 Vietnamese orphans crashed into a jungle near Tan Son Nhut with children burning to death and survivors in critical condition. When the U.S. Pentagon said it would not be able to deploy rescue resources for at least 10 days, paper broker Robert C. Macaluey chartered a Boeing 747 and brought the children back to California for treatment within 48 hours. After another high-profile rescue mission in Poland, AmeriCares was formed and has since sent more than $11 billion in aid to 164 countries since 1982.

That philanthropic spirit continues with AmeriCares donating time, money, resources and supplies to victims of typhoons, earthquakes, cyclones, floods, civil conflict and environmental disasters both big and small. In January 2014, a chemical spill sent Charleston, West Virginia and surrounding areas into a water crisis after a chemical leak contaminated local water supplies. More than 300,000 residents were left with no clean water for cooking or bathing, shelters were stretched to capacity and hygiene was compromised. With families in mind, AmeriCares sent Family Emergency Kits to West Virginians suffering from the chemical spill. Kits contained personal hygiene products for a family of four ranging from soap to toothpaste.

Photo by AmeriCaresWebTeam via Wikimedia Commons

To date, AmeriCares partners with more than 200 pharmaceutical and related manufacturers that donate products to help fill upwards of 15 million prescriptions. Unlike many non-profits, AmeriCare is 100 percent privately funded through 250 corporate partners and 100,000 donors to raise upwards of $500 million. The organization looks toward an entrepreneurial ethos with a rooted understanding in health environments to strengthen partnerships.

Leadership to Community

What these organizations all have in common is their focus on passing on leadership skills to the community and empowering others to help their neighbor. One organization alone can't clean up an entire environmental disaster, but giving the community tools and training can create a lifelong legacy of aid and forward progress.

The preceding is a guest post by Susan Finch, a freelance writer with a passion for

Susan Finch

travel deals, arts and great food. She is an eclectic writer with more than 10 years of experience contributing to guidebooks, magazines, iPhone apps, online publications and more. She can be found at

Challenges and Benefits of Nonprofit Event Fundraising

Spring is here and so is the event fundraising season! Events that raise money for causes and nonprofits can take many forms from 5k runs and walk-a-thons to endurance bike rides. In recent years, nonprofits have expanded these activities to include mud runs, polar plunges, even head-shaving! But just like any large undertaking, planning a fundraising event has its benefits and challenges. They can bring in a lot of revenue for the organization, but can also put tremendous strain on a nonprofit’s resources. The operations and logistics can test your organization’s limits; however, the reward can certainly outweigh the risk if executed correctly.

Nonprofit Career Myths: 8 that Nobody Should Believe

Emily Green

Identify, Engage, Solicit, Steward, Repeat

While annual giving seems simple – identify, engage, solicit, steward, repeat – anyone who has worked in annual giving knows that it is anything but simple. Where and how do you find new prospects? How do you create a case for support that resonates and raises money for much-needed general operating support? How much should you ask for? How do donors want to be thanked and recognized?

Questions I'm Most Often Asked about Boards and Fundraising

Boards and fundraising. It's a hot-button issue for almost everyone—from monolithic hospitals to closet-sized food pantries. In my years of consulting I've fielded hundreds if not thousands of questions on the subject. Here, I offer answers to the six questions I'm asked most often.

High-Speed Trends in Philanthropy: An Oxymoron

For many decades if you were referring to a "trend" in philanthropy, you were embracing the definition of trend in its totality, which is a general direction in which something is developing or changing.

In this new world that is driven by the interchange of thoughts and opinions flying back and forth across the globe, philanthropy has taken on a new guise.

Let's explore one of these trends that I find particularly exciting.

"Giving while living" is the new mantra for many family funds. The trend is simply to spend down the corpus of a family fund within a set period of time. The debate continues between the idea of giving in perpetuity and the instant gratification that comes with giving it all away in the near future. This discussion, which can become quite heated, has been going on for decades, but it seems to have accelerated in the past several years as more family funds are inherited by a generation of individuals wanting to see quick returns on their investment.

