Thursday, October 21, 2010

Creating A Donor For Life and Beyond!

One hard and fast truth when it comes to fundraising is that you can't fake sincerity. Oh, don't get me wrong there are lots of professional fundraisers out there who have developed a good poker face. But the truth of the matter is people want to be treated like people not like a cash register. Cha Ching!

Some people honestly think if they could just figure out which buttons to push the drawer will pop out and all they have to do is reach their hand in and get the cash they need. Rest assured those same people would skip getting the loose change but only think about the bills.

If you really want to understand the people you are trying to convince to give to your cause then you need to step back and ask yourself, what are you as a fundraiser and nonprofit offering the donor?

Creating a donor for life and beyond is possible, but you must first get the thought out of your head that you will achieve instant success. Realize like most worthy endeavors this is a long gradual process. Again, donors are not scratch and win tickets!

So how does one begin? First as an organization you need to realize your appeal is limited and it impossible to be universally liked. Also, you'll be expected to compete with many other distractions that are constantly changing in the life of your donor. While you might not personally care about this that does not negate the truth of the matter.

"No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main." John Donne - Devotions upon Emergent Occasions (1623), XVII

We as individuals would like to think we can operate in our own little bubble and not have to worry about what goes on around us. However, no matter how wealthy a person might be we are all affected by the ills of society. In general we have concerns and sometimes fears. This reality can often be the bridge to nonprofits that are trying to address such needs. In some ways donors are the light switch that you find is either turned on, sending the much needed electricity through your nonprofit, or they are turned off and disengaged all together.

In order to determine the flow of electricity nonprofits need to be mindful of the meter. It is amazing now many staff members of nonprofits and boards of directors find themselves in a blame game. How often have you heard the phrases often said in a panic: Donor's aren't responding to our requests! I know the economy is bad so that must be why donations are down.

While I asked this question earlier I would like to again call your focus and attention to the question below. Read slowly and let it sink in this time: As a fundraiser and nonprofit what are offering to the donor?

Are you offering a chance of a lifetime, to change the life of an individual? Or instead, are you asking for mere operational money?

While nonprofits might be good at helping people they are often poor students of understanding basic human nature!

The best sales and marketing staffs in the world understand the human nature and intuitive relationship they must offer their customer i.e. in your case the donor.

Many folks have heard the old sales axiom: You are selling the sizzle not the steak! While any food will do to stop hunger, why do you choose a specific restaurant? All cars can provide you the basic transportation to get you from point A to B but why are you so focused on getting an SUV? It's time to buy light bulbs, but are you really buying the GE light bulbs or do you really only care about knowing that when you again turn on the switch the light pops on!

There are people who have made a profession to be "food artist" or "hand models." This is all done for one purpose and that is to create a perceived relationship between a product or service to a potential buyer.

So, Mr. or Mrs. Nonprofit I would like to introduce you to Mr. and Mrs. Donor. Let me tell you a few things you need to know about these important people. Unlike in the for profit arena, donors typically are not buying products or services from nonprofits, yet there is expectation that goes far beyond just a simple acknowledgement. They want to know that whatever dollars they choose to give you will be treated with honor and respect and used wisely.

The time after a donation is the most critical moment for any nonprofit. The donor has made the first step in starting a relationship with a prospective nonprofit.

Most nonprofits unfortunately fail to understand that when a donor makes a contribution they are not just giving dollars but are in fact transferring a level of trust to the recipient. This concept of trust is quite interesting and universal. At the core of this transfer is a strongly held belief by the donor that something worthy will come about because they chose to respond to either a call for action from the nonprofit or were self motivated to give to respond to a need that was perceived.

While donors might initially be attracted to the nonprofit by a passionate appeal, this connection will fade fast unless there is a plan of action to follow up and let the donor know the difference their contribution made.

This "action plan" is not one letter, one phone call, one face to face contact. If you want to build a lasting relationship you have to be willing to spend time to get to know your donor first as a person and individual.

Oftentimes nonprofits categorize donors as if they were grades of beef. Their reasoning tends to revolve around a logical mind set believing that it is more profitable and their best use of time to spend more time with donors of means than with donors who could not afford to give as much. Most nonprofits, therefore, are found roaming the countryside on a constant preverbal "buffalo hunt" with every other nonprofit going after that same big buffalo. Yet, I have never come across any community that is overrun with large population of donor buffalos.

Instead I can't help but realize that we are ignoring a truth that has been given to us in the Christian story of the Widow's Mite. If you are not familiar with the story let me share it with you:

Mark 12:41-44 41 "And he sat down over against the treasury, and beheld how the multitude cast money into the treasury: and many that were rich cast in much. 42 And there came a poor widow, and she cast in two mites, which make a farthing. 43 And he called unto him his disciples, and said unto them, Verily I say unto you, This poor widow cast in more than all they that are casting into the treasury: 44 for they all did cast in of their superfluity; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living."

So do you really want a donor for life? What types of individuals are you seeking to find and why?

If your focus is only on the money but not the donor commitment then you have lost a great deal of perspective in your process of fundraising. In order to find someone willing to make a life long commitment, however, nonprofits need to also have the realization that this type of relationship is in fact a two way street.

If honestly graded the vast majority of nonprofits would not be given a passing grade on their ability to not just find donors but to retain them.

Everyone wants a generous donor, well guess what, donors want a generous nonprofit too!

Providing feedback and information to all donors is critical if a nonprofit expects to receive future gifts. Likewise it is also important that staff members share their time and personal commitment story to the donor about their enthusiasm.

We all know staff members are paid to do their job and there is nothing wrong with this. However, donors have little respect for individuals when they think the people running the organization don't honestly care about the cause they are pushing.

Creating a donor for life and beyond by way of a planned gift is more than one person's job, but that of the entire paid staff and volunteer board. Meeting this challenge head on quickly separates nonprofits that just strive to be good to those that aspire to be great!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Another Pipe Dream Being Sold To Nonprofits

Because of the traffic on my website I receive a lot of email. Many times email is from individuals needing specific help or the nonprofit organizations themselves or board members with a specific question. Regardless, I am happy to answer these questions and help, that is what I do.

However, I also receive quite a few emails from companies either wanting to advertise on my site, which I am very picky who I allow, or people that want to promote the next great fundraising idea that will make nonprofit organizations able to walk on easy street.

Once again I received an email telling me about this wonderful opportunity where nonprofits can create a residual income stream, blab, blab, and blab. This statement alone in and of itself is a clue as to the line of bull that is surely to follow.

The nonprofit only has to pay a one time fee to get started of $199 and then $29 a month. Then, all they have to do is get their donors and friends and enemies and people they don’t know to shop online and the money will pour in or so the claim goes. Ugh!

All this nonsense makes a huge assumption that nonprofits are going to have the time, energy and effort to convince all their donors or people involved with their organization to magically and overnight change all their ingrained buying habits that they have established over the years as well as forgo all the discounted prices they can get at Wal-Mart, Sams or other retail stores not to mention the convenience of shopping locally to go to a website no one has heard of before and where the nonprofit will only get a few pennies from purchases made.

This pitch even said the average return for active sites was a whopping $2 to $4 a month. Yep right…. So to pay for the annual cost for the first year of $547 i.e. $199 plus $29 X 12 using you have to have 138 suckers… oops I mean donors to use this lame website site to make a purchase just to break even, assuming you will get $4 back from their purchases. That is of course is with the moon in the seventh house and Jupiter is aligned with Mars which I sure happens quite often, right?

In this presentation there was also an example of how easy it would be for a nonprofit to have a residual income of $3,600 annually.

My closing comment to this bozo was for him to ask the company to provide me with a list of nonprofits that have made the quoted $3600 annually from this program after expenses. My guess is there will be no such list.

Folks, I’m sorry but there is no easy fundraising program that will make hundreds of dollars for nonprofits with little to no effort.

Regardless, I’m sure people will keep looking and I will keep getting these ridiculous emails, but then again they can become blog entries!

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Helping Nonprofits (NGOs) Overseas

The Denton Program allows private U.S. citizens and organizations to use space available on U.S. military cargo planes to transport humanitarian goods, such as clothing, food, medical and educational supplies, and agricultural equipment and vehicles, to countries in need. The program is jointly administered by USAID, the Department of State (DOS), and the Department of Defense (DOD). In FY2008, more than 600,000 pounds of humanitarian goods were sent to 17 different countries through the Denton Program.

Since Denton is a space available program, it is impossible to predict when transportation will materialize. Therefore, no guarantees can be made regarding completion of a shipment. Although the program is active in most areas of the world, it is more difficult to obtain transportation for more distant countries.

