Category Archives: Nonprofit

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 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 than it would normally be today.

It can be a challenge to get in touch with those in charge of making grants and/or those charged with interfacing with the 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 as soon as possible 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 encourage grant makers to respond in a timely fashion to requests for information in whatever way they prefer. You do sometimes hear that, “so many” people are reaching out for financial support that the staff just, “don’t have the time” to respond to inquiries.

If that is true, why not hire more staff to field requests? That way, 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. This 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 ultimately be rejected.

As I write this, many are working from home. It seems to me this kind of communication task is ideal for funding 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.

Having said this, in my experience responsive grant professionals are relatively few and far between. So, 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!

Research and Writing | Ideal Tasks While Working from Home

Read a Little Every Day!

This image was used in my PowerPoint for Qgiv on prospect research. See the YouTube recording below.

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.

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).

The second talk had more of a Texas slant and was designed for NTEN & NetSquared Nonprofit Tech Club Austin. It can be found by following this link. The recording and the slide deck are both downloadable from that page.

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

Horses

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.

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.

For me, being “home bound” with a computer is a heavenly predicament. I recently sent out an email to our club members with information about club programming and helpful partner links to COVID 19 support resources. I wanted to share it with you, too (follow the link).

As I state at the outset of the email:

“The mission of NTEN & NetSquared 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.”

Join your local club – or start one yourself. Some clubs benefit from online broadcasting and recording services that enable programs to reach a much larger, global audience. 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!

Check out these directories:

NetSquared | TechSoup | Global Network of #Tech4Good Meetups

NTEN: Nonprofit Technology Network | Nonprofit Tech Clubs

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’ 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.

If you would like to know more about this pioneering and highly effective high school program for young high school age women, please let me know.

Downloadable documents:

+ RTSWS IMPACT OVERVIEW

+ RTSWS SCHOOL OVERVIEW

+ RTSWS VOLUNTEER OVERVIEW

Photographs illustrating this article are courtesy of Adobe Spark.

No Time Like The Present: Disaster Planning Helps Your Nonprofit and Community

My experience with most nonprofit organizations is they are short staffed and constantly trying to do more with less. The Urban Institute notes that approximately 66.9% of nonprofits in the United States have annual expenditures under $500,000. And the number of nonprofits in America continues to grow each year. That’s a good thing!

The nonprofit sector as a whole packs an economic punch. The National Council of Nonprofits asserts, “Nonprofits employ 12.3 million people, with payrolls exceeding those of most other U.S. industries, including construction, transportation, and finance.” Further, “Nonprofits also create work opportunities for millions of individuals above and beyond the millions they employ directly.”

This comment is eye-opening:

“Have you ever noticed how brochures for local chambers of commerce often identify local nonprofits as a top reason for businesses to locate there? Many boast about beloved cultural amenities, such as nonprofit museums and performing arts venues. Other common features are nonprofit colleges to showcase the value of an educated workforce and nonprofit healthcare facilities to reinforce a commitment to well-being. While the brochures seldom label these local icons as being ‘nonprofits,’ business leaders intuitively recognize the immense value that local nonprofits contribute to the community’s quality of life.”

Yet, why do our elected officials and those seeking elected office continue to ignore nonprofits? I have noticed during the recent campaigning how few times nonprofits and their work are mentioned.

Recent statistics on volunteer service in America are astounding. The Corporation for National and Community Service finds 77.4 million Americans volunteer annually. What would it be like to pay those volunteers for their service? That would mean America’s bill would amount to $167 billion! Our nation owes volunteers a debt of gratitude. In fact, America remains great in large part because of volunteer service. We are getting the job done.

Turning now to the importance of disaster preparedness, I had the good fortune to be part of a Texas team working with TechSoup to develop a disaster preparedness course last year. The program – available online and constantly updated as new information becomes available – was funded with a grant from the Center for Disaster Philanthropy. The project focused initially on nonprofits recovering from Hurricane Harvey in 2017, but the information applies readily to any nonprofit organization, anywhere in the world.