Accompanying this new trend is the increased willingness for the grantmaker to take risks in order to achieve a specific vision. Because there is limited time to achieve their goals, these grantmakers are investing in advocacy as well as untested ventures. That allows the grantseeker the opportunity to propose projects and approaches that would not typically be funded.

What Does All of This Mean for the Grantseeker?

First, collaboration is the key to unlocking these funds. Limited life foundations clearly recognize the need to partner early and often to meet their goals—and to encourage their grantees to do the same.

Second, when submitting applications to funds that have defined life spans, it is important to include a sustainability plan. You need to recognize openly that there is going to be limited support from a particular grantmaker, and that you have a plan to carry on your work beyond that funder's involvement. Sustainability is a topic unto itself, but it is imperative to both your organization’s success and your own peace of mind.

And third, I would suggest that groups establish endowment funds now in order to be ready to accept large gifts. Those who are ready are most likely to inherit the larger amounts of money that may be spent down in the last year of a fund's life.

So, let me sum this up by noting that by the year 2020, philanthropy, not only in the United States but throughout the world, will wear a new face. I feel confident that these changes will open an expanded door of opportunity in the area of grantseeking for nonprofit organizations. A global sensibility combined with an array of innovative technologies will birth a new way, and perhaps a new wave, of giving.

Cynthia M. Adams, GrantStation
© 2014, GrantStation

Cindy Adams is CEO of GrantStation, a premiere online fundraising resource that provides information on more than 6,500 funders accepting inquiries. You can learn more about trends in philanthropy in her weekly podcast: Talk2020, part of GrantStation's Vision2020 series to help nonprofits prepare for future grantmaking.

Increasing Donations for Charities Has Never Been Easier

In recent times, technology has completely revolutionized the way nonprofits can raise money and engage with their supporters.

3 Tips to Help the College-to-Workplace Transition


Finding the transition from that easy-going college lifestyle to the strict, daily grind of the working world jarring? You aren’t alone.

How NOT To Waste Money on Branded Swag

You probably never thought twice about that pen you use that has your local bank’s name on it, but when you become the one ordering branded swag for your nonprofit, suddenly all you can think about are questions. Which branded swag is best? Should you order pens, or should you get T-shirts, car magnets or banners? All of the above? And when you order them, how do you stay within budget? Who designs these items? Is it you? If so, how do you know if you’re doing it right?

Key Findings for 2013 Charitable Giving Report

Steve MacLaughlin

The Affordable Care Act and Nonprofit Organizations: An Overview


What are the implications of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) for nonprofit organizations? Are there any exceptions for employer-based insurance coverage for nonprofit organizations that struggle to provide for this financially?

Jargon & Gargoyles: How to Not Bore Your Donors to Death

Do you use non profit jargon when talking to your donors?

Comprehensive nonprofit data and information: There’s an API for that

I am thrilled to announce that GuideStar has a new suite of APIs (Application Programming Interfaces)! This means:

Time to Recommit to Your Privacy Policy

Privacy policy? Didn’t we all do that already, during the advent of our websites and email programs?

Performance Insights: If It Matters, It Can Be Measured

If you’re working to bring about big systems change, how will you know you’re getting anywhere? For organizations working to engage citizens in democratic life, can success really be measured? Is it worth the time and cost of trying to determine an organization’s impact when the work is structured around a series of issue campaigns?

Avoiding Legal Issues when Posting on Social Networks

With more than 400 million people communicating on Facebook every day, social networking sites offer endless entertainment as well as viable business opportunities. However, despite their many advantages, these online networks have instigated a multitude of legal issues.

Getting Started as a Fundraising Trainer

Excerpted from Train Your Board (And Everyone Else) to Raise Money

Stuck with Impossible Goals? Here's Help!

Reprinted from Fired-Up Fundraising

It happens all the time.

Smart nonprofit staffers come to me and share their secret: the goals they are assigned to accomplish are completely unrealistic.