Overview of Denton Application Process

Online applications and additional information about the DOD Humanitarian Assistance Programs, Denton and Funded Transportation's Programs, are available at

The Funded Transportation Program

The Funded Transportation Program provides door-to-port surface transportation of humanitarian aid to worldwide destinations at little or no cost to the donor. Potential shipments are reviewed for appropriateness and feasibility on a case-by-case basis. All PVOs, non-governmental organizations and individuals interested in shipping to worldwide destinations are encouraged to contact the Program Manager for the Funded Transportation Program at (703) 601-3854. Guidelines and an online application for this program can be found at:

Contact Person:
Sara Lemanski, Traffic Management Specialist, OFR Program Officer, Office of Acquisition and Assistance, Transportation, (202) 712-1181 or

Friday, July 30, 2010

Charity or Profit Potential?

Unfortunately in today’s world it does not seem that there are much goodness and mercy left. You would think as a consultant for nonprofits I would be surrounded by all like minded people that in short are all seeking to make a difference in others’ lives and doing everything for the right reason.

Now more than ever I feel as if I have to be on constant guard as I am approached by individuals, all that tout they want to take up the banner of “doing good” and helping others. Yea, right!

As I talk to others and peel away the layers seeking to really understand what the person’s motivation might be, in many cases I discover quickly that it is not all about helping others, but helping themselves as well.

Let’s look at a case in point that is known nationally. Most of us at some point have seen TV commercials advertised by various chain office supply stores encouraging you to help the kids going back to school with school supplies because they can’t afford to buy them.

The local stores in turn ask their customers to buy that extra pack of paper or box of pencils and donate them to the school of their choice. On the face there is nothing wrong with school teachers getting help but we tend to forget the store is making a sale. All that warm and fuzzy advertising is just that, advertising.

Likewise, there several different websites like and that have as a goal to connect teachers with donors. Again, there is nothing wrong with that! How the programs generally work is that teachers post a wish list and then donors can go and make purchases via the site to help with that wish list that was posted. The donor gets a donation receipt, the teacher gets the item and the website….well the website or I should say the managers of the site get a commission on the sale.

Again, is good being done, absolutely! However, if there were no profit potential would the site be online because it was the right thing to do or would the store care about the school children needing school supplies?

I’ll let you answer this question in your own mind.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Nonprofits Geting A "Free Pass" By Government

Today the IRS announced a one-time filing relief for small organizations that failed to file for three consecutive years!

Small nonprofit organizations who were at risk of losing their tax-exempt status because they failed to file required returns for 2007, 2008, and 2009 can preserve their exempt status by filing returns by October 15, 2010.

Two types of relief are available for small exempt organizations - a filing extension for the smallest organizations required to file Form 990-N, Electronic Notice (e-Postcard), and a voluntary compliance program (VCP) for small organizations eligible to file Form 990-EZ, Short Form Return of Organization Exempt From Income Tax.

Find more information about the filing relief program on

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

“Employers” Need To Apply

Starting Salary: $0
Benefits: To Be Determined

What would happen if a person was hired with the understanding that the employer had to pay the person something other than money?

Life as we know it today revolves around the use of a commonly accepted universal standard of exchange, that being money.

How much money one earns or has given to them through entitlements determines what is deemed the “standard of living.” Our standards have evolved as technology changes and for most individuals in the United States the term “poverty” means something totally different that in the rest of the world.

If I may, let’s step back to the original question and ponder for a moment as an employer. What do you offer other than money? One instant answer that might pop into mind is that of providing a place where job satisfaction occurs.

Unfortunately according to a recent study from The Conference Board in the U.S. job satisfaction is at the lowest level in two decades. “The report, based on a survey of 5,000 U.S. households conducted for The Conference Board by TNS, finds only 45 percent of those surveyed say they are satisfied with their jobs, down from 61.1 percent in 1987, the first year in which the survey was conducted. "While one in 10 Americans is now unemployed, their working compatriots of all ages and incomes continue to grow increasingly unhappy," says Lynn Franco, director of the Consumer Research Center of The Conference Board. "Through both economic boom and bust during the past two decades, our job satisfaction numbers have shown a consistent downward trend." Fewer Americans are satisfied with all aspects of their employment, and no age or income group is immune. In fact, the youngest cohort of employees (those currently under age 25) expresses the highest level of dissatisfaction ever recorded by the survey for that age group.” (1)

One additional study I would like to share was done back in 2007 by Nathan Bowling, Ph.D., an assistant professor of psychology at Wright State which I think added another twist to this equation:

“Job satisfaction has traditionally been thought of by most business managers to be key in determining job performance. The prevailing thought is if you are satisfied and happy in your work, you will perform better than someone who isn’t happy at work.”

However, according to Bowling “My study shows that a cause and effect relationship does not exist between job satisfaction and performance. Instead, the two are related because both satisfaction and performance are the result of employee personality characteristics, such as self-esteem, emotional stability, extroversion and conscientiousness,” he explained.

Bowling, who specializes in industrial and organizational psychology, said his findings are based on reviewing data from several thousand employees compiled over several decades. His subjects, mostly in the United States, involved several hundred different organizations. Bowling said the public, and even researchers, can get confused over the relationship between job satisfaction and job performance. “Just because two things are related doesn’t mean that one causes the other. For example, there is a relationship between the amount of ice cream sold on a given day and the crime rate for that day. On days when ice cream sales are high, the number of crimes committed will also tend to be high. But this doesn’t mean that ice cream sales cause crime. Rather, ice cream sales and crime are related because each is the result of the outdoor temperature. Similarly, satisfaction and performance are related because each is the result of employee personality.”

Bowling said he was surprised that researchers have devoted little effort to the illusion of job satisfaction and performance, and he hopes his work will lead to further research in this field. (2)

Ok, so we have a work force where a large percentage of the people are not satisfied and even if they are satisfied that may or may not directly pay off to the employer causing there to be a greater level of performance. Things are not that simple.

So, if you are employer that might take the time to try to figure this puzzle out, what do you think the answer could be? Is this a problem that really does not have an answer because of the individual nature of each employee and their own personality?

Jim Heskett posted on April 2, 2010 in the online working knowledge section at Harvard Business School the following question: Why Are Fewer and Fewer U.S. Employees Satisfied With Their Jobs? (3)

“Charles Wegrzyn cited ‘incredible pressure from the economic side,’ ‘incredible instability,’ and a resulting ‘dog-eat-dog attitude.’”

Dennis Hopwood said, "In the end, it's all about making the numbers."

Akhil Aggarwal mentioned "Lack of personalized focus on employees and more on business and profitability."

Phil Clark posited that knowledge work that deals with intangible results and hard-to-pinpoint accomplishments "just isn't as satisfying" as work used to be.

John Alexander said, "When workers see senior management face no responsibility for poor performance and continue to get highly paid, it's no wonder there is widespread dissatisfaction."

E. Shields stated that it may be the result of disappointed expectations: "People believe that their work should allow them to use their special talents in the way that they most want to. This is a beautiful dream, but I believe it sets people up to be unhappy."

In closing with all the options on the table employers need to continue to struggle daily to better understand their most important asset, their employees. Until they are ready and willing to do this, they are destined to spend more money, time and energy hiring and training individuals that ultimately will leave their employment because there are tried of feeling like they are a part of the rat race.




The Silent Scream Inside

The older you get the more you realize life is passing by. If you are like many you might begin to wonder how much time you have left. Some people look at this in a realistic way while others tend to do everything they can to ignore facts. Middle aged is not fifty because no matter how much we would like to believe few people live to be one hundred and those that do have such minimal existence because they are worn out. You have to ask do you really want to last that long?

As you get older you begin to understand that you have either learned from your past or are continuing to make the same mistakes that you are so accustom to making.

Likewise, you quickly find that you are either bogged down with the “have to” or “should” lists in life or somehow you have realized the pointlessness of it all and have drifted to doing more of the things you really want to do, if you can figure out what that might be. While the movie is an older one, how many of us have our “Bucket List” and how many things have we really marked off that list? As easy as this might sound, figuring out what you might enjoy doing with your time and energy often can be a foreign concept in many respects.

A reality we all have to face is that the longer you live life the more you have numbed yourself as a natural means of protection. Broken hopes, dreams, missed opportunities and failures cause some of us to never wake up fully from the anesthetic because we ultimately fear the pain we might feel would destroy us.

Everyone I am sure at some point in their life takes an introspective look. However, after that first glance do we as individuals chart a new course? For many our imagined level of comfort that is derived from operating within our known boundaries keeps us firmly affixed, as if we were a train, that only had one set of tracks to run on.

Life, however, involves more than one direction and is made up of multiple layers of experiences and feelings. Unlike that of an onion you can never peel it all away but many times you find yourself realizing honestly how meaningless so much of what we spend our time doing actually can become.

