In reviewing some 30 years of work in the nonprofit sector, I look back and say to myself, “well, everyone knows that.” But in truth, no one has walked in my shoes and experienced the world in the exact same way as I have. That is why I often say, “context matters.” I can suggest ideas for nonprofit fundraising and communicating with donors all day long, but in the end, the context in which you are operating influences new concepts and how they should be applied.
But from the world of, “just tell me I can’t do it, and I will,” I wanted to point out that I have continued to update several key major gifts pages on Carolyn’s Nonprofit Blog. Foremost among them is, “Are You Ready for a Capital Campaign.” There I quote a solid, traditional professional in our field. Alongside his suggestions, I make comments based upon my experiences. In tandem, some of my most important fundraising experiences are discussed in, “Are You Ready | Is It Feasible?” Feasibility studies have long been the bread-and-butter of the standard nonprofit consulting business, but I have a different take on them.
“Taking a Step Back Will Lead You Forward” is an article on Carolyn’s Nonprofit Blog that I fine-tuned and gave as a webinar for ADRP: Association of Donor Relations Professionals in 2018. Yes, there are things nonprofits can do to instill donor confidence as they chart a course forward for major giving. A consultant does not need to be hired and paid a handily to tell you to do these things. #JustDoIt
Since Carolyn’s Nonprofit Blog was launched in 2011, I have noticed many innovative social good entrepreneurs are rejecting traditional approaches to major gift fundraising. If you read, “Nonprofits and Startups | Birds of a Feather,” you will discover how similar major gift campaign preparation is with launching a for-profit business startup. In fact, I have suggested that 3 Day Startup, which I reference in the article, re-engineer their course with nonprofit social good enterprises in mind, and with an eye to major gift “investments.” Times are changing! I would love to see NTEN: Nonprofit Technology Network and AFP: Association of Fundraising Professionals team-up with 3DS for “power” sessions along these lines.
As I say on my nonprofit resources page, which includes quite a few articles by other experts on crowdfunding, many of the same principles apply to major gift fundraising as they do to launching a startup or crowdfunding. To think the latter two efforts are easier than traditional major gift fundraising is incorrect. The same attention to planning, research, communication and the like apply to all of them. They are just different ways of reaching the same result: securing major gifts. Keep in mind, each nonprofit is unique. A traditional major gift campaign may not be the best option for your organization today.
Something I would like to see – having pulled major gift fundraising campaigns out of the gutter on more than one occasion (without support of any kind) – is a reduction in the condescending attitude of many in the “big box” consulting community. “You couldn’t possibly know how to work with major gift donors! We’ll do that for you.” Even the most well-meaning among them can bill you heavily, and sometimes they will walk off with your nonprofit’s contacts.
From the other side of the table, I have also found some donors and potential donors like the hooplah they perceive as being involved in major gift campaigns. The hiring of expensive “consultants” is part of what they believe to be essential. #Resist
Real major gift donors do not need expensive consultants to help the nonprofit organizations they care about. Be careful.
If you have questions at any time, use the secure contact form on Carolyn’s Nonprofit Blog to reach me. I am in the process of merging my professional work and volunteering website with my blog, so you will see some new information added to my blog the next few weeks!
As always, best wishes for your fundraising success.
December is here! It is hard for me to believe 2018 has come to an end.
I just published a new article on Carolyn’s Nonprofit Blog, “2019 | Nonprofit Predictions.” Follow the link to read it. I have gone into a little more depth than usual this year, and I have provided helpful links to other resources. I cover federal funding, crypto currencies and Blockchain, crowdfunding, data, donor advised funds, and more.
This is the fifth year I have attempted to predict the future. If you have questions or want to share comments, please use my secure contact form.
I agree with those quoted in my article that 2018 has been one of the most tumultuous the nonprofit sector has experienced. But despite numerous challenges, nonprofit organizations and several donors – including some leading American corporations and foundations – are stepping up to the plate. I am proud of our sector and our partners for continuing to innovate and to, “push back” against those whose actions hurt our sector.
Here’s wishing you a successful year-end fundraising season! Thank you for following Carolyn’s Nonprofit Blog. As you know, I launched the blog back in 2011 with the aim of sharing my extensive fundraising experiences for the benefit of the public. I do it as a public service, free of charge. It has been my hope that the challenges I have faced – and the ways I have overcome them – will inspire others to continue forward to make our world a better place in which to live and work.
Carolyn M. Appleton | December 2, 2018
P.S. – If you have ideas for future topics you would like me to cover on Carolyn’s Nonprofit Blog in 2019, please let me know. Happy holidays!
“A recession is a significant decline in economic activity that goes on for more than a few months. It is visible in industrial production, employment, real income and wholesale-retail trade. The technical indicator of a recession is two consecutive quarters of negative economic growth as measured by a country’s gross domestic product (GDP), although the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) does not necessarily need to see this occur to call a recession.” – Investopedia
I have read quite a few articles and watched videos featuring leading financial experts who are discussing the possibility of a recession. White opinion remains divided, the thought that several predict a recession causes me to revisit the idea of nonprofit organizations establishing “rainy day,” or reserve funds.
From USLegal, “A reserve fund is a fund of money created to take care of maintenance, repairs or unexpected expenses of a business.” Having watched nonprofits suffer intensely during the last recession – the magnitude of which we all hope will never be repeated – my advice for nonprofits during this busy year-end fundraising season is to be prepared. Take some of those year-end charitable donations and sock them away into a savings account or other fund where you can get to them easily if and when needed.
But even if a less harmful recession comes our way in 2020 or 2021, why not be prepared? #JustDoIt
Food for Thought
Chris Farrell, Next Avenue for Forbes, “Is The Next Recession On Its Way?” (August 3, 2018). “Here are two safe forecasts, the kind you can count on. First, the U.S. economy will sink into a recession. Second, no one knows when the recession will arrive. Taken altogether, these two “forecasts” have critical implications for managing your finances.”
Quin Liu, World Economic Forum, “From Economic Crisis to World War II” (November 8, 2018). “As monetary tightening reveals the vulnerabilities in the real economy, the collapse of asset-price bubbles will trigger another economic crisis – one that could be even more severe than the last, because we have built up a tolerance to our strongest macroeconomic medications. A decade of regular adrenaline shots, in the form of ultra-low interest rates and unconventional monetary policies, has severely depleted their power to stabilize and stimulate the economy.”
After visiting with a friend recently about an uncomfortable experience with an older male supervisor early in my career, I decided to share it with others.
It has been seven years since launching Carolyn’s Nonprofit Blog. In all that time, I have struggled with how to broach the topic, and how to share information that would be helpful to my readers, especially those new to the field of nonprofit development.
Happily, recent online research reveals there is more helpful, quality information about managing workplace relationships – both for women and their male supervisors – than ever before. This is encouraging and it makes me believe there is hope for change in the workplace, and greater understanding from all points of view.
The lessons learned from the story I am about to tell are several. First, trust your instincts. If you feel something is wrong even though you cannot “see” it, there is probably something wrong. Second, tell other colleagues you trust about your feelings and what you think is wrong. Witnesses can be essential, and for the long term. Third, remove yourself from uncomfortable work situations, and as diplomatically as possible. Often you will move up in your career if you do so.
“… Anyone, man or woman, who’s assumed to be a lightweight has a harder time getting ahead,” she says. “Of course that kind of struggle affects confidence level. Qualified women really aren’t taken as seriously as their male colleagues—many studies bear that out—so they’re more likely to have to deal with the emotional fallout of being held back, including a realistic reduction in their confidence about whether they’ll be able to fulfill their ambitions.” Adams should know about the research; she’s the former Director of Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of Maine Farmington.
Just over twenty five years ago, I worked at a university in the same college where I had secured a Master’s Degree a few years before. I was honored to have been hired, and I held a relatively new and low level position managing development activities for the college, which included several divisions. Three different deans occupied leadership roles at the college while I was there. And as Elizabeth Harrin remarks above, I was definitely considered a “lightweight.”
My work involved organizing and hosting monthly events that included advisory council meetings with alumni who were among the leading philanthropists of Texas, and broader “university” activities that were held in the college’s facilities. The university had a huge legacy of endowments that funded its faculty and programs, some 300 when I was on staff back then. One of my jobs was to thank endowment donors and to update them about activities funded with their endowments, annually. I took this responsibility seriously, and I was encouraged in my efforts by the university’s central development office.
While devoted to my tasks with a laser-like precision and eager to impress, I was admittedly young and still new to the field of nonprofit development. By the time the third dean had arrived to oversee the college, I had uncovered some concerns. One of those was being unable to find out what had transpired with the funding provided by certain endowed funds.
I always hoped to make my annual donor letters interesting and timely. But for some of them, I could not find any information. I wanted to share with each donor how that year’s investment income had been spent on such things as faculty research, new publications, programs, travel and the like, or if the endowments were unassigned, what was happening with searches to fill those positions and related efforts. But I hit a wall with some of them. I asked the endowment accountant for help repeatedly. No information was forthcoming. In fact, at one point during my questioning, the accountant grew very uncomfortable and asked me to, “please stop asking.”
I scheduled a time to meet with the dean. He had indicated he was quite disinterested in me and my work. My intuition was that he wanted to clear out the current staff of the college and hire “his own.” But finally, I gained my audience. I told him something was wrong with my thank you note process: I could not get the information I needed. In fact, the hair on the back of my neck would stand up on end, when I asked the endowment accountant about certain funds. The dean simply said with disdain, “you just aren’t doing your job.”
“Not surprisingly, a large share of women feel invisible at work, compared with male colleagues. From ordinary meetings to executive offices and boardrooms, many more women than men feel that they don’t get credit for their ideas, or that their contributions aren’t recognized—slights felt even more acutely by women of color.”
During this time, however, I kept moving forward. I found allies in the central development office on campus. I suggested the college develop a “digital” system whereby each staff member in the college involved in endowment tracking – from the accountant to the department chairmen and individual faculty, to development officer – would work off one centralized computer-based system. Information about the endowed funds would be input into the system by each person, and checked and referenced by everyone else. We would all be able to see one another’s work, and would be held accountable for it. My development colleagues thought the idea was a very good one. In fact, I had already informed them something seemed awry and that I was worried. The new system would help with transparency and the flow of information.