They are in a situation where their operational and performance goals are more than anyone can possibly accomplish. Some of the goals they have been given are not even carefully vetted or thought out.

Extra tasks to do are simply dumped on staff without any priority or thought.

These staffers are in serious "overwhelm." Work is a drudge. And life is no fun either.

Have you ever been in this situation? It's not pretty.

I can't imagine anything more awful than being stuck with goals that are impossible to achieve.

A Happy Story of a Nonprofit That Got Organized

Here's a happy story of how smart planning is getting everyone on the same page, protecting the staff, and even sharpening up expectations of the board.

My friend Dan Bruer, CEO of the Frankie Lemmon School (for children with developmental disabilities, here in Raleigh, N.C.) and his board are the heroes of this story.

He and his board have just created an ambitious new strategic plan.

Now that the strategic plan is completed, he and the board are at it again—they're crafting a smart business plan to achieve the strategic goals.

I love this approach.

It's not often that the board is involved in helping to think though exactly HOW to implement the new goals.

The beauty of involving them is that they'll all be on the same page if there are any new investments in staff or programs. Yay!

"Having the board thinking through HOW we would reach these new goals is absolutely essential," Dan said.

"It never put the staff in the place of defending themselves or staff salaries to the board.

"Because it's the board members themselves who are helping us decide how much staffing we'll need to reach these new, aggressive goals."

Here's a blow by blow of what happened:

1.The board and leadership developed a lofty new strategic plan.

Then they handed it to the staff.

So far, so good.

Our CEO Dan started wondering—"How do I implement this with my current staff and funding strategies? Is this realistic?"

He knew that the school was not staffed up to do all this.


So what did he do?

2. Dan asked for more help from his board.

He went back to his board and said, "I need your business acumen. Help me develop a business model and smart staffing structure that will help us reach these wonderful goals."


3. Together they looked carefully at the staffing—what are they focusing on all day?

Now Dan and the board are working together to line up staff work responsibilities with the "strategic priorities" that the board had identified.

And everything will be tied right back to the overall strategic plan—its objectives and goals.

So every staffer's work will be based on one of the objectives of the new strategic plan.

And they are making sure that they are building in accountability—so all the staff will clearly know what to focus on and what they will be evaluated for. YES!

What's more—any new staff hired will be people to focus on the strategic priorities.


Now, here's where it gets interesting:

4. The board members decided what kind of board they needed in order to execute the strategic plan.

The board decided on a profile for new board members ... and they are focusing on philanthropy.

The new profile was clear: largest donors; broadest networks; committed to advancing the mission.

As Dan says, "We wanted to grow. So we decided to speak the truth about what our goal is for the board."

Because the plan was for a big expansion of programming and services, they knew it would take money. So they were all OK with saying "It IS about the money."

Now this really is a dream come true for many nonprofits.

5. The board members decided to hold themselves accountable.

So they created a board scorecard with only 5 points, that tracked the key activities they needed board members to do.

Dan says that the board members are now all over those items on the scorecard—and are making sure they are getting them done.

It's the old cliché for both board and staff—what gets reported—gets done!

Check, check, and check again!

What made all this work?

  1. First Dan had the guts to go to his board and ask for help.
  2. He had business folks on the board who could take an idea and help him make it into a hard plan.
  3. The board members were willing to hold themselves accountable.
  4. They took a firm business-like approach to the planning process—one that made everybody a winner!

Bottom Line

Your plan can protect you. If you are confronted with impossible tasks, pull out the plan and say:

"Here's our plan that we have all agreed upon. I can do this OR this but I can't do BOTH this and this. Can you please help me set my priorities?"

Good luck, and may the smart planning forces go with you!

Gail Perry, MBA, CFRE, Fired-Up Fundraising
© 2014, Fired-Up Fundraising. Reprinted with permission.

Gail Perry, MBA, CFRE, is an international fundraising consultant, trend spotter, speaker, trainer, and thought leader. Her Fired-Up Fundraising approach, developed over the past 25 years as a nonprofit philanthropy expert, has helped organizations raise hundreds of millions in gifts and support. She is the author of the Fired-Up Fundraising blog and newsletter. Her book, Fired-Up Fundraising: Turn Board Passion into Action, has been called the "gold standard guide to building successful fundraising boards."

Nonprofit Insurance Coverage: You Need More Than a Directors and Officers Policy

The following discussion is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to serve as legal advice. For advice on the types of insurance your organization should carry, consult your attorney.

Question: How protected is our nonprofit's board if we have directors and officers liability insurance? How can we protect our organization?

Having appropriate insurance coverage—not just directors and officers liability insurance but all relevant insurance policies (such as property insurance, commercial general liability insurance, errors and omissions insurance, fiduciary liability insurance, and meeting cancellation insurance [in certain circumstances], among others)—is a critical risk-management tool for any nonprofit. Such policies help to protect both the organization and its staff and volunteer leaders against the risks that arise in the functioning of every nonprofit. These policies function collectively as a safety net in the event that other risk management practices fail, sometimes through no fault of the organization or its management.

Securing and maintaining good insurance coverage—coverage that is appropriately tailored to the organization's risks, provides limits of liability that are reasonable and affordable, that minimizes coverage gaps, and that contains other important features (and avoids the more problematic ones)—is a best practice in the nonprofit community. Importantly, insurance coverage can cover not only the ultimate judgment and settlement amounts, but also the very significant fees that can accompany any lawsuit, investigation, or similar legal process.

Beyond insurance coverage, individual nonprofit leaders—both staff and volunteers—can be protected personally through indemnification (often contained in the nonprofit's bylaws), state volunteer protection statutes (not always applicable to all types of nonprofits or to all volunteers), and the "corporate shield" of the nonprofit corporation itself.

Of course, if volunteer leaders—such as officers and directors—fail to fulfill their fiduciary duties of care, loyalty, and obedience to the corporation, then irrespective of all of the above, the nonprofit can hold them liable for any harm that befalls the organization as a result of their acts or omissions.

For more information on nonprofit insurance coverage issues, see:

Jeffrey S. Tenenbaum, Esq., Venable LLP
© 2014, Venable, LLP

Jeffrey Tenenbaum is a partner at Venable LLP and chairs the firm's Nonprofit Organizations Practice Group.


Fundraising Training Exercise: Where Do You Stand? Fundraising Continuums

Excerpted from Train Your Board (And Everyone Else) to Raise Money

When you consider the ubiquitous raffles, benefit events, cookie and candy sales, most of us have far more fundraising experience than we realize. Many people have sales backgrounds and ask for money every day. Others have prepared grant proposals or solicited corporate gifts. The purpose of this activity is to assess the fundraising skill level of your team and to reinforce the idea that your colleagues know more than they think. It's also a fun, physical activity that gets people moving.

Why Do This Exercise?
To uncover useful information about how best to engage members of your fundraising team

Use This Exercise When
You want to address board assumptions about fundraising, or during an early meeting of your development committee, campaign committee, or other fundraising group

Time Required
10 to 20 minutes, depending on the number of questions you ask

Anyone involved with your fundraising campaign: some combination of board, staff, and volunteers

A space with enough room for people to move around. If the weather's nice and you have a reasonably quiet location, this activity works well outdoors, too.

A bell, whistle, or other noisemaker is useful but not essential

Facilitating the Exercise

  1. Ask everyone to stand in one line shoulder to shoulder in random order, facing you.
  2. Explain that you'll be asking a series of questions such as "How many years of experience do you have in fundraising?" and "What's the biggest amount you've ever asked for?" According to the answers they give, participants will then position themselves along the line, those with the most experience standing at one end and those with the least experience at the other. Emphasize that to create the correct sequence they need to talk to each other as they move around: "I have three years of fundraising experience—who has less than that? Who has more?"
  3. Sample questions; choose the ones that seem most interesting and relevant.

