As 2019 draws to a close, I wanted to thank those nonprofit organizations to which I have donated my time, talents and modest financial resources this year. Their work is inspiring and far-reaching.
I would also like to observe that while it is the job of nonprofit fundraisers and staff to solicit donations for their many worthwhile causes, they should also be givers.There is no better way to learn what being a donor is like than by giving yourself. The process is both personally fulfilling and a learning experience. By supporting the work of your fellow social good projects with a financial donation – no matter the size – you are signalling your support for their efforts to address community needs and challenges. By volunteering your time with key tasks and activities, you show you are personally engaged.
When I work in a meaningful way with nonprofits, I make a personal gift. I want them to know my heart is in the right place and that I care. We can all do this. Actions speak louder than words and go beyond employment and consulting contracts.
You may not be aware that volunteer hours have an official value. As of this post, they stand at $25.43 and hour. Independent Sector updates the value of volunteer hours on a regular basis.
“Currently, about 63 million Americans volunteer about 8 billion hours of their time, talent, and effort to improve and strengthen their communities. With the new Value of Volunteer Time, these Americans are contributing approximately $203.4 billion to our nation through nonprofit organizations of all types.”
These are astonishing figures! I wish more nonprofits would capture the hours their volunteers donate, multiply those by $25.43, and brag about the results. This is a powerful way to show how greatly-valued your nonprofit and is mission are to the community.
The National Council of Nonprofits notes, “While it’s easy to see how nonprofits directly improve the lives of individuals, their positive contributions to the U.S. economy are often overlooked. A closer review reveals nonprofit organizations have a very significant, far-reaching impact on the American economy. In fact, nonprofits enhance and bolster local, state, and national economies in multiple ways.”
Did you know, nonprofits employ 12.3 million people, “with payrolls exceeding those of most other U.S. industries, including construction, transportation, and finance.”
My plea to our elected leadership at the community, state and federal levels is to review the impressive statistics on the role nonprofit organizations play in making our world a better place to live and work, and to encouraging healthy, thriving economies. Support their work, and respect them.
In closing, below are links to the nonprofit organizations I supported this year with modest financial and in-kind donations. In truth, my list changes every year. If you would like to make a gift to them also, I am sure they would welcome your support. And if you have questions of me about any of them, use the secure contact form on my blog to reach me. Thank you!
GivePulse is a volunteer management platform that I learned about via our NTEN & NetSquared Nonprofit Tech Club Austin. In fact, I keep track of my own volunteer projects and hours on GivePulse. Putting in a good word here – even companies are starting to use it to monitor employee volunteerism. Check it out.
Follow the link to read, “Volunteers and Charitable Giving” on Carolyn’s Nonprofit Blog.” Here I share general information about the key link between giving and volunteering, and I illustrate it with a story of my own!
“Many in this generation are known for being well-educated, entrepreneurial, tech savvy and idealistic. They take risks, are bold and want to change the world. Unlike past generations, they want to make their passions, inspirations and desire to do good part of their identity—and part of their work. The lines between personal passions and professional engagements are already rapidly disappearing. As a result, this commitment to doing good in the workplace is quickly becoming the new norm that will define the generation.”
My experience is that Millennial and younger generations following on their heels are committed to a fixing the problems of society and to creating a better world at all levels. They are unafraid of tackling difficult challenges with creativity and conviction. And, they are already dominating the workforce. Their impact will continue to be far-reaching for decades to come. Hardly any American corporation today can afford to ignore them.
As I note in, “Nonprofits and Boomers: Are We Missing the Boat,” nonprofit organizations must also be mindful that Boomer and older generations are key for successful fundraising, for their knowledge and their valuable life experiences. Boomers are a generous generation and highly supportive of nonprofit endeavors, yet they are often seen as being stodgy and old fashioned.
Marketing professionals continue to focus on the young and the aesthetics of youth. And while many older adults do strive to be “younger” in some ways, as time moves forward and the aging population explodes worldwide, we are seeing a growing pride in being “older” and in the aesthetic preferences of older adults.
