Category Archives: Primary Articles

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.

Apollo Program: Era of Optimism | A Personal Tale

Year 2019 marked the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11, the first manned moon mission. I grew up in the “space” community of NASA Houston during Apollo 11. For the sake of history and to honor my father, David Ten Eyck Appleton, an engineer with the former TRW Systems (now Northrop Grumman), who worked on the project, I wanted to share my experiences.

A trait of mine that if anything has made my nonprofit fundraising successful is a “can do” attitude. As the Cambridge Dictionary describes, “If you have a can-do character or way of dealing with a problem, you are very positive about your ability to achieve success.”

The Planetary Society has featured the Apollo Program on its website. Did you know,

The entire lunar effort cost roughly $288 billion in 2019 dollars, and employed 400,000 Americans at its peak. In total, Apollo astronauts returned 382 kilograms of lunar rocks, core samples, and regolith from the lunar surface. The samples showed the Moon is a lifeless world that formed roughly 4.5 billion years ago, experienced catastrophic change 3.8 billion years ago, and has been relatively (though not completely) inactive since. Its rocks are chemically related to Earth, supporting the theory that the Moon was created when another large world impacted early Earth.”

Back in 2012 while the nation’s economy was still struggling, I posted on Tumblr a  brief tribute to the late astronaut Neil Armstrong. My father still today has the highest regard for Armstrong and his fellow astronauts. But until the article you are now reading, I have not shared my experiences growing up in Nassau Bay and Clear Lake, Texas, now considered part of Greater Houston.

Our family was living in San Bernardino, California in the 1960s. Our father was working with TRW Inc., which was handled a number of military contracts. Dad was working on the Minuteman Intercontinental Ballistic Missile Program, principally at the now-closed Norton Air Force Base.

In 1967, our father was given the opportunity to work with the Apollo Program. We left California for the bayous of Texas. I attended junior high school in Webster, Texas and then high school in League City, Texas. Back then, that swampy region of Texas was covered with rice fields and grasslands, and our neighborhood was located close to a bayou and also across from Space Center Houston. Today, the area is densely developed and I hardly recognize it.

Apollo Logo

We lived not far from the families of astronauts like Aldrin, McDermott, Brand and Bean, and my sister and I attended school with their children. The energy and enthusiasm of our parents rubbed off on us. We believed anything was possible. A marvelous sense of camaraderie and “can do” attitude infused our community. We were on the cutting edge of great discoveries, we knew it, and we loved it.

Our father, an engineer by training, could build televisions from scratch, he could repair our cars, he was a Ham radio expert, and he could fix anything in the house that was broken. We never saw an outside contractor at home. Almost every new technological device created for home and office back then was acquired by him, from calculators to the earliest home computers. We grew up knowing there was probably a better way to do everything. And that positive, “let’s fix this and make it better” attitude was how my sister and I grew up.

As Shuri says in the movie, Black Panther, “Just because something works doesn’t mean it can’t be improved.” That is the way I think today as I work with my nonprofit organizations, and it is probably why my primary professional organization today is NTEN: Nonprofit Technology Network. Having grown up around my father and his engineer friends, adopting new technologies has always come naturally.

During the banner years of the Apollo Program, Presidents Lyndon Baines Johnson and Richard Nixon came to give speeches to the community at Space Center Houston. In my young mind, I thought all this was normal and “every day,” but in hindsight of course, it was not. I remember President Johnson being a huge, imposing figure and an inspiring speaker. When Richard Nixon’s speech concluded, I decided to cut across an open field to escape the cars and the crowds. Low and behold, this turned out to be the “escape route” for President Nixon. I stood at attention as his limo sped past; he shot me a “V” with his hands for victory. Andre Previn and the Houston Symphony performed for “space families” like ours, and I got to sit close up to watch Previn conduct, which remains a treasured memory. Bob Hope listened to me and my high school choir perform. Russian was taught as a language in our high school, and Russian cosmonauts visited. I remember being in gym class when they arrived. The cosmonauts seemed so tall and impressive as they walked past our class. I remember we wore “standard” blue gym uniforms back then.

Growing Up at NASA Houston
I am shown at right ca. 1970. We are standing in the front yard of our former home in Nassau Bay.

Back home in the neighborhood, our mothers developed a kind of telephone brigade when strange things would happen, like when displaced alligators from the local bayou started roaming the streets after storms. There were other important alerts as well, like when hundreds of journalists from across the world would descend on the Aldrin home nearby, blocking all exits. The journalists would sometimes climb over neighborhood fences, which was scary (we were ordered to stay indoors for this and other reasons). Some of our school classmates who were unafraid of the commotion would occasionally “entertain” the journalists, and I will let the details slide for this post, but consider the “banana bike” was popular back then. Amazing feats were performed!

