Category Archives: Nonprofit

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.

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

My experience with most nonprofits is they are short on staff and constantly trying to do more with less. Staff have their heads down, working hard to accompany their many worthy missions. They sometimes fail to look up and see the big picture. And the big picture is they are playing an increasingly important role in society, both in terms of their missions and the good work they are accomplishing, and in terms of their economic impact.

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 so often ignore nonprofits?

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, 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.

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!

Right before COVID-19 lockdowns were imposed, 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.

The image on this page was made with Adobe Spark.

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.

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.

“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!

During Good Times, Don’t Forget to Prepare for Rainy Days

“A recession is a significant decline in economic activity that goes on for more than a few months. It is visible in industrial production, employment, real income and wholesale-retail trade. The technical indicator of a recession is two consecutive quarters of negative economic growth as measured by a country’s gross domestic product (GDP), although the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) does not necessarily need to see this occur to call a recession.”

– Investopedia

This post on Carolyn’s Nonprofit Blog was written in fall 2018. Needless to say, in 2020 with the onset of COVID-19, stay-at-home restrictions and global uncertainly about the dramatic changes witnessed in all aspects of our lives, having a reserve fund has made sense. Now that it appears we are pulling out of the economic contraction, smart nonprofits will continue to add to their reserve funds while diversifying their fundraising techniques and conducting ever more in-depth research to identify more prospective donors. Not everyone is negatively impacted by a recession, so let cool heads and smart thinking prevail during challenging times.

See the links at the conclusion for more information.


The past few years, I have read articles and watched videos featuring leading financial experts discussing the possibility of a recession. White opinion remains divided, the thought that several predict rough waters ahead causes me to revisit the idea of nonprofit organizations establishing “rainy day,” or reserve funds.

From USLegal, “A reserve fund is a fund of money created to take care of maintenance, repairs or unexpected expenses of a business.” 

Having watched nonprofits suffer intensely during the last recession of a decade ago – an experience we all hope will never be repeated – my advice for nonprofits during every year-end fundraising season is to be prepared.

Take some of your charitable donations and sock them away into a savings account or other fund where you can get to them easily if and when needed. You might even consider a specific major gift campaign to establish a reserve fund. Regardless, having such a fund in place can help with myriad situations, from recession and lagging donations, to helping your nonprofit launch an entirely new project or fund a new staff position. #JustDoIt

Rainy day funds are important.

Noteworthy Media Coverage (Most Recent First)

National Council for Nonprofits, “Operating Reserves for Nonprofits” (timeless advice, helpful resources)

  • Independent Sector video discussion on YouTube about nonprofits and the economy (September 17, 2020) – be sure to check back on YouTube for updates over time in the series, “This Week in Washington.”

  • Daniela Cambone for TheStreet, “The ‘Greatest Depression’ Is Coming; This Is How to Prepare” (November 1, 2019). “Celente added that the Fed’s latest rate cut can be likened to ‘monetary methadone,’ where liquidity is pumped into a credit system that is already over-levered. ‘It’s just shooting in more money to keep the addicted bull running. It’s not boosting economies around the world, we’re looking at a global slowdown, and the numbers are there, and even people like the IMF, the World Bank, one after the other, they’re warning of a recession,’ Celente said.”

I have an article on Carolyn’s Nonprofit Blog called, “Economy and Philanthropy” you might also enjoy. It dates back to when I launched my blog during the economic downturn of the late 2000s and early 2010s. Looking back to those days, I would also say, not every business nor philanthropist suffers during a recession. Adjust your fundraising accordingly and do your research.

Summer is “Development” Time

I sometimes hear nonprofits lament that summertime is so “slow.” Nothing is happening. Most donors and prospective donors are out of town on vacation, they tell me. But in my experience, summertime is a busy time for development.

I have discovered quite a few grant deadlines occur during the summer and that requires attention. I have also found some donors actually have a bit more time to spend on their favorite nonprofit projects during the summer. Brainstorming meetings, planning for the fall, “asking” for support, database house cleaning and expansion, research, case statement drafting and year-end fundraising campaign development are all things I have done during the summer months. Don’t forget, many corporations budget late summer for social good projects they will underwrite next year. Summer is a great time to visit with your favorite corporate sponsors.