A few months ago, I approached a large national foundation that also has a substantial number of donor advised funds. I wanted to submit a proposal to fund an outstanding nonprofit project. But the nonprofit’s annual operational budget – being “under $1,000,000” – meant the foundation declined support based solely on that criteria. They would not take even a cursory glance at what the nonprofit is accomplishing, at how well it operates and how worthy it could be as a partner. On a personal note, what that foundation’s professional advisors also missed is that some of the Board members and donors of that nonprofit were capable of establishing donor advised funds. They would have been thrilled to receive even a modest grant and might have themselves become donor advised fund clients. But the “under $1,000,000” rule supplanted all other considerations. But why is operating budget size so important?
Since returning to Austin in 2013 and helping nonprofit “startups” bolster their infrastructure and credibility in order to secure more substantial donations, I have noticed some of them are reluctant to support younger nonprofits because they are, “too small.” Potential donors cite the nonprofits have not been in existence long enough (i.e., five years or more). Some decline because these smaller and younger initiatives have not had formal audits, which are an expensive undertaking for most small nonprofit organizations (and there are reputable alternatives). I visited with one foundation a few years ago that required every nonprofit applicant to have four consecutive years of professional audits. That is way over the top. I advised focusing instead on gold-level or higher GuideStar profiles, and GreatNonprofits reviews by those actually involved with and volunteering for the nonprofits applying.
The fact is, many of these startups and young nonprofits are lean staff- and budget-wise, and they operate highly efficiently. They accomplish amazing things with relatively little and the staff are deeply loyal to their missions. In my opinion, there seems to be a disconnect between the donor and professional advisor sectors, and the vast majority of nonprofit organizations, which are in fact smaller in size.
“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.”
My hope is for deeper, long-term partnerships between younger and older generations, the latter holding significant disposable income to make charitable donations. Boomers and older adults (and their professional advisors), often focus their charitable giving on tried-and-true nonprofits that have been in existence for many years. That is certainly their choice to make, but having seen nonprofits large and small in some detail as a professional fundraiser, I can say without hesitation many of younger and smaller nonprofits, startups and social good enterprises are more efficient and more likely to create positive change in society than the older, top-heavy ones. But these younger initiatives are often seen as being, “riskier.”
Lose your fear and support startups and smaller nonprofit organizations. Younger generations are – and will be – driving much of the social change ahead. We need to trust and encourage them. But also, younger generations need to engage older citizens and tap their knowledge and enthusiasm for social good, as well as their charitable donations. Together we can change the world for the better.
“Furthermore, demographic trends make it clear that over the next decade increasingly greater numbers of Millennials will be elected to office, giving them the power to enact laws that can change how corporations are governed and what responsibilities those entities owe to all of their stakeholders. When that happens the entire edifice of corporate governance constructed on the idea of only maximizing shareholder value will come crashing down and a new foundation for American corporations, built on trust and the values and beliefs of Millennials will arise in its place. Those companies that dedicate their future to changing the world for the better and find ways to make it happen, will be rewarded with the loyalty of Millennials as customers, workers and investors for decades to come. Those that choose to hang on to outdated cultures and misplaced priorities are likely to lose the loyalties of the Millennial generation and with it their economic relevance.”
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.
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 notes:
“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.”
I was also pleased to attend the Social Solutions 2017 Impact Summit in September 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.
“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.”
“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:
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.
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.
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.
I have wanted to discuss this topic for a long time, but I have struggled with how best to go about it. I have not known a nonprofit support organization to tackle this topic in a realistic way, yet it is especially important for new staff, especially those in development. I do think some acknowledgement by leaders in our sector would be helpful, as would developing some “mindset” training into our industry’s regular regimen of educational conferences.
When I obtained my first nonprofit position, I bonded with the organization, its image and mission totally. To my mind, we were inseparably linked. The two did not exist apart from one another! I was young, learning at a fast pace, and I absolutely loved the organization. It felt like a perfect fit.
Four years later, two supervisory changes and a decline in our local economic climate meant I had become frustrated. I started looking for a new position. Eventually I moved on (and up) with my career. But mentally, this was a tough change. My entire self worth was bonded to the nonprofit; once I departed, I felt adrift. I had also gotten to know many of the leading donors and volunteers as well. They felt like family. But I had to learn how to separate myself from that environment and those closely associated with it, and to “let go.”
