Author Archives: Carolyn M. Appleton

Nonprofit Fundraising: Reasons for Hope

I was preparing a class presentation for University of the Incarnate Word recently, and by the conclusion, I realized I had learned something new, myself. For the nonprofit sector, the future is bright! Normally, I write a year-end “predictions” post, but I guess I am jumping the gun a bit with this one.

UBS Investor Watch 2021 published a report this summer called, “The New Valuables.” They note, “Investors’ purpose now: putting capital behind experiences, relationships, and helping others.” The statistics are striking.

  • 79% of UBS investors say, “COVID-19 made me reassess what’s most important.”
  • 77% say, “I believe life experiences are more important than material things.”
  • 68% say, “I want to make more of a difference.”
  • 66% say, “I feel guilty for being more fortunate than many other people.”
  • 59% say, “I am more interested in sustainable investing as a result of COVID-19.”

For nonprofit organizations, this is inspiring news and suggests investor thinking is trending toward more and perhaps greater philanthropic activities in the months and years ahead.

When you combine this information with the steady growth of “CSR,” or corporate social responsibility, the future looks even brighter.

“Corporate social responsibility is a management practice whereby companies integrate social, environmental, and economic concerns into their business operations. Examples of CSR initiatives can range from philanthropic efforts and involvement in the local community to diversity and inclusion and transparency. Rooted in the belief that businesses can play a role in shaping a better world, CSR can be a part of all companies – from large global corporations to small local businesses.”

Washington Business Dynamics

The report also notes, “A study by Cone Communications found that 63% of Americans are hopeful that businesses will take the lead to drive social and environmental change and 76% will refuse to purchase a company’s products or services upon learning it supported an issue contrary to their beliefs.” Corporations are paying attention, and I for one hope the trend continues to rise.

I have also tried for years to push nonprofits toward planned giving. But for many, their immediate needs are so urgent that launching and maintaining a long term planned giving program is not considered. But there are escalating reasons why today is the perfect time for all nonprofits to venture into planned giving. Kate Dore, CFP notes in, “Are you prepared for tax impact of the $68 trillion great wealth transfer? Here are some options to reduce the bite” for CNBC (July 12, 2021).

  • It’s estimated that nearly 45 million U.S. households will transfer $68 trillion over the next 25 years, according to Cerulli Associates.
  • With tax laws in flux, estate planning is more critical than ever, financial experts say.
  • To lessen the tax bite, families may consider Roth IRA conversions, life insurance, gifting and other strategies.

A bequest in a Will is one of the easiest and most popular ways to leave a legacy for the benefit of the community and for future generations. One of my favorite resources for Wills is Nolo Press. “If we do nothing else to take care of our legal affairs, we should write a will. If you don’t make a will before your death, state law will determine who gets your property and a judge may decide who will raise your children.”

Giving Docs is a platform I learned about through the startup sector in Austin.

“Studies have shown that building an estate plan with a charity as part of their legacy, increases volunteering, doubles lifetime giving, and helps them feel a greater sense of purpose. Yet more than half of people die without creating a will, leaving behind conflicted families, wasted money in legal fees, and missed opportunities to leave meaningful, well-considered legacies. We seek to help people live more meaningful lives, create significant legacies, and help grow the extraordinary organizations that inspire them.”

Whatever ways in which you choose to encourage your constituents to place your nonprofit in their Will and estate plans, give it a try. Gabrielle Weiss provides timely advice for everyaction in, “5 Ways Your Nonprofit Website Can Promote Planned Giving” (May 21, 2018). Simply adjusting your website to provide planned giving information and options makes sense. Concannon Miller asks on his website, “Is your nonprofit organization pursuing planned gifts? It should be. Research suggests that the average planned gift in the United States falls between $35,000 and $70,000 – and the amount may increase with more Baby Boomers moving into retirement. Yet many nonprofits, especially small and medium-sized organizations, lack formal planned giving programs.”

I admit, I was surprised over the course of the last year and a half that more of our nonprofit planned giving advisors were not sharing information routinely about how one can place a nonprofit in one’s Will or estate plan. COVID-19’s unfortunate arrival and many succumbing in the worst cases has underscored the need for everyone to create a Will. It is not that our sector should capitalize on illness and death. Of course not! But we as a sector should be providing options for planned giving, and for the immense wealth transfer coming our way.

Photos illustrating this article are courtesy of Adobe Spark.

Every Day is Mandela Day

“Without education, your children can never really meet the challenges they will face. So it’s very important to give children education and explain that they should play a role for their country.”

Nelson Mandela, South African statesman (1918-2013)

Nelson Mandela was a servant leader for the South African people and for the world. Click on the image below to read about #MandelDay, which occurs annually on July 18.

There are several important goals outlined on the #MandelaDay website. Foremost among them is providing an education for young people everywhere. Why is education so important?

Youth Voices notes that education is one of the most important factors to a person’s success in society. “Whether a person is living in poverty or among the wealthiest in the world, education is necessary to advance in any situation.” ONE Campaign is on point with recent developments vis-a-vis COVID-19. While the world made great strides in the advancement of education for all nations prior to the onset of the pandemic, the virus has had a negative impact on education overall. In fact, COVID-19 set the world back a few years.