During the school day as the Apollo Program’s milestone activities progressed, large televisions on carts were rolled into our our classrooms so we could watch important happenings as they occurred. I also remember being awoken by my father before dawn to watch various space manoeuvers on television, and when the Apollo 11 astronauts returned to Earth and home to Houston, we got up early to see them loaded into their protective silver Airstream trailer at Ellington Field, and we trailed them back to headquarters.

Our father’s work during the Apollo Program involved two main functions. For the Apollo Lunar Landing Program, he managed NASA Support Engineering Tasks, which designed the series of Apollo missions and developed/published the first 20-year manned space program plan. He was also responsible for preparing the onboard data for the first Apollo flight around the moon, and he managed production of the Skylab Mission Design Data Book.

As noted, we were young and my remembrances are truly those of a young teenager. Several of my classmates had older brothers who were drafted and sent to fight in the Vietnam War. Those soldiers often returned as shells of their former selves, some on drugs to dull the psychological and physical pains they suffered. Families grieved deeply around us. Hence, my generation was not generally supportive of the Vietnam War, nor of President Nixon. The excitement of Apollo 11 was admittedly dimmed a bit by those concerns, but still, the achievements of Apollo were not lost on us.

As I mentioned earlier, our space community had an unshakable, “can do” attitude. We believed anything was possible. That positive mental attitude became part of our psyches.

With so many challenges facing our nation and the world, I worry that young people do not share that same positive approach today. But we need that attitude now more than ever. Creativity and ingenuity are what will allow humanity to solve the problems we now face.

If you consider the technology used in the Apollo Program is eclipsed by today’s modern smartphones, and that teams of people came together to work seamlessly toward a shared goal like one “brain” for the Apollo missions, then we need to encourage more of this kind of activity. Less fighting and competition, more collaboration may be key to saving our planet.

My father’s papers from Apollo Program are now in the collections of The Planetary Society. I urge you to support the Society. You can learn more by following this link.

Thank you!


Sharing a letter from me to my father dating from 1971, which does show how young I was!

Combatting Hate and “Dangerous” Speech

I have been one of the lead volunteer organizers for Nonprofit Tech Club Austin (2015-2021). The club affiliates with NTEN: Nonprofit Technology Network, TechSoup, and locally, startup incubator Capital Factory. This means our “reach” is local, national and global.

One benefit of our partnership with TechSoup specifically is we learn about inspiring new ideas from other tech club chapters, as well as from TechSoup and its divisions like Caravan Studios and the Public Good App House. A 2019 webinar on hate speech and those monitoring it globally was particularly eye opening. This post shares information presented during that program as well as additional discussions and resources I have since discovered.

This post was written in 2019 and it has become one of my most-read. I continue to update it as more information becomes available. One new discovery is the Dangerous Speech Project. They sum the problem up well:

“People don’t commit violence against other groups – or even condone it – spontaneously. First they must be taught to see other people as pests, vermin, aliens, or threats. Malicious leaders often use the same types of rhetoric to do this, in myriad cultures, languages, countries, and historical periods. We call this Dangerous Speech. Violence might be prevented by making it less abundant or less convincing.

Only a few years ago, I believed the United States was more egalitarian and tolerant than ever. I did not see racism in Texas, and mostly witnessed an ever-growing appreciation for differences in terms of culture and ethnicity. In fact, since returning to Austin in 2013, I was impressed by the new monuments on the Texas State Capitol grounds, including the stately Tejano and African American History installations. They are well worth a visit.

But in 2016, an eruption of hateful speech at the national level occurred from which I am still reeling. It was like a long dormant volcano had erupted, causing an international avalanche of hateful speech and behavior. This led me to seek solutions about how to combat hate in the context of the nonprofit sector.

Combatting Hate Speech

I was encouraged to learn the Council of Foundations launched a program in 2020 aimed at alleviating hateful behavior (and funding). “In late 2020, the Council on Foundations (the Council) launched the Values-Aligned Philanthropy project to continue to build on their previous efforts within the philanthropic sector to respond to growing concern about the issue of funding hate and extremism.” Follow the link above to read more and download a recent report.