Now, it is true that some of those same philanthropists are friends and professional colleagues today, more than twenty five years later. But the pain of leaving my first nonprofit family and friends was hard. But something important happened. I underwent a crucial mental change.
I acknowledged I had to move on for my own reasons;
I realized those donors still loved the nonprofit I was leaving (even though I no longer did);
I acknowledged that I should respect that loyalty (how could they get along without me?); and
I looked ahead, recognizing that it was entirely possible I would interact with my former nonprofit donors in future jobs.
Those realizations marked a significant change in attitude and helped me succeed in my future positions. The moment this shift occurred, it became possible for me to be friends with many of the philanthropists with whom I worked over the years in the sense we became comfortable talking about philanthropy more broadly, we shared general advice and personal life experiences. Mutual respect had been established. “Letting go” was a mature step forward that I needed to take.
Which is to say, nonprofit development professionals are not the sole spokespersons for the organizations with which they work. Directors, program officers, curators and even groundskeepers have their own relationships. Regrettably, I have experienced intense jealousy by other staff members when they see how comfortable I am with donors. Some have attempted to get rid of me entirely, feeling there is too much competition! But in truth, I have mentally separated myself in such a way that I fully understand the nonprofit with which I am currently working will go on long after I am gone. If I can make appropriate connections to benefit the project at hand, I definitely will. But I do not “own” any donor. The decision to become involved and to donate is entirely theirs.
Some staff can see you as a threat to their own (self) appointed position as, “the best friend of the donor.” I have discovered this with executive directors and department heads, for example. But I urge you, regardless and for your own well being, separate yourself from the organization mentally. You have your own life and are a person of value without or without the nonprofit.
Represent your organization in an absolutely first class fashion 24-7, even when you are not working. But also, step out of the picture if you become uncomfortable. I have discovered donors and volunteers (and the nonprofit organization) will appreciate you more if you follow this advice, and you will earn their trust for a lifetime.
Notes and Thoughts
Nonprofit work can inspire a stronger emotional attachment psychologically than corporate work, at least in my experience. This is especially true with those new to the nonprofit sector and in my case, with younger, inexperienced staff members. The organization’s leadership should be mindful of this dimension of their work and be sensitive to it. Today, employees change jobs fairly frequently and if you can part ways in a civil fashion, giving the less experienced staff a positive boost as they march out the door, everyone will be better off. That can be a tough assignment, but I believe it is a worthy one.
The Donor Relations Guru has posted a thoughtful article I enjoyed, “Team Player or Individual Contributor?” (April, 2017). I admit, I like the point of view conveyed. “They say in fundraising there’s an 80/20 rule, that 80% of the money comes from 20% of the donors. I have my own 80/20 rule for working and implementation and its one that may strike home for you too. 80 percent of the work gets done by 20 percent of the employees.” I have been hired a few times to do work the staff either tried to do and failed, or refused to do at all. I have also been hired to achieve “the impossible,” only to have other staff take my laurels when I am done with my work. I sometimes say in my mind, “if you could have done the job without me, why didn’t you?” I often wonder why these kinds of employees retain their jobs, but they always seem to.
Founder’s Syndrome is something I have encountered occasionally in my work over the years. Here is an article by Jeff Jowdy for NonProfitPRO (2013), “9 Ways for Nonprofits to Overcome ‘Founder’s Syndrome’.” Founder’s Syndrome is a bit more dangerous phenomenon than youthful attachment to an organization. “Founder’s Syndrome can be particularly devastating to fundraising. If a founder is not open to increased accountability as an organization grows, donors will become increasingly suspicious and may eventually flee.” This is where my personal “rub” has occurred in the past, when an Executive Director becomes threatened and unnecessarily jealous of my contacts and fundraising success. I have learned to step back, and if a resolution cannot be reached – despite my being the primary tie to the donors – I have removed myself from the situation. And a few times, the donors have gotten upset with me. But truly, I had no choice.