Still, at the college level no one was listening. The feedback from the new dean and his associate dean suggested I was not very smart, and I did not know what I was doing. I actually developed a mild stutter at this time. I had wanted the job in the college so much, but I had become afraid, and I felt (rightly) that I was being looked down upon by the new dean and his entourage.
I also knew in my heart that if I stayed much longer, the problems I was uncovering might entrap me, and ruin my future development career. I decided to look for a new job. And I was surprised to receive three job offers. I flew out of the college like a lightening bolt.
Two years later, I landed in Dallas. My career was thriving. I had access to the elite philanthropic community, and my work was going exceptionally well. One evening, I received a call from a colleague still working at my former college. The endowment accountant was discovered to have been embezzling endowment funds over several years. I had been right. I received additional calls from those in the central development office confirming the news.
Now, I had retained a lingering sense of failure about that job. But those telephone calls released those feelings instantaneously. I was relieved beyond measure. I had been correct, although I was sad about the crime committed.
Trust your instinct to the end, though you can render no reason.
Since that early experience, I continue to find older males occasionally fail to take me and my work seriously. But I also found several men who became (and who are) enthusiastic and supportive mentors! Which is all to say, do not assume just because you are young, that you will not find strong male advocates. The plethora of stories in the media today about negative male-female experiences sometimes overshadows reality.
Build up your own internal strengths, and your confidence in your own abilities and instincts. Yes, you have much to learn. But you already know a lot. Don’t ever forget it.
About that endowment management system I suggested years ago: I understand someone at the university did eventually make it a reality. Great news! I wonder if anyone has any idea how it was conceived. Ah! water under the bridge ….
I sometimes hear nonprofits lament that summertime is so “slow.” Nothing is happening. Most donors and prospective donors are out of town on vacation, they tell me. But in my experience, summertime is a busy time for development.
I have discovered quite a few grant deadlines occur during the summer and that requires attention. I have also found some donors actually have a bit more time to spend on their favorite nonprofit projects during the summer. Brainstorming meetings, planning for the fall, “asking” for support, database house cleaning and expansion, research, case statement drafting and year-end fundraising campaign development are all things I have done during the summer months. Don’t forget, many corporations budget late summer for social good projects they will underwrite next year. Summer is a great time to visit with your favorite corporate sponsors.
Earlier this year, I was asked to help the Port Aransas Art Center part-time. As you may know, Hurricane Harvey battered Port Aransas last year, but as the Instagram photo above from Coffee Waves suggests, the community is back on track and working hard to recover. It is well on its way.
As for me, I am helping to establish a new development program, I have been modernizing the website, enhancing social media, creating new e-newsletters so that we have regular monthly e-communication with constituents, securing a GuideStar gold seal and more. It has taken a lot of time, but when you work with a dedicated group of volunteers and staff, your work is enjoyable and inspiring.
I added a new section in the margin of Carolyn’s Nonprofit Blog for “Quick Updates” with handy links. Please peruse my article on social media stewardship for the Association of Donor Relations Professionals’ monthly newsletter, The Hub. You might also enjoy reviewing the slide decks for my webinar and public presentations this year.
I have always been a “hands-on” learner and I readily adopt new technologies that enable me to become even more self-sufficient. Still today, I do most all work myself. This, plus years of experience in major gift fundraising make me a good teacher for those new to the fundraising profession, for startups with big ambitions, and for nonprofits that are perhaps a bit, “overweight” that need to streamline.
Another new section of my Carolyn’s Nonprofit Blog is called, “A Brief Account: Short Stories.” There I share personal experiences with leading philanthropists. Some of my stories are humorous, some heart warming, but always, I try to be insightful and to share what it takes to work successfully in the field of nonprofit fundraising. Fundraising – especially major gifts – scares some nonprofit professionals. I came to the field via volunteering and a Master’s Degree in Art History. Ultimately, I hope by sharing my stories that fear will be lessened, and more interested professionals will enter our field.
Have a good summer. And now for me it is time to get, “back to work.”
Don’t forget to “refresh” your browser now and again while reading Carolyn’s Nonprofit Blog. I have added a new series of photo “headers” from my work over the past several years.
Thank you for following Carolyn’s Nonprofit Blog. I apologize for taking so long to post a new blog article! I have been busy, as you will soon read.
Earlier today, I gave a webinar for ADRP: Association of Donor Relations Professionals. The text of my presentation may be viewed in this blog post, “Taking a Step Back Will Lead You Forward.” The talk was based on decades of hands-on major gift experience with nonprofit organizations across Texas. One of my main points is that communication is central to a successful development program. Without it, significant donations cannot be raised! This summer, I will also be writing an article about social media stewardship for ADRP’s e-newsletter, The Hub. That topic in one of my favorites.
On April 25, I will be leading an “asking” seminar for the Association of Fundraising Professionals, Permian Basin Chapter. This is a very strong AFP Chapter and a welcoming one. I was honored to be invited.
I look forward to returning to North Texas to speak on June 15 at the Irving Convention Center for the Association of Fundraising Professionals 2018 DFW Philanthropy in Action conference. This is one of my favorite chapters. I will help young, struggling nonprofits and “startups” learn how they can ramp-up to secure major gifts. Having helped several startups in recent years, I have learned several basic ways they can become more attractive to major gift donors. The ideas I will be discussing are not necessarily expensive, but do require time, careful consideration, and real work.
Some of you may know that I am the primary coordinator of Nonprofit Tech Club Austin. This group offers free programs on a monthly basis. The club is designed to help nonprofits learn what new technologies are available today, and how they can help nonprofits meet their many worthwhile missions. #NPTechClubATX is a partnership between NTEN: Nonprofit Technology Network, NetSquared (TechSoup) and Capital Factory (an influential startup incubator here in Austin). For three years, we successfully “grew” our club on Meetup, but we are moving to a new NTEN platform. The transition inspired me to recount our work over the past three years in the form of a written report, which you can read on ISSUU. If you are in Austin, please join us!
And although I am not a tech expert, per se, I am certainly tech inclined. You can find me on the TechSoup Consultant Connection. I have enjoyed responding to questions about databases, data migration, various software platforms and more! If I can help you, I would be glad to assist (or simply to point you in the right direction).
After many years in nonprofit fundraising, it would make sense that I have a few project ideas of my own. I developed a profile on AngelList, and the primary function of that profile is to share new concepts, ones for which I hope to secure funding. Follow this link to an overview of those projects on Carolyn’s Nonprofit Blog, with links to AngelList.
Even when my professional work is complete for nonprofit organizations, sometimes many years down the road I like to remember and recognize my very best volunteers. “A Special Event | An Environmental Breakthrough for Texas” is a new article on my blog that does just this! I hope you enjoy it. The process of creating an entirely new event was daunting at first, but it led to great things for one of my former nonprofits.
In terms of my professional work, March has been busy. Stay tuned, and please follow me on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn for regular updates.
Thank you again for following Carolyn’s Nonprofit Blog. If you have questions, use the secure contact form on my website. Happy spring!
This is the fourth year I have attempted to predict the trends of the coming year. How did I do last year, and what’s next?
With a conservative Administration in place, federal grant funding is under review and constantly in threat of reduction. Still, some nonprofits have continued to do well securing federal grants. But the smart ones have also broadened their work to incorporate more private sector fundraising and partnership-building. Many have also remarked on the current Administration’s desire to push federal funding initiatives out of Washington to individual states for “local” funding and oversight.
On another front, here in Texas I continue to see undiminished interest in crowdfunding versus traditional major gift fundraising campaigns. This means many nonprofits are attempting to turn the traditional donor pyramid upside down! But as I have cautioned before, crowdfunding requires research, planning and continuous monitoring (including well after your campaign attains its goal). Many of the same factors involved in traditional major gift campaigns are at work in crowdfunding campaigns. Still, crowdfunding is a relatively “new” approach and attractive to many.
Nonprofit fundraising technologies of all types continue to proliferate. I referenced the text-to-give platform GivBee last year. This year, I’d like to put in a good word for Everybody Helping. Everybody Helping is focused on Millennials, monthly giving (which encourages donors to make small gifts monthly that add up significantly by year-end), it helps nonprofits chart impact, and it includes direct messaging. Thanks to Scott McElroy for providing an in-depth look at Everybody Helping for our local NTEN & NetSquared Nonprofit Tech Club Austin Meetup this year.
Tracking nonprofit activities with data – and donor requests to review objective data in order to better understand the success of their donations – will continue to increase. Shown above is an Instagram taken during the Social Solutions Impact Summit conference in Austin last fall. Almost every presenter talked about the increase in donor requests for objective data. But also, many noticed that the higher the caliber of their data collection processes, the more efficient and effective their nonprofits have been in achieving their goals.
My new prediction is we will see an increase in full-time, nonprofit data management professionals going forward. To collect data well, to manage it across departments, and to continually make improvements for the benefit of the whole takes time and skill. It is a full-time pursuit. Looking for a new career? Consider General Assembly and its data science courses.
“While the value of individual giving in the United States increased about 3.4% (adjusted for inflation) in the decade from 2003 to 2013, the number of public nonprofits increased 23.4% or almost 5 times the rate at which individual giving increased
The impact of the Great Recession of 2007–2009 on the ever-expanding nonprofit sector still challenges recovery of giving to pre-recession levels
Baby boomers, infamous disrupters of all commerce, have been dominating the prime age range of giving (45 to 64) for more than a decade.”
He suggests, “There are three fundamental objectives in raising money from individuals: keep the donors you have, increase their value to your organization over time, and recruit more donors than you lose to attrition.” Toward that end, consider using a donor data management system that specifically helps you retain donors, like Bloomerang.
But also, study the personality traits of Baby Boomers, and focus to some meaningful degree on courting them. You would be smart to do so, as they will continue to be influential in philanthropy for the next several years. Boomers tend to have a more emotional reaction to charitable needs, but be careful not to err too much in that direction, because hard data is still being requested by donors of all ages, and by their professional advisors.
