341 posts categorized "Nonprofits"

Weekend Link Roundup (November 18-19, 2017)

November 19, 2017

Say no to sexual harassmentOur weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Communications/Marketing

"In a world where there is 'an avalanche of crazy things coming out of the [current] administration', communications professionals find themselves having to rethink how they communicate both internally and externally," writes Jason Tomassini, associate director for editorial at Atlantic Media Strategies, on the Communications Network site. At the recent ComNet17 conference, Tomassini and the network invited attendees to participate in a discussion about how they're navigating communications challenges in the current political environment. Here are four key takeaways from that discussion.

Disaster Relief

The Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund, the fund created by Houston mayor Sylvester Turner and Harris County judge Ed Emmett, has announced a second round of grants totaling $28.9 million to nintey nonprofits. The Houston Chronicle's Mike Morris has the details.

Giving

Although the giving traditions of the Rockefeller family were established almost a hundred and fifty years ago, writes Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisor's Melissa Blackerby, modern philanthropists can still learn from the family's values and example.

Gun Violence

In the HuffPost, Melissa Jeltsen and Sarah Ruiz-Grossman use data collected by Everytown for Gun Safety to argue that most mass shootings in America are related to domestic violence.

Higher Education

The dueling Republican tax bills working their way through Congress have implications for exempt sectors of the economy that could fundamentally change the way they operate. In this Weekend Edition segment, NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro talks to Raynard Kington, president of Grinnell College, a small liberal arts college in Iowa with a large endowment, about the Republican proposal to levy an excise tax on endowment income.

Nonprofits

Nonprofit AF blogger Vu Le has re-posted to his own blog his NPQ think piece on the future of the nonprofit sector.

Forbes contributor Christian Johnson, co-founder and CEO of Seed Consulting Group, suggests that nonprofit leaders can learn from cardiologists and the complex information and alert systems they rely on to more effectively run their organizations.

Philanthropy

In his annual president's message, a somber Stephen Heintz, president of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, notes the passing of two Rockefeller family members "who profoundly shaped the character and work of th[e] foundation over many decades" and shares some thoughts about the challenges confronting the nation and the global community.

In the Nonprofit Quarterly, Martin Levine suggests there's "a not-so-quiet storm brewing in the structure of philanthropy," as donors of all sizes increasingly turn their back on private foundations and look to new vehicles, such as limited liability corporations and donor-advised funds, that "allow them greater control and less oversight."

Could foundations achieve greater impact if they made grants the way venture capital firms approach their investments, focusing not on organizations per se but on industry disruptors? Gabe Kleinman, head of portfolio services and content/marketing at Obvious VC, considers the implications.

Here on PhilanTopic, Fiduciary Trust's Joel Mittelman and Stacy K. Mullaney explain why, in an extended low-rate environment, a "total return" approach makes sense for foundations and endowment managers.

The Philanthropy Workshop (TPW), which works to "inspire, transform, and catalyze a network of effective philanthropists as a means to a more just, sustainable, and enriching world," is looking to hire a chief executive officer. Learn more about the opportunity here.

Public Policy

In The Hill, Independent Sector president/CEO Dan Cardinali and Council on Foundations president/CEO Vikki Spruill decry House Republicans' targeting of the Johnson Amendment, a 63-year-old measure that prohibits 501(c)(3) organizations from endorsing or opposing political candidates. Repeal of the provision, write Cardinali and Spruill, would result in billions of dollars of anonymously contributed dollars being funneled through nonprofits for partisan political purposes. And with all that money flowing through new, opaque channels, it would only be

a matter of time until scandal erupts, resulting in congressional hearings, IRS probes and public calls for a crackdown.
Think for a moment what that might look like: The IRS could impose vastly increased reporting requirements on nonprofits, a move that would increase the cost of fundraising and reduce spending on missions.
Religious organizations, for the first time, could be forced to file a Form 990, and all nonprofits could face greater scrutiny of their donor lists. Most ominously of all, Congress would feel pressured to eliminate the charitable deduction entirely to prevent government-subsidized funding of political campaigns....

Lucy Bernholz shares her own take on the so-called Brady amendment in a post on her Philanthropy 2173 blog.

In The Atlantic, Derek Thompson details the many bad arguments for getting rid of the estate tax. And here's the left-leaning Center for American Progress' dire take on repeal.

Frequent PhilanTopic contributor Mark Rosenman doesn't mince words as he lays out all the ways that Republican tax "reform" will hurt the charitable sector.

