Monday, September 28, 2009

Nonprofit Bottom Fishing

Nonprofits spend an enormous amount of time and energy focused on seeking grants from foundations. I am not opposed to nonprofits finding funding where they can the simple facts remains:

Approximately 75% of all charitable giving comes from individuals and an additional 8% comes from planned gifts. Foundations account for approximately 12% of charitable giving and corporate contributions represent only 5%.

So are nonprofits in fact spending more time than necessary i.e. bottom fishing for contributions that are less frequent and harder to come by than actually spending more time focusing on where the money really comes from?

As a husband of over 20 years there is a phrase my wife says and continues to say as we build our relationship and that is spending “quality time” together!

The only real way nonprofits can grow their donor support is through lots of hard work, time, and effort. The keyword however is “time.”

You can choose to spend your time writing all the grants you want, but as most grant writers will confess the vast majority of grants are short term monies for a specific program or time period. Plain and simple, if your nonprofit lives by the grant, it will die when the grant runs out. By focusing so intently on getting grants nonprofits unfortunately have a tendency to slowly lose their identity, bending to mold and shape itself to fit what the foundation decides to fund.

Likewise, you can choose to spend your time differently.

Taking the example of a personal relationship for a moment I would challenge you to ask yourself this question. What makes you as an individual more likely to want to spend time with someone? Obviously, there has to be a common interest for the connection to work. You need to “get to know” what the other person likes or dislikes. We have all heard the cliché: Understanding what makes a person tick.

So, as a nonprofit what common interest do you have with your donor? How well do you know what they like or dislike about your program? Have you taken the time to ask or get to know them and what makes your donor tick? What are their motivations?

The only way you find out these answers is to spend time asking questions. If nonprofits spend more time asking open ended questions to their donors and really hearing what the donor is saying then I honestly believe less time would be needed for fundraising.

Donor Retention and Recognition

“The donor” is and should be seen as the most important person for any nonprofit organization, period! However, lately donors are treated more like a commodity than a treasured artifact.

How a nonprofit treats their donors will have a significant impact on the organization’s ability to raise money and grow.

As a consultant for nonprofits I see way too often donors that are ignored with no plan in place to make them feel special or needed.

The phrase “you’re my friend” is one of the most touted sayings in political circles, especially when a contribution is being pursued. Likewise, when the salutation, “Dear Friend” or “Dear Supporter,” is used by a nonprofit, that in my opinion is impersonal and in some respects insulting! If you want a contribution you have to start by addressing me by my name and treat me like an individual versus someone in line at the drive thru.

How much do you really know about your donor? Have you taken the time to ask them what they like or even dislike concerning your program? How often do you communicate with your donor and NOT ask for money?

All these questions are just the start to building a retention program that works!

As best as I can tell, there are few free programs or informational pages on the internet that really share the practical secrets to help nonprofits retain donors. So, once again, I’ll try to tackle the subject and give you the information you need, NOW!

Why does a donor stop giving? Over 50% of all donors stop giving because of three simple yet profound reasons.

Approximately 25% of donors stop giving because they find another cause they think is more deserving. This begs the question then is your message on point? Is your message consistent? Does it resonate with donors or are you doing something that people really don’t support? Is what you do effective year round?

Unfortunately over 20% of donors that stop giving simply cannot afford to support charities at that time.

Lastly and most amazing is that over 10% have totally forgotten they supported the charity in the first place. This last point for me further emphasizes the fact that if your nonprofit’s method if getting donations is largely based on simple emotional appeals then eventually the well will run dry and people will literally forget you.

The message your nonprofit gives to donors must be one that is lasting and not just tell of a need but helps truly show that with support they can make things better long term. The ultimate goal would be changing or affecting a life forever.

So how do you keep donors happy? First a donor needs to feel appreciated, welcomed and wanted. Likewise, most people that give money want to know the results of their actions so they in turn need information. Newsletters and annual reports are fine but those are often ignored. Nonprofits need to connect with their donors! This connection is a key in the retention of donors and where most nonprofits seem to operate in blissful ignorance.

Nonprofits need to fit in their schedule throughout the year ways to acknowledge their donors both publically and privately. So, what is the most effective way to say thank you?

This is a question that has plagued nonprofits for a very long time. Everyone would like to have the definitive answer as to what works and what does not. Unfortunately, since every donor is different there is no real clear cut answer. Regardless, nonprofits need to make an attempt and buckle down and establish an ongoing program now and not wait until they are doing a capital or planned giving campaign.