Coffee Waves in Port Aransas.

Earlier this year, I was asked to help the Port Aransas Art Center part-time. As you may know, Hurricane Harvey battered Port Aransas last year, but as the Instagram photo above from Coffee Waves suggests, the community is back on track and working hard to recover. It is well on its way.

As for me, I am helping to establish a new development program, I have been modernizing the website, enhancing social media, creating new e-newsletters so that we have regular monthly e-communication with constituents, securing a GuideStar gold seal and more. It has taken a lot of time, but when you work with a dedicated group of volunteers and staff, your work is enjoyable and inspiring.

I added a new section in the margin of Carolyn’s Nonprofit Blog for “Quick Updates” with handy links. Please peruse my article on social media stewardship for the Association of Donor Relations Professionals’ monthly newsletter, The Hub. You might also enjoy reviewing the slide decks for my webinar and public presentations this year.

I have always been a “hands-on” learner and I readily adopt new technologies that enable me to become even more self-sufficient. Still today, I do most all work myself. This, plus years of experience in major gift fundraising make me a good teacher for those new to the fundraising profession, for startups with big ambitions, and for nonprofits that are perhaps a bit, “overweight” that need to streamline.

Wednesday 006

Another new section of my Carolyn’s Nonprofit Blog is called, “A Brief Account: Short Stories.” There I share personal experiences with leading philanthropists. Some of my stories are humorous, some heart warming, but always, I try to be insightful and to share what it takes to work successfully in the field of nonprofit fundraising. Fundraising – especially major gifts – scares some nonprofit professionals. I came to the field via volunteering and a Master’s Degree in Art History. Ultimately, I hope by sharing my stories that fear will be lessened, and more interested professionals will enter our field.

Have a good summer. And now for me it is time to get, “back to work.”

Digital Inclusion: As We Race Ahead, Let’s Be Sure No One is Left Behind

It is hard to imagine, but across the United States there are still many who have no idea how to use a computer. And while most people own mobile phones, access to wireless remains a constant challenge.

Google Fiber has been a strong advocate for digital inclusion in Austin and across the nation. Shown is a panel discussion at Google Fiber Space a few years ago (my Instagram).

I don’t know about you, but I am highly cognizant of how most job applications are only available online today. Not knowing how to use email, Microsoft Word and the Internet (or simply not to have ready access to a wireless “hot spot”), prevents some from applying for jobs, pays bills, submitting inquiries for essential information, completing medical forms and the like. Even if “computer skills” are not part of the job description, to apply for them one must normally have access to a computer of some type. Time sheets, product inventories and cash registers are all connected to complex corporate networks, and they require employees to be competent – at least in a basic fashion – with using technology.

Austin Free-Net is a nonprofit organization with which I worked briefly a few years ago. This organization and others in Austin – including the City of Austin – are working to address these now-essential technology training needs. Executive Director Juanita Budd noted:

“When citizens cannot find work and families cannot support themselves, the repercussions echo throughout the community. Less people working means less tax revenue, while simultaneously there is an increased pressure on social services providers. A family might need an older child to quit school and go to work, which means the cycle of low-paying jobs continues for another generation. Improving the education and technical acumen of our residents will draw more businesses to Austin, increasing tax revenue and reducing unemployment. In short, a computer literate population makes a city stronger economically and makes us more attractive to new industry.”

Roca
Sotun Krouch of Roca spoke about his nonprofit’s use of data during the Social Solutions 2017 Impact Summit in Austin.

I was also pleased to attend a Social Solutions Impact Summit in Austin. During the event, Robert F. Smith of Vista Equity Partners spoke with Kristin Nimsger, CEO of Social Solutions. Part of the discussion is found below in my Facebook Live video (3 minutes). Robert discusses the need for effective use of data, the increasing digitization of business globally, and how everyone is struggling to keep up! This is certainly true for those who find themselves in low income and under served communities.

U.S. News & World Report features an interview with filmmaker Rory Kennedy, “New Documentary Explores the Digital Divide” (September 19, 2017):

“In making this film I really began to understand the depths of the issue and the fact that there are over a million classrooms in this country that don’t have adequate broadband, a huge number of kids who don’t have access to computers, and the reality that 77 percent of jobs are going to require technology education and background by the year 2020.”