In the article, “COVID’s Lost Learning: Over Half of the World’s 10 Year Olds Can’t Read,” ONE Campaign notes:

Calculations based on official ‘learning poverty’ figures from the World Bank and UNESCO, as well as UN population data of all 10-year-olds, show that a staggering 70 million children could be affected. This situation has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has contributed 17% to the total number of children falling victim to this global learning crisis in 2021 — leaving them with a life-long brake on their future potential.

ONE’s analysis shows that if current trends continue, the number of children lacking basic literacy when they turn 10 could rise to 750 million by 2030. This global learning crisis will hit Africa particularly hard, with sub-Saharan Africa accounting for 40% of children at risk.

As a ONE Campaign volunteer for almost ten years, I am lending my endorsement to the Global Partnership for Education. I am working with my fellow ONE advocates to reach out to elected representatives in Texas and nationally, to make sure they know how essential supporting the Global Partnership for Education is. Our thanks go to those who have agreed to meet and who have taken the time to learn more about the GPE. We are grateful.

Did you know, children globally have lost an average of one third (74 days) of education each due to school closures and a lack of access to remote learning? Last spring, close to half the world’s students were out of school worldwide due to partial or full school closures linked to the coronavirus pandemic.

However you support #MandelaDay this July 18 – and there are lots of helpful ways you can do that – be sure to raise your hand for education. “Don’t look away. Make every day a Mandela Day.”

“Education is a powerful agent of change, and improves health and livelihoods, contributes to social stability and drives long-term economic growth. Education is also essential to the success of every one of the 17 sustainable development goals.

GPE helps partner countries transform their education systems to ensure that every girl and boy can get the quality education they need to unlock their full potential and contribute to building a better world.”

Global Partnership for Education

To read more about my support for the work and specific projects of ONE Campaign:

You will find ONE Campaign on social media. Follow the link to learn more.

Inspiring Words in Challenging Times

When I posted this originally, the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) was hosting its annual Continental Congress. The event, traditionally an in-person gathering in Washington, D.C. at the organization’s headquarters, was held online this year. As each program began, members were invited to stand at home or from whatever location they were watching, to say the Pledge of Allegiance and recite the American’s Creed.

“I believe in the United States of America, as a government of the people, by the people, for the people; whose just powers are derived from the consent of the governed; a democracy in a republic; a sovereign Nation of many sovereign States; a perfect union, one and inseparable; established upon those principles of freedom, equality, justice, and humanity for which American patriots sacrificed their lives and fortunes. I therefore believe it is my duty to my country to love it, to support its Constitution, to obey its laws, to respect its flag, and to defend it against all enemies.”

William Tyler Page, The American’s Creed

During these challenging times – particularly as equality for all citizens of the United States is a matter of concern – the American’s Creed is more important than ever. I believe as a nation, we should renew our interest in the American’s Creed and encourage the review and study of it by citizens of all ages.

“The American’s Creed” dates from WWI. It was written by William Tyler Page, the winning entry of a national contest and the title of a resolution passed by the U.S. House of Representatives on April 3, 1918. As Denise Doring VanBuren, President General of DAR notes, “On the eve of World War I, a contest approved by President Wilson was announced to secure ‘the best summary of the political faith of America.’ In March 1917, the City of Baltimore offered a prize of $1,000 for the best entry (an amount equal to about $17,000 today). More than 3,000 entries were submitted prior to the closing of the contest on September 14, 1917. Fifty of these were turned over to a committee, and ‘Creed No. 384’ was selected as the best.”

By way of background, DAR was founded in 1890. It is a nonprofit, non-political volunteer women’s service organization dedicated to, “promoting patriotism, preserving American history, and securing America’s future through better education for children.” DAR members volunteer millions of service hours. It one of the most inclusive genealogical societies in the nation with 190,000 members in 3,000 chapters across the United States and internationally.

I joined DAR almost by accident in 2010. I was volunteering to help a local Texas DAR chapter with a recognition event. An avid and talented genealogist asked if I might have ancestors who participated in the American Revolutionary War? I responded that I had heard perhaps our family had ancestors dating back to 18th century America, but I did not know for sure. She took it from there. After detailed genealogical research conducted free of charge, I was formally approved and inducted. Today, I have three documented American Revolutionary War ancestors, and I have two more under consideration. I can say enthusiastically that discovering my ancestors, and learning about their roles in the success of the American Revolutionary War, has been among the most meaningful experiences of my life.

A few years ago, PBS produced, “American Creed,” a documentary featuring Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David M. Kennedy. The basic framework for the discussion is, “What does it mean to be American? What holds us together in turbulent times?” Follow the link to learn more and to find helpful resources for all ages.

It is my perception America is beginning to rise out of the divisive and often painful times we witnessed the past few years. I hope so. We can accomplish so much more together with understanding and tolerance than we can fighting one another. Let us return to the American’s Creed, and renew the conviction that we believe in the United States of America, as a government of the people (not just one group of Americans – all the people), by the people, for the people; whose just powers are derived from the consent of the governed; a democracy in a republic; a sovereign Nation of many sovereign States; a perfect union, one and inseparable.

Sharing a photograph of me at left, my mother and sister at George Washington’s home, Mount Vernon in the 1960s.

Is Bigger Better?