I would be remiss if I did not mention an article by Karsten Strauss for Forbes, “The Charities That Raised The Most Money Last Year” (November 1, 2017). Fidelity’s Charitable Gift Fund is at the top of the list, United Way is second, and Goldman Sachs is third. All three are intermediary grant makers through which donors can pass donations to charities. The activities of the charity recipients can then be monitored by these intermediaries.
“One trend The Chronicle notes is the popularity of donor-advised funds (DAFs), which have seen a 106% increase in contributions in the past five years. DAFs allows donors to have control over the ways in which their money is used while also affording them anonymity. They also do not carry the high overhead and administrative costs of setting up a private foundation.”
Let’s hope in the coming year, more nonprofit support organizations will offer programs about how best to build relationships with professional advisors (as well as the donors who establish DAFs). One of the earliest posts on my blog focuses on this very issue.
Having worked with several professional advisors during my career, I would suggest nonprofits claim and fully complete their GuideStar profiles, securing the gold seal, if not the platinum. GuideStar profiles are about transparency and sharing how professionally you operate. They do not require that you have raised a lot of money.
I know some professional advisors who go straight to GuideStar to review your organization online before they take the time to meet with you in person. Best to have that profile in good order, and be ready for questions. A polished profile will help your nonprofit stand out from the rest. But, less than 1% of all nonprofits in the United States take the time to claim and complete their profiles! As noted by Karsten in his article above, although we have seen more charitable donations in 2017, there are also more nonprofits than ever before. Competition for dollars is as heated as ever.
News flash! Check out DAF Direct, “DAF Direct welcomes donors to recommend grants from their donor–advised fund, also known as a DAF, directly from your website. Neither you nor your donors will incur any download or transaction fees.” Now, this is a forward-thinking invention.
For startups or small nonprofits hoping to ramp up their fundraising success, you might enjoy my recent blog post for Bloomerang, “How Startup Nonprofits Can Break Into the Big Leagues” (November, 2017). GuideStar is one of my recommendations, and you can also read two case studies about my use of and experiences with GuideStar, by looking in the right hand margin of my professional website.
Here’s wishing you and yours a successful 2017 year-end fundraising season, and a prosperous New Year.
I am as guilty as anyone of assuming everyone knows about and understands what is involved in philanthropy and fundraising. But the truth is, most people are not well informed.
I wanted to share a few of my favorite assumptions – or infamous assumptions as the case may be – in the hope you will avoid them.
“It would be great for our nonprofit if you would agree to be paid a percentage of what you raise.”
Doing so is considered unethical by every professional nonprofit support organization and association today. It seems like a marvelous idea to some nonprofits not to pay their professional fundraiser(s) until the money comes in, despite the outlay of their time, experience, connections and personal finances. And if the fundraiser does not know the history of the organization and its prior challenges, they can be blind sighted when seeking charitable donations. In the drop-down menu of this blog (at the top), you will find a section of ethical resources that will help you steer clear of this unethical assumption. I also want to say to the uninitiated – those new to nonprofit fundraising – don’t feel bad. People ask me about percentage-based fundraising weekly, particularly those from the for-profit sector. Just do your research before you ask.
“We raised the money and we no longer need a fundraising professional on staff. Done!”
How sad I have been to invite some of my most cherished donors to support a project, to have raised substantial sums, and to be told the nonprofit no longer needs help at the end of the fund drive. The donors often feel adrift when this happens, and they question both the nonprofit for such short-sighted decisions, and sadly, the successful fundraiser. In other words, the very person responsible for your financial success is kicked out. Those who could not do the job remain on staff. The logic of this assumption is questionable. Some nonprofits are also unaware that after building tremendous energy and enthusiasm for a cause, they can frequently keep on going and raise even more. Missed opportunities abound in these cases.
“The economy is in terrible shape and we should stop fundraising!”
This is a tough decision to be sure, and it should be considered thoughtfully. I have seen more than one persistent nonprofit with calm and determined leadership attain their seven-figure fundraising goals during very difficult financial times. I have also seen donors one thought would be gun-shy of tanking stock markets, make extraordinary leadership donations. One of my favorite foundation executives, the late Valleau Wilkie Jr. of Fort Worth, Texas once said to me, “if you get out of line, there will be dozens of other nonprofits stepping in to take your place.” Keep going.
“We must read the news to find donors for our project.”
More than once, I have visited with nonprofit Board members convinced someone in the news not affiliated in any way with their nonprofit is a natural candidate for solicitation. But most are not. Research online is essential to gain as much background information as you can about prospective donors. But simply because someone appears in the news often (and they appear to be “rich”), this does not qualify them to be your donor. If you read my article on high tech research, you will understand how sophisticated research can be game-changing, if and when you need it. But also, take time to review your own donor records, mailing and email lists. I have found “hidden gems” in those lists often, people well worth cultivating who have been receiving information from your nonprofit over time, but who have never been cultivated for a larger gift. One organization I worked with turned a $25 annual membership into a $5 million donation, for instance. Dig deeper.
“We have tried and tried. These prospects will not give. Don’t bother.”
This is a favorite. I have visited with prospective donors prior to submitting a grant request, discovered an issue about which they are concerned, addressed that issue head-on (often it is simply an honest report about prior activities, and the resumption of regular communications), and I have secured a grant. Sometimes, I have expedited more than one grant from the same source within a single fiscal year. But other staff members were vehemently convinced I was wasting my time. Never say never.
I have a positive, can-do attitude when it comes to nonprofit fundraising. I have seen the worst and turned around several “impossible” campaigns (by hand). The advice I share comes from, “the trenches.” While my two college degrees helped me learn how to conduct research, develop a convincing argument and write coherently, real life experience provided these insights. For those new to the profession, I suggest you attach yourselves to a seasoned professional as I did at the start, to gain more in-depth knowledge along these lines.
And I urge you not to fear challenges. If you believe in a cause but there are problems, fix them and raise the money you need. Think smarter. Anything is possible.
It is hard to imagine, but across the United States there are still many who have no idea how to use a computer. And while most people own mobile phones, access to wireless remains a constant challenge.
I don’t know about you, but I am highly cognizant of how most job applications are only available online today. Not knowing how to use email, Microsoft Word and the Internet (or simply not to have ready access to a wireless “hot spot”), prevents some from applying for jobs, pays bills, submitting inquiries for essential information, completing medical forms and the like. Even if “computer skills” are not part of the job description, to apply for them one must have access to a computer of some type. Time sheets, product inventories and cash registers are all connected to complex corporate networks, and they require employees to be competent – at least in a basic fashion – with using technology.
Austin Free-Net is working to address these now-essential needs. I have enjoyed doing a bit of supportive grant research and writing for Austin Free-Net this year, and I am impressed with its work. Executive Director Juanita Budd notes,
“When citizens cannot find work and families cannot support themselves, the repercussions echo throughout the community. Less people working means less tax revenue, while simultaneously there is an increased pressure on social services providers. A family might need an older child to quit school and go to work, which means the cycle of low-paying jobs continues for another generation. Improving the education and technical acumen of our residents will draw more businesses to Austin, increasing tax revenue and reducing unemployment. In short, a computer literate population makes a city stronger economically and makes us more attractive to new industry.”
During the event, Robert F. Smith of Vista Equity Partners spoke with Kristin Nimsger, CEO of Social Solutions. Part of the discussion is found below in my Facebook Live video (3 minutes). Robert discusses the need for effective use of data, the increasing digitization of business globally, and how everyone is struggling to keep up! This is certainly true for those who find themselves in low income and underserved communities.
“In making this film I really began to understand the depths of the issue and the fact that there are over a million classrooms in this country that don’t have adequate broadband, a huge number of kids who don’t have access to computers, and the reality that 77 percent of jobs are going to require technology education and background by the year 2020.”
“As inclusive as the Web can seem, it’s not yet an equal playing field. More than half the world is still without it; emerging economies and marginalized communities are often the last to gain access. Far fewer women are using the Internet than men. And without diversity among its creators, the Web itself will reflect unconscious biases, while personalizing algorithms can reinforce our own.”
I urge you to find the organizations in your community working to alleviate the “digital divide” and support them today. People of every generation and nation need to be included, and the time to start is now!
When Hurricane Harvey began to threaten the Texas Coast, one of my foremost concerns was its potential impact on Texas Sealife Center. I met founder Dr. Tim Tristan before I moved from Corpus Christi about seven years ago. He shared his vision of a veterinarian-driven wildlife rescue and rehabilitation center to aid shorebirds, raptors and sea turtles with me back then, and I have never forgotten.
In 2011, Texas Sealife Center was established, and it has not looked back since. The Center is all-volunteer and it has been highly successful in helping animals caught in and injured by fishing lines, those that have ingested fishing lures, metal and plastic objects of all varieties, as well as those that have sustained physical injuries and contracted troublesome diseases.
Tim and I have kept up remotely on Facebook. This summer, I agreed to help with some grant research and writing. The Center’s goal is to secure new equipment to support its medical and rehabilitation activities, with an emphasis on sea turtles. Sadly, the number of stranded and injured animals in the Coastal Bend of South Texas continues to increase. And, more sea turtles require help than ever before.
As the volunteers have done time and again, they made themselves available 24-7 to aid wildlife caught in Hurricane Harvey and its aftermath. One of the Center’s primary partners is the ARK, or the Animal Rehabilitation Keep of the Marine Science Institute of The University of Texas at Austin, located further north on the Texas Coast. The ARK was heavily damaged during Hurricane Harvey, and Texas Sealife Center gladly took-in injured wildlife that could not be successfully released there. They continue to provide critical medical care and a safe haven until the animals can heal and be released into their natural habitats. Facebook became a powerful platform for conveying the work of Texas Sealife Center during this challenging time. Follow this link for information and powerful photographic documentation of its work.
Aside from researching and submitting proposals for the Center’s urgent equipment needs, one of the most important things I did for this relatively young nonprofit was to create a meaningful GuideStar profile and to obtain the gold seal for transparency. Quite a few nonprofits with which I have worked fear they must have raised a lot of money and have well-known Board members, for instance, before establishing a full profile on GuideStar.
