Archive for ‘Current Events’

April 4, 2014

Delivering (My Own) Bad News

I don’t want to mislead you. So, let me be clear from the start. This post is less about how to deliver bad news and more about, well, me sharing some bad news with you. Nevertheless, in keeping with the spirit of this blog site, I will include some relevant tips at the end.

First, I want to share some terrible, personal news with you.

As you may know from some of my previous posts, the past couple of years have been a challenging time given my wife’s fight with Ovarian Cancer. Now that she continues to be in remission, we were looking forward to a happy, relatively normal 2014. Unfortunately, that’s not to be the case.

I have been diagnosed with Pseudomyxoma Peritonei (PMP), a slowly progressing abdominal cancer. PMP is rare. Medical professionals diagnose fewer than 1000 cases per year worldwide, according to some researchers.

Frowny Face by khaybe via FlickrAt this point, I have no pain and very little discomfort. My only significant symptoms are a distended abdomen, an annoying cough from the pressure on my diaphragm, and weight loss beyond what I was shooting for. However, left unchecked, my condition would soon change for the worse. Therefore, in the coming weeks, I will undergo surgical treatment. This will require a lengthy hospital stay and recovery period.

Unfortunately, there is no cure or even remission for PMP. Treatment will beat it back. Then, I have to hope it comes back very slowly.

Now, and for at least the next few months, I need to focus 100 percent of my energy on regaining as much of my health as possible. So, I’ll be taking an indefinite leave-of-absence from my blog, professional life, and most social media activity. I look forward to re-engaging as soon as I am able.

Meantime, here are some things that you might consider doing, in no particular order:

February 28, 2014

Warning: US Volunteerism at a Decade Low!

The rate of volunteerism in America fell to the lowest level in a decade, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics report Volunteering in the United States — 2013.  This appears part of a downward trend.

Nonprofit organizations should find this trend alarming for a number of reasons, including:

Volunteers provide an essential labor pool. Approximately 62.6 million (25.4 percent) Americans volunteered at least once between September 2012 and September 2013.

The median volunteer spent 50 hours on volunteer activities during the study period. These significant volunteer hours mean that volunteers are a valuable part of the nonprofit labor force. Declining volunteerism rates mean charities will either have to limit services, discontinue certain activities, or pay for employees to perform the tasks formerly handled by volunteers.

Volunteers serve as ambassadors. Individuals who volunteer usually act as ambassadors for the organization. They obviously have a high-degree of interest in the organization, which is why they volunteer with it.

Through volunteer experiences, provided they are good ones, the volunteers will become more engaged with the organization and more passionate about its work. They will speak of the organization with family and friends. When they do, it will be in a positive, passionate tone. This word-of-mouth promotion will help your organization to attract additional volunteer and donor support.

Volunteers are more likely to donate. The more engaged an individual is with his community, the more likely he is to volunteer and contribute money to nonprofit organizations. The more points of connection there are between an individual and a particular nonprofit organization, the more likely that individual is to give, give often, and give generously to that organization, as I point out in my book, Donor-Centered Planned Gift Marketing.

Volunteerism is an important point of connection. This phenomenon is explained, in part, by the Social Capital Theory popularized by Robert Putnam, author of Bowling Alone.

Volunteers are more likely to make planned gifts. Consider what researcher Russell James, JD, PhD, CFP reports in his book, American Charitable Bequest Demographics (1992-2012):

Among those with [estate] planning documents, those who both volunteer and give ($500+) are dramatically more likely to plan a charitable estate gift than those who only volunteer or only give ($500+). Those who only volunteer, plan charitable estate gifts at approximately the same rate as those who only give.”

Graph from American Charitable Bequest Demographics (1992-2012) by Russell James.

Graph from American Charitable Bequest Demographics (1992-2012) by Russell James.

Furthermore, those who only volunteer or only donate ($500+) are more than twice as likely to make a legacy gift than those who do neither.

For a free electronic copy of James’ book, subscribe to this blog site in the right-hand column. You’ll receive an email confirmation of your subscription that will contain a link to the book.

Clearly, the steady decline in volunteerism represents a serious problem for the nonprofit sector.

So, why is volunteerism on the decline? Unfortunately, the reasons for the decline are unclear. However, the report contains some clues.

February 23, 2014

Honoring Donor Intent: When it Works, When it Doesn’t

Donor-centered fundraising is smart fundraising. Part of being donor centric involves always honoring the donor’s intent.

The Association of Fundraising Professionals’ Code of Ethical Principles states:

[Fundraising professionals] recognize their responsibility to ensure that needed resources are vigorously and ethically sought and that the intent of the donor is honestly fulfilled.”

Honoring donor intent is essential for at least two reasons:

  1. It’s the right thing to do.
  2. It’s a fundamental way to earn and deserve trust. Without trust, fundraising would be virtually impossible.

To honor donor intent, you must first ensure that the contribution is received according to the donor’s specifications. This is particularly important for planned gifts when the donor is no longer around to make sure everything goes according to plan. The charity becomes the voice of the donor.

The next part of honoring donor intent requires that the organization use the gift for the purpose specified by the donor.

Unfortunately, honoring donor intent is not always an easy thing to do. Sometimes, it works the right way while other times it morphs into something ugly.

Let’s look at two examples.

The Pennsbury Scholarship Foundation learned of the passing of an elderly woman in the community. I first shared her story in my book, Donor-Centered Planned Gift Marketing. A member of the all-volunteer organization’s board knew the woman and knew the Foundation was in her will.

The woman’s attorney produced a copy of the will which included a nearly $1 million bequest for the Foundation and nearly nothing for her two estranged children. However, the children produced another version of the will where the charitable provision was whited-out, literally.

The attorney for the children approached the Foundation to negotiate a settlement agreement. The Foundation, under the advice of legal counsel, held firm and asked that the matter proceed to court as soon as possible.

The attorney for the children initiated a series of delaying tactics hoping that the Foundation would eventually negotiate rather than have the matter drag out. Under the advice of legal counsel, the Foundation held firm.

About one year later, surprisingly quickly given the circumstances, the court upheld the clean version of the will, and the Foundation received the full bequest.

In the Foundation’s case, the donor’s interest was in alignment with the charity’s. The Foundation was right to defend the donor’s wishes. By defending the donor’s interest, the Foundation ultimately benefited. More importantly, young people in the community will benefit for years to come as the Foundation provides scholarships that would not otherwise be possible to award.

Sadly, there are times when protecting the interests of the donor cross a line. In those cases, the organization goes from being donor centric to being self-centered, even greedy. This might be the case with the University of Texas.

Warhol's Farrah Fawcett portrait on exhibit at the UT Blanton Museum.

Warhol’s Farrah Fawcett portrait on exhibit at the UT Blanton Museum.

The University received a bequest from Farrah Fawcett. The Seventies icon left “all” her artwork to the University where she had studied art prior to the successful launch of her acting career. The collection included at least one portrait of Fawcett by famed artist Andy Warhol.

However, the Fawcett story is complicated. Warhol actually did two, almost identical pieces. According to Ryan O’Neal, the actor and on-again-off-again boyfriend of Fawcett, Warhol gave one portrait to Fawcett and the other to him.

February 12, 2014

Special Report: Winner of Book Contest Named

[Publisher's Note: "Special Reports" are posted from time-to-time as a benefit for subscribers and frequent visitors to this blog. "Special Reports" are not widely promoted. To be notified of all new posts, including "Special Reports," please take a moment to subscribe in the right-hand column.]

 

We have a winner!

As 2013 drew to a close, Michael Rosen Says… announced a chance for readers to win a free copy of Donor-Centered Planned Gift Marketing. To enter the book drawing, readers needed to share the title of a favorite book they recently read about fundraising, philanthropy, or civil society.

You can read the original post and discover what books have been recommended by clicking here.

You can find other reader recommended books by visiting The Nonprofit Bookstore (powered by Amazon).

Donor-Centered Planned Gift MarketingThe winner of the contest is Pete Stroble, President of the British Transportation Museum (Ohio). Pete’s name was randomly selected by guest judge Tracy Malloy-Curtis, Director of Philanthropic Planning at the International Planned Parenthood Federation/Western Hemisphere Region. I thank Pete for his book recommendation and Tracy for selecting our winner.

For writing Donor-Centered Planned Gift Marketing, I won the AFP/Skystone Partners Prize for Research in Fundraising and Philanthropy. The best-selling book is listed on the official CFRE International Resource Reading List. The average reader review on Amazon is 5-stars. You can find the book by clicking here.

February 10, 2014

Special Report: Mark Zuckerberg & Wife Lead List of Top Philanthropists

[Publisher's Note: "Special Reports" are posted from time-to-time as a benefit for subscribers and frequent visitors to this blog. "Special Reports" are not widely promoted. To be notified of all new posts, including "Special Reports," please take a moment to subscribe in the right-hand column.]

 

With a gift of $992.2 million of Facebook stock to the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Dr. Priscilla Chan, find themselves at the top of The Chronicle of Philanthropy’s list of largest philanthropists in 2013.

Mark Zuckerberg by Andrew Feinberg via FlickrZuckerberg, at age 29, is the youngest philanthropist ever to top The Chronicle’s annual list of largest donors.