It makes sense that donors would conduct research on nonprofit organizations prior to making charitable donations. Those nonprofits with large operational budgets, those in existence a long time with numerous Form 990 tax returns and professional audits conducted, with well-known individuals serving on the Board logically inspire confidence and larger donations.

But do those factors actually mean the nonprofit is effective or efficient at meeting its mission? Sometimes.

I would argue smaller nonprofits – the majority of all nonprofits – are often more effective and worthy of meaningful charitable donations. Many of them operate almost entirely with “volunteer” staff. They achieve more through efficient volunteer management and incredible drive and initiative. They take their mission statements very seriously. They are also quite good at securing in-kind donations of equipment and discounts on goods and services.

“The majority of nonprofits (66.3%) have annual budgets of less than $1 million. From there, as organization size increases, the number of nonprofits decreases. For every 1 powerhouse (annual expenses more than $5 billion) nonprofit, there are thousands of grassroots organizations.”

GuideStar Blog (2017)

Follow the link above to view an impressive statistical chart.

What this means, however, is when donors and professional advisors conduct objective reviews of GuideStar profiles and tax returns, those somewhat intangible “commitment” factors are not evident. Hard budgets and data tell one story, but daily life with the nonprofit may tell another.

Smaller nonprofits can even the score and overcome this budgetary approach to evaluation to some degree. They would be wise to encourage volunteers and clients to write testimonials about how effective and reputable they are, and share those on social media and on the nonprofit’s website. GreatNonprofits is one helpful source, especially as it is linked to GuideStar. But also, many preset website templates include testimonial functions, if you choose to add them.

Volunteer hours also matter. I find it sometimes hard to get nonprofits to track volunteer hours. They have come to believe everyone should give of their time and talents without expecting compensation or credit of any kind: modesty is expected. But the truth is, in this era of data collection and evaluation, nonprofits need to be more savvy and track and share those hours.

Independent Sector notes, “Volunteers in the United States hold up the foundation of civil society. They help their neighbors, serve their communities, and provide their expertise. No matter what kind of volunteer work they do, they are contributing in invaluable ways.” Nationally this year, the value of a volunteer hour is $28.54. In Texas, the value is $26.43. To download a report of volunteer activity and values across the United States, follow this link.

Hence, if you measure the hours worked by your volunteers, not only will you be able to reward stellar volunteers, you can share the value of the volunteer hours “worked” on your website, on social media, in annual reports and with prospective donors who may give more based upon those impressive figures. Once you multiply the number of hours worked times the value of a volunteer hour, the tally is often impressive and can help philanthropists and professional advisors gain a better sense of your effectiveness and merit.

I would question the frequent request by potential funders for professional annual audits as well. Would a formal opinion by a reputable accountant or accounting firm be as helpful? Professional audits are expensive and small nonprofits are often unable to afford them, in my experience. There are other ways to gauge the financial effectiveness of nonprofits. If they simply take the time to hire an outside, objective professional accountant or accounting firm, and submit annual tax returns, that says a lot about them.

To donors and professional advisors I would suggest, look more closely at the nonprofits seeking funding. Helping a smaller yet deeply committed nonprofit succeed can be more fulfilling than funding one where you are one of a cast of hundreds or thousands of other contributors. Smaller nonprofits and their volunteers often work harder, they are more resourceful and dedicated. They are often more entrepreneurial in spirit and achieve more with less.

GuideStar: Invaluable Nonprofit Resource | An Update

Back in 2013, I was invited by GuideStar to produce two case studies about my experiences with the platform. They were produced in an interview format and attached to the GuideStar website. But since then, GuideStar and The Foundation Center merged to become Candid. Many helpful changes have been made to the website that have made Candid even stronger and more helpful today. But my case studies were lost in the transition.

I wanted to share those experiences along with more recent observations in a new blog post. I find most nonprofits barely skim the surface of GuideStar. While they may rightly focus on polishing their nonprofit profiles to secure official seals for transparency, they often abandon GuideStar after doing so, until a profile update is due. Smart nonprofit staff will learn to use GuideStar in greater depth, however. It is an indispensable research tool one should consult routinely.

My first experience with GuideStar was after many years of hands-on major gift fundraising experience, in the mid-2000s. I did not know much about it until then, oddly enough, as I had been distracted with multiple fundraising projects. In fact, I had just helped raise $5 million for a new facility, and our lead volunteers decided to polish the organization’s Board of Trustees as the organization moved forward into an exciting new era of community service.

The Board had become large and unwieldy. Some felt a lean and more engaged Board of Trustees made sense. Recent fundraising successes revealed those genuinely committed to the mission, and that was a relatively small group of civic leaders. To prepare, they asked me to reach out to similarly-sized nonprofit organizations in other cities, and to ask about the size of their Boards and what those groups found to be successful in terms of size and composition. I began my work.

But what I soon discovered was staff members of other nonprofits were reluctant to reveal the size and composition of their governing bodies, even in the most general sense. They felt the information was confidential. But the truth is, if you file a tax return as an approved nonprofit organization, your Board is public information. From Don Kramer’s Nonprofit Issues:

Can our 501(c)(3) organization keep the list of board members confidential and refuse to make it available to the public?

Not if you are required to file a federal Form 990, 990EZ or 990-PF tax information return. Each of those forms requires a list of officers, directors and key employees. State charitable solicitation registration forms are also likely to require the list.