But what GuideStar is about is not money as much as it is how transparent nonprofits are about their operations and programs, their tax statements, future plans and more. GuideStar is about trust and honesty. And hopefully, by taking the worthwhile step to secure the gold seal will inspire even greater confidence by prospective donors in the Center and its management, with the current capital campaign in mind.
I have worked with nonprofit organizations large and small. Many of the larger ones have accomplished less than the smaller ones! Donors must be wary that a well-known “name” and a list of prominent Board members does not guarantee professional operations, efficiency, and genuine dedication by the leadership and staff.
I have found small nonprofits and startups work exceedingly hard, and their volunteers are often more dedicated than those supporting organizations with ample budgets and long tenures. After a long career in major gift fundraising, some of my most fulfilling projects have involved helping small groups build the credibility necessary to inspire significant donations. With this in mind, I urge you to support Texas Sealife Center, and please follow its progress on Facebook. Thank you!
You might enjoy reading my LinkedIn blog post from 2014, #2030NOW, which addresses startups and innovative young nonprofit concepts, and my hope more “Boomers” will fund them.
Carolyn’s Nonprofit Blog is focused on nonprofit fundraising and communications. It does not address political issues often if all all, but I feel compelled to do so now.
I am an Independent voter, and I have found friends on both sides of the aisle over the years. I respect the opinions of others, and I hope they respect mine.
Our nation finds itself at a ethical crossroads. Even as our nation’s economy has begun to improve – a process that began before the current Administration took office – I find it perplexing that we struggle with even greater fervor over equal rights and treatment for all citizens, regardless of race, religion or sexual orientation. Nature – as it does for all species on Earth – makes us diverse. Why do we ignorantly cling to the idea that one human being is less equal than another because of their physical traits or beliefs (within the bounds of law, of course). Why do we fear diversity?
Last but not least, I am saddened that a speech by our nation’s chief executive before thousands of young Boy Scouts at a national event should include political jabs at prior opponents. Harkening back to my comments about our shared natural resources, the Boy Scout “outdoor code” reads as follows:
“As an American, I will do my best to –
Be clean in my outdoor manners
Be careful with fire
Be considerate in the outdoors, and
Be conservation minded.”
Many have criticized the Boy Scouts of America over the years, and indeed the organization has evolved (that’s a good thing). But keep in mind, many of our nation’s finest leaders were trained within its ranks. The Boy Scout Law requires Scouts to be:
Let us ask ourselves, do our current national leaders demonstrate these qualities? If they do not, should we make changes? Should we demand more from them? Voter turnout in the United States is lower today than other developed countries. Voter apathy is not the answer to making positive, ethical change.
“By practicing and demonstrating the use of ethical, honest and unselfish behavior … ethical leaders may begin to earn the respect of their peers. People may be more likely to follow a leader who respects others and shows integrity.”
Stand up and hold our leaders at every level accountable, including our chief executive. We must expect higher standards, and smarter thinking. Be courageous. Do not stand back and just, “take it.” Speak up.
Bridges make connections possible. Bridges facilitate the crossing of people, “from one side to the other.” Shown is the breathtaking Pennybacker Bridge, a “through-arch bridge” located on the west side of Austin in the scenic hill country. Click on the photograph to learn more about it.
I have always thought of nonprofit fundraisers as “bridges” between their organizations and donors. Development professionals must constantly make connections and translate their nonprofit’s mission and needs to individuals, families, foundations, corporations and governments in such a way that funding is provided.
Nonprofit programmatic staff and some board members sometimes lack the skills (or the inclination) to speak with potential donors, and often they do not enjoy asking for financial support. This is where development staff shine, of course.
When I lived in Dallas in the 1990s, I worked on a variety of nonprofit fundraising campaigns, some in their entirety (from start to finish), others for more limited engagements (only for grant research, writing, solicitation, publications and the like). Once, I came across a nonprofit board chairman who was highly regarded in the community, but he had an abiding fear of asking anyone for a donation. A fundraising consulting firm his nonprofit had hired felt the board, including this noteworthy volunteer, were generally useless. Everyone involved had become frustrated. But, I knew there was a way to turn this situation around.
I assured the volunteer that during our forthcoming meeting – which happened to be with one of the leading bank trust departments in Dallas – that he only needed to speak about his passion for the nonprofit and the good it was accomplishing in the community. I promised to pick up the conversation once he was finished, to handle the request for funding and how best to follow-up. Luckily he trusted me and our meeting went very well. Together, we lined the nonprofit up for a six figure donation, which was ultimately received.
In this way, I acted as a bridge between the nonprofit and the prospective donor, but also between my distinguished volunteer and the trust department staff. I understood intuitively that in order to get this critical job done, we had to build a few bridges before arriving at the desired destination.
There is another factor I have discovered in working with major gift donors and nonprofit organizations seeking support, one that reminds me of being a “bridge.” This concerns the donors themselves.
Nonprofit staff (and the general public) sometimes assume that sophisticated, affluent donors are experts in every topic under the sun. But the truth is, they are experts in the fields where they have excelled and thrived. This may or may not include understanding how your nonprofit works and what it is accomplishing (or what it hopes to accomplish).
Nonprofit development staff can be of invaluable help by translating organizational information to donors and prospective donors in an easy-to-understand fashion, and vice versa. Yes, sometimes translating the donor’s needs and perceptions to fellow staff is required. This enables you to continue forward with a successful partnership negotiation, for example.
Development professionals are indispensable links between their organizations and funding partners. This often takes both verbal and written forms, as the case may be. Development staff must be able to translate in an understandable fashion critical information, and in both directions: internally and externally. This is truly an essential role that should not be taken for granted!
For me, Taylor Shea’s article for Reader’s Digest nails my experiences with affluent donors, “How Rich People Think: 25+ Things They Won’t Tell You” (N.D.). “Anytime the newspaper lists my name among the 100 top-paid executives in the area, I get a ton of requests from people asking for money. It happened so much that I had to come up with a strategy to deal with it. Now I say, ‘I’m happy to give. I’ll match however much you raise yourself.’”
Some of you might also enjoy my article, “Ph.D.s and Fundraising.” There I discuss the pitfalls of working with very bright programmatic staff who are hopeless when it comes to explaining what they are accomplishing to the public and/or to donors. I’ve been a “bridge” for many years; I find Ph.D.s to be among the most difficult to work with in a development context (although I find their research and discoveries fascinating).
I have wanted to discuss this topic for a long time, but I have struggled with how best to go about it. I have not known a nonprofit support organization to tackle this topic in a realistic way, yet it is especially important for new staff, especially those in development. I do think some acknowledgement by leaders in our sector would be helpful, as would developing some “mindset” training into our industry’s regular regimen of educational conferences.
When I obtained my first nonprofit position, I bonded with the organization, its image and mission totally. To my mind, we were inseparably linked. The two did not exist apart from one another! I was young, learning at a fast pace, and I absolutely loved the organization. It felt like a perfect fit.
Four years later, two supervisory changes and a decline in our local economic climate meant I had become frustrated. I started looking for a new position. Eventually I moved on (and up) with my career. But mentally, this was a tough change. My entire self worth was bonded to the nonprofit; once I departed, I felt adrift. I had also gotten to know many of the leading donors and volunteers as well. They felt like family. But I had to learn how to separate myself from that environment and those closely associated with it, and to “let go.”
Now, it is true that some of those same philanthropists are friends and professional colleagues today, more than twenty five years later. But the pain of leaving my first nonprofit family and friends was hard. But something important happened. I underwent a crucial mental change.
I acknowledged I had to move on for my own reasons;
I realized those donors still loved the nonprofit I was leaving (even though I no longer did);
I acknowledged that I should respect that loyalty (how could they get along without me?); and
I looked ahead, recognizing that it was entirely possible I would interact with my former nonprofit donors in future jobs.
Those realizations marked a significant change in attitude and helped me succeed in my future positions. The moment this shift occurred, it became possible for me to be friends with many of the philanthropists with whom I worked over the years in the sense we became comfortable talking about philanthropy more broadly, we shared general advice and personal life experiences. Mutual respect had been established. “Letting go” was a mature step forward that I needed to take.
Which is to say, nonprofit development professionals are not the sole spokespersons for the organizations with which they work. Directors, program officers, curators and even groundskeepers have their own relationships. Regrettably, I have experienced intense jealousy by other staff members when they see how comfortable I am with donors. Some have attempted to get rid of me entirely, feeling there is too much competition! But in truth, I have mentally separated myself in such a way that I fully understand the nonprofit with which I am currently working will go on long after I am gone. If I can make appropriate connections to benefit the project at hand, I definitely will. But I do not “own” any donor. The decision to become involved and to donate is entirely theirs.
Some staff can see you as a threat to their own (self) appointed position as, “the best friend of the donor.” I have discovered this with executive directors and department heads, for example. But I urge you, regardless and for your own well being, separate yourself from the organization mentally. You have your own life and are a person of value without or without the nonprofit.
Represent your organization in an absolutely first class fashion 24-7, even when you are not working. But also, step out of the picture if you become uncomfortable. I have discovered donors and volunteers (and the nonprofit organization) will appreciate you more if you follow this advice, and you will earn their trust for a lifetime.
Notes and Thoughts
Nonprofit work can inspire a stronger emotional attachment psychologically than corporate work, at least in my experience. This is especially true with those new to the nonprofit sector and in my case, with younger, inexperienced staff members. The organization’s leadership should be mindful of this dimension of their work and be sensitive to it. Today, employees change jobs fairly frequently and if you can part ways in a civil fashion, giving the less experienced staff a positive boost as they march out the door, everyone will be better off. That can be a tough assignment, but I believe it is a worthy one.
The Donor Relations Guru has posted a thoughtful article I enjoyed, “Team Player or Individual Contributor?” (April, 2017). I admit, I like the point of view conveyed. “They say in fundraising there’s an 80/20 rule, that 80% of the money comes from 20% of the donors. I have my own 80/20 rule for working and implementation and its one that may strike home for you too. 80 percent of the work gets done by 20 percent of the employees.” I have been hired a few times to do work the staff either tried to do and failed, or refused to do at all. I have also been hired to achieve “the impossible,” only to have other staff take my laurels when I am done with my work. I sometimes say in my mind, “if you could have done the job without me, why didn’t you?” I often wonder why these kinds of employees retain their jobs, but they always seem to.