You might enjoy reading Oliver Burkeman for The Guardian, “Beware the Gravitational Pull of Mediocrity” (2015). Sometimes when people strive for excellence, organizational strife can result. Innovators can be viewed as dangerous! And sometimes, the one achieving excellence can be seen as a threat, and they may ultimately be pushed out. I have also seen mediocre employees remain on staff at nonprofit organizations, and for decades. They are neither terrible at their jobs, nor excellent. Go figure. Personally, I think mediocrity is an underappreciated survival skill.
Jennifer Verdolin Ph.D. wrote for Psychology Today, “Is It Only Natural for Us to Be Jealous?” (2014). “We humans not only have the tendency to become jealous over imagined threats, we also don’t often seem to take into account the ‘cost’ of certain behaviors.” I think educational programming for development professionals on dealing with jealousy would be an excellent idea.
This post was written a few years ago, not long after I returned to Austin. I had become a ONE Campaign volunteer while waiting out the economic downtown in San Antonio. In summer 2013, I returned to Austin to work with a new nonprofit to help ramp-up its major gift fundraising activities.
The Electrify Africa Act of 2015 – “Helping sub-Saharan Africa increase modern electricity access will save lives, boost education, alleviate extreme poverty and accelerate growth.“
After many years of intense major gift fundraising work with a number of worthy nonprofit projects across the state of Texas, the economic downturn allowed me “quiet time” to return to some of my other life interests. From my grade school days, I was fascinated by Africa and the Middle East. I watched television programs and voraciously read Time Life books my parents had acquired for my sister and I. When I was in high school, my parents took our family on a month-long trip to the Middle East and North Africa, where my interests were deepened even further.
“ONE is a campaigning and advocacy organization of more than seven million people around the world taking action to end extreme poverty and preventable disease, particularly in Africa.
We believe the fight against poverty isn’t about charity, but about justice and equality.
Whether lobbying political leaders in world capitals or running cutting-edge grassroots campaigns, ONE pressures governments to do more to fight AIDS and other preventable, treatable diseases in the poorest places on the planet, to empower small-holder farmers, to expand access to energy, and to combat corruption so governments are accountable to their citizens. Cofounded by Bono and other activists, ONE is strictly nonpartisan.”
Why should someone like me support critical needs like electricity for Africa?
First, let me share an insight:
“This notion that we can be an island unto ourselves, I don’t think is realistic in the world we live in … But this notion that we should cut off all foreign aid, when it’s less than 1 percent of the budget and when it’ll isolate us from the world and hurt our national security – I don’t think that makes sense.” –Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, February 23, 2012
I believe Africa represents the future of our world. It has so much promise on every level! But also, allowing horrible living conditions, dire poverty, disease and ignorance to persist means many issues here at home like national security are negatively impacted. Problems overseas can quickly become our own problems, as we have seen time and time again. With relatively little expense, these international challenges can be alleviated for the benefit of the entire human race.
“In sub-Saharan Africa, more than 620 million people do not have access to electricity. Thirty seven countries in sub-Saharan Africa have a national electrification rate of below 50 percent. These endemic power shortages affect all aspects of life. The President and Congress are working with African leaders, civil society organizations, and the private sector to dramatically change this dire situation. We know energy access is one of the most urgent priorities for people in sub-Saharan Africa with one in five Africans citing infrastructure – including electricity – as their most pressing concern.
The lack of electricity impacts people’s lives in at least five major ways, with a disproportionately negative impact on girls and women.”
“Africa’s 900 million people use less energy than Spain’s 47 million. In sub-Saharan Africa, 621 million people have no electricity whatsoever. Each year, 600,000 Africans – half of them children – die from household air pollution, caused by fuelwood and charcoal used for cooking.”
Clearly, the world must support African leaders as they work to improve this dire situation.
When reading African literature, I was inspired by its grace and wisdom. As Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe said,
“Once you allow yourself to identify with the people in a story, then you might begin to see yourself in that story even if on the surface it’s far removed from your situation. This is what I try to tell my students: this is one great thing that literature can do – it can make us identify with situations and people far away.”
That is exactly what African literature did for me. You might consider African authors the next time you are seeking a good book to read.