And believe it or not, there are a few millionaires and billionaires in the country — actually, more than four hundred — who have come out and just said "no" to the idea of cutting their taxes.

That's it for this week. Got something you'd like to share? Drop us a line at mfn@foundationcenter.org.

The Worst Tax Reform That Money Can Buy

November 15, 2017

Tax-reformCharities and foundations are lucky. Often their self-interest and the public interest seem to be in conflict. But not this month, thanks to Congressional Republican efforts to "reform" the U.S. tax system.

In simple terms, the Republican plan is an effort to transfer more than $1.5 trillion from public purposes, government, and charities in order to further enrich already fantastically wealthy individuals and corporations. Under both the House and Senate plans, far less of the proposed cuts would benefit middle-class folks — many of whom would actually end up paying more in taxes. And even if Republican leaders' hopes to finance their scheme through cuts to Medicare and Medicaid fail, many of the other so-called reforms would profoundly hamstring our nation's ability to address critical social needs.

It's the same old class warfare that Republicans have promoted since the days of Ronald Reagan, and it must be opposed for the sake of both the nonprofit sector and the people and causes who rely and depend on the sector.

As detailed elsewhere, standard deduction provisions alone would cost charities more than $13 billion in donations each year. Changes in the estate tax, which the House proposes to eliminate and the Senate would reform by doubling the exempt amount, would also have a devastating impact. When the tax was suspended for a year in 2010, bequests dropped by over a third; full repeal would cost the Treasury $270 billion over a decade that might otherwise fund critical needs across America. Yet the Republican proposals allow the top one-fifth of one-percent, the very wealthiest 00.2 percent of Americans, to keep that money, even though most of it has never been and never would be taxed.

Simply put, the various tax policies being pushed in both the House and Senate would significantly cut charitable donations and otherwise harm nonprofits in order to finance giveaways to Americans who already hold a disproportionate share of the nation's wealth.

Why are Republicans willing to cause so much harm to charities and ordinary people? Because, as has been candidly admitted by Republican politicians themselves, their donors and wealthy CEOs (often one and the same) expect it and have even threatened them if they fail to deliver. And, as a harbinger of worse things to come, some Republican-aligned groups are spending upwards of $40 billion to sell middle-class voters on the plan.

In a further move to serve their own narrow interests, House Republicans are angling to repeal the Johnson Amendment and allow 501(c)(3) organizations to engage in partisan political activity. If they succeed and donors start to use tax-exempt charities to fuel their own partisan agendas, the Treasury stands to lose more than $2 billion in tax receipts, and nonprofit organizations of all persuasions are likely to become embroiled in terribly divisive partisan debates over policy. They would also be much more susceptible to coercion by their donors — and by government contract and grant officials — to adopt partisan positions, or face the consequences.

Other provisions hidden in the House or Senate bills — and, remember, provisions in either bill can become law through the work of the final conference committee — do harm to certain charities and those they serve. One proposal would tax the endowment earnings of large universities. As it stands currently, this would cost those institutions a cool $3 billion a year, money that might otherwise be used for student financial aid. It would also open the door to such policies being extended to other charitable entities and funding streams.

Related proposals would hurt university students more broadly and directly. The deduction for student loan interest would disappear, with potentially devastating consequences for roughly twelve million Americans. Student tuition waivers also would be taxed. In total, another $65 billion would be taken from students to finance the Republicans' money grab — even as the same politicians push regressive policies that will exacerbate inequality and make it harder for the working class to realize the American dream.

Under another Republican "reform," universities, hospitals and other charities would no longer be able to finance new facilities and capital improvements through tax-free bonds issued by state and local governments, raising the cost of education and health care by close to $40 billion. School teachers' deduction for the cost of the supplies they buy (only covering the initial $250 they spend) would disappear. And the close to nine million Americans who claim a medical expense deduction (many of them served by nonprofits) are more likely to become even sicker as they watch the transfer of more than $180 billion in tax benefits to the wealthy and large corporations. Seniors would be hurt the most.

There's more. For the first time ever, charities would find certain of their practices subject to fiscal disincentives. Compensation of over $1 million paid to any staffer would be subject to an excise tax.

Now, while some might favor discouraging excessive compensation packages in the charitable sector (I among them), others (I among them) argue that: first, without competitive salaries, large nonprofit hospital systems and similar entities will be unable to today attract the qualified people they need to run those operations; second, that government ought not to impose such disincentives on nonprofits without commensurate action on corporations that have driven up executive compensation to egregious multiples of the average worker’s wage; and third, that it is a terrible precedent for politicians to decide which charitable practices they like or don't like and to use tax policy to enforce their preferences.

Other policy provisions will dramatically impact ordinary Americans. While capping the deduction for mortgage interest is likely to hurt those with more expensive homes, House Republicans don't seem to mind the fact that tax-payers in cities with the highest cost of living — places that, not coincidentally, tend to vote Democratic — will be penalized the most. So, too, the Senate's plan to eliminate the deduction for state and local taxes — a provision that would disproportionately affect those living in "blue" localities.

As "ambitious" as the House, Senate, and White House "reform" packages may be, they clearly work to the detriment of charities and the public. Even as Republicans try to sell their efforts as a boon for the middle class, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has had to admit that the upshot for 25 percent of those in such income brackets is a higher tax bill. Indeed, it is wealthy people like Donald Trump who already pay far less than their fair share of taxes who will benefit the most.

No matter which of these specific proposals survive initial votes in the House and Senate, no matter which of the president's regressive ideas are adopted, and no matter what kind of bill emerges from the conference committee for a final vote, the "reforms" gleefully touted by Republicans will be ruinous for the nation. Charities and organized philanthropy need to stand up and speak out now — for themselves and for the public and the planet — before it's too late.

Headshot_mark_rosenmanMark Rosenman is a professor emeritus at the Union Institute & University. To read more of Rosenman's commentary, click here.

Spoiler Alert: It’s Not All About Fundraising

November 07, 2017

Spoiler-alertAs a nonprofit leader, you'll be delighted to learn that new research affirms what most of us knew: Americans are generous. In fact, this year’s edition of Giving USA found that charitable giving by individuals in the U.S. was up nearly 4 percent in 2016, hitting an all-time high.

But as The Chronicle of Philanthropy notes in How America Gives, a recently released analysis of American giving patterns, these gifts are coming from fewer people. In 2015, the Chronicle notes,

only 24 percent of taxpayers reported a charitable gift....That’s down from 2000 to 2006, years when that figure routinely reached 30 or 31 percent....

While the Chronicle suggests the drop off could be due to a decrease in the number of Americans itemizing deductions on their tax returns, they also point to other possibilities: the lingering after effects of the Great Recession, an increase in the number of struggling middle-class families, more competition for fewer dollars.

And then there's the millennial factor. The generation born between 1980 and 2000 is the largest in American history, and as the Chronicle notes, "it's well known that [millennials] aren't embracing traditional ideas of giving."

It's a trend that's reflected in our own research. Indeed, Phase 2 of our 2017 Millennial Impact Report found that the millennial generation doesn't rank giving — or volunteering — as all that meaningful in terms of effecting change. In the study, survey respondents were asked to rank their typical cause/social issue-related behaviors in order of how influential they believed each to be. Out of ten actions, volunteering for a cause or organization ranked sixth while giving ranked eighth — well behind other actions such as signing a petition, attending a march or rally, voting, or taking to social media to share one's views.

In other words, when it comes to creating change, millennials seem to favor what we call activist-type behaviors to more traditional forms of cause engagement (like donating and volunteering). And it isn't just millennials: NPR noted earlier this year that the election of Donald Trump ignited grassroots activism — on both the left and right — at a level "never seen before."

Whether politically motivated or not, a clear trend is emerging: People across the country are looking for more effective ways to bring about the kind of change they'd like to see, and the actions they're taking don't necessarily start with (or sometimes even include) giving or volunteering.

For nonprofits that rely on donations from individuals, this poses a problem. While it's good that people are passionate and want to get involved with issues they care deeply about, cash, for nonprofit organizations, still matters — and often is the most important factor in an organization's ability to do its work and advance its mission.

What's a nonprofit leader to do? And what can nonprofit organizations do to address this shift in behavior?

Here are three things to keep in mind as you look to activate a new generation of supporters:

1. Make it about the issue. In my previous post, I looked at some of the things nonprofits should be doing to turn one-time donors into loyal and engaged supporters. And one of those things is articulating how a small action by a supporter can connect with other small actions to create bigger impact with respect to an issue or cause.

The same is true when you are looking to cultivate and/or strengthen relationships with your existing supporters. People give and get involved with an issue through an organization, not because of an organization. Think about it: I'm more likely to become involved with Pencils of Promise not because someone told me that PoP was doing great work and its focus is on education but because I’m passionate about quality education for all kids and PoP does great work in that space.