Founder’s Syndrome is something I have encountered occasionally in my work over the years. Here is an article by Jeff Jowdy for NonProfitPRO (2013), “9 Ways for Nonprofits to Overcome ‘Founder’s Syndrome’.” Founder’s Syndrome is a bit more dangerous phenomenon than youthful attachment to an organization. “Founder’s Syndrome can be particularly devastating to fundraising. If a founder is not open to increased accountability as an organization grows, donors will become increasingly suspicious and may eventually flee.” This is where my personal “rub” has occurred in the past, when an Executive Director becomes threatened and unnecessarily jealous of my contacts and fundraising success. I have learned to step back, and if a resolution cannot be reached – despite my being the primary tie to the donors – I have removed myself from the situation. And a few times, the donors have gotten upset with me. But truly, I had no choice.
You might enjoy reading Oliver Burkeman for The Guardian, “Beware the Gravitational Pull of Mediocrity” (2015). Sometimes when people strive for excellence, organizational strife can result. Innovators can be viewed as dangerous! And sometimes, the one achieving excellence can be seen as a threat, and they may ultimately be pushed out. I have also seen mediocre employees remain on staff at nonprofit organizations, and for decades. They are neither terrible at their jobs, nor excellent. Go figure. Personally, I think mediocrity is an underappreciated survival skill.
Jennifer Verdolin Ph.D. wrote for Psychology Today, “Is It Only Natural for Us to Be Jealous?” (2014). “We humans not only have the tendency to become jealous over imagined threats, we also don’t often seem to take into account the ‘cost’ of certain behaviors.” I think educational programming for development professionals on dealing with jealousy would be an excellent idea.
“The mission of Great Promise for American Indians is to preserve the traditions, heritage and culture of American Indians, and to support the health and education needs of their youth and families. We do this to honor the past, and to ensure the future.”
I enjoyed attending the 25th annual Austin Powwow and American Indian Heritage Festival in November, 2016. To reach my Google+ photo and video album from this year’s event, follow this link.
After a somewhat grueling but productive year in the trenches of nonprofit fundraising here in Texas, attending the event was refreshing. Young people and adults competed in colorful Native American dances. One of my favorite dances was the Inter Tribal, during which people of all “tribes” – including the audience – were invited down to the arena floor to dance together.
Did you know,
“Most of the various types of dances performed at a pow wow are descended from the dances of the Plains tribes of Canada and the United States. Besides those for the opening and closing of a pow wow session, the most common is the intertribal, where a Drum will sing a song and anyone who wants to can come and dance.”
I joined the dancers myself this year, and while marching along, I filmed one of my first Facebook Live videos. You can see it on my Facebook page in the video section. I enjoyed dancing with people of all ages and cultural backgrounds in an impressive show of unity and community.
As the New Year gets underway, our nation as a whole needs an, “Inter Tribal.” I hope Americans will come together and work together to ensure that our nation remains the greatest on Earth.
In closing, I was inspired by an article on LinkedIn by Devin D. Thorpe, Forbes Contributor and social entrepreneur, “Democrats, Let’s Stand Shoulder-to-Shoulder with Donald Trump” (November 30, 2016). I am an Independent voter, but I agree with Devin who suggests we, “put policy above politics and country ahead of party. And let’s work harder than we ever have.”
“God did not burden the United States with a diversity of backgrounds, ideas and religions, He blessed America with them.” –Congressman Emanuel Cleaver (b.1944)
My continued “Thanksgiving” wish is that our nation will see diversity as a blessing. Recent years have been tumultuous for ethnic groups across America and the world. Tolerance seems to have taken a backseat to misunderstanding, irrational fear, emotional outbursts and occasional violence.
Among the many nonprofit organizations for which I have worked, those focusing on the environment have taught me that human beings are no different from other animals in the sense that they have developed physically in unique and interesting ways over tens of thousands of years.
Yet oddly enough, while we are endlessly fascinated by the physical diversity found in birds, mammals, fish and the like, when it comes to our own species some of us are intolerant of those who look and behave differently from our own group. We sometimes fear those who hold religious beliefs dissimilar from our own, and those who maintain cultural traditions we do not understand. Is it perhaps true that:
“From the deepest desires often come the deadliest hate.” -Socrates (469 to 399 B.C.)
During a recent SXSW, I attended a series of sessions on Tech Inclusion. Hosted by Galvanize and the Clinton Foundation’s No Ceilings Initiative, the panel discussions began early on a Sunday morning in downtown Austin at the then-new offices of Atlassian, and continued all day. I learned about the challenges LGBTQIA citizens have securing and holding “regular” corporate jobs, about the misperceptions veterans re-entering the workforce face, how underrepresented minorities struggle in the workplace, as well as older generations and women.
After listening for several hours of well-considered discussion and dialogue, I felt the Tech Inclusion presentations should be televised and made available to a much broader audience. Not only the tech industry but every industry – and the general populace – would benefit.
While I revel in diversity, clearly, many are suffering at the hands of others as a result of being “different.” But I am giving thanks for a diverse and fascinating world.
And, I hope you will join me in promoting tolerance and understanding as we move forward toward 2017 and beyond. The survival of our species depends upon it.
“It is time for parents to teach young people early on that in diversity there is beauty and there is strength.” –Maya Angelou, American poet (1928-2014)
Best wishes to you and yours.
Sharing below a few potential resources for further information:
For years, I immersed myself in nonprofit fundraising, paying relatively little attention to attracting the media to my projects. There never seemed to be enough time to do anything other than organize my campaigns, identify and solicit donors.
But as time moves forward, I have come to appreciate how media can help nonprofit organizations attract public attention to their good work, and lend credibility to their causes. Media coverage is something nonprofits can brag about. But one must consider how best to go about obtaining it.
When I moved to San Antonio in 2010, I became a regular attendee of Social Media Breakfast. There I met people from all walks of life attempting innovative approaches to advertising and to gaining media attention using social media. Everyone involved believed heartily that media attention was integral to the success of their ventures. And I learned a great deal (thank you, Jennifer Navarrete).
When it comes to pitching your organization to the media you are at a distinct advantage because everyone, including the media, loves a good story. That’s where nonprofits shine; they are never at a loss for powerful stories. The challenge, however, comes in getting a reporter’s attention for a story that often is not breaking news. In today’s competitive media market with fewer reporters to target that is becoming increasingly difficult.
Although media responsibilities are frequently outsourced to an agency or consultant(s), that’s not a must. …If possible, it’s best for a staff person to develop relationships with key media contacts. You and your colleagues are the subject experts and must be prepared to work directly with the press to ensure powerful, accurate coverage.
Nancy also provides helpful information you will want to read about crafting press releases.
The traditional press release has been eclipsed in the modern news cycle. Instead, we want to make it as easy as possible for journalists to see the news potential of your piece, and give a head start on writing the story you hope they will write. Include the following key items to make it easier for a reporter or blogger to develop your story into a feature, and increase the likelihood of it getting picked up.
Those items include direct quotes from “in the know” sources, original quotes that make your story read like news, and photos. “Great photos can help ensure your story gets picked up.”
Here in Austin, I have enjoyed attending a few gatherings of PR Over Coffee, a Meetup that focuses on how to gain the attention of media in an increasingly crowded and competitive market. Guest speakers include veterans of the media who disclose how they work (and they are not all alike, mind you), what they prefer in terms of communication, and other helpful tips for gaining attention.
A sometimes troublesome issue for nonprofits is the increasingly visual nature of communications combined with the failure of the email servers of the media outlets (barraged with email), to accept large image files as email attachments. One of the best ideas I have heard comes from Jan Buchholz of the Austin Business Journal: upload your images to a cloud storage platform, and provide a link to the image files in your email inquiry. Yes, reporters respond to visual imagery. Many of them are also confounded about how to develop meaningful stories without strong visual imagery.
Help A Reporter Out is a free online database that pairs media representatives with people who have information to share. I urge nonprofits to sign-up to become “subject matter experts.”
Help a Reporter Out (HARO) is the most popular sourcing service in the English-speaking world, connecting journalists with relevant expert sources to meet journalists’ demanding deadlines and enable brands to tell their stories. HARO distributes more than 50,000 journalist queries from highly respected media outlets each year.
I am on the HARO list and I have shared requests for information with my nonprofit colleagues, when I spot a reporter in need of an expertise the nonprofit can provide. I do hope the nonprofit sector as a whole will become more engaged with the media via the impressive HARO platform.
Think you can’t connect with the Oscars? Let’s look at the issues explored in this year’s nominees: The Big Short -Financial reform; Bridge of Spies – Right to fair trial; Brooklyn – Immigration; Mad Max: Fury Road – Women’s rights (click to read for more ideas)
Yes, I have been known to “newsjack” for a good cause. You might consider polite “newsjacking” for other highly visible events with a strong online presence.
Before closing, here are a few thoughts about what I call “media stewardship.”
When you secure media coverage, do you thank the reporter by contacting them directly, and by following them on social media? Why not create a separate media coverage page on your website where you can thank the media for its attention to your good work, and list links to their individual stories – whether they be video interviews or write-ups – so your nonprofit website is linked to theirs, and they are recognized for their coverage. To create your media page and manage it over time, consider creating your own Google news alert. You will sometimes discover news stories have appeared, but the staff of your nonprofit may be unaware of them. The regular alerts help you keep track, so you never miss another one!
The Electrify Africa Act of 2015 – “Helping sub-Saharan Africa increase modern electricity access will save lives, boost education, alleviate extreme poverty and accelerate growth.“
I became an advocate for ONE Campaign when living in San Antonio, Texas ca. 2012. I carried that interest with me when I returned to Austin in mid-2013. I have enjoyed working with the Texas staff representative for ONE. My first few years living and working in Austin were in District 10; I now live in District 21 on the western edge of Austin in the Texas Hill Country.