If you are a very small organization or a church or other religious organization that is not required to make such a filing, you may have no legal obligation to disclose such information to the general public. But the failure to do so undercuts the credibility of the organization and is inconsistent with the increasing desire – and legislative demand – for transparency in the charitable sector.

The task was daunting. Few of my nonprofit colleagues wanted to bother with my pesky inquiries. I was frustrated. One fellow was so rude that I got angry, and I got online. And then I discovered GuideStar and tax returns galore. I was elated! I uncovered all the information I needed and more. I was able to produce a comprehensive survey and report to the Board of Trustees.

My second experience was meeting with a prospective donor, a well-respected attorney who also managed his family’s private foundation. I was implementing a major gift campaign, and had gotten halfway through the multi-million dollar effort. In this instance, I knew I needed to be well into the campaign, and to look solid and poised for success before attempting a grant request. And in fact, that was true by the time of our meeting.

I arrived with our executive director. We shared our story and why we were there to meet. The attorney then said he wanted to ask a few questions. And every one of those questions focused on our tax returns. Before we arrived, he had been doing his research on our financials as they appeared on GuideStar. But we hadn’t given them a thought. I was completely surprised. I did manage to defer the answers to his questions, as a form of follow-up to our meeting afterward (and we were able to secure the grant we sought, thank heaven). But this experience taught me to become familiar with GuideStar and my own nonprofit’s profile prior to showing up at a solicitation meeting.

My sense is today, with the ever-increasing role of professional advisors helping philanthropists make wise giving decisions, fundraising staff must familiarize themselves with their own GuideStar profile. And if the accounting staff or others have not already claimed and fleshed-out your nonprofit’s GuideStar profile, then fundraising staff should do so. As GuideStar notes, with your profile, you can:

Showcase your programs and your impact

Send fresh information to 200+ charitable sites, including AmazonSmile, Facebook, and Network for Good

Add a Donate button directly to your profile to boost your funding

Use your profile as the perfect handout in funder meetings

Celebrate your diversity and share your staff & board’s demographics

And much more.

Further, “Villanova University and University of Wisconsin Milwaukee researchers compared nonprofits that earned a GuideStar Seal of Transparency to those that did not. Nonprofits that earned a Seal averaged 53% more in contributions the following year than organizations with no Seal. The research also found organizations that elect to be more transparent had stronger performance across a range of governance, financial, and operational dimensions.”

Today, I remain an avid GuideStar fan. Not only do I make profile preparation a priority for the nonprofits with which I work, I use GuideStar to review the tax returns of private foundations that are also “nonprofits.” In these ways, GuideStar is an essential tool for building credibility, facilitating research of all kinds, and ensuring more effective and appropriate grant proposal targeting.


You might also enjoy

High Tech Prospect Research Worth the Investment (June 2011 and continuously updated since then)

Research and Writing | Ideal Tasks While Working from Home (May 2020)

TechSoup Connect Presentation on YouTube, “DIY Prospect Research” (May 2021)

Fundraising Professionals Are Essential Workers

While developing public presentations this spring, I began considering the role of development professionals in nonprofit organizations today. And that got me a little worried.

When I began my career, the average amount of time a development officer stayed at his or her job was approximately 3.5 years. I remember many in the profession felt that was too short a time. Today, however, the average time a nonprofit fundraiser remains on any given job is 16 months. In the article, “Stop the Revolving Door in Nonprofit Development,” Benefactor Group concludes:

“According to a study by author Penelope Burk, the average fundraiser stays at his or her job for 16 months before assuming another position. And replacing these professionals doesn’t come cheaply—averaging 90% to 200% of their salary in direct and indirect costs, according to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).

This loss of talented development staff creates a tremendous burden for nonprofit organizations since fundraising is rooted in strong donor relationships. An absent or inexperienced gift officer can spell trouble for philanthropic support.”

My personal experience is that nonprofit leadership – directors and board members – often lack knowledge about what is involved in nonprofit development. There are, however, many trustworthy support organizations that counsel aspiring fundraisers in best practices and ethical behavior, and numerous excellent books discussing the role of development in nonprofit success.

When I began fundraising during graduate school, the role of a development professional was understood to be a high minded one. Your ultimate goal was to nurture relationships and guide modest annual contributors toward increasing engagement and a long term development life cycle. Your aim was to encourage donors to become active volunteers, advocates and eventually, you wanted to them to become so loyal that they not only continued to give generously, but they placed the nonprofit in their Will and estate plans.

This means “development” takes time.

There are common misperceptions by fellow nonprofit staff members and leadership about what development professionals are actually doing. More than once, I have been hard at work on a multi million dollar fundraising campaign, when someone in the office mistakes my job as “schmoozing” with wealthy donors. They want that experience for themselves. To some degree, jealousy is a common human trait. But nonprofit directors and board members – if properly informed and trained – can become more mindful of jealous reactions and help prevent any “end runs” that may occur on staff.

“Never underestimate the power of jealousy and the power of envy to destroy.

Never underestimate that.”

Oliver Stone, American director (b. 1946)

My work in fundraising by the numbers is approximately 5% “schmoozing” and 95% research, identification, planning and strategy development, writing, documentation, reporting, communicating, organizing meetings small and large, taking meeting notes, managing social media and the like. This type of work takes quiet time, focus, organizational and listening skills.