2. Don't just run a campaign, build a movement. It's easy for nonprofit development professional and fundraisers to get hung up in the wash-rinse-repeat campaign cycle. At the start of the year, your fiscal calendar is already blocked out with various appeals, volunteer drives, and fundraising events — so many, in fact, that you barely have to time to think. But how are they connected? What are you doing between campaigns to maintain the engagement level of your supporters and continuously deepen their connection to your issue?

To truly make a difference, you need to activate your supporters and followers at every level of engagement, moving them along a continuum from having a more-than-passing interest in your issue to actually standing up and taking action on behalf of it. Campaigns have a role to play in that, but every campaign (and all your communications) should be designed to deepen an individual's engagement to the point where she feels herself to be an actual member of a movement and is willing to introduce others to the cause.

3. Update your organization's structure. Because of the resource constraints most nonprofits have to deal with, activism and advocacy often end up taking a back seat to core operating functions. If you're going to build a movement predicated on greater levels of supporter engagement, however, you're going to need a different kind of organizational structure.

Which means you should align that structure in ways that engage and support your audience today, rather than next month, next year, or at some happy point in the future. A good place to start is adding a director of advocacy or constituent engagement to your leadership team and giving them a set of responsibilities focused on movement building and donor cultivation, not just fundraising.

In this new era, it's vital that nonprofit leaders change their thinking to more closely align with where and how a rising generation of potential supporters wants to be involved with the issues and causes that matter to them. In other words, if you want to create lasting change, don't focus on your organization; focus on connecting people to your issue through your organization.

Headshot_derrick_feldmann_2015Derrick Feldmann is the president of Achieve, a research and marketing agency for causes, and the author of Social Movements for Good: How Companies and Causes Create Viral Change, available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Weekend Link Roundup (October 28-29, 2017)

October 29, 2017

Tax_2Our weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Civic Tech

On the Getting Smart blog, Tom Vander Ark, former director of education at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and author of Getting Smart: How Personal Digital Learning is Changing the World, highlights ten tech-driven developments (widespread unemployment, widening inequality, algorithmic bias, machine ethics, genome editing) that require decisions, sooner rather than later, we are not prepared to make.

In a new post on her Philanthropy 2173 blog, Lucy Bernholz wonders whether the social sector can "pre-emptively develop a set of guardrails for the application of new technologies so that predictable harm (at least) can be minimized or prevented?" 

Disaster Relief/Recovery

In Houston, the newly formed Greater Houston Flood Mitigation Consortium is convening leading  researchers to compile, analyze, and share an array of scientifically-informed data about flooding risk and mitigation opportunities in the region. Three key stakeholders in the effort — Ann Stern, president and CEO of the Houston Endowment; Nancy Kinder, president of the Kinder Foundation; and Katherine Lorenz, president of the Cynthia & George Mitchell Foundation — explain what the initiative hopes to accomplish.

Education

"It is the latest iteration for a philanthropy that has both had a significant influence on K-12 policy over its two-decades-long involvement in the sector — and drawn harsh criticism for pushing ideas that some see as technocratic." Education Week's Stephen Sawchuck examines what the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s recent strategy pivot and new investments in K-12 education signal for the field.

Giving

Donald Trump and his administration's policies appear to be behind a dramatic increase in giving to progress groups. Ben Paynter reports for Fast Company.

Forbes has published its annual list of the top givers in the U.S.

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Weekend Link Roundup (October 21-22, 2017)

October 22, 2017

Jose_altuveOur weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Education

In 2010, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg made a $100 million gift in support of a major overhaul of the public school system in Newark, New Jersey. To be spearheaded by then-Newark Mayor Cory Booker (now a U.S. senator) and New Jersey governor Chris Christie, the effort stumbled out of the gate and became the object of derision (as well as the subject of a well-reviewed book by education reporter Dale Russakoff). But a new study from a team led by a Harvard University researcher finds that the performance of students in the district has improved significantly in English (although not so much in math) since 2010. Greg Toppo reports for USA Today.

Giving

In a post for Forbes, Kris Putnam-Walkerly offers ten reasons why community foundations are your best for disaster relief giving.

On Beth Kanter's blog, Alison Carlman,  director of impact and communications at GlobalGiving, challenges the conventional wisdom that donors are fatigued by the series of disasters that have hit the U.S. , Mexico, and Caribbeanf.  

Interestingly, a new study from Indiana University’s Lilly Family School of Philanthropy shows that since the early 2000s, volunteering and charitable giving in the United States has dropped roughly 11 percent. And, as a country, our generosity appears to have peaked around 2005, with giving hitting an average of $1,024 annually; in 2015, the most recent year measured, that number dropped to $872. Eillie Anzilotti reports for Fast Company.

In the Stanford Social Innovation Review Jennifer Xia and Patrick Schmitt, students at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, note that while the largest wealth transfer in human history will take place over the next twenty years, most nonprofits are poorly positioned to take advantage of it.

In a video on the CNBC site, tech entrepreneur Alexandre Mars, the "French Bill Gates," argues that giving is something that anyone can — and everyone should — do.

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Deepening Audience Engagement With Long-Form Content

October 18, 2017

Communicating complicated ideas can be a significant challenge for social change organizations trying to reach diverse audiences in a short-attention-span world. But it's something long-form content is particularly well suited for. If your organization publishes research, reports, and other types of long-form content, what strategies can you use to ensure that your content resonates with and engages your target audiences?

Audience-Engagement-bubblesDigital communications and social media have had a tremendous impact on our ability to maintain focus and attention — not just online, but in the real world. Online and offline, we are awash in content that's fragmented and comes at us fast. Distractions are everywhere and, for social change organizations, creating awareness around complex issues can feel like an uphill battle.

But even as short-form platforms like Twitter increasingly shape how issues are framed by the media, recent studies show that when it comes to audience engagement, long-form content performs better than shorter content. So, while we may live in a world dominated by short bursts of commentary, opinion, and insights, long-form content remains a critical (and effective!) format.

While every organization with a message to communicate has to learn how to navigate this dynamic, social change organizations face a bigger challenge. Because when your mission revolves around a complicated issue, is connected to a problem in a far-away place or the distant future, or is just removed from the concerns of everyday life, maintaining audience engagement is inherently more difficult.

Still, it usually boils down to the same question: How can we elevate our issue or cause and engage our target audiences? The time-tested principles used by storytellers since, well, forever are an excellent place to start.

Leveraging Narrative Structure

Whether presented as narrative or as academic research, all long-form content can benefit from the three-act structure of exposition, confrontation, and resolution familiar to professional storytellers. In general, it works like this:

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Best Practices for Implementing New Software

October 16, 2017

Puzzle_cooperation_250If your foundation or charity is thinking about implementing new software, it's essential that it have a well-thought-out technology strategy in place before proceeding. Such a strategy should include a holistic view of the pros and cons of the software under consideration, buy-in from key stakeholders, and a focus on ROI as well as costs.

Of course, any software implementation should be a team effort that has been blessed by leadership and is conducted in real partnership with the software implementer. Settling on a software solution that solves one problem for a single department without thinking through the entire organization's technology needs and ecosystem can lead to more problems than it solves, including:

  • a fatal lack of buy-in from staff and management;
  • technology needs that go unaddressed;
  • duplication of effort; and
  • lack of systems integration.

Selecting a vendor based on a solution's cosmetic features while ignoring the implementer's competence and capacity can also cause problems. And because many foundations and nonprofits are laser-focused on initial costs and frequently ignore longer-term return-on-investment (ROI) calculations, especially when it comes to choosing a firm to implement a solution, organizations often end up with software that is inexpensive but does nothing to drive impact or improve their bottom lines.

Long story short? Software solutions that appear to be inexpensive at first glance can result in significant unaccounted-for costs during the implementation process. Which is why forward-thinking organizations look for solutions that can help them advance their mission and yield a better-than-average return on investment.

Here are five types of software that are useful for foundations and grantmaking charities:

  1. CRM: Provides a holistic view of the constituent experience across the entire organization.
  2. Fundraising: Gives a clear view of performance and yield (including data enrichment services), processes donations, and helps empower your organization's “evangelists” to raise money on your behalf.
  3. Financial: Provides in-depth record keeping and custom reports that allow you to drill down into your finances.
  4. Grants management and impact measurement: Identifies, tracks, and measures the impact of grants and gifts (both cash and in-kind) against concrete outcomes.
  5. Analytics: Is used to harness the power of data and connect with constituents, highlight areas of operational improvement, and generate insights into potential organizational investments.