Mozilla observes in, “Digital Inclusion Means Promoting Diversity” (2017):

“As inclusive as the Web can seem, it’s not yet an equal playing field. More than half the world is still without it; emerging economies and marginalized communities are often the last to gain access. Far fewer women are using the Internet than men. And without diversity among its creators, the Web itself will reflect unconscious biases, while personalizing algorithms can reinforce our own.”

I urge you to find the organizations in your community working to alleviate the “digital divide” and support them today. People of every generation and nation need to be included, and the time to start is now!


A few nonprofits tackling digital inclusion in Central Texas:

Hurricane Inspiration on the Gulf Coast

When Hurricane Harvey began to threaten the Texas Coast, one of my foremost concerns was its potential impact on Texas Sealife Center. I met founder Dr. Tim Tristan before I moved from Corpus Christi about seven years ago. He shared his vision of a veterinarian-driven wildlife rescue and rehabilitation center to aid shorebirds, raptors and sea turtles with me back then, and I have never forgotten.

Sea Turtle Surgery
Thanks to the Baltimore Sun for covering Texas Sealife Center in Corpus Christi, Texas (February 14, 2017).

In 2011, Texas Sealife Center was established, and it has not looked back since. The Center is all-volunteer and it has been highly successful in helping animals caught in and injured by fishing lines, those that have ingested fishing lures, metal and plastic objects of all varieties, as well as those that have sustained physical injuries and contracted troublesome diseases.

Tim and I have kept up remotely on Facebook. This summer, I agreed to help with some grant research and writing. The Center’s goal is to secure new equipment to support its medical and rehabilitation activities, with an emphasis on sea turtles. Sadly, the number of stranded and injured animals in the Coastal Bend of South Texas continues to increase. And, more sea turtles require help than ever before.

Brown Pelican, Hurrcane Harvey
Click to reach Texas Sealife Center’s Facebook page and more photos illustrating its work during Hurricane Harvey and more.

As the volunteers have done time and again, they made themselves available 24-7 to aid wildlife caught in Hurricane Harvey and its aftermath. One of the Center’s primary partners is the ARK, or the Animal Rehabilitation Keep of the Marine Science Institute of The University of Texas at Austin, located further north on the Texas Coast. The ARK was heavily damaged during Hurricane Harvey, and Texas Sealife Center gladly took-in injured wildlife that could not be successfully released there. They continue to provide critical medical care and a safe haven until the animals can heal and be released into their natural habitats. Facebook became a powerful platform for conveying the work of Texas Sealife Center during this challenging time.

Aside from researching and submitting proposals for the Center’s urgent equipment needs, one of the most important things I did for this relatively young nonprofit was to create a meaningful GuideStar profile and to obtain the gold seal for transparency. Quite a few nonprofits with which I have worked fear they must have raised a lot of money and have well-known Board members, for instance, before establishing a full profile on GuideStar.

But what GuideStar is about is not money as much as it is how transparent nonprofits are about their operations and programs, their tax statements, future plans and more. GuideStar is about trust and honesty. And hopefully, by taking the worthwhile step to secure the gold seal will inspire even greater confidence by prospective donors in the Center and its management, with the current capital campaign in mind.

I have worked with nonprofit organizations large and small. Many of the larger ones have accomplished less than the smaller ones! Donors must be wary that a well-known “name” and a list of prominent Board members does not guarantee professional operations, efficiency, and genuine dedication by the leadership and staff.

I have found small nonprofits and startups work exceedingly hard, and their volunteers are often more dedicated than those supporting organizations with ample budgets and long tenures. After a long career in major gift fundraising, some of my most fulfilling projects have involved helping small groups build the credibility necessary to inspire significant donations. With this in mind, I urge you to support Texas Sealife Center, and please follow its progress on Facebook. Thank you!

You might enjoy reading my LinkedIn blog post from 2014, #2030NOW, which addresses startups and innovative young nonprofit concepts, and my hope more “Boomers” will fund them.