I have also discovered startup and young nonprofits follow what they believe to be “business” practices, and they want to view development as an activity that is purely about getting money to serve a mission, now. Relationships (including communication) should not matter. If donors want to see the mission succeed, the thought is they should not care about any “emotional” connection to it. Give the money and get out of the way.

My job over the years has involved correcting several of these kinds of situations. That is because securing major gifts requires donor confidence, and donor confidence involves communication (including responding to myriad questions), research, staffing, organizational skills and the like. And yes, it also involves helping them become deeply engaged in the work of your nonprofit. And that can and does involve an emotional connection.

Nonprofit fundraisers are also protective of their donors. If a project’s parameters change, they are on task to communicate changes to the underwriters, whether that be an individual, family, corporation, foundation or a government agency. If there are ethical lapses internally, nonprofit fundraisers should try to correct those in-house. But if those dilemmas cannot be fixed internally, donors may need to be informed and requests for corrections made.

Development professionals also gain knowledge over time, both about the nonprofit’s mission and goals, and about the donors who ultimately sustain the nonprofit and ensure its future. Although they should strive to document everything they know for future reference, why let that knowledge (and the relationships that go with it), walk out the door? It doesn’t make sense. But again, I find the trouble lies in nonprofit leadership and their understanding (or misunderstanding) of the work that development professionals are responsible for doing.

The nonprofit sector needs to find ways to train directors, founders and board members. After many years on the job, I believe no one should be able to form a nonprofit organization in the United States today without being trained about the truly essential function of development professionals as well as other key staff positions that make for successful nonprofit businesses today. That training might also include ethical behavior in the nonprofit context, the importance of having a meaningful GuideStar profile to ensure public transparency, how to file a tax return that adequately reflects the work of the organization, and more.

The development profession does benefit from a number of excellent support associations. During webinars, in-person meetings and conferences they cover such topics. But the fact is, development officers often already know these things. But the directors and other leaders within the organization do not.

My message as April 2021 draws to a close is, fundraising professionals are #EssentialWorkers. Take the time to understand their vital role. Appreciate and nurture them. Fundraising takes time, and so does relationship building. Keep your nonprofit #EssentialWorkers as long as you can, and reap the benefits for years to come.

Images illustrating this post are courtesy of Adobe Spark.

Quiet Time Has Been a Busy Time: Carolyn’s Update

I suspect you have been wondering what became of me. Despite being “quiet” on WordPress after my December 2021 nonprofit predictions post, I have been busy elsewhere.

In January I wrote, “Nonprofit Social Media is Essential to Attracting and Retaining Donors” for the Qgiv Blog. I hope you enjoy it. Social media has become more powerful and essential than ever. The trend shows no signs of slowing. As a nonprofit fundraiser asked to join Facebook a decade ago by a major gift donor, I have come to appreciate Facebook and other platforms that offer convenience to those seeking information of all kinds, and the opportunity to connect with friends, family, professional colleagues and favorite causes. But with the growing importance of being present on social media, nonprofits must also be careful. They must understand that how they present themselves online can make-or-break donor and potential donor confidence. Mature management of social media is essential.

If you have read about my professional background on Carolyn’s Nonprofit Blog, you know my nonprofit career was founded on volunteerism, and on a life changing, week-long intensive grant writing course hosted by The Grantsmanship Center in Los Angeles, California. Over the years, I have continued to keep up with the Center, and I often promote its educational programming. Early this year, I reviewed a new book by Barbara Floersch, “You Have A Hammer: Building Grant Proposals For Social Change.” Follow this link to Goodreads. A review of the book has also been posted on Amazon.com. I do recommend it.

This month, I wrote another article for Qgiv, “Fundraising Tools Every Nonprofit Needs.” You may be surprised that although being tech savvy and leading Nonprofit Tech Club Austin in partnership with NetSquared (a division of TechSoup), NTEN: Nonprofit Technology Network and local entrepreneurial hub Capital Factory, I suggest in my article rethinking how nonprofit staff view technology. The post may surprise you.

I am in the midst of preparing a “thought leader” webinar on grant writing for Qgiv in April 1, 2021. Check out the description for, “Adjusting Your Mindset for Successful Grant Writing Today,” and please plan on joining us! The program is free to all, and a recording will ultimately be shared online so you can also watch it later. This link also shares other upcoming Qgiv webinars. I recommend all of them.

On a personal note, I have been healthy and well despite COVID-19 raging across Texas. I have updated, “Dealing With Stress” on Carolyn’s Nonprofit Blog with new resources. There I share how I manage stress and also a number of resources that might prove helpful. In brief, scheduling a daily walk and changing how and what I eat has made a world of difference. I feel better today than I did twenty years ago.

You have probably heard about the arctic weather in Texas this month. Below is a photo from Bee Cave last week, looking northeast toward Austin. What an adventure! My electricity never went off, but I conserved it as best I could for the sake of others. My water only failed for half of a day. I am very lucky, and I wish to thank the mayors of Bee Cave and Lakeway for their outstanding leadership during this trying time. Read the detailed article below for updates from area leaders.