After many years of intense major gift fundraising work with a number of worthy nonprofit projects across the state of Texas, the economic downturn allowed me “quiet time” to return to some of my other life interests. From my young days in grade school I was fascinated by Africa and the Middle East. I watched television programs about them, and voraciously read Time Life books my parents had acquired for my edification, over and over again. Then, when I was in high school, my parents paid for a month-long family trip to the Middle East and North Africa, where my interests were deepened even further.
“ONE is a campaigning and advocacy organization of more than seven million people around the world taking action to end extreme poverty and preventable disease, particularly in Africa.
We believe the fight against poverty isn’t about charity, but about justice and equality.
Whether lobbying political leaders in world capitals or running cutting-edge grassroots campaigns, ONE pressures governments to do more to fight AIDS and other preventable, treatable diseases in the poorest places on the planet, to empower small-holder farmers, to expand access to energy, and to combat corruption so governments are accountable to their citizens. Cofounded by Bono and other activists, ONE is strictly nonpartisan.”
Why should someone like me support critical needs like electricity for Africa?
First, let me share an insight:
“This notion that we can be an island unto ourselves, I don’t think is realistic in the world we live in … But this notion that we should cut off all foreign aid, when it’s less than 1 percent of the budget and when it’ll isolate us from the world and hurt our national security – I don’t think that makes sense.” –Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, February 23, 2012
I believe Africa represents the future of our world. It has so much promise on every level! But also, allowing horrible living conditions, dire poverty, disease and ignorance to persist means many issues here at home like national security are negatively impacted. Problems overseas can quickly become our own problems, as we have seen time and time again. With relatively little expense, these international challenges can be alleviated for the benefit of the entire human race.
“In sub-Saharan Africa, more than 620 million people do not have access to electricity. Thirty seven countries in sub-Saharan Africa have a national electrification rate of below 50 percent. These endemic power shortages affect all aspects of life. The President and Congress are working with African leaders, civil society organizations, and the private sector to dramatically change this dire situation. We know energy access is one of the most urgent priorities for people in sub-Saharan Africa with one in five Africans citing infrastructure – including electricity – as their most pressing concern.
The lack of electricity impacts people’s lives in at least five major ways, with a disproportionately negative impact on girls and women.”
“Africa’s 900 million people use less energy than Spain’s 47 million. In sub-Saharan Africa, 621 million people have no electricity whatsoever. Each year, 600,000 Africans – half of them children – die from household air pollution, caused by fuelwood and charcoal used for cooking.”
Clearly, the world must support African leaders as they work to improve this dire situation.
When reading African literature, I was inspired by its grace and wisdom. As Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe said,
“Once you allow yourself to identify with the people in a story, then you might begin to see yourself in that story even if on the surface it’s far removed from your situation. This is what I try to tell my students: this is one great thing that literature can do – it can make us identify with situations and people far away.”
That is exactly what African literature did for me. You might consider African authors the next time you are seeking a good book to read. Follow the link to Goodreads to find more impressive books and authors.
Support ONE Campaign today and help release millions of Africans from the grip of extreme poverty. It costs you nothing but your voice.
A few additional notes:
The trip abroad mentioned in this post was organized by the Houston division of Neiman Marcus, many years ago when I was still in high school. It was the trip of a lifetime, and I continue to thank my father for it. I “grew up” during that month-long expedition. We saw both glorious monuments and the most shocking poverty imaginable (life outside the suburbs of Houston is not what I expected). I needed that.
In 2018, I undertook a DNA test with Ancestry.com. Our family has long suspected we have African roots through my mother’s side. That turned out to be true with 1% of my DNA being from Cameroon and the Congo! I was thrilled, and we were glad to have the mystery of our darker skin resolved. Now, I am an even greater advocate for ONE Campaign, and I am exploring that 1% online as often as I can.
I enjoyed seeing the movie, Black Panther, and being a local tech club volunteer involved with NTEN: Nonprofit Technology Network and NetSquared (a division of TechSoup), my DNA results and my natural tech inclination makes some sense, smiles. I am from Wakanda.
You might also enjoy reading this Brookings analysis, Foresight Africa: Top Priorities for the Continent in 2019.“Africa is brimming with promise and, in some places, peril. With its array of contributions, this year’s edition reflects both the diversity of the continent and the common threads that bind it together. With that aim, we hope to promote and inform a dialogue that will generate sound practical strategies for achieving shared prosperity across the continent.”
The mission of Great Promise for American Indians is to preserve the traditions, heritage and culture of American Indians, and to support the health and education needs of their youth and families. We do this to honor the past, and to ensure the future.
I urge you to review the website and consider supporting Great Promise! Follow this link to see Carolyn’s Tumblr and my photo essay about the Powwow (which also includes a few Instagram video links).
The mission statement above brings to mind a concept I hold true in my own profession: nonprofit fundraising professionals should both honor the past – traditional, proven methods of educating, cultivating, soliciting and stewarding relationships with donors – while also adopting new methods. In this way, we will ensure a sustainable future for the nonprofit organizations we support.
The iPhone photograph above features a striking Indian in colorful formal dress using a mobile phone to photograph the traditional dances taking place on the floor below. He summarizes well the theme of this post!
npENGAGE noted in, “5 Ways Technology Will Shape the Nonprofit Sector” back in 2014 (and still true today), “Think back even five years ago, ten years ago – how different is the nonprofit landscape now compared to then? It’s pretty dramatic.” Follow the link to read about the five trends: mobile, analytics, software, cloud and social media.
“Growing a relationship over time with newly identified prospects is key to developing or enhancing major gifts programs or initiatives. Keep in mind that even though an analytics project may identify a new crop of prospects able and willing to give more significant gifts to your organization, the scores themselves don’t guarantee that you will raise a particular amount of money or that individuals will give you a more significant donation.”
One of my earliest posts focuses on using “high tech” research methods to identify major gift prospects. I consider those methods to be invaluable. I have seen firsthand how major gift campaigns that at first appeared to lack an adequate number of prospective donors, suddenly have a dearth of them once proper research was conducted.
The best of both worlds when it comes to major gift fundraising includes detailed research and analysis using the latest technologies, combined with traditional methods of education, cultivation, solicitation and stewardship, all with genuine caring and thoughtfulness on the part of the development professionals involved.
But the nonprofit sector still has work to do when it comes to marrying traditional and modern approaches to fundraising and communication. Nonprofits generally fail to engage current and potential donors using social media, for instance.
“’While the overwhelming majority of organizations are on social media and do a good job of posting regularly, very few use these channels to genuinely engage with their constituents,’ said Rick Dunham, president and CEO of Dunham+Company, a consulting firm specializing in nonprofit fundraising and marketing. ‘Charities generally use social media channels to advertise events or as a ‘billboard,’ but rarely do they use them as a way to engage donors in conversation. This will be important to remember as we approach the holiday giving season.'”
One of the prevailing themes of Carolyn’s Nonprofit Blog is that high net worth households own more digital devices than the general population, and they are highly active on social media. They conduct business and spend their leisure time using a variety of convenient mobile devices. It makes sense for nonprofits to use these tools to communicate with and engage those capable of making significant charitable donations.
“… Device usage has notable social and cultural implications, and there are sometimes important political and macroeconomic consequences to the way people use their gadgets. For instance, every major media industry – those built around video, audio and text – has been disrupted by these devices.”
Follow this link to learn about the specific demographics of American smartphone ownership, cell phone, tablets, laptops and more.
Some fundraising professionals remain focused entirely on less modern methods in major gift fundraising. And, I have taken the “heat” for my blended approach on more than one occasion.
But the fundraising profession is changing. My discovery is simply this: one person can accomplish a great deal when armed with the proper technology, software, and positive mental attitude. Sometimes one person can accomplish as much or more than several major gift professionals and/or consultants. This is a trend worth watching, and a situation of not only adapting to change, but embracing it for a more sustainable, efficient and effective future.
I have been a respectful adherent of the Donor Bill of Rights since entering the field of nonprofit fundraising back in the 1980s. The Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) notes:
“Philanthropy is based on voluntary action for the common good. It is a tradition of giving and sharing that is primary to the quality of life. To ensure that philanthropy merits the respect and trust of the general public, and that donors and prospective donors can have full confidence in the nonprofit organizations and causes they are asked to support, we declare that all donors have these rights.”
But after many years working in the trenches of nonprofit fundraising, I believe a Nonprofit Fundraisers’ Bill of Rights is also in order.
Below, I have listed the Donor Bill of Rights along with commentary about the nonprofit fundraiser’s point of view and “rights.”
I. To be informed of the organization’s mission, of the way the organization intends to use donated resources, and of its capacity to use donations effectively for their intended purposes.
Nonprofit development staff are sometimes asked to solicit donations but over time, they may discover the funds they solicited are not being used as originally discussed. The nonprofit may be unable to effectively carry out the project as intended.
Development staff can be tremendous allies in this situation. They should be informed and given the opportunity to translate changes to the donors they solicited, thereby ensuring an honest relationship and retaining personal, professional and organizational integrity.
Sometimes nonprofit organizations fear a negative reaction from donors if a change of direction with an important project is necessary. But I have found if changes and challenges are aired in a forthright manner, donors appreciate the candor and often continue to give more.
II. To be informed of the identity of those serving on the organization’s governing board, and to expect the board to exercise prudent judgment in its stewardship responsibilities.
This is good protection for fundraising professionals as well. Development professionals need to be able to learn about, meet and interact with those serving on the Board in order to function properly in their jobs. But sometimes senior executives prevent interaction between development professionals and staff and Board members. This is a mistake.
Most Board members welcome the advice and support of development staff. If they do not interact, problems may ensue. Development professionals are donor advocates and allies. When allowed to do their job properly, the better the reputation of the nonprofit, its Board, and each and every donor with whom they work.
I once heard a foundation staff member arrogantly proclaim they would only be “friends” with donors, not “development officers,” as if being a development officer is a lowly office. Beware: oftentimes the development officer is one of the most knowledgeable staff members at the nonprofit organization, one who cares about the organization’s donors the most. They will fight for you if you allow them to do so.