    • How many years in total have you been doing any sort of fundraising? For your organization, other groups, your church or school, as a staff member or volunteer. (For instance, selling Girl Scout cookies counts.) How many total years?
    • What's the largest amount you've ever asked for face to face? You can include a charitable solicitation, a grant proposal—if you met with the funder in person—or raising money for a business. You can even include asking your parents, but you can't include your mortgage. Notice that the verb is "ask," not "get." What's your largest face-to-face ask?
    • How would you rate your comfort in asking? This end (point to one end of the line) equals deeply uncomfortable. At the other end (point in that direction), asking is no big deal. Where would you stand on the spectrum?
    • In a typical year, how many different nonprofits do you support financially?
    • How would you rate the amount of planning you do as a donor? At one end (point to one end of the line), you tend to give money spontaneously. At the other end (point), you tend to plan—maybe you even have an estate plan so organizations will benefit when you pass away. Where do you stand?
    • How many hours per month—realistically—do you have available to help with fundraising for our organization?
  4. Once you've asked a question and participants settle into their positions along the line, you may need to ring a bell or blow a whistle to get their attention and quiet the conversations. Go down the line, asking each person to name their number: number of years, largest ask, level of comfort. You can also call on people as you see fit to provide more detail. "Joe, you say the largest amount you've asked for is $1,000? What was the circumstance?"

    Look for opportunities to draw useful conclusions. For example, "There are 10 of us in the room, and we've got more than 100 years of experience among us. I bet we know more about fundraising than we realize." Or try this: "Looks like we have a wide range of available time; some of us can offer only a few hours per month. Maybe we should choose at least a few fundraising strategies that don't require a big time commitment."

  5. Once you've commented on responses to one question, ask another. Feel free even to make up your own, but note that this exercise doesn't work with yes-or-no questions. Your questions must allow individuals to rate themselves along a continuum.
  6. Ask everyone to return to their seats, then debrief the exercise by asking the following questions:

    • What did you learn about our group?
    • What did you learn about your experience and expertise in relation to the other members of the group?

Training Tip

Pay attention to everyone's body language. Depending on the number of questions you ask and how talkative people are, this exercise can easily run too long. If you see people starting to sag—leaning against walls, moving away from the line to take a seat, or just physically slumping—look for an opportunity to end the exercise promptly and have everyone return to their seats.

Read more training tips

Other Excerpts from This Book

Andrea Kihlsted and Andy Robinson
© 2014, Andrea Kihlsted and Andy Robinson. Excerpted from Train Your Board (And Everyone Else) to Raise Money: A Cookbook of Easy-to-Use Fundraising Exercises. Excerpted with permission of Emerson & Church Publishers.

Andrea Kihlstedt is author of How to Raise $1 Million (or More!) in 10 Bite-Sized Steps. She has served the nonprofit sector for more than 30 years as a fundraiser, trainer, consultant, teacher, writer, and speaker. She has trained nonprofit boards and staff throughout the United States on effective major gifts fundraising, capital campaigns, and how to ask for gifts. Kihlstedt is cofounder (with Gail Perry) of Capital Campaign Magic, providing online learning about capital campaign fundraising.

Andy Robinson provides training and consulting for nonprofits in fundraising, grantseeking, board development, marketing, earned income, planning, leadership development, and facilitation. Andy has worked with organizations in 47 U.S. states and Canada and is the author of six books. His latest include How to Raise $500 to $5000 from Almost Anyone, The Board Member’s Easier Than You Think Guide to Nonprofit Finances, and Great Boards for Small Groups.

A Common Reporting Framework for the Nonprofit Sector: Opportunities and Challenges

Reporting in the Nonprofit Sector

The first thing that comes into one’s mind when thinking about reporting in the nonprofit sector may be the thought that reporting is a task that is mainly carried out in order to meet funders’ criteria. However, reporting is more than that. Within and outside of an organization, reporting has different purposes and is aimed at different stakeholders. Therefore, reporting plays an important and complex role in the work of nonprofit organizations.