Community Impact Newspaper (Vol. 12, Issue 2 | March 11 – April 7, 2021)

Our recent polar vortex experience brings to mind climate change. Please join me on Twitter @cclatx. I have been the volunteer Twitter curator the past three years. I share a wide range of information weekly that might be of interest to you. And I urge you to consider joining the Citizens Climate Lobby secure, free conversation platform. We have a national monthly call and update, and a number of other educational programs are offered during the year. The time is nigh for our nation and the world to focus on alleviating the effects of climate change, and I for one am delighted the United States has rejoined the Paris Agreement. To view a new website for letters to the editor that I created for the Austin chapter, follow this link.

Best wishes, be safe and reach out anytime if you have questions.

Bee Cave snow - in far western Austin, Texas.
iPhone Instagram of Bee Cave at Ranch Road 620 S under snow and ice, by Carolyn M. Appleton.

2021 | Nonprofit Predictions

“Occurrences in this domain are beyond the reach of exact prediction because of the variety of factors in operation, not because of any lack of order in nature.”

Albert Einstein, German physicist (1879-1955)

The past several years, an important function of Carolyn’s Nonprofit Blog has been offering predictions for the year ahead. The year 2020 has been fraught with turmoil on many levels. I admit, predicting what will happen next year is somewhat of a challenge.

Having said that, many of my prior predictions have come to the fore for our nation and the world. Hence, you may wish to pay attention to my musings again this year.

“The Tarot Wheel of Fortune card meaning in a nutshell:
An uncertain outcome,
with an aftermath
to be carefully considered.”

I normally address federal funding in my predictions, and I noted last year that with Republicans dominating the federal government, that should result in government grants being fewer in number. But the government grew under President Trump.

From Brookings, “Despite campaign promises to the contrary, Trump opened the contract and grant spigots instead, adding more than 2 million jobs to the blended federal workforce, including 1 million in the Departments of Defense, Transportation, and Health and Human Services alone” (October 7, 2020). Having worked with many leading Texas Republicans over the years in philanthropy, I find that surprising.

The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services has expanded its work with a variety of Coronavirus grants and programs. The website, Tracking Spending – Increasing Accountability shares eye-opening information about the phases of relief provided by the federal government during 2020, and it provides a helpful overview of funding provided to individual states. I urge you to review it.

The rise of COVID-19 was a surprise to many, and clearly, significant federal action was required in 2020. But as the U.S. National Debt Clock notes, our government is burdened by debt. On this insightful website, you can watch our nation’s debt climb by the minute, and you can compare that figure to tax revenues, for instance, and see what sectors of the federal government are responsible for the greatest levels of debt, among them Defense, Student Loans, Medicare and Social Security.

While I cannot imagine the federal government being able to continue piling up debt, some well regarded experts think this concern is unfounded. Read on Bloomberg, “Yellen’s Go-To Measure Shows U.S. Debt Is Still Getting Cheaper (March 16, 2021).

Will the federal government be able to continue non-Coronavirus grantmaking at prior levels going forward? Will the new Administration be able to bring down existing debt and rebalance grant allocations to non-Coronavirus programs? I suspect this will be a multi-year project.

For nonprofits, I would again suggest setting your sites on private sector fundraising, and multiple approaches to it like major gift research and writing, online giving campaigns including special giving days, crowdfunding for substantial needs, online auctions and online events, and for-profit business services like consulting, if your nonprofit has an expertise it can provide to others (to businesses or to other nonprofit organizations). Just remember, “selling” goods and services must be accounted for separately for IRS purposes.

My annual predictions have focused on the ever-increasing adoption of cryptocurrencies and Blockchain. And I was was one of the only nonprofit fundraising executives to do so! I suggest you refer to my Articles and Resources page for more information. There I recently shared an article by Liam Frost for Decrypt, “Bitcoin Now Has a Greater Market Cap Than Mastercard” (November 20, 2020).

The Giving Block notes that there are 101,000,000 cryptocurrency users which is more than Venmo or Cash App, and $300 million dollars are donated in cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin each year. Cryptocurrencies are tax efficient, and well known services like PayPal and the Cash app are accepting them. Cryptocurrencies are, “quickly becoming the preferred way for millennials and Gen-Zs to invest.” The Giving Block is a service designed specifically to facilitate nonprofit donations of cryptocurrencies, and the website contains helpful information you may wish to review.

My annual predictions normally discuss traditional major gift fundraising vs. crowdfunding for substantial projects. Traditional major gift fundraising continues to evolve, and seasoned fundraising professionals today blend the best of the old with the new. Online communications play a growing and vital role, especially as COVID-19 restrictions on in-person gatherings remain in place. My prediction would only be enhanced by saying meeting with donors in person will continue to be curtailed, with or without COVID-19. This and my discussions about professional advisors that follow also suggest you should polish your online presence on all the platforms on which you communicate. Secure the highest level GuideStar seal for transparency possible.

This year has shown us there are more nonprofit needs than can be funded. Competition is often fierce. Emergencies like COVID-19 mean some philanthropic donations have been diverted from traditional causes like the arts. Many philanthropists have risen to the challenge in 2020 by giving more than they would during a normal year, and digging into their investments to do so. But at some point, there will be a limit to charitable giving, per se.

This might be the time to investigate the concept of charity lotteries, as operated so well and professionally in Europe. You might enjoy reading one of my earliest articles, “Charity Lotteries: A European Success Story.” We need more innovative thinking in terms of philanthropy, and this is a viable option the United States should consider. In fact, I have shared my article with the National Governor’s Association.

