Category Archives: Nonprofit

Every Day is Mandela Day

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

Nelson Mandela, South African statesman (1918-2013)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Global Partnership for Education
A few years ago, my DNA was tested and an old family belief was discovered to be true. We are partly from Mali in Africa. Hence, I dedicate this post to Mali. Click on the image to learn other ways you can help Mali.

Inspiring Words in Challenging Times

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

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

William Tyler Page, The American’s Creed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is Bigger Better?

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

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

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

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

GuideStar Blog (2017)

Follow the link above to view an impressive statistical chart.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2021 | Nonprofit Predictions

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

Albert Einstein, German physicist (1879-1955)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carolyn M. Appleton

December 6, 2020

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

Jeff Hawkins, American inventor (b. 1957)

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

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

Art and Looking Matter

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 1890 Census

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

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

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

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

Today’s Census

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

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

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

Back to Nonprofit Fundraising

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

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

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


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

Grant Conversations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Research and Writing | Ideal Tasks While Working from Home

I have worked from my home office since 2014. Austin has been for many years a fast growing metropolis. Its heavy road traffic made commuting to and from my nonprofit project’s office back then a lengthy and stressful burden. And because that project focused on K-12 sustainability education, the concept of working from home was appreciated and readily adopted.

Read a Little Every Day!
This image was used in my PowerPoint for Qgiv on prospect research. See the YouTube recording below.

It was then that I began working collaboratively in the “cloud,” researching prospective partners and writing grant proposals, uploading them to the cloud for review by our Executive Director. Fine tuning continued until the time was right to hit, “submit.” Social media writing, posting and management was easily and better done from a quiet, distraction-free work space. One weekly meeting in person in our office was part of the regimen, but that is all.

Hence, with the onset of COVID-19 in 2020 and “stay-at-home” restrictions, nothing has changed for me. I have continued to work smoothly and efficiently from home where it is relatively “germ-free,” quiet, and my “desk” is located not far from the coffee pot and refrigerator. For me, this is the perfect work environment. Don’t tell: I get more work done, I work longer hours than required, and I am healthier and happier overall. 

The chagrin expressed by corporate and nonprofit leaders accustomed to working in traditional environments where office employees are housed in the same physical space falls on deaf ears here. I believe it is time to adapt and move to a remote working model for almost everyone, except of course those needing staff to greet and serve visitors in person, to conduct occasional group meetings, and to actually manufacture/produce specific items. But to get comfortable allowing more employees to work from home, society will have to let go of the basic human trait, “seeing is believing.” Our times require greater trust and faith to succeed in a remote working world.

Carolyn's Prospect Research Talks
See the links in this post to watch and learn more.

One of the ideal activities I conduct while working from home is research online and grant writing. In April and May 2020, I spoke online to two organizations about research specifically, and you might enjoy watching the recordings. The first was for Qgiv (below).

You may also have read my blog post from last March, “Habits of Mind in Challenging Times … And Remote Locations,” where I discuss my work in South Texas during the 2000s with the ranching community. In hindsight, much of what we accomplished seems quite glamorous. Certainly, the donors with whom I worked are still among the leading philanthropists of Texas. But the truth is, the majority of my work was done in a quiet office with few visitors, thinking, researching, organizing, writing and the like.

Rolls Royce
Rolls Royce is known as one of the finest automobile brands in the world. The high standards for which it is known remind me of those also expected of major gift fundraising professionals.

Major gift fundraising is often wrongly perceived by outsiders. Regardless of the quiet, methodical and hard work involved in successful major gift fundraising, people sometimes think of it as a field where one “hobnobs” with wealthy donors, attends luncheons and galas, and other superficial activities. This false impression can also give rise to jealousy. If they only knew how much “unglamorous” time is actually spent working tirelessly alone on a computer. I would say 95% of my job is actually done in this fashion.

If you are working from home now during COVID-19, this is an excellent time to fine-tune your research and writing skills. As I mentioned during my spring presentations, if you take the time to do this thoughtfully and well, it might turn your organization’s entire fundraising focus upside down, and in a very good and productive way.

I would also suggest that you take the time to learn new skills, including setting up and better managing your social media platforms. Our favorite platforms continue to evolve: learn how they may have changed (be sure to check, “the back end”). If you are already active on social media, now is also an excellent time to clean up (and clean out) old information. Request that your Facebook profile be formally verified by Facebook. Claim and update your GuideStar profile to the gold or platinum seal level. Ask volunteers, clients and board members for testimonials you can share online. Set up an online gift processing platform that provides a variety of options for making charitable donations. Make it easy to give!

Looking sharp online continues to be essential to inspiring trust and to engaging the interest of donors and potential donors in the good work of your nonprofit. And as always, make sure the messages you convey in those carefully-crafted grant proposals are mirrored on your website and on social media. In other words, this stay-at-home time is the perfect time to do some nonprofit “housecleaning.” Dare I say it: the nonprofit sector might actually become smarter and stronger if it deals successfully with the stay-at-home restrictions resulting from COVID-19.