So how can organizations set themselves up for long-term success once they've chosen one or more of the above solutions? Here are five best software implementation practices:

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5 Questions for...Rye Young, Executive Director, Third Wave Fund

October 12, 2017

The Third Wave Fund, an activist fund led by and for women of color and intersex, queer, and trans people under the age of 35, recently launched a pilot effort, the Our Own Power fund, aimed at fostering grassroots organizations in the gender and reproductive justice fields. Rye Young, a trans-activist and executive director of the fund, spoke with PND via email about the importance of representation — the notion that organizations representing vulnerable communities should be led by members of those communities and what nonprofits and foundations can do to boost representation within their organizations and in the sector more generally.

Philanthropy News Digest: What can nonprofits and foundations do to increase self-representation within their organizations?

Rye YoungRye Young: An important first step that many organizations skip is to acknowledge that there is a representation problem in the first place, and to appreciate that this problem does not have an easy fix because it is the result of many factors. There needs to be a conscious effort made to understand how this lack of representation came to be and why it hasn’t been addressed.

Once that understanding has been established, real conversations need to take place focused on why self-representation should be an organizational goal and to determine how far the organization’s leaders are willing to go. For instance, how much funding should be allocated to training? Are those in leadership positions who come from outside the community served by the organization willing to step down from their roles? Can job qualifications be changed or replaced with something more appropriate?

When deciding what steps it can and should take, the organization also must acknowledge the legitimacy of the problem and the many factors behind it. The root causes behind the lack of representation are varied, layered, and deeply embedded within most organizations. So, any decisions arrived at to address the problem must be long-term, and there must be buy-in at all levels of the organization.

PND: Can you give us an example of the kinds of things that result in a lack of representation?

RY: Racism, patriarchy, ageism, ableism — all can result in staff and board members not being members of the community being served, and in turn that can lead to a culture, a set of norms, practices, and values that are reflective of a more privileged or dominant group. And addressing the issue should go beyond changes in leadership or a few key staff; it has to involve a deep examination the organization’s work at every level, from mission and values, to its theory of change, to programs and its human resources policies.

Another example of a root cause could be that your field requires certain types of specialized education, eliminating many eminently qualified candidates and resulting in a small, privileged pool of “qualified” applicants. But there are many drivers. What’s important is that we all do some deep thinking and learning as to what exactly is going on at our own institutions.

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The Secret to Motivating Donors

October 04, 2017

ActNowbuttonWith year-end fundraising season fast approaching, it's easy for development professionals to fall into the trap of focusing on a single project for which their organization really needs funding. Other nonprofit leaders are frantically crafting year-end appeals, checking and re-checking their donor lists, and trying to come up with creative new ways to engage donors.

No surprise, then, that this is the time of year when we're approached by nonprofits who want to know how they can develop a strategy for new donor acquisition and turn their one-time donors into loyal supporters.

The secret, we tell them, lies in connecting donors to the specific and general — in the same appeal.

Let me give you an example. Assume your organization is working to address a really big problem — say, eliminating hunger in the United States. Such a goal, and the language used to articulate it, can be hard for people to process. In our years of testing fundraising appeals, we've found that potential supporters often don’t understand or respond to messages asking them to support such an ambitious goal. Why? It's too big. What's the point of making a donation if you don't believe your donation will make a dent in the problem it's meant to address?

For a lot of nonprofits, a not atypical scenario looks like this:

  1. A donor — let's call her Margaret — receives a direct-mail appeal asking her to support Organization X, which is working to eliminate hunger in the United States: "Won't you help us end hunger?"
  2. Because she's a compassionate person, Margaret is a little overwhelmed. She isn't a celebrity activist or a deep-pocketed philanthropist, and she only has a couple of hundred dollars set aside for charitable giving. So many people in America struggle with hunger and food insecurity — how can her small donation possibly help?
  3. Margaret decides not to make a donation because she doesn't think it will make a difference.

Instead, we counsel our clients to tell the story of one individual who has been helped by their organization, in the belief that it's easier for a donor to grasp the specific rather than the general. Here's what that might look like:

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Weekend Link Roundup (September 2-3, 2017)

September 04, 2017

Our weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

RosieClimate Change

Did climate change magnify the destructive power of Hurricane Harvey? Robinson Meyer The Atlantic's Robinson Meyer uncovers a fair amount of evidence which suggests that global warming is making a bad situation worse.

On the Yes! Magazine site, 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben talks with Jacqueline Patterson, director of the NAACP Environmental and Climate Justice Program about the threat of climate change as a lens to understand many of the injustices confronting the planet.

Collaboration

Which of the following elements of effective collaboration is the most challenging: reaching consensus, bringing diverse perspectives to the table, taking meaningful action? Hop over to the Kauffman Foundation site and cast your vote, then read on to learn how "to apply the principles that matter to move to [a] place where collaboration can happen on a much larger scale." 

Data

Could data science be the key to unlocking the next wave of social change? Elizabeth Good Christopherson, president and chief executive officer of the Rita Allen Foundation, talks with Jake Porway, founder of DataKind, a global network of volunteers skilled in data analysis, coding and visualization, about changes in technology that are influencing the work of his organization and the prospects for accelerated social change.

Disaster Relief

The New York Times has a good roundup of federal assistance for those affected by Hurricane Harvey.

Looking for commonsense advice about the best way to donate to Hurricane Harvey relief and recovery efforts? This article by Pam Fessler on the NPR site is a good place to start.

In a post on Slate, Jonathan M. Katz explains why the Red Cross, the default disaster relief recipient for a majority of corporations and individual Americans, won't "save" Houston.

And in a post on the NCRP site, Ginny Goldman, founder and former director of the Texas Organizing Project, the Houston-based affiliate of the Center for Popular Democracy, reminds Americans that "[w]hen camera crews head home and it's time to rebuild Houston, the people on the ground will need organizing capacity and legal support to fight for themselves." 

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5 Mistakes You’re Making With Your Awareness Campaigns

August 29, 2017

Yell_at_earth_pc_1600_clrWith the busiest fundraising season fast approaching, nonprofit leaders everywhere should be spending much of their time thinking about their end-of-year fundraising campaigns. But when fundraising isn't top of mind, nonprofit leaders often turn their attention to another type of activity: the awareness campaign./p>

Awareness campaigns typically are defined as a sustained effort to educate individuals and boost public awareness about an organization's cause or issue. And in almost every instance they should:

  • target people who share your organization's beliefs and values;
  • educate those potential supporters about your issue or cause; and
  • generate new contacts for your donor database.

A well-executed awareness campaign will accomplish all three of those goals. But there's a caveat: awareness campaigns are easy to get wrong. And who needs that? So what should your organization be doing — and not doing — to raise awareness and acquire new donors? Read on to see whether you're making any of these common mistakes:

1. Your definition of success is too narrow; One of the most common misconceptions about awareness campaigns is that they should be mounted for the sole purpose of, well, raising awareness. But while an awareness campaign can be focused on awareness, there's actually a lot more involved: education (teaching the public about your issue or cause), explaining current events (and how they connect to your issue and efforts), and engagement (soliciting a low-level action on behalf of your organization or cause).

2. You didn't include an action in your materials. Regardless of your issue or cause, an awareness campaign should be designed to move potential supporters from interest to action — that is, from having a general interest in your issue to actually stepping up and doing something on behalf of the issue or cause. The thing to remember about actions in awareness campaigns is that they should be low level. While it's possible someone previously unfamiliar with your organization might be willing to sign up as a volunteer or donate on the spot, it's not usually the case (and shouldn't be something you count on). Instead, actions should be "stepped" like the rungs on a ladder: they should start small and increase in intensity/commitment over time, ultimately leading to concrete support (of time and/or money) for your organization or cause.

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Weekend Link Roundup (August 26-27, 2017)

August 28, 2017

Our weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Harvey-goes-82517_0Disaster Relief

Harvey has slammed into the Texas Gulf Coast and flooding from the rainfall accompanying the storm appears to be as bad, if not worse, than predicted. NPR has put together a very helpful list of sites and resources for those who would like to help.

Fundraising

The team behind the Fundly blog shares five tips aimed at helping your organization improve its crowdfunding goals. 

International Affairs/Development

The UN Sustainable Development Goals are a framework for what might just be the most ambitious development effort ever. And if that effort is to succeed, every dollar contributed toward one of the goals needs to be spent effectively. On the Triple Pundit site, Mandy Ryan, managing director at Changing Our World, has some good tips for companies looking to align their citizenship work with the SDGs.

And what can we learn from UNLEASH, an "innovation lab" where a thousand young people from a hundred and twenty-nine countries spent ten days in Aarhus, Denmark, developing solutions for the Sustainable Development Goals?  Catherine Cheney reports for Devex.

Journalism/Media

Google News Lab, in partnership with ProPublica, is launching a new, machine learning-powered tool to track reported hate crimes across the country. Taylor Hatmaker reports for Tech Crunch.