What does a plan look like?

A simple approach is to establish a recognition program along with your annual fundraising plan.

First, determine how many times do you want to make contact with your donors and what is the purpose for this contact?

Sidebar: We all have people we know that we only seem to hear from when they need something from us. We know when the phone rings or they show up at our door step it is not for a social visit but for some other alterative motive. You do not want your nonprofit to fall in this category!

For the sake of example let’s say you determine you want to make ten contacts a year to donors that give at a certain level of giving. This might include newsletters, face to face conversations seeking advice, birthday cards and/or special occasion cards like for Thanksgiving as well as sending an actual personalized letter soliciting money to support a specific program area or project. I am not talking about a mass produced letter but a one on one conversation piece.

You may also want to consider having a donor appreciation social, dinner or luncheon. The purpose for this event is to say thank you and to give information on how monies were spent wisely and effectively. Nonprofits may also choose to post a list of donors, unless they wish to remain anonymous, where you offer your program so clients and others can see who supports your cause. Having a newspaper ad thanking donors can also be effective.

Newspaper ads thanking donors are often done after a fundraising event; however, you may find it more effective during Thanksgiving with an ad that might read: In this time of reflection we at X nonprofit want to thank all those who supported us during this year etc. This is helpful especially if you plan on following up with an end of the year ask.

Regardless, in every way possible thank your donors! Mention them everywhere you can. Again, in your newsletter, your annual report, your website, when you stop by to talk thank donors for not just for money but for their advice and valuable time. If you send a card put a hand written note of thanks.

I strongly believe that all nonprofits should consider having at their program location a donor wall system or some display that lists the names of individuals that have contributed to the nonprofit both annually and long term.

There are dozens of companies that sell these types of systems with a wide array of designs. They also offer high tech digital touch screen displays as well, yet personally I would opt for a higher degree of personalization with a warmer feel. I also like the idea of establishing a walk of fame where you have gift bricks with donors, names.

Some may not see the importance of having this outward display. Regardless, if this is not the approach your nonprofit takes you still need to determine how you’re nonprofit can connect with your donor and determine what is being done to ultimately give credit where credit is due.

In short, choosing to do nothing and ignore your donor is the quickest way to loose them!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Having a Loyal Donor

We are bombarded by loyalty programs! Your credit card is not just a credit card any more, it is a card that offers points, cash back etc. If you stay at this hotel or fly on this airline you might qualify for something "free"! Shop at this grocery story, use their free membership card, you qualify for a discount i.e. "a savings" off your purchases. WOW!

So, how can nonprofits tap into to this idea of creating a loyal donor? The concept of having repeat business, and in the nonprofit's case, having a repeat giver is understandability worthy. However, the approach a nonprofit takes should differ greatly from the for profit arena.

First, as a nonprofit you need to stop looking at your donor with only dollar signs in your eyes! Nonprofits can't fake being genuine and if you really only see the donor as Mr. or Mrs. Money Bags then you need to stop reading this now.

Donor loyalty requires a great deal of effort on your part as a nonprofit organization. You have to EARN the donor's RESPECT first. Getting respect and admiration is not something that happens overnight.

Donors in general give to nonprofits because they were either touched in some way by that organization or they are impressed with the work done by the organization.

In order to create a loyal donor you need to learn more about what interests the donor actually has! What is in his or her heart? What motivation do you see? Where are they in their professional career? Who are their social contacts? What type of lifestyle does your donor live?

These are just a few of the questions, you as a nonprofit, need to know the answer to in order to build the relationships you need to build to create a loyal donor.

It has been said many times but these truths are worth repeating: People give to people, you need to friend raise first long before you fund raise and lastly it's all about building relationships!

If you have any questions feel free to email me:

Also, make sure to visit my website:

DISCLAIMER: This information is not intended to provide legal or accounting advice, or to address specific situations. Please consult with your legal or tax advisor to supplement and verify what you learn here.

Giving A Donation Receipt

As a consultant for nonprofits and as a contributor to nonprofits myself one of my biggest pet peeves is writing a check to a nonprofit or donating goods or services and not getting a receipt for what I gave.

What should this receipt look like or say?

The written acknowledgment required to substantiate a charitable contribution must contain the following information:

Name of the organization;

Amount of cash contribution;

Description (but not value) of non-cash contribution;

Statement that no goods or services were provided by the organization, if that is the case;

Description and good faith estimate of the value of goods or services, if any, that organization provided in return for the contribution; and

Statement that goods or services, if any, that the organization provided in return for the contribution consisted entirely of intangible religious benefits, if that was the case.

