The GuideStar Blog retired September 9, 2019. We invite you to visit its replacement, the Candid Blog. You’re also welcome to browse or search the GuideStar Blog archives. Onward!

GuideStar Blog

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

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.