George Mitchell, with a bequest gift of approximately $750 million to the Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation, ranked second on the 2013 list.

In total, the top donors of 2013 contributed $7.7 billion plus $2.9 billion in pledges. The numbers and ranking are based on publicly available information.

January 23, 2014

Special Report: Free Webinar with Researcher Russell James

[Publisher's Note: "Special Reports" are posted from time-to-time as a benefit for subscribers and frequent visitors to this blog. "Special Reports" are not widely promoted. To be notified of all new posts, including "Special Reports," please take a moment to subscribe in the right-hand column. Subscribers will receive a link to download a free copy of researcher Russell James' latest book.]

 

The percentage of the US population with wills and trusts has declined sharply over the past 12 years, as I first reported here. What’s a smart planned giving marketer to do?

Russell James, JD, PhD, CFP, a leading philanthropy researcher based at Texas Tech University, will offer some answers in a FREE webinar hosted by MarketSmart on Wednesday, January 29, 2014 at 2:00 PM ET (Optional Q&A 3-4 PM).

James will discuss the decline of wills and trusts along with other legacy giving issues including:

• How can you garner legacy gifts from donors who do not have wills or trusts?

• What are the top demographic predictors that someone will make or revoke a bequest commitment?

• Why are beneficiary designations becoming increasingly popular?

Space is limited, so be sure to register now.

January 17, 2014

Is it Ethical When an Ethicist Browbeats Prospective Donors?

Peter Singer, a professor of bioethics at Princeton University and founder of The Life You Can Save, not only thinks it is acceptable to browbeat prospective donors, it’s exactly what he did in an op-ed article published in The Washington Post.

In my opinion, Singer’s piece, “Heartwarming Causes are Nice, but Let’s Give to Charity with Our Heads,” contains a glaring ethical problem:

Coercive Manipulation. Singer suggests that people who donate to causes that he does not endorse, such as the Make-A-Wish Foundation, are guilty of murder.

Let’s look more closely at this issue before exploring other problems with Singer’s reasoning.

After pointing out that the Make-A-Wish Foundation does not save lives, Singer presents a variety of examples of how contributions to his select group of organizations, instead of Make-A-Wish, can actually preserve lives. Singer writes:

Yet we can still ask if these emotions are the best guide to what we ought to do. According to Make-A-Wish, the average cost of realizing the wish of a child with a life-threatening illness is $7,500. That sum, if donated to the Against Malaria Foundation and used to provide bed nets to families in malaria-prone regions, could save the lives of at least two or three children (and that’s a conservative estimate).”

Singer goes on to say:

It’s obvious, isn’t it, that saving a child’s life is better than fulfilling a child’s wish to be Batkid [referencing a child who benefitted from Make-A-Wish last year]?”

Such adolescent logic is harshly manipulative. The taking of a human life is widely considered the greatest possible sin. By accusing people of this sin, Singer is using guilt to coercively manipulate donor behavior.

Mosquito by Ibrahim Koc

Mosquito by Ibrahim Koc

Rather than offering an unbiased exploration of the roles of emotion v. intellect in the philanthropic process, Singer uses the forum to browbeat people to meet his own personal philanthropic standards.

I’m not sure why Singer thinks he is better qualified to judge which charities are worthy to exist or not. Nevertheless, it is certain that Singer feels he has a better moral compass than the rest of us. And, unless we want to be murderers, we should support his anointed causes.

What I find particularly interesting is that, while Singer appears concerned about saving lives, he seems little concerned with the quality of those lives saved.

What happens to the child who has been saved from Malaria? Would Singer oppose donations to build a school to educate those children? After all, the money otherwise could have gone to buy more mosquito nets.

Singer’s op-ed article provides an excellent example of what nonprofit organizations should not do when trying to attract people to a cause. Instead, here are some of the things that charities should do:

January 10, 2014

How Much is a Story Worth?

We all enjoy a good story. Sometimes, a story will make us sad or happy. It might even make us laugh or inspire us. But, how much is a story worth to a fundraising professional?

A few days ago, I read a news article out of Lincoln, Nebraska. No, the piece was not about the bone-chilling temperatures resulting from the Polar Vortex. Instead, it was a heart-warming tale about an 18-year-old server.

When two men recently visited the Cracker Barrel restaurant, they asked the hostess to seat them at a table staffed by the grumpiest server. They explained they wanted to cheer-up the person.

The hostess explained that Cracker Barrel did not have any unhappy servers; so, instead, she would seat them at a table staffed by the happiest server.

After placing their order, the men asked Abigail Sailors why she was so happy. Over the course of the meal, she answered their questions.