One point I made to the curriculum team and to our first class of students is that nonprofits continue to assume greater importance in the lives of the citizens of our state and nation. America’s Charities notes that today, “71% of surveyed employees say it is imperative or very important to work where culture is supportive of giving and volunteering.”

The work your nonprofit does in the community – whether feeding the hungry, encouraging pet adoption, exhibiting works of art, conserving wildlife habitat or teaching coding – makes for a thriving community where people want to live and work. Nonprofits are no longer just an “option” for healthy cities and communities today. We must have them.

Clouds

Along with the growing importance of nonprofits across our nation comes a responsibility. Because an ever-growing number of people turn to nonprofits for greater meaning in life and a sense of “belonging,” nonprofits must protect their staff and constituents. By preparing in advance for potential emergencies, you show you care. And by caring, you increase your chances of attracting more volunteers and charitable donations, which leads to a stronger, more vital organization as time moves forward.

I suggest nonprofits include the organization’s disaster plan in the staff “onboarding” process, and in volunteer orientations. Review the plan once a year with all of them. Don’t keep moving so fast and become so focused on individual tasks that you forget the bigger picture and the role your nonprofit plays in the community. You might also invite local disaster response professionals to visit your facility and to become familiar with it, so that if and when an emergency occurs, they can respond more easily.

Members of your community have your organization in their hearts and minds. Your nonprofit is also part of the economy, although you may not realize it. You both provide goods and/or services and you hire staff, rent/own a facility, and purchase goods in order to operate. You also convey a positive public image that makes the entire region shine.

The sooner you get back up and running after a disaster, the better the entire community will be. Be a leader. Don’t scramble when disaster strikes. Be ready, be prepared!

In mid-February, our TechSoup curriculum team held an in-person workshop in Houston. To view a few Instagram photographs from the event, follow this link to my WordPress photo blog.

If your community would benefit from some in-person coaching, reach out to anyone on the team: Gray Harriman, Shuya Xu; Dhruv Khattar; Joe Hillis and/or me. And sign-up to take the TechSoup course today. There are recorded and written components, downloadable “prep” documents to make your planning easier, and as you move through and finish each section, there are certificates of completion.

It is also my hope that our elected representatives will take the time to learn about the importance of nonprofits to society. We are an essential part of healthy, thriving American communities from coast to coast. Let’s all recognize that fact, and keep the good work going.

In closing, from Nonprofits Source (a private company), I would like to share a few eye-opening statistics from the website. These figures underscore the growing importance of nonprofits to society as a whole, and hence, why disaster preparation is so important for your nonprofit. We have work to do ….

Did you know:

  1. Corporate giving in 2017 increased to $20.77 billion—an 8.0% increase from 2016.
  2. Corporate giving was bolstered by $405 million in contributions related to disaster relief.
  3. 79% of companies reported increased donor participation rates and 73% raised more money.
  4. $5 billion = approximately how much money is raised through workplace giving annually.
  5. More than 49% of nonprofit respondents identified workplace giving as a growth strategy for their organization.
  6. 90% indicated that partnering with reputable nonprofit organizations enhances their brand and 89% believe partnering leverages their ability to improve the community.
  7. 9 out of 10 companies offered a matching gift program.
  8. An estimated $2-3 billion is donated through matching gift programs annually.
  9. Corporate matches of employee donations were 12% of total corporate cash contributions.
  10. An estimated $6-$10 billion in matching gift funds goes unclaimed per year. (!)

The image on this page was made with Adobe Spark.

Carolyn’s 2019 In Review

Thank you for following Carolyn’s Nonprofit Blog. Established in 2011, the blog continues to evolve. As always, older articles have been updated with new information. New content is being added, some of it in the form of casual “posts” like the one you are now reading. “Shares” are welcome, and at any time, if there is a topic you would like me to cover, use the secure contact form to reach me.