After all we had no say in our conception. Likewise, for the vast majority of us we will have no say in our time of death. Most of us would like to believe that all that happens in between has some overall purpose. As individuals finding out that purpose can take a lifetime and for some the answer is never revealed.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Value of Money

I'd like to start this thought process by asking you a few questions: Do you think it if takes you less time to earn $100 the value of that money changes? Let me put it another way, do you believe $100 means more to a person making $50,000 a year than to someone who makes $250,000 a year?

Apparently, many nonprofits are confused when answering these questions because the value of money seems to change! It is almost magical and there is a REAL presumption that more you make the less value the money must have. But is this true?

If you make more or have more money there is a reason. Granted this reason may be because the person was born into wealth or maybe because the person inherited a lot of wealth. People also make different amounts of money in relation to their education and/or job skills. The reason different people have more money than others depends on all sorts of different situations. 

Regardless of how the money was received let's step back again and look deeper into the question of the value of money.

The paper and coin you hold does not discriminate against the buyer. In our example of $100 the same amount of gas or food can be purchased so what is the difference?

Well, it is because one person has more than the other person! Ok, so this means the more money you have the less value you place on it simply because you have more?
Really, is that logical?

Well, it is not just because one person has more than the other; it is really because the more money you have the "easier" life is for you. You know because you don't have to worry as much about different "things.”

Wow, so more money equals happiness and worrying about less "things"!  Ah, wouldn't it be great if life were that simple where you could always count on a + b 
equaling c no matter what day of the week it occurred.

Nonprofits need to understand that the people they are seeking to get a donation from know the value of money just as much as they do. If you make a personal donation to a cause I would suspect you are not doing so in a blind fashion, but responding in either in a very logical way or because of a certain emotion or attachment you feel for the organization.

Don't assume because someone might earn more or have more money than you do that the money somehow means less to them, because in most cases it does not!  

Money does not make you worry less nor does it buy happiness. If it did all the millionaires in the world would be happy about life.  Money is a tool, in the right hands it can create many things, but it is not the solution to fixing all problems!  

Service After The Sale

Many nonprofits might want to take a moment to look around at their for profit counterparts and see if there are lessons they might learn from their business model. It is unfortunate that the vast majority of nonprofit executive directors have little experience in the for profit world because with that additional experience they might view their responsibility and how to approach donors differently.

People in the car industry are constantly trying to come up with new ideas and incentives to sell you a car. However, most also put a great deal of focus on servicing that vehicle after the sell. They want to keep you coming back to the dealership.

All realtors want to sell you a house, but after the sale they seem to still stay in touch from time to time sending you a calendar you may or may not want or drop you a postcard about the houses that recently sold in your neighborhood. You ever wonder why? Well, you have heard of out the phrase "out of sight, out of mind" right? Well, they don't want to be forgotten.

Have you ever been in a situation when you arrange with someone providing a service you need when the following steps were followed: First they met with you when it is convenient for you to meet. Second you both agreed what needed to be done. Third they scheduled a time to provide the service that was outlined. Fourth they did the service at the time they said they would and at or below the price agreed on in advance. Lastly, they followed up after the service was complete to see if it was satisfactory and met your approval. Also to see if there was anything else that needed to be done or was overlooked.

Now while the above outline might not be an exact match to how you should operate your nonprofit or deal with your donor you can see by using this method of delivery how the focus is on the customer, always!

What Not To Do!

People that go to the post office daily to pick up mail occasionally find that dreaded slip in their box letting them know a package awaits at the window. With this discovery that means standing in line to be served. A few years back under the guise of standardization the post office came up with the:

USPS Strategic Transformation Plan 2006-2010

Now forgive me for being critical because I realize at the time of the publication the post office I think was trying to "standardize" approximately 37,000 retail locations, but seriously are you telling me it takes five years to do this? I just can't help but wonder if Domino's Pizza or FedEx decided to make this project on how long it would take them?

Regardless, on page 60 you will read "The Postal Service recognizes that customers form expectations on critical attributes such as waiting time in line based on their experience with other similar services, and compare Postal Service performance to best-in-class providers." Really, you think? So one solution to improve customer service, remove all the clocks.

Now the only other place that I know that has done, but for an obviously different reason are the casinos in Las Vegas.

So, if people stand in line and can't see a clock they will be less frustrated. Oh yea, that is logical.

Finally, I hope one take away for your nonprofit in all this is for you to consider this question: How are we focusing on our donor?

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Nonprofit Vocation or Occupation?

According to Wikipedia: “A vocation, from the Latin vocare (verb, to call), is a term for an occupation to which a person is specially drawn or for which they are suited, trained or qualified. Though now often used in secular contexts, the meanings of the term originated in Christianity.”

My question to you is how do you view your job? Is it “just a job” or a “calling?”

In America we seem to be stuck on giving ourselves titles. Your are Mr., Mrs., Miss or even Ms. but let’s also not forget Dr.

Then for others you have Jr., II, III as well as toss in PhD or even Esq. in addition President, CEO, COO, Vice President, Director of etc.

Isn’t it a shame we don’t use Barron, Duke or Duchess because those sound so impressive don’t they?

I also find it interesting that so many people work at a job to make a pay check but for a moment if you asked them to imagine that they somehow won the lottery or didn’t have to worry about finances anymore, would they still continue to work at their current job? Almost everyone says no, are you kidding?

Why is it that so many people work their entire life in a career that they would toss away so easily? Have we all lost our minds and think so little of our life we are willing to waste it away doing something we really don’t want to do?

I am struck as a consultant the number of conversations I have had with individuals who call me and tell me that they are at a point in their career that they want to re-focus and do something different, something to help people.

Wow, well honestly you don’t have to wait any longer. I am not advocating you to sell all your worldly possessions, so relax, I am suggesting that helping others is not as gigantic as it appears.

Start small… and do something nice and totally unexpected for a stranger within the next 24 hours. After you complete this, write a short note to yourself about how that made you feel. Read it out loud to yourself….Then think about what life would be like if you did this everyday and ask yourself are you willing to allow the gift you have inside of you out and share it with others. What are you waiting for?

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Planned Giving

Many times nonprofits fall into basically two distinctive camps when it comes to talking about planned giving.

First you see small nonprofits with limited staff and budgets that are totally consumed with running their organization and raising the money. They simply don’t feel like they have the time to devote to something that on its face seems so nebulous.

The second type of nonprofit organization is one that is bigger possibly better funded but more than likely does not have one person who is just devoted to only fundraising but it is the job of several which obvious includes in large part the board of directors. Even in this organization planned giving and creating an endowment appears to be more of an after thought versus something that is in the forefront. Instead of thinking about funding that might strengthen the future of the nonprofit they focus solely on what they can see directly in front of them by way of their annual campaign.

If the organization is more motivated many times you see an effort on their part to offer seminars to “help the donor” with their estate planning. The assumption here is that the donor has no other help. While I’m sure this effort helps the proverbial little old lady in the shoe I can only give this organization a C+ for at least addressing the topic of “planned giving.” In my opinion this is not the best motivational tool to encourage someone to give. In fact, when I receive a note from a university or other agency inviting me to a seminar to hear someone I have no knowledge of or have never established a level of trust with, I get more than a little irritated.

I recently read that 70% to 90% of all planned gifts to charity are made with the charity having no knowledge until after the donor’s death. So much for thanking your donor, huh!

So how can this change and who is the best to guide you on his journey? First while I am sure there are a number of well qualified consultants I would like you to give each one a little test. Ask them if they themselves have made a planned gift! If so ask them to tell you about it and why they made it. If they tell you, no, then I’ll let you decide.

It is one thing to tell you what you should be doing and another to have actually done it. I am happy to report that long before I became a consultant for nonprofits I began my philanthropic career at an early age. Giving was both taught by example as well as in actions taken after making an effort to get involved and feeling a sense of responsibility to help others.

By the way as a consultant that does almost all pro-bono work I’m not trying to get more business. Trust me, I’m already busy!

Anyway, I currently have several planned gifts funded by insurance policies. While many organizations might shy away from this type of gift because the giver can always choose to stop paying the premium, I started at a young age so it was something I felt I could afford to do. I realized back then that long after I was gone it would have a lasting effect and impact on the lives of others.

I wish I could tell you that in my case the nonprofits involved did all the right things and were active in keeping me involved, but that would be lying. The fact of the matter is the planned gifts I made were self driven.

A few facts nonprofits need to understand. First less than half of all Americans have a will and the ones that do only 8-9% include a gift to charities. The good part about that percentage is that once a charity is included 97% of the time they will remain in the will.

So how does one go about actively finding that individual who might be willing to make that planned gift?

The answers, while quite simple, are ones that need to be thought about as you review your donor database. People who make a planned gift “care” about the organization as a whole. This level of caring is something that is not often studied or talked about but is something you as a nonprofit need to develop with each and every donor you meet.

You need to make sure that when someone gives to your organization you have some method of establishing that that gift has a greater sense of purpose.