It is also true the nonprofit sector should consider organizational mergers to reduce duplication of services and to enhance efficiency. Fewer new nonprofits should be launched unless a genuine need and funding sources have been identified. Establishing a reserve or, “rainy day” fund is always a smart move. Training existing employees to use new technologies, and hiring tech savvy employees adept at communicating online also make sense. Today, there are many options for training, and you might consult NTEN: Nonprofit Technology Network and TechSoup. Take a look at my Professional Development Resources for more information along these lines, both short and long-term educational options.

The trend of donors using “donor advised funds” and engaging professional advisors in their charitable giving shows no sign of slowing down. Read my article, “Building Relationships With Professional Advisors” for more in-depth discussion. Going forward, the nonprofit sector continues to need professional educational guidance in this regard.

Another year has passed, and a new year lies ahead! If you have questions, use my blog’s secure contact form to reach me. Here’s wishing you and your nonprofit a safe and enjoyable holiday, and tremendous success next year.

Carolyn M. Appleton

December 6, 2020

“Prediction is not just one of the things your brain does. It is the primary function of the neo-cortex, and the foundation of intelligence.”

Jeff Hawkins, American inventor (b. 1957)

Photographs used to illustrate this article are courtesy of Adobe Spark.

Why Art and “Looking” Matter, A Bit About New York City and Some Census History

Art and Looking Matter

After having obtained my Bachelor’s Degree With Honors from The University of Texas at Austin, I took a few years off. Frankly, discord in the Middle East – my chosen field of study – had increased and I was nervous about traveling and working there as a single woman. Should I continue following that path, or not? I chose to work a few temporary office jobs to get me through financially, to take a few university courses including in art history, and I spent a life changing six months living and working in New York City.

While in New York City, I walked through every single neighborhood, the somewhat seedy ones and the luxurious ones. And I visited every museum from The Met Cloisters to The Kitchen. I fell in love with the city. My mind and my eyes were enthralled. Its cultural wealth remains unparalleled today.

When I returned to Austin, Texas later that summer, I decided to take more art history courses. Once I had taken enough to have an official “minor” in art history, I applied to graduate school at The University of Texas at Austin in the College of Fine Arts. The faculty of the department where I worked during this interim time graciously supplied letters of recommendation, and I was accepted.

People sometimes think art history is a “fluffy” subject. But in order to understand works of art – how they were made and why – requires multifaceted thinking and research. It is a tough subject in my opinion. One must be both a visual person and oriented toward research and writing. You use all parts of your brain in art history and a good graduate program gives your brain a workout.

One thing our program required was quite simply memorizing images of works of art from the prehistoric to the modern eras. The idea was, the more you saw and “stored” in your mind, the better equipped you would be to study, compare and understand all works of art. And I found that to be somewhat annoying, but absolutely true.

During graduate school, I also decided to tackle an unloved, non-European subject matter, American western art. We had a fine collection of “western art” at UT, the C. R. Smith Collection, but it was largely ignored back then. Italian, French and Spanish art – even Mayan art – were preferred by the faculty at the time.

The 1890 Census

When one studies American western art of the 19th and early 20th centuries, a key document is the 1890 Census. Through the census process, experts and special agents – including artists – were hired to “make special enumerations of manufactures, Indians living within the jurisdiction of the United States, and a separate enumeration of Alaska.” The artists traveled across the U.S. with the military. They sketched what they saw and photographs were also taken, making the 1890 Census a very modern and comprehensive operation for its time. The final document was huge: 683 pages. A copy is found in the Harry Ransom Center at The University of Texas at Austin in the collections of famed Texas writer, folklorist and Texas character, J. Frank Dobie. For weeks, I trekked across campus to go through Dobie’s copy of the 1890 Census, page by page. It took me a long time, my eyes and my mind grew tired, but I was determined to look at every single page and each “pull-out” sheet. To see a full description of the 1890 Census illustrating a few of its pages, follow this link to Dorothy Sloan – Rare Books Inc.

Sadly, most of the original 1890 Census material was destroyed by fire in Washington, D.C. in 1921. Hence, any relic of the original Census today is rare. And this is one reason why “looking” at everything carefully is so important.

During this time, a talented fellow graduate student and I traveled to Oklahoma to visit the Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa to better understand American western art and to see even more art in person, rather than just in photo “slides.” We arrived early during the week at the Gilcrease, and almost no other visitors were present (my favorite time to visit museums). The curator knew of our quest, and recognizing we were serious students, she allowed us to visit the art storage in the basement, where we gleefully pulled out rack after rack of art works that regular museum guests could not see.

And there, I found two lost “sketches” from the 1890 Census project by artist Walter Shirlaw and other Census inspired works by Gilbert Gaul, two seasoned artists and western explorers employed by the U.S. government. The Gilcrease staff did not know what the two “sketches” by Shirlaw were, and the curator lamented this was one reason why the works were not exhibited. But months of pouring through J. Frank Dobie’s copy of the 1890 Census helped me recognize them immediately. The illustrations above are simple black and white scans from a copy of the Gilcrease Magazine of American History and Art, Vol. 7 No. 1 (January, 1985). They kindly asked me to publish my discoveries the same year I obtained my Master’s Degree. You can see what the sketch at center looks like in color as a “pull-out” from the 1890 Census by following this link to the Carleton website.