This year, I merged my separate professional website with my blog. Now, you can find both advice and guidance alongside my own background and nonprofit work and volunteer activities (the latter can be found in margin at the bottom of the page).

Flags

During 2019, 125 nations visited Carolyn’s Nonprofit Blog. The United States, Canada, United Kingdom and India continue to rank in the top ten. But Australia, Germany, South Africa, Netherlands, Singapore, Mexico, Ireland, France, Finland, New Zealand, Spain and more fall not far behind.

Thanks to everyone for visiting. You are the reason I put the Google Translate “widget” in the margin!

For ease of access, I share below links to my primary blogging activities during 2019.

Blog Posts

Primary Articles, Pages and Portfolios

Nonprofit Disaster Preparation and Recovery

This year, I was pleased to help develop the curriculum for an online TechSoup course focused on nonprofit disaster preparation and recovery. The first offering occurred in the fall. After the completion of each module, participants receive a certificate of completion. The course content has been further refined and will be offered in the months and years ahead. Thanks go to the Center for Disaster Philanthropy for funding the effort, which was initially focused on nonprofits in Hurricane Harvey-impacted regions of Texas. That was a great place to start!

To hear my thoughts on managing disasters – from theft and/or loss of computer documents to natural disasters like hurricanes – you might enjoy my discussion with TechSoup from last October. Follow the link to my YouTube channel to reach that discussion and others.

We also had a terrific year of free nonprofit tech programs here in Austin. This was my primary volunteer activity during 2019. Thanks go to our co-sponsors NTEN: Nonprofit Technology Network and NetSquared, a division of TechSoup. Our expert guest speakers speak for free; Capital Factory continues to donate space, onsite tech support and live broadcast/recording services; and our volunteers suggest and coordinate programs. Here is a video I created with Adobe Spark to showcase and thank our partners in 2019.

Thank you again for following Carolyn’s Nonprofit Blog. This has been a productive year, and 2020 should be, too.

“Enthusiasm is the yeast that makes your hopes shine to the stars. Enthusiasm is the sparkle in your eyes, the swing in your gait. The grip of your hand, the irresistible surge of will and energy to execute your ideas.”

Henry Ford, American businessman (1863-1947)

Sparkler

This blog is dedicated to my parents. This year, my father celebrated his 90th birthday! Thanks to them both for their support of my nonprofit career.

Photographs illustrating this article are courtesy of Adobe Spark.

Give and Take

Give

As 2019 draws to a close, I wanted to thank those nonprofit organizations to which I have donated my time, talents and modest financial resources this year. Their work is inspiring and far-reaching.

I would also like to observe that while it is the job of nonprofit fundraisers and staff to solicit donations for their many worthwhile causes, they should also be givers. There is no better way to learn what being a donor is like than by giving yourself. The process is both personally fulfilling and a learning experience. By supporting the work of your fellow social good projects with a financial donation – no matter the size – you are signalling your support for their efforts to address community needs and challenges. By volunteering your time with key tasks and activities, you show you are personally engaged.

When I work in a meaningful way with nonprofits, I make a personal gift. I want them to know my heart is in the right place and that I care. We can all do this. Actions speak louder than words and go beyond employment and consulting contracts.

You may not be aware that volunteer hours have an official value. As of this post, they stand at $25.43 and hour. Independent Sector updates the value of volunteer hours on a regular basis.

“Currently, about 63 million Americans volunteer about 8 billion hours of their time, talent, and effort to improve and strengthen their communities. With the new Value of Volunteer Time, these Americans are contributing approximately $203.4 billion to our nation through nonprofit organizations of all types.”

These are astonishing figures! I wish more nonprofits would capture the hours their volunteers donate, multiply those by $25.43, and brag about the results. This is a powerful way to show how greatly-valued your nonprofit and is mission are to the community.

The National Council of Nonprofits notes, “While it’s easy to see how nonprofits directly improve the lives of individuals, their positive contributions to the U.S. economy are often overlooked. A closer review reveals nonprofit organizations have a very significant, far-reaching impact on the American economy. In fact, nonprofits enhance and bolster local, state, and national economies in multiple ways.”