We all at some point have written a check for a utility bill or phone bill. You know the feeling you get seeing the figure owed and thinking about what you paid last month, looking at your balance in your check book and writing the check. Even if you now are doing all these transactions online, unless it is automatic draft, you still have a certain thought process.

The worst thing that can occur to a nonprofit is when a donor makes a donation in the same rote, lifeless automated response. When this happens there is little joy in making a gift. Much like helium birthday balloons with a slow leak, eventually there is nothing happy about it at all.

Coupled with the sense of caring about your organization is another deep rooted emotional response a donor has is the need to do something special.

We all understand what it means to have someone go out of their way to do something nice for you. Not because they have to but because they want to. In this same spirit of openness the donor seeks to share a literal part of their self with the organization.

Sadly most organizations are so self absorbed that if someone truly does care to that level it is missed completely by the leadership. Even if the board or staff recognizes that this person is really special to the organization often times there is a lack of response as a way of just saying thanks for being there.

Many nonprofits, especially those that really don’t understand what giving is all about, incorrectly think that “rich people” want to give to a nonprofit because something is in it for them like a tax deduction. While no one likes to pay more taxes than they have to 65% of the time a gift to charity in a planned gift is NOT for estate tax reasons.

Lastly, I have said this many times and it is worth repeating.

People give to people first before they give to the organization.

So, get out of your comfy office and go visit your donors. Spend some time getting to know them! But let me warn you first, if your motivation is only because you’re thinking about a gift and not a friendship then realize that your will not be able to hide your insincerity, so don’t stay long.

If you have any questions feel free to send me an email or visit my website at:

Wanting To Be Heard!

No matter which side of the health care debate you fall it was obvious that people in both camps were feeling desperate to have their voice heard.

The generation of today is drawn to technology like a mosquito is to a bug zapper! Be it Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube your proud teen is happy to develop carpal tunnel syndrome by achieving new heights in daily texting a minimum of twenty minutes per day. People are buzzing like bees with no unified direction or focus in this grand “social networking” experiment that is tantamount to nothing more than glorified self absorption.

This fevered pitch cannot be maintained forever yet it is not surprising that this frustration is easily carried over to how many nonprofits feel trying to rise above everyday life’s noise to reach their respective donor.

It is hard to get a donor’s attention especially if they are worried about being able to keep their job in this economic slow down or because they are constantly answering their BlackBerry.

Regardless, while nonprofits bemoan this fact it is also quite ironic that nonprofits themselves often times forget that part of their responsibility to the donor is to also listen!

When was the last time you let your donor speak?

I’m not talking about asking them to fill out a survey or questionnaire to see if they think it is a good time for you to raise money for your upcoming capital campaign. What I am talking about is really focusing “one on one” to try to discern how the donor feels about your organization and what you are doing.

We all need to be reminded at times that we are given two ears and only one mouth for a reason!

So, as frustrated as you might feel, realize in this age of technology with all the applications and madness allowing the individual to say whatever they want. More than just a few of your donors might seem a little frustrated because they feel like for whatever reason real or imagined their voice is not being heard or enough attention has not been given to them.

Only you can change the outcome of this scenario. The question remains, will you act on what you have heard or just ignore it like the rest?

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Bill’s Dilemma

Bill Johnson was 63 and felt like the best years were behind him. Susan had been his wife and soul mate of forty-six years and had recently passed away suddenly from cancer. He never expected or planned that he would be the one alone. But now he was and having to deal with it the best way he could.

He could not believe how huge, empty and cold their house felt especially since the couple had been constant companions and never had children.

He began to wonder out loud to himself what in the world would happen now and what should happen to all his possessions once he was gone.

Over the years both Susan and Bill had been generous to several charities. Both Susan and Bill’s parents had died years ago, and Bill only had one younger bother named Roger, and Susan was an only child. Bill had never been close to his brother and only visited once a year usually around Christmas or Thanksgiving.

Bill did not consider himself a wealthy man but he had inherited some property from his family that turned out to be quite valuable especially after Wal-Mart wanted it for a new store.

Both Susan and Bill had worked over forty years before retiring. Susan had worked for the phone company and Bill had worked in sales all his life. His first sales job was with a life insurance company and later he worked for a hardware store before finally settling in to working for a family owned plumbing supply company for fifteen years. He worked the counter and was one of the best and most liked salesman. All the building contractors hated to see him retire because they knew the younger kid that took his place would not be detailed oriented or really go out of his way to help them like Bill did.

Bill and Susan grew up in families that constantly struggled to make ends meat and their upbringing caused them to both want to live modest lifestyles. No fancy cars or clothes and the most extravagant thing Bill ever purchased as a toy for himself was a few extra chisels, files and gouges for his wood whittling hobby.

Their retirement money was invested in conservative investments which were mostly tax free bonds and some blue chip stocks. The money from the sale of the property had been put in CDs. At Susan’s death Bill had totally forgotten about a whole life insurance policy Susan had taken out years ago at the phone company for $250,000.

Susan had always been the bookkeeper in the family and had everything organized in little piles in her office. It took Bill two weeks before he stepped in her office to begin to sort things out. After a few days looking at the check book and adding all the investment figures up he was shocked to see how their nest egg had grown to a nice little sum of over $1.5 million dollars which did not include their house which was paid for or their two older cars.

Bill’s younger brother Roger and his wife Jill had one son named Tom who was 22. Roger and Jill’s lifestyle was completely opposite of Bill and Susan. They had a big house, big new leased cars and even a big John Deer lawn mower! Roger and Jill wanted it all and wanted it all now. While both had good paying jobs, Bill realized they were living way beyond their means and knew they must be drowning in debt.

Like Bill, Roger also had inherited some land from their parents as well but quickly sold it right after he got it so he could buy more toys. While Bill and Roger love each other like bothers do they never understood how both could have grown up in the same house but be so totally different.

Bill knew from past experience that Roger’s way of living was all about making the payment and never about owning anything outright. It didn’t matter what it cost it only mattered if he could get it with no money down and how small the payment might be. In his mind being debt free was just a dream like winning the lottery.

Ten years before their parents died the boys had been given a check for $10,000 with an understanding that the money was to be used to help pay off bills. Roger paid off one credit card and Bill used the money to help pay off the little bit they owed on their home. A year later, Roger had run his credit card bill back up to $10,000 and Bill’s home was paid for.

Bill knew that what ever money he decided to give to his brother he would probably blow through it within a year or so and he wasn’t sure that was the right thing to do.

Roger likewise never understood why Bill never seems to enjoy life and have some fun. He saw his older brother work all the time and never spend much money on anything but that stupid hobby of his. He hated thinking about his childhood and having to wear his older brother’s used clothes and how everything he seemed to get growing up was used.

Roger and Jill felt they were happy but always were juggling the bills to make it work. Living on the edge of their financial ability was all they knew as normal and they were not interested in changing how they lived.

If you were the judging type you might draw your own conclusions as to what was “right” or “wrong” in the lives both bothers live. Regardless it all comes down to personal decisions and choices and living with those actions.

The path and decision you make truly is like a pebble thrown in a pool of water. The ripples, while small, have the ability to effect things that are far reaching beyond your immediate field of view.

Finally, I am reminded of a phrase I was told many years ago: You can only spend it once!

A dollar one spends on one’s self is lost and cannot be spent helping another.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Are you planting seeds or weeds?

As the weather turns warmer you can’t help but think about getting outside and enjoying the sunshine. So far 2010 has been a difficult year and the skies have seemed awful cloudy for most nonprofits.

No matter how the pundits might try to spin it people are more than just a little concerned about their job and the economy. Hearing about unemployment figures on a weekly basis as well as hearing that one out of four people are behind on their mortgage does not make anyone feel warm and fuzzy. Regardless, you have to be rooted in reality and not stick your head in the sand. On the contrary you have to have a plan!

Nonprofits for whatever reason seem to be more confused than ever, which is not good.

In order to survive you have to keep moving forward and remain focused on your mission. It is true you might have to scale back the services you offer or even lay off staff but you must maintain your forward momentum at all costs.

Now would be a good time to do a full review of what I call your “funding pie” to look at the percentages you are getting from each of your funding sources.

Take a moment and record your actual numbers looking in each category:

Program Fees

Board Member Donations

Staff Member Donations

Volunteer Donations

Individual Donations

Local Corporate Donations

Corporate Foundations

Local Family Foundations

Community Foundations i.e. Donor Advised Funds

Local Government Funding

State Funding

Federal Funding

**Nonprofit Endowment Account

**I would also be remiss if I did not mention that all nonprofits should strive to set up their own endowment fund. In my opinion the easiest way to accomplish this is by setting up a fund with your local community foundation. Also I realize that on every board there will be naysayers who will want to argue that you need every penny you have now and you can’t afford to put money aside to start an endowment. My response to that is the organization’s life depends on a long term vision not short term goals.