Building Trust Through Transparency

There is much debate about how to measure the effectiveness — or strength — of a nonprofit organization. Some argue that measures like percentage of “overhead” or CEO compensation tell you everything you need to know about an organization. Others, including both of us, argue that organizational effectiveness cannot be reduced to crude financial measures — that to truly understand organizational effectiveness, you need to understand what the organization is trying to accomplish, what its track record of success has been, and what its plan for future impact is.

Anne Wallestad

At the heart of this debate is the critical question of trust. Donors are asking, “Can I trust this nonprofit to do what it says it is going to do?” “Will it use my resources wisely and effectively?” “Is it stable and sustainable enough that an investment in it is an investment in the future?”

These questions are both emotional and rational, and get to the core of the delicate and essential trust between donors and organizations. And while there are lots of mechanisms to help donors and organizations build that trust, we often overlook the very important role of the board of directors.

Boards — by definition — exist to preserve and protect the public’s trust. They have both a legal and an ethical responsibility to ensure that there is meaningful oversight of their organization’s operations and finances. They guarantee that the chief executive is held accountable to an independent body of individuals who protect and serve the organization’s mission and — by doing so —safeguard the public’s trust in the organization.

All too often, though, basic information about nonprofit boards is hidden from view. Left with no way to tell which organizations are following clearly established governance best practices, the public is left in the dark and organizations are subject to speculation and skepticism.

Jacob Harold

That is about to change. In a move that we believe will create a seismic shift in the public’s understanding of governance and board leadership, BoardSource and GuideStar are launching a new tool to help organizations share information with the public about its highest level of leadership: its board of directors.

Beginning today, organizations will have an opportunity to share information about their board’s practices as a part of their profile on the GuideStar Exchange. It now includes questions about board orientation and education, CEO oversight, ethics, board composition, and board performance — key elements of strong oversight and accountability. Soon, as a part of the ongoing evolution of GuideStar’s website, this information will be visible to the public in a new section of the GuideStar profile focused on “People and Governance,” creating transparency around what has all too often been hidden from the public’s view.

We hope that organizations will embrace this opportunity to share more information about how their boards are leading their organizations in thoughtful, intentional ways and help build trust with their donors and the public at large. And for those organizations that have not yet embraced the essential governance practices that are highlighted in the profile, we hope that the questions will serve as a catalyst for self-reflection and change within their boardrooms.

Ultimately, we hope that boards begin to be seen for what they truly are: an essential mechanism to ensure that nonprofit organizations are worthy of the public’s trust. And for those boards that might be asleep at the wheel, we hope that this will be a wake-up call — and an opportunity to fulfill the promise of good governance.

The preceding is a co-authored article by Anne Wallestad, president & CEO, BoardSource, and Jacob Harold, president & CEO, GuideStar. This is cross-posted on the BoardSource blog, Exceptional Boards, here. BoardSource is the recognized leader in nonprofit board leadership and supports, trains, and educates 90,000 nonprofit board leaders from across the country each year. GuideStar is the go-to resource for individuals searching for reliable information about nonprofit organizations, with more than 6 million users in the last year.

Effective Collaboration With Your Remote Supervisor

Microsoft Lync is an essential tool when working remotely

Why GuideStar is Not a Charity Watchdog


For many years, I have been speaking on behalf of GuideStar on the subject of charity watchdogs and the inherent problems with them as a gauge for “good” or “bad” charities. During this time, GuideStar has often been characterized as one ofthose watchdogs or ratings services. As an employee of GuideStar for the past 13 years, I am very familiar with its programs and am consistently baffled by this characterization. GuideStar has never assigned “star ratings” or told people which charity is good or bad. Nor do we advise people to give to one nonprofit over another—that’s not what we’re about.

Impact Call Webinar Follow-up

Below is a follow-up to a handful of questions submitted by participants during our first Impact Call on February 24, 2014. To read comments from participants, read our blog post here. To view the presentation or listen to the recording of the event, please click here.

Q: Is there a certain component or components preventing [GuideStar Exchange] Gold-level participation? To what do you attribute the significant difference between Gold-level participants and other levels?