Did you know, nonprofits employ 12.3 million people, “with payrolls exceeding those of most other U.S. industries, including construction, transportation, and finance.”

My plea to our elected leadership at the community, state and federal levels is to review the impressive statistics on the role nonprofit organizations play in making our world a better place to live and work, and to encouraging healthy, thriving economies. Support their work, and respect them.

In closing, below are links to the nonprofit organizations I supported this year with modest financial and in-kind donations. In truth, my list changes every year. If you would like to make a gift to them also, I am sure they would welcome your support. And if you have questions of me about any of them, use the secure contact form on my blog to reach me. Thank you!

Donations

In-kind

Notes and Additional Resources

2020 | Nonprofit Predictions

In fall 2019, I drafted my annual prediction post about what lies ahead for nonprofits. During 2020, our world was turned upside down by COVID-19. You might like to read my post, “During Good Times, Don’t Forget to Prepare for Rainy Days.” In addition, see, “Economy and Philanthropy,” written originally during the economic downtown of the early 2010s. I caution fundraising staff members to do their research carefully. Some philanthropists are negatively impacted during an economic decline, but others thrive. Shift your thinking. You might enjoy, “High Tech Prospect Research Worth the Investment.” In spring 2020, I gave two video presentations about how I conduct research and links to those are provided.

Carolyn's 2020 Predictions

Federal Funding

I still believe nonprofits must continue broadening their funding sources by identifying and embracing a wider variety of types prospective donors (individuals, families, corporations and foundations), and to reduce over reliance on federal funding sources.

Ruth McCambridge wrote for Nonprofit Quarterly, “Implosion of $47M Nonprofit Highlights Risks of Government Dependency” (October 2019). “The demise of YPI … was predictable but only to those who understand the business model dynamics of government-funded agencies. Rapid growth that shifts the proportions of government restricted dollars with unrestricted dollars is extremely dangerous.”

I rest my case.

The website Republican Views On the Issues shares insights into what the party believes.

“The government should only intervene when society cannot function at the level of the individual. This also means that the party believes in keeping the government as close to the individual as possible, and should be focused mainly on the state and community level, not centered at a federal level.”

As an aside, with all the heated arguments at the federal level this year between Republicans and Democrats, what has been lost is a meaningful conveyance of the core values of Republicans, many of which have merit. But we seem to have lost site of them. Let’s hope the polarization we are seeing in Washington, D.C. will be reduced in the coming year.

To review the Fiscal Year 2020 Budget for the United States government, follow this link. I notice quite a bit of slashing discussed therein.

Update: have you downloaded the Grants.gov app yet? #Handy

Cryptocurrencies

The past few years, I have studied cryptocurrencies for social good, and I maintain a blog page with links to helpful resources. 2019 has been a roller coaster ride for cryptocurrencies.

Investopedia notes in, “Where is the Cryptocurrency Industry Headed in 2019?” (September 2019):

  • Bitcoin and other crypto currencies have emerged as a new asset class that has seen extraordinary returns over the past decade.
  • After reaching nearly $20,000 in early 2018, Bitcoin fell to just around $3,000 as the rest of the crypto market also fell.
  • 2019 has proven to be a year of recovery, with Bitcoin strengthening to above $10,000, but will the bull market last?
  • Several new developments such as increased institutional interest, pending ETF approval, and the popularity of stablecoins suggest a continued positive trend.

I continue to believe crypto and blockchain are forces to be reckoned with going forward. Check out this list of companies that accept Bitcoin from 99Bitcoins. And it keeps growing!

Here is a helpful discussion from BitPay, “BitPay Supports Over 100 Non-Profits Processing $37 Million Since 2017” (June 2017). “The Tony Hawk Foundation becomes the latest major charity organization to open up its donation efforts to blockchain payment efforts, joining other notable organizations such as the American National Red Cross, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), Greenpeace, The San Francisco Foundation, Heifer International, The Water Project, Teach for America, United Way Innovation Fund and the Wikimedia Foundation.”

How it works:

“In accepting Bitcoin donations through BitPay, the Tony Hawk Foundation and other charitable organizations can broaden its donor base while still being shielded from the price volatility that can occur with Bitcoin transactions. The customer makes the donation in Bitcoin or Bitcoin Cash and BitPay verifies the funds and accepts the Bitcoin or Bitcoin Cash on behalf of the organization. The organization has the option to take Bitcoin, Bitcoin Cash or fiat currency or a split. If the organization chooses to take 100% fiat currency, the dollars are deposited into the organization’s bank account the next business day minus a 1% fee BitPay charges for the entire process. This fee is significantly less than the fees charged by credit cards allowing organizations to keep a larger percentage of overall donations. The organization is also protected from any Bitcoin price volatility.”

Hence, despite volatility in the cryptocurrency market this year, I believe the crypto space will continue to grow in the years ahead. Again, check out my blog page which includes a variety of helpful links for follow-up.

Crowdfunding and Major Gift Fundraising

On another front, crowdfunding continues to gain popularity. My resource page for nonprofits also provides helpful guidance for those wishing to embark on crowdfunding campaigns. I would also like to add a book to your reading list, “Crowdfunding for Social Good: Financing Your Mark on the World” by Forbes Contributor Devin Thorpe.

“Crowdfunding for Social Good is both practical and inspiring, featuring the stories of real people who have successfully raised big money using crowdfunding and practical advice to help you do the same. Crowdfunding is the newest way for nonprofits and social entrepreneurs to raise money for their causes, projects and companies. By reading this book, you can join the thousands who have successfully raised money to change the world. Learn how to organize your friends, colleagues and volunteers to help you raise big money. Gain insight into creating a video that will help you spread your message via social media. Read how to “start before you start” so you can have 30% of your goal raised before you even launch your crowdfunding campaign.If the only thing preventing you from changing the world is the money you need to do it, you are out of excuses. You can raise the money you need to leave your mark on the world with Crowdfunding for Social Good.”

As I have mentioned in past nonprofit predictions, the traditional “donor pyramid” is being turned upside down. I know many nonprofit organizations that would prefer a broad-based approach to major gift fundraising (multiple smaller donors), rather than embarking on traditional, somewhat old fashioned fundraising campaigns that are promoted by many consulting firms.

But my same caution remains. Crowdfunding requires advance research, planning, scheduling, attention to detail, and continuous monitoring and communication, including long after a crowdfunding campaign attains its goal. Crowdfunding is not simply an “easier” way to raise money. And many – if not all of these above factors – are involved in traditional major gift campaigns.

Traditional major gift campaigns are not dead, but they are having to morph as new technologies improve internal and external communications, volunteer performance and data collection overall.

I would also like to point out a series of articles on my blog that start with, “Are You Ready for a Capital Campaign.” I believe the traditional feasibility study needs to be reworked. In my post, “Nonprofits and Startups | Bird of a Feather” I note that traditional startup methods promoted by the corporate sector could be used to help nonprofits develop their own major gift campaigns internally. I still hope 3 Day Startup will consider developing an intensive program along these lines specifically for nonprofit organizations! Stay tuned.

Data

To collect data, interpret it properly, to manage it across departments, and to continually make improvements for the benefit of the organization’s future requires trained nonprofit staff. But sometimes it also takes convincing nonprofit leadership that hiring data managers makes sense.

A 2019 study from ORACLE NetSuite makes some powerful arguments about the importance of collecting and reviewing nonprofit data for more positive, data-informed future.

“Nonprofit organizations are struggling to demonstrate the outcome of their work according to a new study conducted by Oracle NetSuite. The study, Connecting Dollars to Outcomes, which provides insights from more than 350 senior nonprofit executives in the U.S., found that while nonprofit executives believe that outcomes measurement supports their top three priorities for 2019 – financial stability, staff turnover and donor retention—only 29 percent of nonprofits are able to effectively measure the outcomes of dollars invested.”