The following is a true story that might give you a moment to pause and motivate you and your board to set up that endowment account now.

I was on the board of a local nonprofit organization that received a call from a CPA in late December of one year. The CPA had a client that wanted to donate one million dollars to a nonprofit for tax reasons but it had to be done within a few days. There was also a stipulation that the nonprofit had to already have in place an endowment to receive the donation and that the endowment’s guiding document had to state that the principal monies were invested and only a percentage of the money earned were spent.

Unfortunately the nonprofit did not have an endowment in place at that time and lost out on what would have been a huge transformative gift for the organization!

If after you filled out the list you found that you are not receiving monies from one or more categories and need help in figuring out how you can accomplish this, check out my website for ideas: and also feel free to send me an email if you have questions.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Understanding Donors and Their Money

It appears that there is a common misconception that nonprofits adhere to when thinking about donors and their money. This feeling, although never actually voiced, reflects an opinion that people who are wealthy must not “value money” in the same way as they might because they have so much more.

This outward perception can be verified by the fact that the vast majority of nonprofits have no system in place to thank donors who give at various levels.

It is interesting that the people wanting money for their cause have high expectations from donors. Nonprofits, however, tend to be deaf, dumb, and blind to the fact that donors themselves also have high expectations, and rightly so, they should!

Nonprofits need to appreciate every gift. Showing appreciation does not have to be expensive nor does it have to be overly time consuming but it does have to be intentional.

Donors are not going to feel appreciated telepathically!

Below are seven inexpensive ways to show you care:

1) A hand written note speaks volumes. The note itself tells donors that you took your valuable time and energy to deliberately think about the person and what they have done.

2) Taking time to stop by and visit your donors can be extremely important to stay connected. You can ask for their opinion and/or give them an update on your current programs. Regardless this tells someone you care enough about them to connect.

3) A greeting card: holidays, birthdays and anniversaries are all moments in time to stop and reflect on the moment. This moment can be personalized and yet another way you can connect with your donor.

4) Publicity: Listing donors online on your website, in a newsletter, or in a newspaper ad thanking everyone for helping make your event successful are outward ways to let the donors know their contributions matter.

5) Handmade items mean more. When we were children most of us have a memory of either making something handmade or being given something handmade. Regardless of how small or inexpensive this exudes a quality of the item being considered “special and something of value.” If possible have the clients you serve make something for donors. This act alone helps the donor quantify in their mind that a donation they might give is actually helping someone personally rather than just an organization that many times seem faceless and cold.

6) Chocolate & Candy! Again if you can make a fresh batch of homemade cookies, great! However, an inexpensive container of name brand candy is just another way to express your appreciation.

7) Create a focal point with a “wall of appreciation” at your program location as a way to publically thank donors. This will help the clients you serve understand what goes into making your programs work as well as bring proper attention to the donors. Obviously, having this wall is not enough but you need to invite the donor out to see your facility. Begin and end your tour at this special location! You honor them by letting them know that everyday their name on the wall is a reminder to the board of directors, staff and clients that without donor support the program would not be successful.

There are literally hundreds of ways to say “thank you” and connect with your donor. However, the real challenge is breaking out of the pattern of complacency and making an honest effort towards creating a donor centered nonprofit organization versus staying self centered and aloof.

To learn more visit:

Monday, February 15, 2010

From Prospect to Donor

Most small nonprofits are clueless when it comes to attracting donors! Also, sadly once they do in fact find a donor many lack the discipline to do what it takes to keep the donor interested and the cycle starts all over.

The term prospect research can be defined as the process of selecting and reviewing information gathered in order to identify potential donors. While people would like you to think this information is magical and the process itself is mysterious, the truth of the matter is that the data is gathered from public records. This information can include but is not limited to biographical family information, which gives you a snap shot of a family philanthropic history as well as a possible clue as to personal interests. Also, information can be gathered showing past and current addresses as well as the career background of an individual including his or her education. Other information such as real estate, stock ownership and ownership in items such as planes, boats, horses or art might also be obtainable.

However, let’s be totally honest! Small nonprofits can’t pay to get this information and even if they could what does it really tell you about a person other than that they have the potential to give you money, not that they want to.

So, this is where YOU come in! But first, I want you to read the following story of Sally Jenkins:

Sally was excited when her mother told her she would help her have her very own flower garden in the backyard. She was warned that she needed to start small and have a plan! Sally loved flowers and knew she might want to start planting before the snow melted but really look forward to spring. She decided to plant mostly perennials because she knew they would come back next year but also wanted some annuals as well. In picking her spot Sally knew having good sunlight was important and she wanted to make sure she has at least six hours of exposure. After finding her spot Sally made sure the soil was moist and dug down ten inches and then mixed it with special potting soil her mother gave her to establish her flower bed.

A lot of work has been done so far hasn’t it? Yet, she has not seen the first bloom and won’t for quite some time.

Sally focused mainly on plants that would come back each year i.e. current donors. However, she also wanted to make sure she has annuals as well i.e. possible new donors. A lot of Sally’s time was spent thinking about her surroundings and conditions. Likewise, you would do well to make sure where your program is located is not only inviting but also ready to receive donors so they will be impressed. Regardless, you should remember that Sally was extremely patient with her flower bed and she wanted to make sure it had six hours of exposure. I hope by now you realize that the process we call development is a long one!

In order to cultivate donors you have to start with a plan, just like with anything you do with a purpose, and realize that there has to be certain steps you will need to take in order to be successful.

Let’s look at three easy steps that will help you move from prospect to donor.

Step One: Be honest, what are your real motives?

If your only motive is to “get money for your organization” then you will be limited in what you will be able to accomplish. People with or without money can spot a fake or plastic person a mile away. Donors are not stupid and understand that you are getting paid to work at your organization i.e. that is your job. However, what they don’t know is if this is a passion or not. I’m sure you have at some point in time been infected with the contagious passion passed on from another. The excitement in a person’s voice and seeing their actions literally made you excited as they were as well. You felt like you were part of something bigger than yourself and you knew that by joining them big things would happen! Your motivation needs to be true, and I am a firm believer in that you yourself, the paid staff person, need to personally give if you are going to ask others to give.

In all giving, it starts with you and your commitment must come first!

Step Two: Scattering the Seeds

Finding like minded people can be difficult and at times the shotgun approach is needed. Yet, in order for someone to find you they have to first learn about you!

Unfortunately, nonprofits generally do a poor job at promoting themselves and providing opportunities for the general public to really come out and learn what their organization is all about. One of the best ways to do this is to have an open house and conduct organizational tours, coffees and even lunch meetings.

Likewise, you can’t expect people to always come to you but you have to go to them. In every community there are civic groups that have monthly meetings and most would love to have a speaker come in and talk to their group. This is a great opportunity not only to tell people, many you have never met, about your organization but also give them an opportunity to volunteer or help with specific needs your organization might have.

Step Three: Make Sure Your Board is Working

Nothing is more frustrating than to feel like you are doing it all alone. It is important for your board of directors to not only set policy for the organization but also play an active role in fundraising to help your organization grow.

Part of this growth occurs when board members are active ambassadors in both giving money and time as well as telling others about the great things the organization is accomplishing. In order for a board member to be “the best they can be” they must themselves be taught all about what goes on within the organization. A brief organizational history and a current copy of your by-laws and current financial information are just a few of the items needed in order to be able to speak intelligently about the organization they now represent.

With all this said, it is important to remember a truth in fundraising, which is: “People give to people first before they give to an organization.”

Each and every board member has a sphere of influence that includes people they work with, friends and family members. These connections will help you in finding additional prospects and donors.

Now is the time to get your hands dirty. It may take a rake or it may take a shovel, but you have the tools needed to get it done.

For more information visit:

Saturday, February 13, 2010

You Can’t Hate A Nickel, Because It’s Not A Dime!

In this economy we all feel like we are being nickel and dimed to death!

However, nonprofits shouldn’t hate a nickel, because it’s not a dime. Just be thankful you’re still getting something!

The days of going after only the “big buffalo” in fundraising are over. Billions of dollars in assets have been wiped out. Despite what you might be thinking about an economy, those dollars are gone and the mindset of individuals have changed. Notice, however, I did not say people will stop giving. I think people will continue to be generous but I do think they will be more specific in who they help.

If you will for a moment, I’d like for you chew on another phrase which is: It takes one to know one!

So, I’ve got a question for you. How many millionaire nonprofit staff members do you know? My guess is very few. So as a practical question do you think a millionaire thinks differently about giving than you might?

Let’s even unpack this more and drop down a level. Can nonprofit executive directors or professional fundraisers really appreciate what it means to give a large donation if they themselves have never given one? Does it really matter?