You generally can deduct your cash contributions as well as the fair market value of any property you donate to qualified organizations. The fair market value of most household or personal items is generally much less than the price paid when new. You should claim only what the item would sell for at a garage sale, a flea market, or a second hand or thrift store.

If you have a donor calling you at the end of the year as they prepare their taxes to get a receipt for a contribution they made during the year then, shame on you, for not doing your job! Also, realize a receipt is just that a receipt it is not a meaningful thank you card. Do not try to combine them as if they were both receipt and thank you.

If you are serious about building a relationship with your donors then you need to be thinking about how you can properly thank them! This may mean sending a separate written thank you note or card, or make sure in your next newsletter you say thank you. If you publish an annual report that is also another good opportunity to let someone know you appreciate them by listing their name under donors or supporters. At your next fundraising event, have a display board that has written out the words "thank you" and have a list of all your donors. Think about giving your donor a little memento to say thank you. Post-it-note cubes with your nonprofit logo work great and look nice on your donor's desk at his or her office and will keep your image in front of him or her daily! A coffee mug full of mints or chocolates can be inexpensive and a nice touch, etc. Be creative, but most of all be genuine!

If you have any questions feel free to email me:

Also, make sure to visit my website:

DISCLAIMER: This information is not intended to provide legal or accounting advice, or to address specific situations. Please consult with your legal or tax advisor to supplement and verify what you learn here.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Nonprofits Need To Understand Their Donor

I have yet to run across a nonprofit that has told me they have plenty of money!

Most that I'm aware of are trying to figure out how to raise more money or to attract the potential donors who have the big bucks! Subconsciously, I think, many nonprofits are treating donors more like lottery numbers, somehow believing their contributions are all part of a bigger game of chance. They wait patiently for their numbers to come up, having a false sense of hope. Success must just be around the corner! Nonprofits that take this approach are destined to be moderately successful at best.

Nonprofits have a hard time understanding their donor, because they have not taken the time to get to know them! They have not made the effort to find the donor's hot button or passion. Therefore, the donor drifts and many times disappears completely!

Year after year the facts tell us that the vast majority of all the money contributed to nonprofits comes from individuals. So, why are nonprofits ignoring the individual donor?

As a reader, I want you to think about who you are currently making charitable contributions to and I want you to also think about who you gave to in the past year but are no longer giving to that organization now. Why have you stopped giving to these organizations?

Has the organization stopped doing the good work they were doing? For most people that answer would be, NO! What happened then? Did you, as a donor, get bored or did the organization lose touch with you?

I believe the majority of the time the answer is the following: As individuals we want to feel like our contribution counts and matters! We want and many times "need" to feel appreciated! The moment we feel the least bit taken for granted we move on.

Sadly, in the consultant world, nonprofits are so lost that on many occasions before they even think about raising money, especially for larger capital campaigns, the organization will choose to run out and hire an "expert." Normally these folks come from out of town, often times get paid thousands of dollars, to tell the nonprofit what "their donors" think about them. The consultant also will gladly for that fee give their opinion on the "chances" the organization has in raising the money they are talking about needing. Wait a second....please.. help me out, OK!

This is not a game of "chance" is it?

I know this will not be a popular position to express and I'm not against anyone seeking professional help! Hello, I'm a consultant after all, and I enjoy helping and nonprofit organizations find the answers to the questions they have.

But folks, as nonprofits you should have a better handle on who your donor is and what they think about you! You should not need someone, like myself, to come in from the outside who knows nothing about you, your history, your organization or what you have accomplished to find that answer out. You should already know!

I know what some of you are saying now: As strange as it sounds, it is true, that it is easier to talk to strangers rather than be so blunt to the staff of a nonprofit.

Regardless, I would like to make a challenge today to all nonprofit executive directors as well as to all nonprofit board members. You both need to take the time today to get to know your top twenty donors to your organization, before someone else does. You have everything to lose if you don't!

Right now pull out your calendar, and set up weekly lunch appointments with those people, NOW!

Do not, I repeat, do not ask for a contribution on this visit! If the donor wants to give you a check instead of meeting with you tell them, no thanks, you're not looking for a check! You want to let them know what the organization is doing i.e. a status report! You heard me right, this is more of a social call, not a fund raising call. In fact, if lunch or dinner is arranged I want you, as soon as you walk in the restaurant, to tell the server that you are paying as well! Now sit back and hear what the donor has to say, find out what is important to them. You might be surprised what you learn!