A: The main different between GuideStar Exchange Gold-level participation and other levels is completion of the Charting Impact report. Here’s a breakdown of the GuideStar Exchange requirements and benefits here:

Due to the in-depth nature of these strategic questions, reaching Gold may take more time for nonprofits. That being said, Charting Impact remains a useful tool to help nonprofits think strategically about how they will achieve their goals, while creating a concise, detailed report that can be shared with key stakeholders, including the public. As such, nonprofits are taking that step to signify their impact and effectiveness transparency every day.

Find out the full requirements for all participation levels of the GuideStar Exchange here.

Q: What is the main benefit for organizations achieving [GuideStar Exchange] Gold-level status vs. silver or bronze?

A: In addition to signifying the highest level of transparency by providing basic, financial, impact, and effectiveness information, GuideStar Exchange Gold-level participation also unlocks several benefits exclusive to this level of participation: 1 free seat of GuideStar Premium – a $1,500 value – and completely waived Eventbrite Service fees. Of course, Gold-level participants also enjoy all of the benefits of lower participation levels as well. See above for the graphic of GuideStar Exchange requirements and benefits or find it here.

Q: If you are a [GuideStar Exchange] Gold-level participant, have you submitted all of the information necessary for Simplify?

A: Simplify will begin with core information that most grantmakers need from applications. Over time, it will likely expand to include additional information. Nonprofits that already have information in the GuideStar Exchange will not have to add it again. When Simplify expands to offer funders additional information, participating nonprofits will be invited to update their profiles.

So, nonprofits need only worry about making sure their GuideStar Exchange information is up-to-date.

Q: Is there a cost for nonprofits to maintain their profile on the GuideStar Exchange?

A: No! Participation in the GuideStar Exchange is completely and totally free.

­Q: With regard to the 990 and an organization’s financial profile, what actions does GuideStar do when a 990's content appears to be suggest questionable management practices?­

A: At GuideStar, our goal is to facilitate organizational transparency by providing the means for organizations to share information, such as IRS Forms 990. We equip donors and others to make informed decisions individually. Armed with information provided in Forms 990, as well as many other important organizational documents, we believe donors and the public are best suited to make appropriate decisions.

Many people think that we are a charity evaluator or a watchdog. We aren't. Instead, we are a 501(c)(3) public charity that collects, organizes, and presents the information you want in an easy-to-understand format while remaining neutral. Providing nonprofit information to a broad audience at no cost to those users is an important part of our public service, one that we pledge to continue.

Q: What is GuideStar doing to raise the awareness of small to medium-sized nonprofits to potential funders, especially those will little public exposure?

A: The best way for small to medium-sized nonprofits to reach potential funders is by participating in the free GuideStar Exchange. Increasingly, more donors and funders are relying on the information provided through the GuideStar Exchange to make their funding decisions. By providing as much information as possible to GuideStar, small to medium-sized nonprofits signal their commitment to transparency alongside many large nonprofit organizations, helping level the playing field. Nonprofits can then leverage their participation status in promotional materials.

Q: What is GuideStar doing to help small/medium nonprofits to be better equipped to develop data for their GuideStar profile, especially those with little to no experience with evaluation/measurement tools?

A: One tool that small/medium nonprofits who have little to no experience with evaluation or measurement will find particularly helpful is Charting Impact. This report, fully a part of the GuideStar Exchange, guides nonprofits through a series of questions that help facilitate a discussion around strategic goals and objectives for the organization.

Additionally, GuideStar Exchange participants will find informative tips within the GuideStar Exchange platform to help.

Q: What types of innovation will GuideStar take part in with their great cash results?

A: Building on top of GuideStar’s already robust data supply chain, we have an opportunity for immense data innovation, creating new forms of value from our data. Operationally, we will execute this through GuideStar Labs, our cluster of research and innovation functions. We will develop new products, new tools, and new insight driven by:

  • tackling the hard questions about the nonprofit sector – questions of nonprofit programs, performance, and impact;
  • connecting different types of data together; linking nonprofit data to information about issues, interventions, and capital flows; and
  • making things much easier for our users – and integrated into their existing systems and processes.