Please support ONE Campaign and help release millions of Africans from the grip of extreme poverty. It costs you nothing but your voice.
In 2018, I undertook a DNA test with Ancestry.com. Our family has long suspected we have African roots on my mother’s side. That turned out to be true with 1% of my DNA being from Mali in West Africa. I was thrilled, and we were glad to have the mystery of our darker skin resolved. Now, I am an even greater advocate for ONE Campaign, and I am exploring that 1% online as often as I can.
You might also enjoy reading this Brookings analysis, Foresight Africa: Top Priorities for the Continent in 2019.“Africa is brimming with promise and, in some places, peril. With its array of contributions, this year’s edition reflects both the diversity of the continent and the common threads that bind it together. With that aim, we hope to promote and inform a dialogue that will generate sound practical strategies for achieving shared prosperity across the continent.”
The mission of Great Promise for American Indians is to preserve the traditions, heritage and culture of American Indians, and to support the health and education needs of their youth and families. We do this to honor the past, and to ensure the future.
I urge you to review the website and consider supporting Great Promise! Follow this link to see Carolyn’s Tumblr and my photo essay about the Powwow (which also includes a few Instagram video links).
The mission statement above brings to mind a concept I hold true in my own profession: nonprofit fundraising professionals should both honor the past – traditional, proven methods of educating, cultivating, soliciting and stewarding relationships with donors – while also adopting new methods. In this way, we will ensure a sustainable future for the nonprofit organizations we support.
The iPhone photograph above features a striking Indian in colorful formal dress using a mobile phone to photograph the traditional dances taking place on the floor below. He summarizes well the theme of this post!
npENGAGE noted in, “5 Ways Technology Will Shape the Nonprofit Sector” back in 2014 (and still true today), “Think back even five years ago, ten years ago – how different is the nonprofit landscape now compared to then? It’s pretty dramatic.” Follow the link to read about the five trends: mobile, analytics, software, cloud and social media.
In, “Enhacing Your Major Gift Fundraising Strategy with Analytics” by Carol Belair (August, 2015), she wisely notes,
“Growing a relationship over time with newly identified prospects is key to developing or enhancing major gifts programs or initiatives. Keep in mind that even though an analytics project may identify a new crop of prospects able and willing to give more significant gifts to your organization, the scores themselves don’t guarantee that you will raise a particular amount of money or that individuals will give you a more significant donation.”
One of my earliest posts focuses on using “high tech” research methods to identify major gift prospects. I consider those methods to be invaluable. I have seen firsthand how major gift campaigns that at first appeared to lack an adequate number of prospective donors, suddenly have a dearth of them once proper research was conducted.
The best of both worlds when it comes to major gift fundraising includes detailed research and analysis using the latest technologies, combined with traditional methods of education, cultivation, solicitation and stewardship, all with genuine caring and thoughtfulness on the part of the development professionals involved.
But the nonprofit sector still has work to do when it comes to marrying traditional and modern approaches to fundraising and communication. Nonprofits generally fail to engage current and potential donors using social media, for instance.
The New Hampshire Business Review notes in, “Charities Don’t Make the Grade on Social Media Scorecard” (October, 2015):
“’While the overwhelming majority of organizations are on social media and do a good job of posting regularly, very few use these channels to genuinely engage with their constituents,’ said Rick Dunham, president and CEO of Dunham+Company, a consulting firm specializing in nonprofit fundraising and marketing. ‘Charities generally use social media channels to advertise events or as a ‘billboard,’ but rarely do they use them as a way to engage donors in conversation. This will be important to remember as we approach the holiday giving season.'”
One of the prevailing themes of Carolyn’s Nonprofit Blog is that high net worth households own more digital devices than the general population, and they are highly active on social media. They conduct business and spend their leisure time using a variety of convenient mobile devices. It makes sense for nonprofits to use these tools to communicate with and engage those capable of making significant charitable donations.
Pew Research Center notes in, “U.S. Technology Device Ownership: 2015” (October, 2015):
“… Device usage has notable social and cultural implications, and there are sometimes important political and macroeconomic consequences to the way people use their gadgets. For instance, every major media industry – those built around video, audio and text – has been disrupted by these devices.”
Some fundraising professionals remain focused entirely on less modern methods in major gift fundraising. And, I have taken the “heat” for my blended approach on more than one occasion.
But the fundraising profession is changing. My discovery is simply this: one person can accomplish a great deal when armed with the proper technology, software, and positive mental attitude. Sometimes one person can accomplish as much or more than several major gift professionals and/or consultants. This is a trend worth watching, and a situation of not only adapting to change, but embracing it for a more sustainable, efficient and effective future.
I have been a respectful adherent of the Donor Bill of Rights since entering the field of nonprofit fundraising back in the 1980s. The Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) notes:
“Philanthropy is based on voluntary action for the common good. It is a tradition of giving and sharing that is primary to the quality of life. To ensure that philanthropy merits the respect and trust of the general public, and that donors and prospective donors can have full confidence in the nonprofit organizations and causes they are asked to support, we declare that all donors have these rights.”
But after many years working in the trenches of nonprofit fundraising, I believe a Nonprofit Fundraisers’ Bill of Rights is also in order.
Below, I have listed the Donor Bill of Rights along with commentary about the nonprofit fundraiser’s point of view and “rights.”
I. To be informed of the organization’s mission, of the way the organization intends to use donated resources, and of its capacity to use donations effectively for their intended purposes.
Nonprofit development staff are sometimes asked to solicit donations but over time, they may discover the funds they solicited are not being used as originally discussed. The nonprofit may be unable to effectively carry out the project as intended.
Development staff can be tremendous allies in this situation. They should be informed and given the opportunity to translate changes to the donors they solicited, thereby ensuring an honest relationship and retaining personal, professional and organizational integrity.
Sometimes nonprofit organizations fear a negative reaction from donors if a change of direction with an important project is necessary. But I have found if changes and challenges are aired in a forthright manner, donors appreciate the candor and often continue to give more.
II. To be informed of the identity of those serving on the organization’s governing board, and to expect the board to exercise prudent judgment in its stewardship responsibilities.
This is good protection for fundraising professionals as well. Development professionals need to be able to learn about, meet and interact with those serving on the Board in order to function properly in their jobs. But sometimes senior executives prevent interaction between development professionals and staff and Board members. This is a mistake.
Most Board members welcome the advice and support of development staff. If they do not interact, problems may ensue. Development professionals are donor advocates and allies. When allowed to do their job properly, the better the reputation of the nonprofit, its Board, and each and every donor with whom they work.
I once heard a foundation staff member arrogantly proclaim they would only be “friends” with donors, not “development officers,” as if being a development officer is a lowly office. Beware: oftentimes the development officer is one of the most knowledgeable staff members at the nonprofit organization, one who cares about the organization’s donors the most. They will fight for you if you allow them to do so.
III. To have access to the organization’s most recent financial statements.
Not only should nonprofit development staff have access to Form 990s – which today one can find readily on GuideStar – they should be encouraged to review those financial documents and to become knowledgeable about them. As donors and professional advisors become more savvy (and discerning), being armed with this knowledge is essential to functioning properly on the job.
IV. To be assured their gifts will be used for the purposes for which they were given.
Similar to the first tenet discussed, development staff should be informed if a donation is not being used for its intended purpose. Sometimes, program staff and others in positions of leadership fail to share changes with the development department. Nonprofit fundraisers should be given the opportunity to discuss any changes in terms of the project(s) funded with the donor(s) they solicited originally.
V. To receive appropriate acknowledgement and recognition.
Once a grant or gift has been awarded, and if the donor does not require anonymity, then appropriate recognition should be given in project materials and organizational publications (online and hard copy). Verbal recognition and acknowledgement on social media can also be meaningful.
Those of us in the nonprofit sector know it is often the case that volunteers help open doors and solicit gifts from individuals, families, foundations, corporations and government agencies. They deserve recognition and thanks for their efforts. But sometimes it a fundraising professional on staff who has conducted the research necessary to identify donors, and they are the one who has made the all-important introduction, and secured the gift.