The United Sates Department of Justice has a relatively new webpage that includes a link, “Get Help Now.” Visit the website often for periodic updates about hate, and actions taken to deal with hateful actions and hate crimes. Keep up the good work!

The following are also working to identify, monitor and to develop ways to combat dangerous rhetoric around the world. Visit them online, and support them today! Thanks again to TechSoup for educating me about their activities.


Achol Mach Jok, Specialist | PeaceTech Lab (Africa)

We believe everyone has the power of peacetech so we leverage low-cost, easy-to-use tech and local partnerships to put the right tools in the hands of the people best positioned to make a difference: activists, peacebuilders, and NGOs in some of the most violent places on earth.

Timothy Quinn, Chief Technology Officer | Hatebase

Hatebase is a software platform built to help organizations and online communities detect, monitor and quarantine hate speech. Our algorithms analyze public conversations using a broad vocabulary based on nationality, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability and class, with data across 80+ languages and 200+ countries.

Christopher Tuckwood, Principal | Hatebase

Filip Stojanovski, Program Coordinator | Metamorphosis Foundation

The Metamorphosis Foundation offers IT solutions, developed according to the needs of the clients or as part of the project. At the same time, we offer favorable and quality services for development, adaptation, localization and updating of web content.

The IT industry is constantly on the rise with new solutions and innovations, whereby the needs of changes in the operation also arise. We test and evaluate opportunities every day, working with new partners to provide the highest quality services.

Additional Links

  • ADL: Fighting Hate for Good. To learn more about the work of the Anti-Defamation League to combat hate, follow the link. “ADL’s dual mission includes a mandate to secure justice and fair treatment to all. Hate and violence have a chilling effect on society. In ADL’s tradition of calling out what divides us and shining a light on what can unite people, we work with diverse communities and with law enforcement to identify hate and then to mobilize people to work vigorously against it.”
  • TechSoup Global hosts Caravan Studios. Public Good Tech to Combat Hate Speech Pinterest board, where Caravan Studios is curating tech solutions and discussions on combating hate speech. They note, “we encourage you to include your own links to relevant resources, important data sets, lexicons, and reports by adding them into the editable Webinar Resources doc.”

Positive Thinking Support

There are more helpful websites and apps than the below online, but I wanted to point out a few that I like. You might also enjoy reading about resources I share on, “Dealing With Stress.”

  • Achieving Positive Thinking Worldwide is a California-based nonprofit that got in touch with me a few years ago via Carolyn’s Nonprofit Blog. Follow Yvette L. Kelley on social media for constant positive messages.
  • Happify seeks to instill happiness. “… The brain we’re born with can be changed. Technically speaking, they call that neuroplasticity; we can change it by adopting new thought patterns, by training our brain as if it were a muscle, to overcome negative thoughts.”
  • Pozify is a social networking platform that rewards you for promoting and spreading positivity while solving the problem you can’t trust anything on the internet.
  • Stop, Breathe & Think is an app that helps users practice mindful breathing to create space between thoughts, emotions and reactions.

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!

Trust Your Instincts | Early Career Lessons

After visiting with a friend about an uncomfortable experience with an older male supervisor early in my career, I decided to share it with others.

I launched Carolyn’s Nonprofit Blog in 2011. In all this time, I have struggled with how to broach the topic of this post, and how to share information that would be helpful to my readers, especially those new to the field of nonprofit development.

Happily, recent online research reveals there is more helpful, quality information about managing workplace relationships – both for women and their male supervisors – than ever before. This is encouraging and it makes me believe there is hope for change in the workplace, and greater understanding from all points of view.

The lessons learned from the story I am about to tell are several. First, trust your instincts. If you feel something is wrong even though you cannot “see” it, there is probably something wrong. Second, tell other colleagues you trust about your feelings and what you think is wrong. Witnesses can be essential, and for the long term. Third, remove yourself from uncomfortable work situations, and as diplomatically as possible. Often you will advance in your career if you do so.

“… Anyone, man or woman, who’s assumed to be a lightweight has a harder time getting ahead,” she says. “Of course that kind of struggle affects confidence level. Qualified women really aren’t taken as seriously as their male colleagues—many studies bear that out—so they’re more likely to have to deal with the emotional fallout of being held back, including a realistic reduction in their confidence about whether they’ll be able to fulfill their ambitions.” Adams should know about the research; she’s the former Director of Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of Maine Farmington.