I am not trying to start a class warfare argument but what I am trying to do is help the reader realize that regardless of your income level I have never met a Zombie Donor!

In my job I receive phone calls or emails daily from not just nonprofit organizations but also from donors that have a specific idea of what they want to do or how they want their estate settled and are looking for answers on how best to move forward.

I am quick to tell everyone I meet that I’m not an attorney nor a CPA so I do not give legal advice. However, I am more than happy to share what I know, free I might add, as well as give links to other information or point them to other individuals I know and trust that I think can help with their individual situation.

Over the years I have talked to all sorts of interesting people including professional athletes, children of movie stars, doctors and yes even Indian chiefs. People from all walks of life and ages and almost everyone I come in contact with ultimately see as a goal to help someone else!

A real key for me taking the time to hear exactly what it is the person wants to accomplish and not pushing someone to a specific product or service.

Nonprofits might learn something from this. Instead of pushing your wants on a donor, find out what they want instead. What interests them about your organization?

Also a news flash for those that might not be aware: Just because someone has money does not mean they should give it to you just because you were kind enough to ask for it!

If you are going to get serious you have to understand that just showing up for work is not enough. You have to be willing to roll up your sleeves and put the time in that is required to make your organization a success. If you need help doing that just ask! Visit:

Friday, February 12, 2010

Nonprofit Survival Tips

For many people it seems now more than ever that the world in which we live is different. When this change occurred is hard to pinpoint exactly. Some might say September 11th was the time that brought the world’s problems closer to home. Others might direct you to a different date.

Regardless, most people feel at the very least uneasy! It is hard to think that “this” is the new normal, but the reality is crystal clear that things will never be like they use to be in the past.

With so much uncertainty our own survival instincts slowly start to kick in and we individually think it is best if we just pull in. At this point it is paramount that you start the process of taking a mental inventory of yourself and learn what it means to: Know Thy Self.

Likewise nonprofit organizations need to take this same step as well. Go back now and look at your mission statement and make sure you are focused on what it is you said your purpose was for existing. Is the organization doing what it said it would do or has it gotten side tracked because it was able to get grant monies that sent the organization in a totally different direction?

Unlike individuals that might feel a real need to pull in and in some ways hide, nonprofits need to be the absolute opposite. This is your time to shine! The old cliché is true that “out of sight is out is out of mind” so it is up to your organization to be diligent in making sure you get all the public attention you can making sure everyone knows the programs you offer and the difference you are making daily in the lives of others i.e. Toot Your Own Horn!

Keep Your Friends Close: If you really stopped and asked a person to write down a list of all the friends they have the list might be several pages long, much like your donor list. However, if you pressed the issue a little more and ask the person to tell you who they think they could count on if they really needed help? Most people’s list would shrink to only a hand full. With that in mind, I would contend that nonprofits with small budgets probably have never heard of the term “donor cultivation” much less practice the steps needed to accomplish this task. In short, many nonprofits appear to be fair weather friends and lack the energy or will to sustain a long term relationship. This needs to be corrected if you want to have any friends at all you can really count on when you need them most!

Have you been shopping lately? Have you noticed smaller sizes but the same price? Also, have you felt like you are seeing more messages like: Save Now, Half Off or Valuable Coupon!

Granted we all want a deal and in fact we are being conditioned that the regular price is not acceptable. This prevailing attitude has and will make every consumer look closer at what we spend. As consumers we are also looking closer at the “quality” of what we spend our money on and the “quality” of what we are getting to make sure it is a good value.

A regular nonprofit is no longer acceptable! You heard me right, the survival of your nonprofit depends on how your new and improved version not only looks but how it functions. It is nothing new to nonprofits to be diligent with the money they have. Trust me nonprofits know all too well about how to live on ramen noodles! To not only survive but thrive in this environment your nonprofits must establish their: Point Of Difference.

What makes your nonprofit unique and what makes your nonprofit valuable? The standard bearer can no longer be anecdotal evidence of how good your nonprofit might be but you have to be able to back up what you are saying up with raw data and fact.

In uncertain times another point that is critical for survival is Keeping The Faith! You have to know that you can weather this storm no matter how long it might last. This is critical because nothing will kill a nonprofit faster than the prevailing attitude of its employees. If the people working for the organization think they are on a sinking ship then all the buckets will have holes.

To help you keep the faith you need to put your situation in context and for that you need to: Count Your Blessings.

Nonprofits are fluid organizations and many times the turnover in both staff and board members are so great that the long term institutional memory vanishes. A great deal of good would come if nonprofits have a social gathering and invite all the past board members and especially all the past presidents as well as others in your community that have played and currently play a vital role in not only establishing your nonprofit but making it grow. This introspective look should be a time to celebrate and really see how far you have come as well as reconnect those lost ties that bind!

Lastly, in order to survive you need to: Say Thank You! I can guarantee that if more nonprofits would commit to this one tip in a year’s time they would see a tremendous positive change in their organization.

I realize it is hard to create a habit, but I would like to challenge all nonprofit professionals to daily call a donor and tell them how much you appreciate them or write a note to a donor and mail it everyday! If you have to, place a calendar over your computer screen, on top of your phone or just somewhere you will have to look at it to remember. Mark off each day with an X when you accomplish this small but important task.

Likewise, ask your board to make a commitment and either call or write at least one donor every month i.e. assign names to specific individuals. Make it a point at your monthly meeting to reiterate how important this is to your organization and make sure to follow up with how everyone is doing.

Remember, Your Survival Depends on It!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Story of Generous Joe

As strange as it might sound Generous Joe is really concerned and confused about what he should do with all the money he has made and inherited. He has amassed quite a sum and he is not getting any younger. As the old saying goes: “You can’t take it with you!” Yet, despite what some might think, Joe has yet to see a hearse pulling a U-haul.

After all the struggles of life it just doesn’t make sense that in making your final plans on how to settle your estate it should be this hard! All the professional advice and legal loop holes trying to keep that distant relative Uncle Sam out of the picture still has left Joe wondering what he should leave his friends, family members and even to some of the nonprofits he has supported over the years.

Joe is one of those guys driven by a combination of logic and deep feelings. He is a softy at heart and is generous with the money to a fault. However, he tends to look at the pattern of others behavior when making smaller gifts and consciously judges not only the reaction of how the money is accepted and appreciated but also what choices are made with that money when it is actually spent.

Regardless of the circumstances when it comes to Joe helping someone the last question in his mind always defaults to: Am I really helping this person or am I just being a facilitator of bad judgment? While this might appear harsh to some that don’t know Joe he would assure you that this is based on his real life examples that he can point to over and over again.

He knows more than most that many people live their life by crisis and honestly hope that their “crisis of the moment” will also becomes yours as well. Especially if you are someone that is willing to help!

For Generous Joe this often times surfaces as a person asking for money to help pay a bill or get them out of a jam that they worked themselves into. Joe realizes everyone needs help at some point but for others it is more of a lifestyle choice rather than a tragic unexpected event.

When a crisis occurs close friends and/or family members are generally open to pleas for help and for the most part honestly don’t mind helping. However, while people like to think in their mind they can give a gift that comes with no strings attached, the reality is everyone has a tendency to closely view the future actions of these individuals because when we give money to someone we are making an investment in that person. Naturally we want to feel that our choice was a good one.

Unfortunately for Generous Joe he finds himself being disappointed again and again because it seems that the pattern of behavior that got the person in trouble in the first place hasn’t changed. Nor will it change, unless the person wants to or is forced to change.

Example: Joe has a friend named Vicky and he hated to see her struggling and constantly being so stressed out. He wanted to help and saw Vicky was always in a constant crisis and never had enough money to pay her bills. She owed a ton of money on her credit card bill, her car insurance was due, she had not paid her property taxes for several years on the trailer her parents had given her and her phone was disconnected again. She had borrowed all the money she could from her parents and they could not help anymore. She had been out of work for two weeks before finding another job but her world seemed to be collapsing around her, and she was constantly crying and depressed. Joe sat down with Vicky to assess her situation and added up all her outstanding bills and wrote checks to everyone she owed to wipe out all her debt. Within a year she was back in the same situation! How could this be?

Vicky’s freedom was short lived because she had never lived without debt and no one in her family had ever been debt free. Being out of debt had no meaning or value to her and she always had a wish list in her mind. Shopping was not based on her need but on her wants and she wanted it all! Her only concern was how much was the monthly payment not what it actually cost. Since Joe took away all her payments she was free to start over. Most are not as lucky as Vicky to have someone willing to step in and be that generous. Yet, unfortunately this story has repeated itself over and over again for Joe to the point where he no longer feels as compassionate as he once did.

For Joe family is important and he has plenty of nieces and nephews he could shower with wealth but he can’t help but wonder will that just poison them in the long run. Being spoiled is one thing but being out of control is another.

Finally Generous Joe enjoys being involved in the community with various nonprofit organizations. Last year Joe gave away thousands of dollars to charity but this too felt hollow because none of the groups he supports go much further than to send a receipt and sometimes that doesn’t even happen.

It is easy to see how Generous Joe can get jaded yet for whatever reason he hasn’t given up quite yet.

To date Joe has given away over seven hundred and eighty thousand dollars with planned gifts of over a million dollars. Maybe one day soon Joe will find the answer he is looking for, but until then, it wouldn’t hurt for you to look over your donor list to see if you can find your own Generous Joe and make sure he or she feels appreciated.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Ask - How to Ask for Support for Your Nonprofit Cause, Creative Project, or Business Venture by Laura Fredricks

From time to time I am contacted and asked to review books and other materials from other nonprofit consultants, and I am more than happy to do so. I can honestly say that I always learn something new, and it is good to hear other perspectives on topics you know are important to the nonprofit arena.

Laura Fredricks, JD is a New York based fundraising consultant as well as a motivational speaker and best-selling author. Her latest book is titled: The Ask - How to Ask for Support for Your Nonprofit Cause, Creative Project, or Business Venture. Before opening up her own boutique consulting firm for nonprofits and businesses Laura served as Vice President for Philanthropy at Pace University in New York where she helped raise $92 million in six years.

Her newest books is a fast and easy read which quickly delves into unpacking the steps in great detail on how to not only ask for money for your nonprofit cause but also how to apply those same skills in asking for something for yourself, like a job promotion.

A key point Laura raises at the beginning of this book is asking you the reader to step back and search inside yourself to reveal:

"What does money mean to you?" "Asking for money and raising money is all psychology, emotions, and past experiences you have had with money." Likewise this process does not end here but you also have to know how the person you are about to ask feels about money as well.

This book is broken down into ten chapters with each chapter building on the previous information you read. Chapters also have exercises to help you thoroughly think through the process. You will also find helpful summary statements to keep your mind focused on key points. As an added bonus after you purchase this book you are given web access to a downloadable resource file that has additional helpful information.

Overall I think Ms. Fredricks did an excellent job giving the reader a detailed roadmap for success in making the ask and getting the results!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Speech Recognition Software

A few days ago I purchased speech recognition software. I tried this once before several years back but I could never get the software to recognize my Southern accent.

I can say now that speech recognition software has come a long way and I can see how this will really help in speeding the process up allowing you to get you ideas out on paper.

This is only the second text that I have written using this software. I still need to go back and edit a little from what I am saying but I’m amazed how well this program works!

The biggest problem for me is not always just coming up with what to say but writing it down and making sure everything is spelled correctly and all the punctuation is correct. I am hopeful that with this tool I might finally be able to write the book that I have been thinking about writing for very long time.

It think it will be great just to be a let your mild flowed freely and talk and not have to worry about spelling everything correctly. Also being able to have all your ideas captured as you are thinking about them for me will be wonderful. Lately it seems I'm having harder time sleeping and find that I have to have a notepad by my bed in order to jot thoughts down just to get them out of my head. Ugh!

So, thanks Nuance Communications Inc. for creating Dragon Naturally Speaking Version 10.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Nonprofit Donor Burnout

More than likely you have read quite a bit about burnout when it comes to employees or staff of non profits. Rarely, however, do you hear about the flip side of the coin and hear someone discuss donor burnout.

As a donor to many different non profits over the years I can attest to the fact that there is a real frustration with how a non profit handles their end of the agreement.

Supporting a nonprofit as a donor is a very serious commitment I do not take lightly. I have to be sure that what the nonprofit stands for is something I can be fully committed to.

If I take the next step and join a board of directors then I am literally giving a piece of myself away. While this might seem to some as being melodramatic I can assure you that my wife of twenty-three years views this quite different! Whatever I give away of myself to supporting a non profit leaves less time and quite frankly energy for her. This is a big deal!

My gift and I do see what I give as a gift, goes far beyond just my time, my energy, my talent and what most nonprofits seem to be fixated on i.e. money. It is actually something deeper and more serious and for me part of my soul. How can you quantify the worth of self someone gives to your organization?

Unfortunately, few nonprofits I have run across have ever really comprehended this level of giving or found the way to respond to where I believe that they “got it.” So I seemed destine to repeat the same old cycle:

First I find a nonprofit I think is doing good work and get excited about what they are doing and support their cause. I might attend an event or give a donation.

Second, I learn more about what the organization does and get closer to the executive director and/or staff. I might find myself helping more by donating money or sometimes I find it more rewarding to meeting a specific need of the organization.

Eventually my level of giving and interest is noticed by others and at some point I might be asked to consider being on the board. This is the critical point! The older I get the more picky I have become and quite frankly more guarded, because I know if I join a board I will consider myself being all in.

If I join I quickly learn the good, the bad and the ugly about the organization. Sometimes this in and of itself is a huge disappointment. If however there are no hidden land mines then I quickly adjust to learning more about the organization and I gage the commitment levels of others on the board while learning about the excitement and energy level of the staff running the programs.

Many times after giving lots of time and energy and money I have found that the executive director and staff begin to take for granted past donations and get comfortable being the recipients of a generous nature and just expect it to continue forever regardless of their performance or outcomes. A disconnect begins slowly. There is not the level of excitement. Everyone still knows the reason they are there is to help the cause but at this point I generally hit a wall. I don’t see others around me willing to push as hard as I am or I begin to feel like my time is just being wasted. Staff slows down and only wants to push so far. The reason is that since they are working with an all volunteer board they do not want to have to do most of the work if the volunteer board stops pushing.

At this point if I am still on the board I will rotate off and normally my giving level drops. I also have a tendency to be reflective in nature. While I am not totally second guessing my judgment I do tend to mull over if the donations I’ve given in the past and generally draw a conclusion in my own mind if it was all worth it.

I wish I could end saying I felt good after all this but honestly answer is that of feeling more confused at times than being reassured that my personal commitment was met with an equal level of acceptance. Strange isn’t it?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

How Do You Connect With Your Donor?

I am often struck at the lack of conversation most nonprofits have with their donors or want-to-be donors. How often have you heard the old cliché: "The only time I hear from ‘X’ is when they want money!" This begs the question, Why?

The nonprofit arena is busy and busy being busy. Nonprofits for the most part are what I like to call "hidden in plain sight" bumping along day in and day out.

Likewise, every day we as individuals fall into our routine. It sometimes seems impossible to do something beyond our normal, and we all have a million excuses. How many times have you heard someone say: I can't do that because I don't have enough time! For whatever reason we act like this precious thing we call "time" is something we actually have no control over. Many also have lost touch of the simple fact that failing to "act differently" is our own fault and not due to forces beyond our control.

Hold On Change Is Coming!

Donors give nonprofits daily something of great value! Sometimes it might be money, other times it might be volunteering their time. On some occasions it actually goes deeper and a person extends to the nonprofit a part of their heart.

In all these cases nonprofits need to understand that they do not deserve this just because they are doing something good that helps others in society. Nonprofits need to understand the fact that gifts are given as a response out of a genuine sense of compassion and responsibility to others that the donor feels, not because the nonprofit is the most deserving.

Let's dig deeper! If you went to a fast food restaurant and placed your order and the person took your money but did not give you your food in return, then you would be more than just a little upset; you’d feel cheated.

So, what are you giving back to your donors for the money they give you? A receipt? If the fast food restaurant just gives you a receipt will you be satisfied then?

Nonprofits are so stuck in a rut that they forget that donors are people and that people need to feel a whole range of emotions in order to be complete. It would not be normal for a person to be happy or sad all the time but we as people need more!

Wake up! It is time for you to literally excite the senses.

See: Yes, that is right you have to get out from behind your desk and out of the comfy confines of your safe office. It feels good to be safe doesn't it? As a nonprofit executive you do not want to feel rejected. It is hard to ask for money too isn't it? Ok, I get all this but I am not asking you to jump out go ask for money. I am asking you to go see your donors. Be on your best behavior and take a gift. Not something big but something they can place on their desk to remember your organization.

Hear: When someone says the words, I hear ya! Do they really? Most of us are blessed with having two ears and one mouth. It was designed that way for a reason. You should double your efforts to hear what your donor has to say and talk less. Also, we as a society spend a lot of time tuning in and tuning out the messages we are bombarded with daily. What messages are you sending as a nonprofit? What is the donor actually hearing? Are they deafened by the silence?

Smell: It might seem odd to have nonprofits thinking about how they smell but if you will bear with me for a moment! Do you know how a bakery smells, the smell of flowers, or wood burning on a fire? What can you do to excite the sense of smell for your donor? What do you think the reaction a donor would have if perhaps a child who was served by a nonprofit made the donor something out of PlayDoh? Do you remember playing with PlayDoh as a child, remember the smell?