Hard work and successful staff achievements should be acknowledged and recognized by nonprofit administrators and members of the Board. Yes, volunteers need and deserve recognition, but don’t forget the development staff. Retention of quality development staff is one of our sector’s greatest challenges. Although reserved when it comes to religious opinions, I like this quote by Joel Osteen:
“Praise is powerful. Praise will break chains, turn problems around and defeat enemies. Praise will give you the victory.”
VI. To be assured that information about donations are handled with respect and with confidentiality to the extent provided by law.
Sometimes development staff are not kept in the “loop” when donations are announced by organizational representatives verbally, online or in print. Fundraising staff must guide the announcement process and help the nonprofit they represent maintain the wishes of each donor regarding confidentiality, proper name spelling, announcement timing and the like.
Sometimes, marketing and public information specialists chafe when partnering with development staff. I have noted one concern is they perceive their work to be “pure” – they seek to represent the institution factually to the public and to the media, and they do not wish to be “tainted” by discussing donors. But nonprofits survive by securing charitable donations, and these two staff functions must work together harmoniously.
VII. To expect that all relationships with individuals representing organizations of interest to the donor will be professional in nature.
This tenet is also true for nonprofit fundraisers. Development staff should not feel that in order to cultivate a donor relationship they must run personal errands for donors, become a personal driver or shopper, or conduct other business unrelated to the nonprofit organization and its mission.
Should a donor or prospect become verbally abusive or make improper advances, development staff should be encouraged to report such activity to their superiors, and they should expect to be protected. They should not fear being fired.
Nonprofits are hungry for charitable donations, but we as a sector must retain integrity. Nonprofit organizations should not allow improper behavior by donors or potential donors because they are desperate for funding. Of course, handling delicate situations diplomatically is essential.
VIII. To be fully informed regarding who is responsible for securing donations, whether they be volunteers, fellow employees of the organization or hired solicitors.
Nonprofit development staff may be assigned other tasks while volunteers and/or consultants assume the task of soliciting donations for special projects. A clear delineation of duties and assignments is essential. All must work together and avoid competing needlessly. Transparency across roles and teams is essential for the organization to succeed in its fundraising activities.
Yes, I have witnessed nonprofit staff attempting to sabotage the work of well meaning fundraising consultants. The reasons for this are many, from personal jealousy to sincerely believing the reason for hiring a consultant was wrong. The potential for harmful interference must be anticipated and monitored. Reduce anxiety by making sure everyone on the team understands what is going on, and why.
IX. To have the opportunity for their names to be deleted from mailing lists that an organization may intend to share.
Separate divisions of nonprofit organizations sometimes maintain their own mailing lists. To ensure compliance with donor wishes and confidentiality, development staff should also be encouraged to review the mailing lists of divisions other than their own and to request changes as necessary. This is what we call today, “breaking down silos.”
It is also true that the use of emailing platforms like Constant Contact, iContact, MailChimp, Emma and the like provide the opportunity for anyone on a mailing list to remove themselves immediately. This helps nonprofits comply with the federal CAN-SPAM Act. Knowledge of the Act should be standard for any nonprofit fundraiser.
X. To feel free to ask questions when making a donation and to receive prompt, truthful and forthright answers.
It goes without saying, to represent a nonprofit to the public and to respond to donor and potential donor inquiries, development staff must ask questions of fellow staff in order to fully understand the current status of activities that have been underwritten by donors. Nonprofit leaders should encourage those inquiries.
My experience is the public is not aware that development staff are often as knowledgeable about the inner workings of their nonprofits as the director, senior program officers, and members of the Board. Anyone who researches and writes grants knows a comprehensive knowledge of the nonprofit is required to achieve success. Development staff are not just hired to be “nice” to donors and to organize parties. Their work is essential to the survival of the nonprofit, and to do it well requires in-depth knowledge and commitment.
This article was originally a blog post published in 2014. I decided to update and make it available from my main menu.
“If you care about nonprofits and the work they do, then you’re affected by what GuideStar does. Here at GuideStar we gather and disseminate information about every single IRS-registered nonprofit organization. We provide as much information as we can about each nonprofit’s mission, legitimacy, impact, reputation, finances, programs, transparency, governance, and so much more. We do that so you can take the information and make the best decisions possible.”