If you have any questions feel free to email me:

Also, make sure to visit my website:

DISCLAIMER: This information is not intended to provide legal or accounting advice, or to address specific situations. Please consult with your legal or tax advisor to supplement and verify what you learn here.

Short Cuts... Everyone Wants One In Fundraising!

Some time ago I had a guy call me with this great new fundraising idea he wanted me to help him promote on my website. The scheme was to involve this company getting the nonprofits interested in contacting their donors and convince them to allow a life insurance policy to be taken out on the donor's life, and the beneficiary would be the nonprofit and of course the company selling this product.

Also, neither the nonprofit nor the donor would have to pay anything! This company had somehow gotten an insurance company to agree to this crazy deal as well as a bank to loan the money, I assume based on mortality tables.

Obviously this "great fundraising idea" has been outlawed by most states and the IRS thankfully was all over this one for good reason!

I politely denied being associated with this guy and he could not understand why I didn't want to promote this wonderful fundraising idea! Unbeknownst to the salesman of his idea, I've been dealing with life insurance since I was in my early 20's and my first question right out of the box was how can you prove insurable interest! He was shocked by my question and did not have an answer. Anyway, I passed on this "great offer" like I do on most of these "wonderful" ideas!

Sadly, I think, many nonprofits blindly jump when given the chance to sign up for a program that is touted as, the super secret and the greatest money making deal of the century, instead of doing what they were taught to do in grade school: stop, drop and roll when you find yourself on fire!

Most of these new age snake oil salesmen quickly and easily tell nonprofits that big money is just around the corner if they just do a few simple things! If you ever hear this statement:

"This plan really is the future of fundraising. In just a few weeks you can have a continuous and effortless stream of income 24/7 by just......."

Please folks, politely tell the person, thank you, but you are not interested! You're, after all, a non profit organization that doesn't have the staff or the time to be their sales force and you have enough work of your own to do just to survive!

Most of the common online fundraising concepts I'd seen or heard pitched lately involve the following themes:

The person trying to sell you this great fundraising/money making concept gives you a "free web page;" which most times is a template page with a few fill in the blank sections. All in all these pages are completely worthless because they don't have any unique content and rarely show up
on any search engine. Plus you don't have a specific domain name! However, the sales guy tries to convince you it is so easy to make money this way..... Oh they say: Just tell all your family, friends and donors to go to this page i.e. that promotes or sell their product or service, and you get a percentage by doing nothing. Come on guys!

Obviously the company selling this concept doesn't have the advertising dollars nor does it have the sales force to do the work they want done and that is why they want you! Trust me, it's not about being civic minded or because they have a wonderful love for your nonprofit. It's all hype!

Please ask yourself these questions! Does the product or service that is being sold have any real point of difference or can you find it everywhere? Is this something the consumer really wants? Lastly, is what is being sold something some one, a reasonable person mind you, would be willing to make the effort to buy from you?

To borrow a catch phase: Quality, Value and Convenience! All in all, it has to make good sound logical sense and be hassle free in order to work! Being successful online in selling goods or services only happen when: people want it and you have it at the lowest or at a reasonable price and you have repeated your message of how you can be found over and over so they know where to look!

Another twist to this same concept is the company gets you to place their information on your website and then tells you that you will get paid X percentage when people buy their product or service through your site. Usually there is no third party verification and it's all done on faith that you will get paid for what actually happens through your site. Sometimes the percentage payback is so low on these sales that it take tons of purchases before you ever get the first check, if you ever get one!

Now before I get a lot of flaming emails, and by the way I don't mind agreeing to disagree, I will admit that some affiliate programs do work but they are few and far between and you're not going to get rich doing this!

It's all based off of the web traffic you can generate, how sticky your site is because of your content and it boils down to a numbers game!

Again, let me ask you a simple question:

How many nonprofits are known for their web traffic? Very few!

Finally as I close I want to extinguish another myth that's floating around:

Being on the web is important for most nonprofits; but you have to put all this into perspective!

Establishing a website I think should only be attempted after a nonprofit has established themselves and become relatively stable in their funding. Then and only then, should they consider putting their information on the web. You don't want to have a website that is never updated or has no information in it.

Even before this happens you really first have to ask yourself WHY! Why do we want a website? It can't be for vanity sake or because other nonprofits have one! Secondly, what is the purpose for the website? Who is going to keep the information fresh and updated? Lastly, how are people going to know the site exists? All this has to be a part of your overall marketing plan. If you don't have a marketing plan...then forget the website idea!