– Elizabeth Harrin for A Girl’s Guide To Project Management, “6 Ways To Get Taken Seriously At Work” (2018)

Just over twenty five years ago, I worked at a university in the same college where I had secured a Master’s Degree a few years before. I was honored to have been hired, and I held a relatively new and low level position managing development activities for the college, which included several divisions. Three different deans occupied leadership roles at the college while I was there. And as Elizabeth Harrin remarks above, I was definitely considered a “lightweight.”

My work involved organizing and hosting monthly events that included advisory council meetings with alumni who were among the leading philanthropists of Texas, and broader “university” activities that were held in the college’s facilities. The university had a huge legacy of endowments that funded its faculty and programs, some 300 when I was on staff back then. One of my jobs was to thank endowment donors and to update them about activities funded with their endowments, annually. I took this responsibility seriously, and I was encouraged in my efforts by the university’s central development office.

While devoted to my tasks with a laser-like precision and eager to impress, I was admittedly young and still new to the field of nonprofit development. By the time the third dean had arrived to oversee the college, I had uncovered some concerns. One of those was being unable to find out what had transpired with the funding provided by certain endowed funds.

I always hoped to make my annual donor letters interesting and timely. But for some of them, I could not find any information. I wanted to share with each donor how that year’s investment income had been spent on such things as faculty research, new publications, programs, travel and the like, or if the endowments were unassigned, what was happening with searches to fill those positions and related efforts. But I hit a wall with some of them. I asked the endowment accountant for help repeatedly. No information was forthcoming. In fact, at one point during my questioning, the accountant grew very uncomfortable and asked me to, “please stop asking.”

Trust

I scheduled a time to meet with the dean. He had indicated he was quite disinterested in me and my work. My intuition was that he wanted to clear out the current staff of the college and hire “his own.” But finally, I gained my audience. I told him something was wrong with my thank you note process: I could not get the information I needed. In fact, the hair on the back of my neck would stand up on end, when I asked the endowment accountant about certain funds. The dean simply said with disdain, “you just aren’t doing your job.”

“Not surprisingly, a large share of women feel invisible at work, compared with male colleagues. From ordinary meetings to executive offices and boardrooms, many more women than men feel that they don’t get credit for their ideas, or that their contributions aren’t recognized—slights felt even more acutely by women of color.”

– Nikki Waller, The Wall Street Journal, “How Men & Women See the Workplace Differently” (2016)

During this time, however, I kept moving forward. I found allies in the central development office on campus. I suggested the college develop a digital system whereby each staff member in the college involved in endowment tracking – from the accountant to the department chairmen and individual faculty, to development officer – would work off one centralized computer-based system. Information about the endowed funds would be input into the system by each person, and checked and referenced by everyone else. We would all be able to see one another’s work, and would be held accountable for it. My development colleagues thought the idea was a very good one. In fact, I had already informed them something seemed awry and that I was worried. The new system would help with transparency and the flow of information.

Still, at the college level no one was listening. The feedback from the new dean and his associate dean suggested I was not very smart, and I did not know what I was doing. I actually developed a mild stutter at this time. I had wanted the job in the college so much, but I had become afraid, and I felt (rightly) that I was being looked down upon by the new dean and his entourage.

I also knew in my heart that if I stayed much longer, the problems I was uncovering might entrap me, and ruin my future development career. I decided to look for a new job. And I was surprised to receive three job offers. I flew out of the college like a lightening bolt.

Two years later, I landed in Dallas. My career was thriving. I had access to the elite philanthropic community, and my work was going exceptionally well. One evening, I received a call from a colleague still working at my former college. The endowment accountant was discovered to have been embezzling endowment funds over several years. I had been right. I received additional calls from those in the central development office confirming the news.

Now, I had retained a lingering sense of failure about that job. But those telephone calls released those feelings instantaneously. I was relieved beyond measure. I had been correct, although I was sad about the crime committed.

“Trust your instinct to the end, though you can render no reason.”

– Ralph Waldo Emerson, American poet (1803-1882)

Since that early experience, I continue to find older males occasionally fail to take me and my work seriously. But I have also found several who became (and who are) enthusiastic and supportive mentors! Which is all to say, do not assume just because you are young that you will not find strong male advocates. The plethora of stories in the media today about negative male-female experiences sometimes overshadow the good ones.

Build on your own internal strengths and be confident in your own abilities and instincts. Yes, you have much to learn. But you already know a lot. Don’t ever forget that.


About that endowment management system I suggested years ago: I understand someone (a male) at the university did eventually make it a reality. Great news! I wonder if anyone has any idea how it was conceived. Water under the bridge ….

BrainyQuote

Additional Resources

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:

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