Today’s Census

The Census is a critically important document for our nation. “The 2020 Census will determine congressional representation, inform hundreds of billions in federal funding every year, and provide data that will impact communities for the next decade.”

As of October 13, 2020, “well over 99.9% of housing units have been accounted for in the 2020 Census. Self-response and field data collection operations for the 2020 Census will conclude on October 15, 2020.”

Reconsidering my early research on the Census process back in 1890, it seems to me the U.S. government might consider compiling a “visual” census in addition to the data. In fact, enterprising artists might take on the project to visually document the vast expanse that is the United States of America today. The old 1890 Census is considered the defining document marking the end of the American “frontier.” Every corner of the nation was exhaustively catalogued back in 1890, and the American Indians were constrained to reservations. Our nation today is still healing from the growing pains we experienced back then, and admittedly, we still have some work to do. But also, we might also enhance interest in the process with a visual aspect in future years.

Back to Nonprofit Fundraising

Returning to my original theme and blog focus, a visual approach to nonprofit work today is exceedingly helpful. How many pundits including myself have urged fundraising staff to learn how to use social media and “visual” platforms to illustrate the good work of nonprofits, and to complement and enhance traditional grant writing and research skills. We all need more training in this regard, but you don’t have to obtain a university degree. Become an avid museum and art gallery visitor and see for yourself how artists compose their paintings and sculptures, and how they tell stories visually. Study how artists organize their presentations, how they use light and shadow, and what objects they choose to include, for instance. Don’t just give a casual glance at an interesting story depicted in art. Hone your visual skills.

Visual imagery can have a tremendous impact on your nonprofit’s overall credibility, and on your goal of enticing philanthropists to contribute. My art history training continues to help me compose better photographs today, and I use them in my fundraising work often (newsletters, case statements, invitations, social media and more).

Here is another question we might ask ourselves. Is studying the visual arts important to other ways of thinking? You might enjoy, “How Learning to Paint Heightened Winston Churchill’s Legendary Powers of Persuasion,” by Duncan Sandys, Churchill’s great-grandson (2018). I rest my case.


During COVID-19 stay-at-home restrictions, I became more familiar with YouTube and its was there I discovered the series, “Aerial America” by the Smithsonian. Wonderful program! I have learned so much about other states. Follow the link for more information.

Grant Conversations

Online communications are preferred for an ever-growing number of nonprofit professionals today, whether that be via email, secure website form, secure internal communication platform, by telephone, Facebook Messenger, LinkedIn Messaging, video or phone conference call, and more. This, combined with the fact that there are a growing number of applicants seeking grant funding often means the communication between grant seeker and funding entity is even more limited.

It can be a challenge to get in touch with those in charge of making grants and/or those charged with interfacing with grant writers about potential grant requests. Yet, if funding entities want to support the highest quality, most effective programs – whether they be corporations, foundations, donor advised funds, federal and other government agencies – then it would make sense to converse with applicants prior to their spending enormous amounts of time writing grants and submitting them, only to find the interests of the prospective donor have changed, or funding is tapped out, for instance.

The point of my post is simply to ask those involved in making grants to respond in a timely fashion to requests for information in whatever fashion they prefer. You do sometimes read online, “so many” people are reaching out for financial support that the staff, “don’t have the time” to respond.

If that is true, why not hire more staff to field requests? By doing that, you prevent unnecessary applications and wasted time by potential applicants who literally spend hours and days crafting what they believe are meaningful and appropriate grant proposals. You also ensure that you receive the best possible applications, perfectly tailored to your interests.

It is also good public relations. Even if the job of your staff is simply to say you are not accepting proposals, this would help nonprofit fundraising staff redirect their time in more productive ways and not be longing needlessly for a grant that will certainly be rejected.

As I wrote this post originally, most were working from home. And it occurs to me that this kind of clear and courteous communication with applicants is ideal for grant making staff who can and do work from their homes. Don’t let nonprofit grant seekers misunderstand your lack of a response as meaning, “we don’t care about your nonprofit and we are just too busy to respond.”

Having said this, there are some funding entities with which I have worked that are quick to respond with, “we will let you know if we need more information.” “Yes, you can apply during our next funding cycle, but now is not a good time.” “Let us know if you have any questions.” To them, I give a high five!

I also interacted recently with a corporate community relations executive via email who responded to my questions about the company’s online application immediately. “Let me check.” “I’m not sure why you cannot upload that attachment.” “I will get back to you.” And they did so on multiple occasions. Frankly, even if my project is not funded in the end, I am left with a feeling of gratitude for their being honest and responsive. And I think the world of their company now.

Having said this, in my experience responsive grant professionals are relatively few in number. Respectfully, I urge corporations, foundations, donor advised funds, government agencies and the like to put more energy and resources into responding to those reaching out for guidance. You will shine in the end and improve your grant making in the long run. That’s a win-win for everyone.

You might enjoy reading, “Grantmaker Tech Trends That Nonprofits Should Know About” from TechSoup (March 1, 2021), to see how technology is being used by grant makers today. Also, check out PEAK Grantmaking’s article, “How Today’s AI Could Change The Grant Making of Tomorrow” (August 9, 2018). I wouldn’t mind chatting with a “bot” for many questions, although some of my application questions are a bit more complicated.

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