Websites can be used as a decent advertising tool letting people know who you are and why you exist. But please folks, don't expect that people will just read your information and think they will be flooding your mail box with checks! Likewise understand that using broadcast emails, faxes and in many cases emailed newsletters can, in some cases, be effective but it will be on a very limited basis!

In general, people don't want to waste their time and the real key is:

If they don't feel personally connected to your nonprofit via face to face time then the chance of them reading your emails, faxes and newsletters I think are slim to none!

Other common fundraising idea involving the nonprofit to becoming the main sales force to promote the seller's product or service involves promoting: credit cards, selling travel services, phone services, electric services and the list goes on and on.

A more localized scheme involves professional fundraising companies who in many cases  approach a local older civic group a telling them that they won't have to do anything but make money! This company will fundraise to bring a carnival or circus into town and do all the fundraising by getting sponsors and even donating some seats so the underprivileged children in town can see the show. This is done of course using the civic group's good name. In many cases 70% or more of the money leaves town and the civic group has little to show for the fundraiser that just took place using their name.

Speaking of fundraising! All nonprofits need to establish their own signature fundraising event and do it themselves. It is not easy; no one said life was fair or easy but that is the board's job to help secure the nonprofit's financial stability.

As a consultant I can tell you that there is no one size fits all fundraiser that works everywhere! Nonprofits, however, do have to really focus on the amount of time they can spend and what they net from the event or events they hold.

Many times when I talk to a nonprofit and ask them why they are doing this event it is because they have always done it. Not that they have really analyzed it to see if it was the best and most cost effective thing to do. Also, I think nonprofits from time to time really need to stop and analyze their funding mix i.e. how much money is generated from program fees, local, state or federal government grants, United Way, individual donors, civic groups, local businesses and corporations, foundations and endowments or trusts. If you are relying too much on one source then it is only prudent of you and your board to make an effort to do something different and purpose to making a change!

I you have any questions you can always email me:

Also, make sure you visit my website for more free information:

DISCLAIMER: This information is not intended to provide legal or accounting advice, or to address specific situations. Please consult with your legal or tax advisor to supplement and verify what you learn here.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Nonprofit Capacity Building / Organizational Development

Organizational development has been defined as the process through which an organization develops the internal capacity to be the most effective it can be in its mission work and to sustain itself over the long term.

It should be clear that just providing money to help solve problems that exist is only part of the solution. To truly strengthen the nonprofit organization there has to be active involvement by all concerned to establish ongoing organization development within itself. This continual involvement in improving the overall internal and external structure was not only crucial to growth but also the over all chance of survival.

You would think that if a nonprofit's survival depends on their ability to adapt, grow and change they would embrace the ongoing task of organizational development i.e. building capacity.

Likewise, it would be logical to think that this might also be seen as a high priority for people funding them! Regretfully, however, regardless of all the studies showing how important this concept really is, the people giving out the money don’t see it as their role to accept this responsibility making sure that nonprofits can sustain themselves. Basically nonprofits are left to do it themselves!

On one hand foundations and grant funders expect all nonprofits to be strong both in organizational structure and their ability to accomplish the mission set before them. They expect nonprofits no matter their size or budget to have the best trained staff, a fully vested volunteer board that gives both money and time freely, and have complete community support i.e. raising most of the money on their own via fundraisers. Lastly, it is expected that organizations should be able to show impressive quantifiable results when it comes to serving their clients!
Unfortunately, some funders are also jumping on the bandwagon creating elaborate evaluation methods for nonprofits when it really amounts to just pushing lots of paper and creating more pressure on an already over burdened staff.

The reality is running any organization with a volunteer board of directors in almost all cases creates some problems that are not easy to handle. Second, in order to run a business, and that is what a nonprofit is, it helps if you have some experience to know what you are doing. Understand the service delivery end is only one part of the puzzle for a nonprofit. It also helps greatly if the staff also fully understand basic business principles found by running a for profit company.

Today nonprofits are turning over every rock possible to find money to carry out their program. Unfortunately there are only so many places money can be found! Likewise it needs to be noted that there are three main spheres of influence that basically control and direct our lives daily i.e. the government, businesses and nonprofits; with each one of these groups having a specific set of goals and objectives that guides them. In short, the long term success of each depends greatly on their ability and willingness to take responsibility!

