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.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Money or Happiness? The answer might surprise you!

Economists tend to look at the raw data and draw conclusions based on their findings while applying what they deem is common sense.  For many the answer is simple, the more money you make the happier this will make you, right?

Psychologists, however, have also studied the relationship between wealth and happiness have also drawn their own conclusions. One such Harvard psychologist, Daniel Gilbert, is author of a book titled: Stumbling on Happiness. In his book he concludes that, “wealth increases human happiness when it lifts people out of abject poverty and into the middle class but that it does little to increase happiness thereafter."

Additional work has been done at Harvard by Michael Norton, Assistant Professor of Business Administration in the Marketing Unit at the Harvard Business School (HBS), and Elizabeth Dunn and Lara Aknin at the University of British Columbia (UBC). Three separate studies were done. The first involved a national survey of 632 American men and women. A second study tracked how 16 employees spent a profit-sharing bonus at a Boston-based company. Finally, the third study involved giving money to University of British Columbia students on campus. Those students were given the option to spend the money to cover a personal bill or expense, use the money to buy a gift for someone, or donate the money to charity. The conclusion of all studies showed that people were actually happier when the money they had was spent on others versus themselves.

All this confirms what many of us have heard from the Bible “It is better to give than receive.” Acts 20:35.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Nonprofit Sins

One of the worst possible sins a nonprofit can commit is that of not saying:“Thank You!” in a language that their donors respond to.

It is the responsibility of the nonprofit, not the donor, to make the connection in order to build a lasting relationship. Donors need to be fed more than just information, but also need to be made to feel a part of the organization.

Nonprofits like many individuals tend to think in a linear mode. Meaning they see the world from left to right, from smallest to largest, and in alphabetical order. However, while this seems perfectly clear the problem is that not all donors will respond to what seems to be nothing but a rote response that required no thinking at all on the part of the nonprofit.

Some donors are fragmented thinkers meaning their life is not one that simply moves from point “a to b” in a straight line. However, rote responses i.e. a form thank you letter or donation receipt does nothing to stimulate a sense of appreciation but instead creates a vacuum.

Likewise, I am reminded of an animated cartoon character named Droopy, an anthropomorphic dog, a basset hound with a droopy face. This unassuming character is probably closer to many of your donors than you might realize. You mistake the monotone response of: “I’m so happy” as one that doesn’t care about your nonprofit only to find like in the cartoon this little guy has some incredible strength and is not bad after all, and he really is happy.

So, it is the responsibility of the nonprofit to find out how to satisfy their donor! Is your donor happy?

If nonprofits fail to take this challenge head on then they will be in purgatory until they learn the lessons of what it means to be thankful for every gift and individual.

To learn more visit:

The Nonprofit Arena 2010 Outlook

In 2010 we can expect a third of the work force in the US to be unemployed or underemployed at some point over the next year! The reported 10% unemployment rate is not the true picture. The actual rate is over 17% when you include the unhappy part time workers and those that have stopped looking for work i.e. discouraged which are labeled a politically correct term “marginally attached” versus unemployed.

The real challenge for the nonprofit arena is to motivate people to do what they are already wired in their mind and hearts to do naturally, which is to give!

How this is done is not rocket science but is based on the principle of truth and honesty.

First and foremost nonprofit organizations need a healthy dose of realism and face the fact that not everyone will be attracted to their cause and that is ok.

Secondly, the best nonprofits are those that are run by people who they themselves believe in the cause. In my opinion people who love what they are doing and would do the job they are doing without pay if they could are the ones who I want on my team, how about you? Wouldn’t you rather work with someone excited to do their job versus someone who is just punching the clock for a paycheck? They answer is obvious and donors to nonprofits are quick to pick up if the people working for that nonprofit are genuine or fakes.

Ok, let’s say you have all the right people leading your nonprofit so what comes next?

The volunteers, namely your board of directors, must be fully committed. It is unreasonable to expect success on raising money from people outside the organization if those inside are not giving to their full potential.

This finally brings me to a critical point of how your nonprofit markets itself to others.

Is your organization financially transparent on how it operates? Can people clearly see how the money they give makes a real and lasting difference in the lives of others?

A donor is an investor in every sense of the word. They not only want, but expect, to see either a direct or indirect outcome for the contribution they have made. You need to be careful that within the organization everything is not so convoluted that a doubt lingers in the mind of your donors. They must know that their contribution made a difference!

People, now more than ever, will be rethinking every aspect of their life and determining what is important and what is fluff.

For the nonprofit this will mean even a tighter squeeze than in 2009 which will cause either drastic cut backs in services for some or close doors permanently for others.

The year 2010 will be remembered not only as the “Year of The Tiger” but also the year that only the strong survived. If you have not watched a Rocky movie lately now might be the time to rent one and get ready!

To learn more visit: