Research and Writing | Ideal Tasks While Working from Home

Read a Little Every Day!
This image was used in my PowerPoint for Qgiv on prospect research. See the YouTube recording below.

I have worked from my home office since 2014. Austin has been for many years a fast growing metropolis. Its heavy road traffic made commuting to and from my nonprofit project’s office back then a lengthy and stressful burden. And because that project focused on K-12 sustainability education, the concept of working from home was appreciated and readily adopted.

It was then that I began working collaboratively in the “cloud,” researching prospective partners and writing grant proposals, uploading them to the cloud for review by our Executive Director. Fine tuning continued until the time was right to hit, “submit.” Social media writing, posting and management was easily and better done from a quiet, distraction-free work space. One weekly meeting in person in our office was part of the regimen, but that is all.

Hence, with the onset of COVID-19 in 2020 and “stay-at-home” restrictions, nothing has changed for me. I have continued to work smoothly and efficiently from home where it is relatively “germ-free,” quiet, and my “desk” is located not far from the coffee pot and refrigerator. For me, this is the perfect work environment. Don’t tell: I get more work done, I work longer hours than required, and I am healthier and happier overall. 

The chagrin expressed by corporate and nonprofit leaders accustomed to working in traditional environments where office employees are housed in the same physical space falls on deaf ears here. I believe it is time to adapt and move to a remote working model for almost everyone, except of course those needing staff to greet and serve visitors in person, to conduct occasional group meetings, and to actually manufacture/produce specific items. But to get comfortable allowing more employees to work from home, society will have to let go of the basic human trait, “seeing is believing.” Our times require greater trust and faith to succeed in a remote working world.

Carolyn's Prospect Research Talks
See the links in this post to watch and learn more.

One of the ideal activities I conduct while working from home is research online and grant writing. In April and May 2020, I spoke online to two organizations about research specifically, and you might enjoy watching the recordings. The first was for Qgiv (below).

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

You may also have read my blog post from last March, “Habits of Mind in Challenging Times … And Remote Locations,” where I discuss my work in South Texas during the 2000s with the ranching community. In hindsight, much of what we accomplished seems quite glamorous. Certainly, the donors with whom I worked are still among the leading philanthropists of Texas. But the truth is, the majority of my work was done in a quiet office with few visitors, thinking, researching, organizing, writing and the like.

Rolls Royce
Rolls Royce is known as one of the finest automobile brands in the world. The high standards for which it is known remind me of those also expected of major gift fundraising professionals.

Major gift fundraising is often wrongly perceived by outsiders. Regardless of the quiet, methodical and hard work involved in successful major gift fundraising, people sometimes think of it as a field where one “hobnobs” with wealthy donors, attends luncheons and galas, and other superficial activities. This false impression can also give rise to jealousy. If they only knew how much “unglamorous” time is actually spent working tirelessly alone on a computer. I would say 95% of my job is actually done in this fashion.

If you are working from home now during COVID-19, this is an excellent time to fine-tune your research and writing skills. As I mentioned during my spring presentations, if you take the time to do this thoughtfully and well, it might turn your organization’s entire fundraising focus upside down, and in a very good and productive way.

I would also suggest that you take the time to learn new skills, including setting up and better managing your social media platforms. Our favorite platforms continue to evolve: learn how they may have changed (be sure to check, “the back end”). If you are already active on social media, now is also an excellent time to clean up (and clean out) old information. Request that your Facebook profile be formally verified by Facebook. Claim and update your GuideStar profile to the gold or platinum seal level. Ask volunteers, clients and board members for testimonials you can share online. Set up an online gift processing platform that provides a variety of options for making charitable donations. Make it easy to give!

Looking sharp online continues to be essential to inspiring trust and to engaging the interest of donors and potential donors in the good work of your nonprofit. And as always, make sure the messages you convey in those carefully-crafted grant proposals are mirrored on your website and on social media. In other words, this stay-at-home time is the perfect time to do some nonprofit “housecleaning.” Dare I say it: the nonprofit sector might actually become smarter and stronger if it deals successfully with the stay-at-home restrictions resulting from COVID-19.

Best wishes for your fundraising success!

Notes

For women working in the field of nonprofit development with family care giving responsibilities, I want to acknowledge working from home might be tougher for you. I fully support care giving incentives and entrepreneurial approaches as outlined by Melinda Gates in her article for The Washington Post, “How Rethinking Caregiving Could Play a Crucial Role in Restarting the Economy” (May 7, 2020). We can do this!

Having trouble trusting remote workers? Turns out, remote workers sometimes have trouble trusting their Executive Directors. You might enjoy reading Adam Hickman, Ph.D. and Tonya Fredstrom for Gallup, “How to Build Trust With Remote Employees” (February 7, 2018). “Gallup asked a random sample of more than 10,000 individuals, ‘What leader has the most positive influence in your daily life?’ With that leader in mind, Gallup had the respondents list three words that best describe what the leader they named contributes to their life. The responses sorted into four categories: trust, compassion, stability and hope.”

 

2020 | Nonprofit Predictions

Carolyn's 2020 Predictions

So, what does the future hold for nonprofit organizations? This post is one in a series of year-end discussions about what I believe lies ahead. Your comments are welcome.

Federal Funding

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

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

I rest my case.

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

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

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

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

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

Cryptocurrencies

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

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

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

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

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

How it works:

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

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

Crowdfunding and Major Gift Fundraising

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

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

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

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

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

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

Data

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

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

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

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

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

Donor Advised Funds

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

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

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

Last But Not Least

Two topics that also bear sharing for 2020 include advance preparation for disasters, and preparing for a potential national recession.

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.

Also noteworthy is that a strong stock market does not necessarily mean the economy as a whole is strong. Take a few minutes to read my blog post, “During Good Times, Don’t Forget to Plan for Rainy Days” (November 2018), to which I continue to add resources from some of the nation’s leading economists and investors. Develop a reserve fund if you can. It is my thought in closing that banks and others so inclined could help nonprofits greatly by encouraging the development of reserve funds, and perhaps even matching donations to them. Let’s see if they read my “predictions” and follow suit!

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.