We were saddened to learn of the death of Jack Rosenthal, the great  New York Timesman (and our UWS neighbor), at the age of 82. In a long career at the Times, Rosenthal served as urban affairs correspondent in Washington, deputy editorial page editor, editorial page editor, editor of The New York Times Magazine, and president of the New York Times Company Foundation. Eighteen months after 9/11, we had an opportunity to interview him as he was serving in that latter role  an interview that still has much to teach us.

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Weekend Link Roundup (August 5-6, 2017)

August 06, 2017

Sam-shepard-in-winterOur weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

African Americans

We begin with this week's startling statistic. According to the Pew Research Center, one out of four black Americans have faced online harassment because of their race or ethnicity.

Arts and Culture

On the James Irvine Foundation blog, Leslie Payne, a senior program at the foundation, asks: What does it mean to participate in the arts today?

Education

On the Center for Effective Philanthropy blog, Jen Wilka, executive director of YouthTruth, reports  on key findings of a survey of more than 55,000 high school students that asked them how prepared they feel for life after high school.

Here on PhilanTopic, Alexis Morin, co-founder and executive director of Students for Education Reform, reports that a survey of first-generation college students conducted by her organization found that the majority of them feel unprepared for college.

And in a post for the Hechinger Report, Nicole Dobo shares key findings from Time to Act 2017: Put Data in the Hands of People, which argues that while the use of data in formulating education policy has evolved for the better, parents and teachers still find it difficult to get access to that data.

Immigration

The last time the federal government tried to slow the legal immigration to the United States by adopting a merit-based system was fifty years ago — and Lyndon Johnson was president. Alana Semuels reports The Atlantic.

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Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (July 2017)

August 01, 2017

The most popular posts here on PhilanTopic in July include strong calls to action from sector veterans Gary Bass and Mark Rosenman, Cathy Cha, and Kate Kroeger; new posts by Blackbaud's Annie Rhodes and PEAK Grantmaking's Michelle Greanias; and a couple of "repeaters" (John Hewko's account of how Rotary International manages to stay relevant in a rapidly changing world, Kyoko's Q&A with the Rockefeller Foundation's Claudia Juech). Check 'em out (if you haven't already)!

What have you read/watched/heard lately that got your attention, made you think, or charged you up? Feel free to share in the comments section below. Or drop us a line at mfn@foundationcenter.org.

4 Questions to Help You Develop Your Year-End Messaging

July 31, 2017

"Movements are built by and for the people. The people generate the movement, spread the rallying cry of the message, and depend on one another to meet the collective’s goals in addressing the social issue at hand. The people, though, are bound by a common vision and a common narrative — to change the course of an issue that has affected so many people. But how is this possible? How can an individual turn his or her attention from the general issues present in so many communities to the importance of one issue affecting a group of people they may have never met before? Or take a stand for a concept that may never even affect them personally? It comes down to the message and a story. A story based on a vision for change for people or communities that need it most."

— excerpt from Social Movements for Good

Dec-31-calendarIf you're like a lot of our clients, you're starting to work on (or at least think about) your year-end fundraising appeals. Although successful year-end campaigns are driven by a strategic combination of factors, one above all others is both critical and often the most challenging to execute: messaging.

From the belief statement (also called the opening or donor statement) and opening sentence or two to pull quotes, calls to action, and the ever-important P.S. line, you have a limited amount of space (and time) in which to capture potential donors' attention, communicate your story, and, of course, persuade them to donate.

That's a lot of work!

When it comes to developing messaging for a fundraising appeal, I'm asked one question more than any other: How do I get started? Though it can be a challenge to get past writer's block and craft effective messages for a year-end campaign, I always suggest that you first ask yourself these four simple questions:

1. What makes your organization unique? Chances are yours isn't the only organization working to address or solve your particular issue. And that's okay! A fundraising appeal is your chance to call out — loudly and clearly — what’' unique or different about your organization.

Supplemental questions to consider: Why does your organization exist (i.e., why does it do the work it does)? Whom do you serve (demographically, geographically, etc.)? What's special or compelling about the population you serve? How does your organization approach its work? What's unusual or unique about that approach? How is it different from the approach employed by other organizations?

2. Why should a donor give to your organization now? Why the sense of urgency behind your organization's appeal? Sure, responses like "It's the last chance for you to claim a tax deduction" or "Matched funds are available for a limited time" are valid, but end-of-the-year appeals really are your chance to think big.

Still struggling? Think in reverse: What won't happen if you don't hit your fundraising targets? Who won't ;be helped? What might happen if they aren't served by your organization?

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