Category Archives: volunteering

Is Bigger Better?

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

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

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

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

GuideStar Blog (2017)

Follow the link above to view an impressive statistical chart.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This comment is eye-opening:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The image on this page was made with Adobe Spark.

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.”

Don’t forget to “refresh” your browser now and again while reading Carolyn’s Nonprofit Blog. I have added a new series of photo “headers” from my work over the past several years.