Q: Are you doing any studies to determine the longer term impact of your work – i.e. how funding has shifted as a result, how NPOs are run better, etc?

A: Our impact can be measured in two ways, how our data is used and what our data is used to accomplish. We are exploring ways to measure the “how” and the “what” aspects of our impact. Historically, we have been pretty good at measuring how, where, and who was using our data.

Late last year (2013), GuideStar conducted a simple survey of our users to start answering the “what” portion of this complicated question. Respondents were asked to complete this sentence, “In the last year, GuideStar helped me or my organization to ….” Using responses to date, we found that GuideStar has helped other nonprofits:

  • Move more than $1 billion of funding through the nonprofit sector
  • Save the lives of 1,000 youth in Kenya
  • Feed more than 18 million meals to the disadvantaged
  • Teach more than 300,000 kids in various programs
  • Improve 52,373 units of housing for low-income people in New York
  • Make healthcare available to 60,000 disadvantaged people in southwest Uganda

These are just samples of the answers that we received. Our true impact is considerably higher since these were culled from only 900 responses, a tiny fraction of our thousands of customers, 10 million site visits, and myriad partners.

We will continue our efforts to measure the impact of our data, tying how it is used to what it is used for.

You can read more about the survey’s results here:

We will continue to try to determine our longer-term impact of our work in the year ahead. Stay tuned!

­Q: What's your take on donors increasingly treating philanthropy as "investments" rather than just donations? For example, do you find that donors are treating philanthropy as they would treat their financial investments in the commercial sector?­

A: Donors are as diverse as the landscape of nonprofits. For some, donations to charity are a means to an end – they want to support a cause, help out a family member, make a more meaningful one-time gift, etc. For others, they think of donations as long-term investments and they care deeply about the nonprofits they support with their hard-earned money. We are strong supporters of both kinds of donor paradigms and are working hard to provide both the qualitative and quantitative data essential to their decision-making processes.

Q: Do you know how many individual donors use GuideStar?

A: We get more than 10 million visits to every year – and 98 percent of that information is accessed for free. Soon we are revamping our navigation so we can determine what kinds of people are coming to our site – individual donors, institutional funders, researchers, accountants, attorneys, etc. Until then, we can’t estimate the number of donors using GuideStar – but stay tuned!

Q: With increased global efforts, how is GuideStar engaging ALL nonprofits (international include) in creating a comprehensive database that is multifaceted to meet the interests/needs of potential funders, donors, investors and partnerships?

A: We are working with Foundation Center, GlobalGiving, and TechSoup Global to develop the Basic Registry of Identified Global Entities (BRIDGE). BRIDGE is a system that assigns non-governmental organizations (NGOs), NGO programs and projects, and other entities in the social sector like schools and churches across the globe with a unique identifier, like a “numerical fingerprint” for nonprofits. The BRIDGE project synchronizes data from each unique organization registered in the databases of Global Giving, GuideStar, TechSoup Global, and Foundation Center, totaling approximately 3 million NGOs.

This synchronization makes it easier to share and compare data among databases, providing a more accurate and holistic picture of what’s happening in the international development arena.

BRIDGE is the first project resulting from Markets for Good, an initiative to discover how the social sector can better use and share information to improve outcomes and change lives. For more information about BRIDGE or an update on our progress, check out the BRIDGE blog:

Q: What is the status of your PRI loan with Packard?

A: We are up to date with payments and will have it paid off by the end of 2015. We then have a two-year period (‘16/’17) with no debt payments followed by $600k to pay off our Wells Fargo PRI in 2018.

Q: Can you provide a concrete example of web service hits?

A: A web service is much like an API (Application Programming Interface). It’s a way for other software developers to integrate GuideStar data into their application or website in a “real-time” fashion. For example, on Network for Good's website, you can search for charities. When you click the search button on their site, their application code calls out to our web service to perform the actual search on our database. Every time a call is made to our web service, we call that a “hit."