In 2013, I was asked by GuideStar to share my experiences using its database. Here are links to two case studies:
Today, the first resource I consult when researching a potential donor is GuideStar. Surprised?
Not only does GuideStar provide information about nonprofit organizations in the traditional sense, but you can also find information about donors like private foundations that are themselves nonprofit.
Among my favorite resources are the tax returns. Sometimes even the best online and printed foundation directories do not reveal the current state of a foundation. By reviewing their tax returns in GuideStar, you can discover who is currently serving on a foundation’s board of directors (and who is serving in what positions of leadership); you can find new contact information for the foundation (and sometimes, individual trustees); you can learn the latest projects funded (and sometimes foundations can change their funding focus areas without notice); you can discover the amounts of the grants awarded (thereby indicating the level of potential interest in your perhaps similar project); and more.
Try the “advanced search” function on GuideStar, and you can discover such things as every museum in the state of Texas (and you can sort by budget size), or, every human services nonprofit in the state of Virginia, for instance.
GuideStar Data at a Glance
1.8 million IRS-recognized tax-exempt organizations 5.4 million Form 990 images 3.2 million digitized Form 990 records 6.6 million individuals in the nonprofit sector
For me, the printed and online foundation directories are excellent resources for honing-down generally on prospective donors I want to research. But the truth is, the tax returns tell a more exact story about their current circumstances.
But these are just the tip of the iceberg! I urge you to explore GuideStar’s website to discover all the helpful information and resources it provides. And my hearty thanks goes to GuideStar for featuring my two case studies. I hope you will take the time to read and enjoy them!
“Think back to the last time you bought a pair of shoes, or researched the next book you wanted to read. Where did your search start? If you’re like any other consumer, it probably began with customer reviews. Why? Because reviews are candid. They’re not published by the company promoting the product; they’re not fluffed up with marketing lingo and meaningless buzzwords; and most importantly, they’re the words of people just like you.”
Do you have an online ambassador program?
My suggestion to nonprofit organizations is to include the role of “online ambassador” in the job descriptions for board and advisory board members who are active on social media. Can they set aside time once weekly, every few weeks, or monthly to share a positive experience, and to encourage their colleagues to support your nonprofit organization? This is a simple, but ultimately very helpful request to make.
Certainly, you would expect leading volunteers and donors to be community advocates and to say positive things about your nonprofit’s work and accomplishments whenever and wherever appropriate. If your advocates are also active online, consider asking them to set aside time to share their opinions and experiences online.
Ongoing identification of potential ambassadors for both awareness building and fundraising initiatives.
Stewardship of those potential and approved ambassadors through good content and smart online conversation management.
A plan for contacting potential ambassadors and officially bringing them into the program.
A strategy for leveraging the support of your ambassadors.
I couldn’t agree more.
“Simply put, a robust ambassador program could be the most important thing your nonprofit can do from a communications standpoint.”
Geoff Livingston wrote a clever article for Razoo: Inspiring Generosity, “5 Ways to Engage Online Ambassadors” (October 20, 2011). Somewhat unusually, Geoff talks about using social media to inspire major gift prospects and donors.
“Successful social media-based fundraising in many ways is about democratizing development best practices. If you want to develop online relationships with people who care about your cause, use tried and true development tactics.”
He shares a variety of creative ideas, from creating a social media advisory board to putting their names on a digital ambassador recognition “wall” on your website.
In The UBER-Blog, Alexandra Cojocaru discusses “social media superheroes.” In, “The Emergence of the Social Media Superhero” (May 30, 2012, link no longer available online)) she remarks:
“Much like search engine marketing 10 years ago, social media has now become core to many businesses marketing strategies. With that has also come the emergence of individual roles that are more specialized and unique to social media.”
Alexandra discusses the traits of four key social media “personas”: the Online Ambassador, Social Evangelist, Digital Strategist, and the Data Junkie. I certainly recognize some of my distinguished colleagues in Alexandra’s descriptions, but I had not thought about engaging them online in such insightful ways.
As social media becomes increasingly influential and essential in our world today, don’t let the cart come before the horse, take the reins. Put social media to work for your organization!