Who will take on the task that needs to be accomplished and who has the resources and the ability to do what is needed to be done? We see a constant pushing and pulling from the government and business sectors. In many ways the nonprofit sector is the safety net that catches the things not profitable for business to do nor acceptable for government to take over. So it exists…it struggles…it grows!

If you have any questions feel free to send me an email:

Also, make sure to check out my website:

DISCLAIMER: This information is not intended to provide legal or accounting advice, or to address specific situations. Please consult with your legal or tax advisor to supplement and verify what you learn here.

How Nonprofits Attract Donors

First, nonprofits need to be fully aware that not everyone is a donor or wants to be a donor to your cause! For some reason many nonprofits think that just because they "do good" that everyone should be attracted to their cause, which is simply never the case. Nonprofits need to learn to cultivate donors by making connections with individuals that are really interested in what they are doing!

Also, realize that just because you have Ms. X, who is a donor or maybe even on your board of your organization, and she is friends with Ms. Y, who is known in the community as very generous and donates lots of money to causes, does not mean you should have instant access to go knocking on her door and expect a huge contribution. You have to learn as a nonprofit to really work at building a relationship and EARNING the right to ask for a contribution! While it is true that people give to people, sometimes regardless of the cause, if you are looking for long term donors you're going to have to work a little harder!

Do people in your community really know that your organization exists? If not, then you need to be like any other good business and get the word out and advertise. Don't expect everything free either! Be creative! Do you have a newsletter? Are you talking at civic groups? Are you listed in the phone book? Do you run an ad in the newspaper? Do you have a billboard? What are you doing to create your point of difference between your nonprofit and all the others out there in your community?

One good way to cultivate new donors is to have an open house. Lots of hard work up front has to happen in order to get people to come out, but in doing this you are casting a large net asking people to come see what you are all about. Realize that just because someone might stop by does not make them an instant donor! Take it slow. Example: Most folks hate going into a store shopping and having a pushy salesperson, right? So you don't need to be the pushy salesperson in your nonprofit. Show your best side, make a good first impression so there will be a chance for another connection later. If possible get people to give you some information about themselves so you can follow up with them later. If nothing else just send them a card saying thanks for stopping by!

** Very Important** People want to be a part of a success and a winning team not a sinking ship!

If people come to your organization and get nothing but a sob story then your chance of success will be limited. Getting a "pity donation" is a one time donation and you will quickly be forgotten and replaced by another organization that is offering more hope of success.

Also, I hate to be the one to break the bad news but, there is no one size fits all solution to creating success in all nonprofits! Each case is different and all nonprofits have different strengths and weaknesses. If you need help....I'm here to be a sounding board, just send me an email: Also, make sure to vist my website for more information.

DISCLAIMER: This information is not intended to provide legal or accounting advice, or to address specific situations. Please consult with your legal or tax advisor to supplement and verify what you learn here.

Nonprofit Do's and Don'ts of Operating a Retail Establishment

Many nonprofits have found that it is easier for them to ask for donations of "stuff" than it is for money!

In short, this article will hopefully help the nonprofit understand the do's and don'ts of operating a retail establishment that in turn provides operational monies for the nonprofit.

Sadly, most nonprofits don't understand the real value in receiving donated items and the potential for building a positive relationship with donors. Nonprofits know too well that donors, for the most part, are a resilient group and do forgive transgressions.

Likewise, I think many donors say in their mind: "Oh well, they are 'just' a nonprofit!" This in my opinion is toxic for the entire nonprofit arena and relegates the status nonprofit instead of raising the bar and having higher expectations which donors have the right to do!

I am convinced that if nonprofits had really been doing their job in soliciting donated items there never would have been a website created!

People want to give... people are looking for ways to is the nonprofit's fault for not meeting the need.

So, nonprofits lull themselves keeping expectations low and just shuffle through.

Regardless of if you want to believe it or not, nonprofits are a BUSINESS!

The business you are in that of changing lives and in order to do that effectively you need money!

If your nonprofit has decided to run a retail store to try to make money to pay for your operations and you have decided to do that by selling used or unwanted items, then you need to be very open and honest and ask yourself what do you really know about running a retail store!

Nonprofits appear to be one of the few groups that with great expectation and enthusiasm would decide to open a business they know absolute nothing about and think they can be successful only because they are a nonprofit.

It is true that nonprofits do have a an extreme advantage because of their status in being able to allow individuals to get rid of old stuff and get a tax deduction. But this magic really isn't enough.

Nonprofits also find themselves in many cases become the dumping ground for everything unless they quickly put in place guidelines for what they do and do not accept.