Taste: No doubt you have heard the proverb: “The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach!” While this might be a little over simplified I have never heard of a donor complain that they are getting too much candy or goodies from a nonprofit they support.

Feel: Do you really know how your donor feels about your nonprofit? What motivates their support and interest in the service you provide. Taking just a few minutes to harvest this important nugget will benefit your organization for years to come.

These are just a few ways you might consider to better connect with your donor. But remember, ultimately you will be judged by your actions rather than your words. It is up to you to connect with your donor, and it is not the responsibility of the donor to find you!

To learn more visit:

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Preserving your Tax-Exempt Status

Most tax-exempt organizations, other than churches, must file a yearly return or notice with the IRS. If an organization does not file a required annual return for three consecutive years, the law provides that it automatically loses its tax-exempt status. Loss of exempt status means an organization must file income tax returns and pay income tax, and its contributors will not be able to deduct their donations.

What must be filed this year depends on the organization’s financial activity:

Financial activity Filing requirement

Gross receipts normally ≤ $25,000
990-N (e-Postcard)

Gross receipts > $25,000 and < $1 million, and
Total assets < $2.5 million
990-EZ or 990

Gross receipts ≥ $500,000, or
Total assets ≥ $1.25 million

Private foundation (regardless of financial activity)

In 2010 the tax-exempt status of any non-profit that has not filed the required form in the last three years will be revoked.

The Pension Protection Act of 2006 requires that non-profit organizations that do not file a required information form for three consecutive years automatically lose their Federal tax-exempt status. This requirement has been in effect since the beginning of 2007.

If an organization loses its exemption, it will have to reapply with the IRS to regain its tax-exempt status. Any income received between the revocation date and renewed exemption may be taxable.

Small non-profit organizations with annual receipts of $25,000 or less can file an electronic notice, Form 990-N ( e-Postcard). They will need only a few basic pieces of information to file: the organization’s employer identification number, its tax year, legal name and mailing address, any other names used, an Internet address if one exists, the name and address of a principal officer and a statement confirming the organization's annual gross receipts are normally $25,000 or less.

Tax-exempt organizations with annual receipts above $25,000 are required to file the Form 990 or the Form 990-EZ annually. Private foundations file Form 990-PF. Churches and integrated auxiliaries of churches are not required to file Form 990-series returns or notices.

Form 990-series returns and e-Postcards, are due by the 15th day of the 5th month after an organization’s tax year ends. For more information click here.

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.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

IRS Announces Qualified Disaster Treatment for Haiti

The Internal Revenue Service has issued guidance that designates the earthquake in Haiti in January 2010 as a qualified disaster for federal tax purposes. The guidance allows recipients of qualified disaster relief payments to exclude those payments from income on their tax returns. Also, the guidance allows employer-sponsored private foundations to assist victims in areas affected by the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti without affecting their tax-exempt status.

Charities usually fall into one of two categories — public charities or private foundations. Under the tax law, a private foundation that is employer-sponsored may make qualified disaster relief payments to employees affected by a qualified disaster. These payments generally include amounts to cover necessary personal, family, living or funeral expenses that were not covered by insurance. They also include expenses to repair or rehabilitate personal residences or repair or replace the contents to the extent that they were not covered by insurance. Again, these payments would not be included in the individual recipient’s gross income.

Qualified disasters include Presidentially declared disasters and any other event that the Secretary of the Treasury determines to be catastrophic. The IRS has determined that the earthquake in Haiti that occurred this month is an event of catastrophic nature for purposes of the federal tax law.

The IRS will presume that qualified disaster relief payments made by a private foundation to employees and their family members in areas affected by the earthquake in Haiti to be consistent with the foundation's charitable purposes.

Organizations described in section 501(c)(3), especially employer sponsored private foundations, should refer to Publication 3833, Disaster Relief, Providing Assistance Through Charitable Organizations and other disaster relief resources for charities and contributors on for additional information.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Managing Restricted Grants: Routine or Risky Business?

For many nonprofits, an important category of risk emerges when an agency applies for and receives restricted grant funding. The tremendous competition for grant funds increases the risk that a nonprofit will make promises the organization is unable to keep. Such promises may include overly ambitious goals for client services, or meeting the administrative "strings" associated with the grant.

The failure by a nonprofit to manage grant funds wisely and fulfill its service delivery promises can lead to adverse publicity, litigation, criminal prosecution, and the revocation of grant funding. Nonprofit managers who are attuned to the risks of accepting restricted funds will first avoid making promises that are difficult or impossible to keep. They will also take steps to prevent careless mistakes and establish controls to detect and correct problems quickly. The successful management of restricted grant funds is possible when managers:

Carefully weigh the costs and benefits associated with each grant-funding opportunity and apply cautiously for funding.

Take the time required to fully understand donor requirements and expectations.

Plan ahead, organize effectively, and communicate with staff to ensure that requirements and expectations are understood and met.

Take immediate action when problems occur.

Whether your nonprofit promises too much in the final throes of negotiation or takes on a project you are ill-equipped to handle alone, many different things can go wrong in the solicitation and management of grant funds. Complicated "strings" are increasingly common in the current era of private philanthropy and government grant making.

It is also always difficult to ensure that total spending on a restricted program does not exceed grant revenues. Even when indirect costs are allowed, there are frequently uncovered expenses. In many instances, grants cost nonprofits more than they bring in. In addition, restricted grants can encourage institutional growth and/or special projects that may not be sustainable in the long term. A nonprofit can easily fall into the trap of hiring project staff and failing to let them go after a funding cycle concludes. Risk Modification Techniques

Pursue restricted grants with caution and accept the temporary nature of all projects supported with restricted funds.

Acknowledge, identify, and monitor the strings which accompany a restricted grant. Carefully read all grant agreements, donor letters, and other funding documents. Make certain you are clear about what you will do, where you will do it, and when each task is to be completed. Before work begins, compare the proposal with the actual funding agreement for consistency. Periodically during the funding period, reread the grant conditions and scope of work and determine whether you are in compliance. If changes are necessary and key deliverables are no longer feasible, discuss the matter with your funder and document changes in writing.

Carefully monitor expenditures for restricted grant projects to ensure that total spending does not exceed grant revenues. Institute controls to ensure that a grantor’s funds will be used only to support projects specified in, or appropriate under, the grant.

Avoid restricted grants that require institutional growth or projects that may not be sustainable once the funding cycle is over.

Plan carefully and communicate expectations to key parties. Outline responsibilities and authority levels for each staff person assigned to the grant. In most instances, the designation of a "project manager" for each grant is appropriate. The project manager is responsible for service delivery as well as administrative matters concerning the grant. Encourage staff to document information related to grant deliverables and establish a system for filing information on grant-funded projects so that it is readily accessible.

Always assess your grant-seeking practices, prospective funders, and partnership opportunities in relation to the organization’s mission and goals. Will receiving a grant further enable the nonprofit to fulfill its mission and maintain its public trust? Does the nonprofit’s request for assistance make sense in terms of the grant-making agency’s mission?

Risk Sharing Mechanisms

No insurance policy covers all of the potential consequences of failing to meet a funder’s expectations. These consequences include the need to return funds, the loss of future funding, and negative publicity. A directors’ and officers’ (D&O) liability policy should, however, provide funds for, or reimburse the organization for defense costs and any final award in a third-party (funder) claim alleging mismanagement of grant funds.

In addition, proper financial safeguards should be in place to prevent an employee from stealing funds or other resources from the program. An Employee Dishonesty policy offers protection should an employee embezzle or steal the funds associated with the grant.

Contractual Transfer

Many grants involve partnership arrangements which may be necessary to fulfill grant obligations. For example, a nonprofit may use independent contractors to support service delivery funded under a restricted grant, such as a commercial transportation provider or market research firm. Losses stemming from the mismanagement of a grant cannot be transferred completely to another unless that organization is a party to the underlying agreement. Unless the grant agreement contains mutually binding agreements with these contractors, their performance (or failure to perform) is ultimately the responsibility of the nonprofit.

A nonprofit should attempt to transfer the risks controlled by the contractor or service provider to that contractor. Carefully evaluate the contractor’s capabilities and closely monitor his performance. Determine which outside services are necessary to fulfill the grant obligations and identify ways to ensure that the services will be provided in a timely fashion. Also, make certain that the nonprofit will be compensated if the contractor fails to perform. Once you have identified the service provider, negotiate a hold harmless agreement and indemnification provisions from the contractor for damages resulting from their negligence. These agreements should be supported by adequate financing. In most cases, the contractor should have appropriate insurance coverage and add the nonprofit as an additional insured to the contractor’s policy.

The following article has been reprinted with permission from the Nonprofit Risk Management Center. For more information about the programs, services, and publications of the Nonprofit Risk Management Center, you can visit their web site at or contact them at (202)785-3891.