Best wishes for your fundraising success!

Notes

For women working in the field of nonprofit development with family care giving responsibilities, I want to acknowledge working from home might be tougher for you. I fully support care giving incentives and entrepreneurial approaches as outlined by Melinda Gates in her article for The Washington Post, “How Rethinking Caregiving Could Play a Crucial Role in Restarting the Economy” (May 7, 2020). We can do this!

Having trouble trusting remote workers? Turns out, remote workers sometimes have trouble trusting their Executive Directors. You might enjoy reading Adam Hickman, Ph.D. and Tonya Fredstrom for Gallup, “How to Build Trust With Remote Employees” (February 7, 2018). “Gallup asked a random sample of more than 10,000 individuals, ‘What leader has the most positive influence in your daily life?’ With that leader in mind, Gallup had the respondents list three words that best describe what the leader they named contributes to their life. The responses sorted into four categories: trust, compassion, stability and hope.”

Habits of Mind in Challenging Times … and Remote Locations

In 1999, I was recruited to South Texas by a headhunter. My task was to manage a multi-million dollar major gift campaign for three years. By myself.

While there are many affluent landowners and ranch visitors in South Texas, at the time there were relatively few people with major gift experience to work with them. Many of the office support available back then included well meaning but inexperienced staff when it comes to working with major gift donors.

Horses

I set up shop with the help of the local Walmart. A spacious rug, floor lamps and an artificial plant gave my office a quiet, comfortable and professional look. Culligan Water installed a hot-and-cold water dispenser. I brought homemade food to work for lunch and kept my office well stocked with coffee, tea and dry soup packets (and a candy jar for visitors). There were mostly fast food outlets in the area back then. However, I would like to put in a good word for the delicious potato-and-egg soft tacos with green salsa that I would sometimes pick up on my way in to the office at a local taco stand. Those were the best, and I still miss them.

With the Internet readily available, I was “good to go.” I came to call my office, “the air traffic control tower.” 

The institute for which I was working was mostly privately funded by a foundation, and minimally funded by the local university. I kept wondering – given the stellar board and advisory board members involved with this little institute – why outside consultants said it had no chance of raising major gifts. The institute had paid upwards of $80,000 for a feasibility study and case statement by a consulting firm, all of which were tossed out as being unhelpful. I had my job cut out for me.

On my own for three years, I literally lived on the Internet. I searched online and read from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. every work day. My findings yielded not only major gifts for capital and endowment purposes, but also for research projects. I developed habits of mind that involved disciplined, factual research online. Many new donors were brought to the aid of the institute’s work, and many detailed grant proposals were formulated.

Cabin

I find outsiders to the field of nonprofit development mistakenly perceive people like me are focused on organizing luncheons and “schmoozing” with donors. But the fact is, organizing and managing meetings and events comprises perhaps 5% of my job. Most of my work involves thoughtful research, the development of inspiring case statements, writing and designing communications pieces, developing mailing and emailing lists, grant writing, stewardship and the like. This requires “quiet time” and a focused, detail-oriented mind. For those contemplating development as a career, this paragraph is one of the most important I have ever written for you.

The fine art of nonprofit development – honed in remote locations like South Texas – helped prepare me for other major gift projects involving little or no staffing, and for challenging “work at home” times like the COVID 19 pandemic we are currently experiencing. What I discovered is the Internet is an invaluable nonprofit development resource. I remain glued to it today. There is no such thing as being “bored” when you have the Internet at your fingertips.

Working mostly without additional staff support in prior positions means I have also experimented with technological solutions to accomplish more done with less. When told something is “impossible,” I always believe there is a solution. And I have always found one! I occasionally find traditional fundraisers who still shun technology and social media. But I have found them invaluable components of my major gift activities today.

Tech Clubs Can Help

For the past several years I have been one of the lead volunteers for NTEN & NetSquared Nonprofit Tech Club Austin. My involvement with NTEN began ten years ago when two nonprofit organizations asked me to help identify constituent management software to manage their donor databases. I admit, I was stumped. But I contacted NTEN and was directed to a donor management system review co-sponsored with Idealware. I was so elated by this helpful resource that I became an NTEN fan and volunteer.

A few years later when I relocated to Austin, I agreed to volunteer for #NPTechClubATX. Being involved with the club means today, I have the privilege of meeting similar problem solvers focused on social good, and learning about their innovative solutions. I am hooked.

The mission of Nonprofit Tech Club Austin is to help nonprofits find cost-effective tech solutions and techniques to make their work easier, more secure and efficient. That means for the past several years, we have offered educational programs that involve digital solutions to daunting challenges like being unable to hire extra staff (but needing to get the work done anyway), raising donations easily and creatively online, better managing board meetings, volunteers, accounting functions and more. We are #ready.