III. To have access to the organization’s most recent financial statements.
Not only should nonprofit development staff have access to Form 990s – which today one can find readily on GuideStar – they should be encouraged to review those financial documents and to become knowledgeable about them. As donors and professional advisors become more savvy (and discerning), being armed with this knowledge is essential to functioning properly on the job.
IV. To be assured their gifts will be used for the purposes for which they were given.
Similar to the first tenet discussed, development staff should be informed if a donation is not being used for its intended purpose. Sometimes, program staff and others in positions of leadership fail to share changes with the development department. Nonprofit fundraisers should be given the opportunity to discuss any changes in terms of the project(s) funded with the donor(s) they solicited originally.
V. To receive appropriate acknowledgement and recognition.
Once a grant or gift has been awarded, and if the donor does not require anonymity, then appropriate recognition should be given in project materials and organizational publications (online and hard copy). Verbal recognition and acknowledgement on social media can also be meaningful.
Those of us in the nonprofit sector know it is often the case that volunteers help open doors and solicit gifts from individuals, families, foundations, corporations and government agencies. They deserve recognition and thanks for their efforts. But sometimes it a fundraising professional on staff who has conducted the research necessary to identify donors, and they are the one who has made the all-important introduction, and secured the gift.
Hard work and successful staff achievements should be acknowledged and recognized by nonprofit administrators and members of the Board. Yes, volunteers need and deserve recognition, but don’t forget the development staff. Retention of quality development staff is one of our sector’s greatest challenges. Although reserved when it comes to religious opinions, I like this quote by Joel Osteen:
“Praise is powerful. Praise will break chains, turn problems around and defeat enemies. Praise will give you the victory.”
VI. To be assured that information about donations are handled with respect and with confidentiality to the extent provided by law.
Sometimes development staff are not kept in the “loop” when donations are announced by organizational representatives verbally, online or in print. Fundraising staff must guide the announcement process and help the nonprofit they represent maintain the wishes of each donor regarding confidentiality, proper name spelling, announcement timing and the like.
Sometimes, marketing and public information specialists chafe when partnering with development staff. I have noted one concern is they perceive their work to be “pure” – they seek to represent the institution factually to the public and to the media, and they do not wish to be “tainted” by discussing donors. But nonprofits survive by securing charitable donations, and these two staff functions must work together harmoniously.
VII. To expect that all relationships with individuals representing organizations of interest to the donor will be professional in nature.
This tenet is also true for nonprofit fundraisers. Development staff should not feel that in order to cultivate a donor relationship they must run personal errands for donors, become a personal driver or shopper, or conduct other business unrelated to the nonprofit organization and its mission.
Should a donor or prospect become verbally abusive or make improper advances, development staff should be encouraged to report such activity to their superiors, and they should expect to be protected. They should not fear being fired.
Nonprofits are hungry for charitable donations, but we as a sector must retain integrity. Nonprofit organizations should not allow improper behavior by donors or potential donors because they are desperate for funding. Of course, handling delicate situations diplomatically is essential.
VIII. To be fully informed regarding who is responsible for securing donations, whether they be volunteers, fellow employees of the organization or hired solicitors.
Nonprofit development staff may be assigned other tasks while volunteers and/or consultants assume the task of soliciting donations for special projects. A clear delineation of duties and assignments is essential. All must work together and avoid competing needlessly. Transparency across roles and teams is essential for the organization to succeed in its fundraising activities.
Yes, I have witnessed nonprofit staff attempting to sabotage the work of well meaning fundraising consultants. The reasons for this are many, from personal jealousy to sincerely believing the reason for hiring a consultant was wrong. The potential for harmful interference must be anticipated and monitored. Reduce anxiety by making sure everyone on the team understands what is going on, and why.
IX. To have the opportunity for their names to be deleted from mailing lists that an organization may intend to share.
Separate divisions of nonprofit organizations sometimes maintain their own mailing lists. To ensure compliance with donor wishes and confidentiality, development staff should also be encouraged to review the mailing lists of divisions other than their own and to request changes as necessary. This is what we call today, “breaking down silos.”
It is also true that the use of emailing platforms like Constant Contact, iContact, MailChimp, Emma and the like provide the opportunity for anyone on a mailing list to remove themselves immediately. This helps nonprofits comply with the federal CAN-SPAM Act. Knowledge of the Act should be standard for any nonprofit fundraiser.
X. To feel free to ask questions when making a donation and to receive prompt, truthful and forthright answers.
It goes without saying, to represent a nonprofit to the public and to respond to donor and potential donor inquiries, development staff must ask questions of fellow staff in order to fully understand the current status of activities that have been underwritten by donors. Nonprofit leaders should encourage those inquiries.
My experience is the public is not aware that development staff are often as knowledgeable about the inner workings of their nonprofits as the director, senior program officers, and members of the Board. Anyone who researches and writes grants knows a comprehensive knowledge of the nonprofit is required to achieve success. Development staff are not just hired to be “nice” to donors and to organize parties. Their work is essential to the survival of the nonprofit, and to do it well requires in-depth knowledge and commitment.
This article was originally a blog post published in 2014. I decided to update and make it available from my main menu.
I was visiting with a new friend when I returned to Austin in the summer of 2013. We discussed how I came to be involved in nonprofit fundraising, in particular major gift work. Our conversation turned to how someone who wants to work in the field of major gifts learns how to become accustomed to, “lots of zeros.” My friend could not imagine it.
My story might be helpful to new fundraising professionals who have an interest in pursuing careers in major gift fundraising. Those of us who are more experienced sometimes forget, not everyone is comfortable with major gifts, which involves handling significant monetary transactions and working closely with affluent donors. We must be mindful to share our knowledge for the benefit of up-and-coming fundraising professionals, and to help them achieve success in their careers.
After securing my Bachelor’s Degree With Honors at The University of Texas at Austin in Middle Eastern Studies, I moved to New York City for six months. My fiance was a young, well-connected economics professor who had secured a semester-long appointment at Columbia University. Rather than be without him for six months, I tagged along. Some of my greatest work and life experiences occurred during that brief time, and I admit, it was hard to leave New York to return home to Texas after those intense but rewarding six months.
Luckily for our personal finances, while in New York I managed to secure a full-time secretarial position with a bank on Wall Street in its Middle Eastern division. Part-time office jobs on campus had helped pay for my college education at UT Austin, and they gave me additional skills than those acquired from, “book learning.” Those very office skills helped open doors to my first jobs, like this one!
At the bank, the staff helped investors manage and occasionally “move” their money on a moment’s notice to other banks and/or investment houses across the world, for more favorable interest rates and the like. I was humbled by the daily telephone conversations occurring in our office, along these lines:
“Yes, I understand. You want me to transfer $1,486,633.57 from your account to (another location). I will do that right now. No problem. We will send you a confirmation shortly. Thank you.”
I knew if I tried to handle that kind of transaction myself and I was “off” by one penny, I would be fired. The thought of handling those transactions terrified me. It took me a few months, but then I got used to, “lots of zeros.” I could stand-in for the primary point person on our floor and handle those calls.
The responsibility of handling seven-figure transfers made me literally shake at the start. But by the conclusion of six months, I had crossed the psychological hurdle and it became easier and more routine.
What does this suggest about serving as an intern (or a low level employee) in a bank or investment house early in your nonprofit fundraising career? Looking back on it today, working on Wall Street was one of the best experiences I could have had in my early 20s.
When I returned to Austin, however, I decided to pursue a new focus of study in art history (rather than in banking). The bank executive I had worked for in New York ushered me off kindly, suggesting I secure an MBA. But I was hesitant and decided to change focus. After all, while living and working in New York, I had visited each and every one of the many art museums the city has to offer. I loved them, which makes sense given my family’s predilection for the arts (my namesake and paternal grandmother was an artist in Santa Fe).
It was while securing my Master’s Degree in the 80s that I began volunteering for a local art museum. What I learned fairly quickly was the study of art history is also the study of patronage. Great works of art and architecture have come to life through the financial and political backing of wealthy benefactors for centuries, and they would not have been possible without them.
For a personal tale about my experience with the noted late Western Art collector and founder of American Airlines, C. R. Smith while I was a “work study student” in graduate school, follow this link.
A tale of patronage I enjoyed reading about is, “Larry Ellison’s Art at Asian Art Museum” by Robert Taylor for The Mercury News (2013 and updated 2016). “It’s a fact of life that well-heeled collectors make museums possible, from the Rockefellers to a Wal-Mart heiress. Among the welcome exhibits in San Francisco recently have been William Paley’s vast collection of paintings at the de Young Museum and a sampling of Jerry Yang’s Chinese calligraphy at the Asian Art Museum.” If you have studied art and art history seriously, this will be obvious. Coincidentally, the chief curator at the Asian Art Museum was one of my former graduate school supervisors and mentors (another reason I wanted to mention this specific article).
I encountered “lots of zeros” again in the context of my work with the local art museum. One day, I happened to be the only staff member in the development department one lunch hour, and I received and opened an overnight package, only to come face-to-face with a $1,000,000 check. Although my experience on Wall Street had made me more accustomed to large figures, holding the actual check in my hands quite literally took my breath away. Luckily the executive director happened to stop by my desk, and he calmed me down and retrieved the check for deposit at the bank.
After many years of developing and implementing major gift campaigns since those early days, large numbers no longer phase me (although I respect them greatly). I have since been invited to speak about how to write grants and how to work with donors, including asking for major gifts. A few of my experiences may be seen in a PowerPoint created a few years ago for the Texas Historical Commission, “Writing Winning Grants” (you won’t want to miss the “Memorable Conversations” section).
“If you teach students one trade, that skill might be obsolete in a few years. But if you teach people how to think and look at lots of information and connect dots – all skills that a classic liberal education gives you – you will thrive.”
While securing my two university degrees in the college of liberal and fine arts, I knew those areas of study were my passion. But I also suspected they would land me in jobs valued less by society, perhaps in academia teaching the same freshman course over-and-over again. But happily, my experience working with the museum led me to something very fulfilling: the nonprofit sector and a career in professional major gift fundraising. And, I have been at it for more than 30 years.