Did you know? You can donate to Texas Sealife Center directly from its GuideStar profile

Being a Bridge

Pennybacker Bridge, Austin, Texas

Bridges make connections possible. Bridges facilitate the crossing of people, “from one side to the other.” Shown is the breathtaking Pennybacker Bridge, a “through-arch bridge” located on the west side of Austin in the scenic hill country. Click on the photograph to learn more about it.

I have always thought of nonprofit fundraisers as “bridges” between their organizations and donors. Development professionals must constantly make connections and translate their nonprofit’s mission and needs to individuals, families, foundations, corporations and governments in such a way that funding is provided.

Nonprofit programmatic staff and some board members sometimes lack the skills (or the inclination) to speak with potential donors, and often they do not enjoy asking for financial support. This is where development staff shine, of course.

When I lived in Dallas in the 1990s, I worked on a variety of nonprofit fundraising campaigns, some in their entirety (from start to finish), others for more limited engagements (only for grant research, writing, solicitation, publications and the like). Once, I came across a nonprofit board chairman who was highly regarded in the community, but he had an abiding fear of asking anyone for a donation. A fundraising consulting firm his nonprofit had hired felt the board, including this noteworthy volunteer, were generally useless. Everyone involved had become frustrated. But, I knew there was a way to turn this situation around.

I assured the volunteer that during our forthcoming meeting – which happened to be with one of the leading bank trust departments in Dallas – that he only needed to speak about his passion for the nonprofit and the good it was accomplishing in the community. I promised to pick up the conversation once he was finished, to handle the request for funding and how best to follow-up. Luckily he trusted me and our meeting went very well. Together, we lined the nonprofit up for a six figure donation, which was ultimately received.

In this way, I acted as a bridge between the nonprofit and the prospective donor, but also between my distinguished volunteer and the trust department staff. I understood intuitively that in order to get this critical job done, we had to build a few bridges before arriving at the desired destination.

There is another factor I have discovered in working with major gift donors and nonprofit organizations seeking support, one that reminds me of being a “bridge.” This concerns the donors themselves.

Nonprofit staff (and the general public) sometimes assume that sophisticated, affluent donors are experts in every topic under the sun. But the truth is, they are experts in the fields where they have excelled and thrived. This may or may not include understanding how your nonprofit works and what it is accomplishing (or what it hopes to accomplish).

Nonprofit development staff can be of invaluable help by translating organizational information to donors and prospective donors in an easy-to-understand fashion, and vice versa. Yes, sometimes translating the donor’s needs and perceptions to fellow staff is required. This enables you to continue forward with a successful partnership negotiation, for example.

Development professionals are indispensable links between their organizations and funding partners. This often takes both verbal and written forms, as the case may be. Development staff must be able to translate in an understandable fashion critical information, and in both directions: internally and externally. This is truly an essential role that should not be taken for granted!

Understanding Prospective Donors

  • Lila MacLellen wrote for Quartz, “Science Confirms Rich People Don’t Really Notice You – Or Your Problems” (October 23, 2016). “No one can pay attention to everything they encounter. We simply do not have enough time or mental capacity for it. Most of us, though, do make an effort to acknowledge our fellow humans. Wealth, it seems, might change that.”
  • For me, Taylor Shea’s article for Reader’s Digest nails my experiences with affluent donors, “How Rich People Think: 25+ Things They Won’t Tell You” (N.D.). “Anytime the newspaper lists my name among the 100 top-paid executives in the area, I get a ton of requests from people asking for money. It happened so much that I had to come up with a strategy to deal with it. Now I say, ‘I’m happy to give. I’ll match however much you raise yourself.’”
  • From The Wealthy Accountant, “5 Things Rich People Do That You Don’t” (August 3, 2016). “Wealthy people have vision. They know where they are, where they are going, and how they will get there.”

Some of you might also enjoy my article, “Ph.D.s and Fundraising.” There I discuss the pitfalls of working with very bright programmatic staff who are hopeless when it comes to explaining what they are accomplishing to the public and/or to donors. I’ve been a “bridge” for many years; I find Ph.D.s to be among the most difficult to work with in a development context (although I find their research and discoveries fascinating).

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