You can access the study via the press release, “Where Do Donations Go?”

Happily, software companies like this also have nonprofit donation programs – both software and expertise (if you cannot afford to hire a staff member, but believe in the need). You should also avail yourself of technology discounts provided via TechSoup. It is free for nonprofits to sign up, and a variety of products are available along these lines. To find providers of data skills and related technical training, see my Professional Development Resources.

Donor Advised Funds

Having conducted a great deal of hands-on research using Candid’s Foundation Center database at our new Austin Central Library (where one can access it free of charge), I know donor advised funds are only growing larger and becoming more popular. They come to the top of almost every “search.”

Hence, nonprofits must educate and cultivate professional advisors as well as donors. This is a challenge because it can be difficult to discover the people behind donor advised funds. It is also true that extra diligence about how your nonprofit looks online and establishing credibility at fundamental levels is more important than ever. I have done some public speaking about how nonprofits can achieve greater credibility and ramp-up their major gift efforts, for instance. My blog and SlideShare page contain quite a bit of helpful information in this regard. But if you need more help, reach out via my secure contact form.

In my article, “Building Relationships with Professional Advisors” (one of the first on Carolyn’s Nonprofit Blog and continually updated), I also note that Baby Boomers and older adults are a growing sector of our nation’s population, highly inclined to charitable giving and volunteering. The nonprofit sector must avoid stereotyping, and focus to a greater degree on engaging these age groups in the months and years ahead. We also need nonprofit support organizations to offer discussions online and during professional conferences about how best to work with professional advisors, and how to break down barriers to meaningful communication with them.

Last But Not Least

One topic that bears discussing is advance preparation for disasters and emergencies. Follow this link to TechSoup documents you can download regarding disaster planning and recovery. Be mindful that your nonprofit serves an important function in society. Your smart smart thinking and planning can save lives and help your nonprofit continue meeting its worthy mission.

Best wishes for your fundraising success,

Carolyn M. Appleton | November 17, 2019

The graphic used to illustrate this post was composed by me using Adobe Spark.

Rethinking Major Gift Fundraising

In reviewing thirty years of work in the nonprofit sector, I look back and say to myself, “well, everyone knows those things.” But in truth, no one has walked in my shoes – nor in yours – and no one else has experienced the world in the exact same way as you or I have.

From my mindset of, “just tell me I can’t do it, and I will,” I wanted to point out articles and posts on Carolyn’s Nonprofit Blog designed to help with your major gift fundraising, and in some cases, to challenge standard assumptions.

Major Gift Blog Post

“Are You Ready for a Capital Campaign” quotes another experienced fundraising professional in our field, and alongside his suggestions I comment based upon my own 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 nonprofit consulting business, but I have a different take on their usefulness.

“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. 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 handily to tell you to do these things. #JustDoIt

“Nonprofits and Startups | Birds of a Feather” notes how similar major gift campaign preparation is with launching a for-profit business startup. In fact, I suggest 3 Day Startup, which I reference in the article, create a new course with nonprofit social good enterprises in mind. Times are changing and I welcome those changes. I find more often today that nonprofits want to move away from the arrogance they perceive as being inherent in traditional major gift fundraising, toward a more egalitarian “crowdfunding” approach. For help with crowdfunding, see the resource page on this blog.

Crowdfunding

As I mention in my nonprofit prediction posts and elsewhere on this blog, many of the same principles apply to major gift fundraising as those to launching a startup or crowdfunding. But to think the latter two efforts are easier than traditional major gift fundraising would be incorrect. The same attention to planning, research, communication and the like apply to all. 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 – 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. I believe it is time to demystify major gift fundraising.

From the other side of the table, I have also found some donors and prospective donors enjoy the hooplah they perceive as being involved in major gift fundraising. 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. As always, best wishes for your fundraising success!

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