Best wishes for success in all your endeavors, and if you have questions as many do, use the secure contact form to reach me.
This article is dedicated to my best friend on Wall Street, Tina. #Sassy
“If you care about nonprofits and the work they do, then you’re affected by what GuideStar does. Here at GuideStar we gather and disseminate information about every single IRS-registered nonprofit organization. We provide as much information as we can about each nonprofit’s mission, legitimacy, impact, reputation, finances, programs, transparency, governance, and so much more. We do that so you can take the information and make the best decisions possible.”
In 2013, I was asked by GuideStar to share my experiences using its database. Here are links to two case studies:
Today, the first resource I consult when researching a potential donor is GuideStar. Surprised?
Not only does GuideStar provide information about nonprofit organizations in the traditional sense, but you can also find information about donors like private foundations that are themselves nonprofit.
Among my favorite resources are the tax returns. Sometimes even the best online and printed foundation directories do not reveal the current state of a foundation. By reviewing their tax returns in GuideStar, you can discover who is currently serving on a foundation’s board of directors (and who is serving in what positions of leadership); you can find new contact information for the foundation (and sometimes, individual trustees); you can learn the latest projects funded (and sometimes foundations can change their funding focus areas without notice); you can discover the amounts of the grants awarded (thereby indicating the level of potential interest in your perhaps similar project); and more.
Try the “advanced search” function on GuideStar, and you can discover such things as every museum in the state of Texas (and you can sort by budget size), or, every human services nonprofit in the state of Virginia, for instance.
GuideStar Data at a Glance (2013)
1.8 million IRS-recognized tax-exempt organizations 5.4 million Form 990 images 3.2 million digitized Form 990 records 6.6 million individuals in the nonprofit sector
For me, the printed and online foundation directories are excellent resources for honing-down generally on prospective donors I want to research. But the truth is, the tax returns tell a more exact story about their current circumstances.
But these are just the tip of the iceberg! I urge you to explore GuideStar’s website to discover all the helpful information and resources it provides. And my hearty thanks goes to GuideStar for featuring my two case studies. I hope you will take the time to read and enjoy them!
“Think back to the last time you bought a pair of shoes, or researched the next book you wanted to read. Where did your search start? If you’re like any other consumer, it probably began with customer reviews. Why? Because reviews are candid. They’re not published by the company promoting the product; they’re not fluffed up with marketing lingo and meaningless buzzwords; and most importantly, they’re the words of people just like you.”
Do you have an online ambassador program?
My suggestion to nonprofit organizations is to include the role of “online ambassador” in the job descriptions for board and advisory board members who are active on social media. Can they set aside time once weekly, every few weeks, or monthly to share a positive experience, and to encourage their colleagues to support your nonprofit organization? This is a simple, but ultimately very helpful request to make.
Certainly, you would expect leading volunteers and donors to be community advocates and to say positive things about your nonprofit’s work and accomplishments whenever and wherever appropriate. If your advocates are also active online, consider asking them to set aside time to share their opinions and experiences online.
Ongoing identification of potential ambassadors for both awareness building and fundraising initiatives.
Stewardship of those potential and approved ambassadors through good content and smart online conversation management.
A plan for contacting potential ambassadors and officially bringing them into the program.
A strategy for leveraging the support of your ambassadors.
I couldn’t agree more.
“Simply put, a robust ambassador program could be the most important thing your nonprofit can do from a communications standpoint.”
Geoff Livingston wrote a clever article for Razoo: Inspiring Generosity, “5 Ways to Engage Online Ambassadors” (October 20, 2011). Somewhat unusually, Geoff talks about using social media to inspire major gift prospects and donors.
“Successful social media-based fundraising in many ways is about democratizing development best practices. If you want to develop online relationships with people who care about your cause, use tried and true development tactics.”
Geoff provides a variety of creative ideas, from creating a social media advisory board to putting their names on a digital ambassador recognition “wall” on your website.
In The UBER-Blog, Alexandra Cojocaru discusses “social media superheroes.” In, “The Emergence of the Social Media Superhero” (May 30, 2012, link no longer available online)) she remarks:
“Much like search engine marketing 10 years ago, social media has now become core to many businesses marketing strategies. With that has also come the emergence of individual roles that are more specialized and unique to social media.”
Alexandra discusses the traits of four key social media “personas”: the Online Ambassador, Social Evangelist, Digital Strategist, and the Data Junkie. I certainly recognize some of my distinguished colleagues in Alexandra’s descriptions, but I had not thought about engaging them online in such insightful ways.
As social media becomes increasingly influential and essential in our world today, don’t let the cart come before the horse, take the reins. Put social media to work for your organization!
I was living in San Antonio when I first wrote this post on Carolyn’s Nonprofit Blog. I had been sitting in my home office reading Twitter on my laptop, when I noticed a few posts sounding the alarm about an emergency occurring in Boston. I was riveted to my computer screen, and I began searching for information online. This was the 2013 Boston Marathon terrorist bombing, where sadly more than 260 people were injured. Follow this link to CNN for a timeline of what happened in Boston back in April, 2013.
I have updated this blog post a bit since then. Social media has continued to play an essential and growing role in emergency communications. But back in 2013, I am not sure many thought of social media as an emergency communication and safety tool. Today, this is fairly common knowledge. Although some are still learning about potential uses of social media during emergency situations. And some organizations are reluctant to put much energy into social media, which I believe is a terrible mistake.
“So why might government agencies or other organizations not be ready yet to use social media as a platform for emergency management? Well, even though social media may be common among most people, updating social media accounts, let alone during emergencies and disasters, requires a huge amount of time, effort and understanding of social media. And with 74% of social media users expecting response agencies to answer calls for help within an hour, that’s a lot of responding in a very little amount of time. And time is always precious during an emergency.” -Sonia Paul for Mashable.
Social Media 4 Emergency Management posted helpful advice in a 2013 article called, “A Role for Onlookers.” “If you are in a jurisdiction that is dealing with an incident of national significance, you are busy learning the following lessons:
The world is watching and wants to help,
Rumors will run rampant because people try to live-tweet scanners and news broadcasts in crisis events,
Images and videos, no matter how graphic, will surface, and
The amount of information available will become a sifting and sorting nightmare, but
There is now little dispute that the use of social media can rapidly allow agencies to share information and employ the public as additional eyes and ears during significant events.”
Valuable time does not have to be spent wordsmithing updates to social networks; it is more important to get the message out the door as quickly as possible and to make sure your point is clearly understood.
In a fast moving situation, it isn’t that difficult to understand how incomplete or incorrect content can get posted. However, if that does happen, it may be necessary to repeat the correction.
Situational awareness information can often be found from the social accounts of other city agencies or organizations.
Twitter was certainly the platform to watch during the Boston Marathon. It was while viewing Twitter that I became aware of the bombing incident in the first place. Kudos to the Boston Police.
“The Boston Police … seemed as prepared for the communications breakdown as they were for the actual emergency response. Using social media — mainly Twitter — Boston Police was able to spread its emergency notification messages literally across the globe in a matter of minutes; and, thanks to the help of the media and concerned citizens from all points on the compass, that message was multiplied at an exponential rate.” -Paul Rothman for Security Info Watch (April 24, 2013).
On a personal note, I would suggest one way people can help alleviate disaster situations – if you are yourself safe from harm – is to “share” reputable information from disaster management agencies on your own social platforms. Amplify their impact! Follow the local police and fire departments, FEMA and Homeland Security on social media, for instance. They are on top of emergency situations, and the information they are sharing online can be re-shared to the benefit of your friends, family, neighbors and the entire community.
Center for Disaster Philanthropy provides helpful information for those wanting to contribute to disaster recovery. In brief, disaster giving has a life cycle. The initial emotional response people have to a disaster leads to many helpful, up-front donations. But recovery requires a longer time frame. CDP will help you make smarter long-term giving decisions.
Global Disaster Preparedness Center notes in Social Media in Disasters, “The term ‘social media’ refers to Internet-based applications that enable people to communicate and share resources and information. The emergence of this new communication channels represents an opportunity to broaden warnings to diverse segments of the population in times of emergency. These technologies have the potential to prevent communication breakdown through reliance on just one platform and thereby to reinforce the diffusion of warning messages but also present policy makers with new challenges.”
National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster. “National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD) is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, membership based organization that serves as the forum where organizations share knowledge and resources throughout the disaster cycle—preparation, response and recovery —to help disaster survivors and their communities.”
If you live in Texas and you would like to get professional training on how to deal with emergencies as a concerned citizen, you might like to join TEXSAR: Texas Search and Rescue. And, to receive alerts in Texas via text, email or phone, you might consider WarnCentralTexas and CodeRED. I also follow the local fire departments, police departments, FEMA (national and regional), and the City of Austin HSEM: Homeland Security and Emergency Management handles on Twitter.
Concerning corporate activity online during emergency events, I want to share an opinion. I was on Twitter @CAROLYNAPPLETON when the Boston Marathon attack occurred back in 2013. I kept noticing Twitter posts about something being wrong, which led me to news reports and then to television. But social media companies need to monitor their platforms carefully for images that would be disturbing to viewers. During the marathon events, I got onto Tumblr for instance, and someone at the marathon was literally posting photos of victims with their limbs blown off prior to the emergency crews arriving to help them. I can definitely see how emergency responders would benefit from knowing exactly what is happening and where, but not the general public! I do not know if this is available, but emergency response agency personnel might consider posting a handle or a link to a secure online channel that is easy to access via anyone’s smartphone and via social media, so these kinds of photos and videos can be uploaded securely for the benefit of the overall emergency response effort.
Auto-posting: I would also say to anyone auto-posting on social media via a professional sharing platform, turn it off during an emergency. There is nothing more jarring than seeing cheerful ads popping up when people are suffering during an emergency. Humorous advertisements fall flat, and viewers can get a negative, “I don’t care about your emergency” opinion of your company or your nonprofit. “Look, we’re having a gala!” as someone’s legs are being blown off is truly an awful and jarring messaging combination.
Thanks to Adobe’s free image library for the photographs illustrating this article.