Locally, we thank startup hub Capital Factory for its support in this regard. But Zoom and similar video conferencing services can also help. You can learn more about nonprofit discounts at TechSoup.

Here’s wishing you good health, a trustworthy laptop, and a strong Internet connection!

Carolyn’s Nonprofit Blog includes many stories about doing more with less and technological solutions for the “remote” worker. If you have questions at any time, please let me know

Photographs illustrating this post are courtesy of Adobe Spark.

Financial Literacy: The M in STEM

“We teach our children to wear seat belts. Schools invest in programs aimed at helping kids practice smart internet habits. But few are talking about the dangers of too much debt or the blessing that is compound interest.”

– Greg Iacurci for InvestmentNews (2019)

State of Texas Representative Vikki Goodwin (District 47, Travis County), filed House Bill 1182 in 2019. The Bill required a personal financial literacy course for high school students. Vikki remarked:

“I filed this so that we can ensure young adults are getting out of high school with an idea of how to handle their personal finances. I have kids of my own who are young adults, who are on their own now and have had to learn how to budget, and of course as a realtor I’ve come across a lot of young adults who are trying to buy a home or lease a home and who just don’t know a whole lot about finances, interest rates, credit, credit cards, and credit scores.”

Some educators fear high school students have a lot of requirements already, and this would involve a new requirement. But Vikki emphasized, “We’re trying to make it as flexible as possible. It could either take the place of an elective, or we’re also looking into having it take the place of one semester of math or maybe one semester of economics.” (Texas Standard)

Goodwin’s measure passed in the Texas House of Representatives, but then died shortly thereafter in the Senate. It is my personal hope the bill will be reintroduced and passed in the future.

When it comes to being financially literate, Americans fall short globally.

“Although the U.S. is the world’s largest economy, the Standard & Poor’s Global Financial Literacy Survey ranks it No. 14 (tied with Switzerland) when measuring the proportion of adults in the country who are financially literate. To put that into perspective: the U.S. adult financial literacy level, at 57%, is only slightly higher than that of Botswana, whose economy is 1,127% smaller.” Greg Iacurci for InvestmentNews (2019)

How do we go about solving this issue and putting America back at the top of the list?

Last fall, I had the good fortune to meet Maura Cunningham, founder of Rock The Street, Wall Street, a new financial literacy nonprofit based in Nashville, Tennessee that is expanding across the United States. With a focus on young high school age women, Rock The Street is unique. It departs from traditional, passive classroom learning models by engaging volunteer female financial professionals as teachers and mentors. This “real life” program dovetails seamlessly with the normal fall and spring semesters of the school year.

Using an open source curriculum, Rock The Street professionals both teach and mentor. Field trips to financial institutions are part of the mix. Rock The Street has developed an extensive national network of financial service companies eager to provide leadership support, both in terms of funding and female financial professionals who can be tapped to help lead classes and to serve as mentors.

The statistics for this startup (launched in 2013) are impressive. Rock The Street, Wall Street served 2,325 young high school age women last year. Its alumnae demonstrate a 92% increase in financial literacy and they are four times more likely to pursue degrees in finance, economics or related fields than the national average. In terms of Texas, Rock The Street has been offered in two schools in the Fort Worth area. We hope to see it expand statewide in the months and years ahead.

The sad truth is, without financial security women are more prone to domestic violence, they have fewer job opportunities and reduced income. And, 41% of families with children under age 18 include mothers who are the sole or primary source of income for the family. The likelihood that future mothers will also be the sole family breadwinner means the existing gender wage gap and savings gap will have a negative impact on generations to come.

High School Class

Our high school years are a critical time of life. This is when self confidence and self esteem are strengthened and future career choices are made. Unfortunately, comprehension of basic financial principles today is staggeringly low: only 27% of young adults know basic financial concepts such as interest rates, inflation, and risk diversification.

Oxford Learning notes, “Some students dislike math because they think it’s dull. They don’t get excited about numbers and formulas the way they get excited about history, science, languages, or other subjects that are easier to personally connect to. They see math as abstract and irrelevant figures that are difficult to understand.” Oxford suggests making math “real” to students by showing how the M in STEM relates to everyday life.

What better way to engage young women in high school than with female financial professionals actually working in the field!

“In the U.S., we start to lose girls in math at age nine. As they age, girls report significantly lower confidence in math, despite earning equal scores to boys. 80% of teachers self report that they are not competent teaching financial literacy. With girls falling out of math at such an early age and teachers reporting that they are not qualified to teach financial literacy, it’s no wonder two out of three women state they know little to nothing about finance or financial products.” (Rock The Street, Wall Street)

I am heartened to see a growing number of support organizations and startup underwriters focusing on women today. Particularly exciting is Melinda Gates’ recent financial commitment to promoting gender equality and expanding women’s power and influence across the United States. Thanks go to them all, including educational innovators like Maura Cunningham and Rock The Street, Wall Street!

Photographs illustrating this article are courtesy of Adobe Spark.

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