So, let's begin this journey together....

Location, location and location! Nonprofits don't have lots of money to go out and open a store in a high dollar retail location, but likewise you don't want to open up a store in a section of town that where people feel is dangerous to be in either.

In most cases you have two specific groups you need to be thinking about i.e. your donors, meaning the ones that are going to give you stuff and second your shoppers. Sometimes these are the same people but many times they are not.

Is it clean, a safe location, well lighted at night time and easy to get to? Use common sense and remember that the retail experience begins even before you get to the parking lot! If you drive by a location and there are weeds growing up, broken glass in the parking lot and paint chipping off the building what are you thinking?

When you enter the door what do you see? The first impression is the most important one. Does someone greet you? Do you trip when you enter stepping over stuff? Do your eyes see a disorganized mess and do you smell a musty mildew odor? Again, use common sense!

Walk to the right, please. In the US shoppers tend to walk to the right if possible first and for whatever reason. In the UK people tend to move to the left. So it makes sense, and you are in the US, you want items that are easiest to sell up front and as close as you can to the shopper. I realize that some retail outlets place the same items in the back of the store because they want you to have to walk all the way back to try to tempt you to buying other items. However, people that are shopping at a nonprofit store are looking for a real bargain and are not willing to make more effort than they have to. The easier you make it the better.

How much is this? Please don't play games with people and price all items. Also, spend the money and buy proper shelving or racks to display what you have to sell!

Sale, Sale, Sale! Let me ask you a question, would you rather sell one item for $10 or ten items for $1? I understand it is the same amount of money but again most people who are shopping in a store that sells "used stuff" expect and are looking to walk out with a bag full versus one item. People are being conditioned daily to not only want more for less but demand it!

A little sidebar: I never will forget the time I was in a Dollar Store and I heard a lady saying loudly to her friend a few aisles over. Come on, what do you expect, it is just a dollar.  

Advertising? So, do you expect to only attract drive by traffic or hope word of mouth is enough to create sales? What proactive things are you doing each month to create more sales? Anything?

Does your nonprofit store have a monthly drawing for store credit? After all your cost of goods is zero since all the items are donated, right. Come on you don't want to collect all those names and addresses and email addresses for all your shoppers to tell them about new store arrivals or alert them to special sales?

What, you don't do this... why?

I hope by now you have a good idea of some of the positive things you can do to create not only sales for your nonprofit store but also help in building a presence in the community you serve. If you have any questions, feel free to email me

Also, make sure to visit my website:

DISCLAIMER: This information is not intended to provide legal or accounting advice, or to address specific situations. Please consult with your legal or tax advisor to supplement and verify what you learn here.

How do I file a complaint against a nonprofit?

The Internal Revenue Service gives serious consideration to complaints made alleging the abuse of the tax exempt status granted to certain organizations.

When reviewing filed complaints, the IRS carefully follows special procedures designed to assure the public of the IRS’s objectivity in the treatment of tax-exempt organizations. These procedures ensure that the IRS operates in an unbiased and appropriate manner and that its compliance programs are not improperly influenced by outside intervention.

The responsibility for administering these procedures belongs to the Exempt Organizations (EO) function, which is part of the IRS’s Tax Exempt and Government Entities Operating Division.

Complaints (Referrals)

A complaint (also called a referral) is any communication alleging that a tax-exempt organization is in potential noncompliance with the tax law. EO receives complaints from the general public, members of Congress, federal and state government agencies, as well as from other parts of the IRS.

Filing a Complaint

Members of the public may send information that raises questions about an exempt organization's compliance with the Internal Revenue Code by submitting Form 13909, Tax-Exempt Organization Complaint (Referral) Form.

Form 13909 and any supporting documentation may be submitted in a variety of ways. They can be sent via:

Mail to IRS EO Classification, Mail Code 4910DAL, 1100 Commerce St., Dallas, TX 75242-1198,

Fax to 214-413-5415,

or Email to

Submission of Form 13909 is voluntary. 

Fact Sheet 2008-13 explains the process for communicating alleged exempt organization tax law violations to the IRS and describes how the IRS handles such information.

Acknowledgement and Disclosure Prohibition

All referrals are sent to analysts at the EO Classifications Office in Dallas. After a referral is made, the IRS will send an acknowledgement letter to all non-IRS sources making a referral, unless it was made anonymously. 