Abigail Sailors

Abigail Sailors (photo by Morgan Spiehs/Lincoln Journal Star)

Years ago, Abigail’s parents were involved in a tragic car crash. Her mother had suffered a severe brain injury. Her father could not care for the children by himself.

Following the crash, Abigail and her four siblings were placed into foster care, in separate homes. Abigail was abused and bounced from home to home.

When Abigail, a sister and brother were returned home to their father, the story did not reach its happily-ever-after moment. Instead, the father was ultimately arrested for abuse.

Then, nine years ago, John and Susi Sailors rescued the five children and cared for them alongside their own five offspring. Abigail and her siblings were finally together in a secure, loving home.

After talking about her past, Abigail spoke about her present and future. She had attended one semester at Trinity Bible College in North Dakota. She paid her own way. Unfortunately, she did not have enough money to return. So, she is working at Cracker Barrel and saving her earnings so she can go back to Trinity or study on-line.

Given where she has come from, where she is, and where she is going is why she is so happy, Abigail told her customers.

As the two gentlemen finished their meals, wrapped up the conversation, and prepared to leave, they did something remarkable. Actually, four things that are remarkable:

December 27, 2013

Top Ten Posts of 2013, and Other Reflections

As 2013 draws to a close, I thought it would be interesting to look back briefly before we march into the New Year.

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!

For starters, let’s look at which of my posts have been the top ten most read in the past year:

1. Can a Nonprofit Return a Donor’s Gift?

2. 6 Ways to Raise More Money without New Donors!

3. 5 Words or Phrases that Can Cause Donors to Cringe

4. 5 Things Never to Do in Your Phone Fundraising Calls

5. 5 Tips for Giving Donors What They Really Want

6. How NOT to Run a Capital Campaign

7. Prospect Research v. Invasion of Privacy

8. 7 Magical Words to Earn Respect, Trust, and Appreciation

9. Do You Make Any of These Mistakes When Speaking with Donors?

10. Do Not Let This Happen to Your Organization

I invite you to read any posts you might have missed by clicking on the title above. If you’ve read them all, thank you for being a committed reader.

I’m honored to know that I have readers from around the world. (I love the Internet!) While I appreciate all of my readers, I thought it would be interesting to look, beyond the United States, to see my top ten countries for readership:

1. Canada

2. United Kingdom

3. Australia

4. India

5. Netherlands

6. Philippines

7. France

8. Germany

9. New Zealand

10. Italy

Overall, Michael Rosen Says…, has seen a 20 percent increase in readership in 2013 compared with 2012. I thank everyone who made that possible by dropping by to read my posts. I especially want to thank those who have subscribed.

When you subscribe for free in the column at the right, you’ll receive email notices of new posts, including “Special Reports” which are not otherwise widely publicized. Beginning in 2014, subscribers will also receive exclusive bonus content and a limited number of subscriber-only special offers directly from me. So, if you’re not already a subscriber, sign-up now.

Just as I value all of my readers, I also greatly appreciate those who take the time to “Like” my posts, share my posts, Tweet my posts, re-blog my posts, and comment on my posts. In particular, I want to recognize the following people who have commented most often in 2013:

December 13, 2013

No Evidence of #GivingTuesday Success

I admit it. The news headlines about the second annual #GivingTuesday have been exuberant:

“Giving Tuesday Shows Robust Results”The Chronicle of Philanthropy 

“Growth in Online Giving Tuesday Numbers ‘Inspiring’”USA Today 

“Giving Tuesday Smashes Records, Spurs 90% Donation Spike”The Huffington Post 

#GivingTuesday 2013 Infographic by #GivingTuesdayThe good folks at #GivingTuesday even put together an infographic illustrating the day’s success. I’m sharing it in this post. 

There’s only one problem with all of the enthusiasm: There is not a single shred of hard evidence that #GivingTuesday is good for the entire nonprofit sector.

Fortunately, Forbes contributor Tom Watson is one member of the media not afraid to ask the big question: “Inside The #GivingTuesday Numbers: Will American Philanthropy Grow?” 

I share Watson’s healthy skepticism. Like him, I am not yet convinced that #GivingTuesday is a positive force for philanthropy although I certainly hope it is. While #GivingTuesday might have been effective for some individual charities, I wonder if it has been good for the entire nonprofit sector.

The fact that many more charities got involved with #GivingTuesday, compared with last year, does not necessarily mean anything. The fact that millions of people used social media to talk about #GivingTuesday does not necessarily mean anything. The fact that millions of dollars were raised on #GivingTuesday is equally meaningless, by itself.

Here are some questions about #GivingTuesday that the nonprofit sector should answer before rushing to congratulate itself:

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