Section 6103 of the Internal Revenue Code prohibits the IRS from disclosing whether it has initiated an examination or the results of any examination. Therefore, the IRS cannot communicate with the original source of a referral beyond the acknowledgement letter.

The Review Process

Upon receipt, research is done to confirm the identity of the organization in question and once this is complete, information is entered into a database to help the IRS keep track of the progress of the review.

An experienced EO revenue agent then performs a thorough technical analysis of the allegation made on the referral. The agent uses a “reasonable belief” standard to evaluate the facts and to determine whether EO should take further action. Before taking action, the revenue agent must determine that the facts create a reasonable belief that the allegations may be true when considered fairly and in light of other reliable information.

The reviewing EO agent will decide one of the following:

The information does not warrant further action. In this case, the agent inputs information, including rationale, into the database and closes the referral.

The referral relates to activities that should be considered at a future date. The agent documents the database and schedules the appropriate date to re-evaluate the information.

The referral contains characteristics that require it to be forwarded to a committee of career EO managers and agents. This committee evaluates referrals monthly -- more often in some circumstances -- and decides whether to proceed with an examination. The committee also applies the “reasonable belief” standard.

The information warrants an examination of the organization. The agent documents his or her decision and the reasons for it in the database. The information item then becomes part of the examination file.

If this process results in a decision to examine an organization, the Classification Office will forward the case to a field group for assignment to a revenue agent.

The revenue agent will contact the organization and schedule an appointment to begin the examination. For details on the EO examination process,
see FS-2008-14 which describes the tools the IRS uses to ensure that tax-exempt organizations comply with Federal law.

If you have any questions feel free to contact me

Also, make sure to visit my website:

DISCLAIMER: This information is not intended to provide legal or accounting advice, or to address specific situations. Please consult with your legal or tax advisor to supplement and verify what you learn here.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Charitable Solicitation - State Requirements

Many states have laws regulating the solicitation of funds for charitable purposes. These statutes generally require organizations to register with a state agency before soliciting the state's residents for contributions, providing exemptions from registration for certain categories of organizations. In addition, organizations may be required to file periodic financial reports. State laws may impose additional requirements on fundraising activity involving paid solicitors and fundraising counsel. An IRS training document describes these requirements in greater detail. Charitable organizations may wish to contact the appropriate state agency to learn more about the requirements that may apply in their state, before soliciting contributions. In some states, municipal or other local governments may also require organizations soliciting charitable contributions to register and report.

In addition to registration and reporting requirements associated with the solicitation of charitable contributions, some states require organizations to register and file periodic financial results if they hold assets subject to a charitable trust.

To learn more contact your state association of nonprofits.

Also, you may want to look at the The Unified Registration Statement if your organization raises monies in more than one state!

If you have any questions feel free to contact me

Also, make sure to visit my website:

DISCLAIMER: This information is not intended to provide legal or accounting advice, or to address specific situations. Please consult with your legal or tax advisor to supplement and verify what you learn here.

How much money can a nonprofit have or carry over from year to year?

This is a very difficult question to answer because all nonprofits are different.

However, The National Charities Information Bureau suggests that charities should not have more than two years' expenses in reserve - a level few nonprofits will ever attain.

Can nonprofits make a profit? Yes, the IRS guidelines are very clear in the regulations which state that profits can't be simply distributed to board members (as corporate profits are to shareholders), but there is nowhere in the regulation that states that nonprofits can't have profits. In fact, any surpluses i.e. ("profits") are needed by all nonprofits to even out their cash flows.

To survive and thrive in these unpredictable times, we as individuals, as well as nonprofits, must be able to change. For most people, it is common sense to think of having a savings account, or to have money set aside for emergencies. Just as common is the notion of establishing some sort of retirement account. Likewise, most nonprofits need a reserve fund, as well as a separate endowment account that money cannot be drained from at will.

The obvious way to build a reserve fund is to operate with an annual surplus, generating net revenue that can then be added to reserves. A healthy reserve fund will give a nonprofit the flexibility to either develop new programs or quickly respond to sudden emergencies that constantly seem to appear in this arena.

Can nonprofits charge for their services? Yes, many nonprofits in fact exist solely on the fees charged for their services i.e. such as a nonprofit school charging tuition.

You also may want to contact your state nonprofit association and ask them if they have other guidelines that their member nonprofits follow.

If you have any questions feel free to contact me

Also, make sure to visit my website:

DISCLAIMER: This information is not intended to provide legal or accounting advice, or to address specific situations. Please consult with your legal or tax advisor to supplement and verify what you learn here.