January 19, 2018

Charitable Giving Threatened by Drop In Volunteerism

On Monday, the USA celebrated Martin Luther King, Jr. Day as a national day of service. From April 15 to 21, the nation will mark National Volunteer Week. Clearly, Americans value volunteerism.

Unfortunately, the volunteerism rate has been steadily declining for years. This trend has disturbing implications for philanthropy.

In 2003, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 28.8 percent of Americans volunteered. By 2015, that rate had steadily fallen to 24.9 percent. This is a huge problem for the nonprofit sector for a number of reasons:

Volunteers Provide a Valuable Resource. Volunteers do a great deal of work that might not be done otherwise. 62.6 million Americans volunteered 7.8 billion hours. Independent Sector reports that a volunteer hour is worth $24.14, over $180 billion of total estimated value. Sadly, with volunteerism on the decline, charities are forced to provide fewer services or incur greater labor costs.

Volunteers Serve as Ambassadors. In addition to being a valuable labor resource, volunteers are also fantastic ambassadors for an organization. The typical volunteer serves only one or two organizations, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. When volunteers share their experiences, they also talk with friends, family, and professional colleagues about your organization and its mission. This could lead to additional volunteer and philanthropic support. With a drop in volunteerism, there are now fewer ambassadors for charities, which will inevitably lead to less future support.

Volunteers are More Likely to Donate. Volunteers are twice as likely as non-volunteers to make a charitable contribution, according to the Corporation for National and Community Service. Even planned giving is affected by volunteerism. As I’ve reported previously, researcher Russell James, JD, PhD, CFP states 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.”

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.]

With a decline in volunteerism, we can expect fewer people to make current and planned gifts. This is already happening according to an analysis by The Chronicle of Philanthropy.

There are many likely reasons for the decline in volunteerism including: Continue reading

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January 12, 2018

Hang-on to the Holiday Spirit with FREE Gifts and Resources to Raise More Money!

For most of us, whether we observe Hanukkah, Christmas, or just the New Year, the holiday season is an uplifting time full of joy. However, the same cannot always be said of the post-holiday period, according to Linda Walter, LCSW. Her article in Psychology Today cites many reasons for the post-holiday blahs, for some, even depression.

As an antidote for the after-holiday letdown, I want to share several free resources with you that just might help you keep the holiday spirit going while also helping you raise more money in 2018.

The Donor-Advised Fund Widget. For starters, let me tell you about the Donor-Advised Fund Widget created and offered free-of-charge by the generous folks at MarketSmart. This useful, free gift will help you continue to celebrate the season and raise more money for your nonprofit organization.

When it comes to fundraising, a general rule is: Make it easy for people to give your organization money. You probably already do this in a number of ways. For example, your organization probably allows donors to place gifts on their credit card, mail a check in a business reply envelope you supply, give online, or contribute when they buy products (e.g., Amazon Smile).

So, why not also make it easy for someone to recommend a donation from his or her DAF account?

Rather than viewing DAFs as enemies that divert vitally needed funds away from charities, nonprofit organizations should view DAFs as a great fundraising opportunity. Unfortunately, the problem is that nonprofits have not made it easy for people to donate from their DAF accounts…until now.

Greg Warner, Founder and CEO of MarketSmart, says:

Amazon is successful primarily because they make it easy to buy stuff. Similarly, if nonprofits just made it easy to transfer DAF money, the bottleneck would get un-clogged. But no one was stepping up. So I did!”

The DAF Widget goes on your organization’s website. Your donors with DAF accounts then can easily find their account management company from a comprehensive list of over 800 service providers. Then, they simply click to go directly to their DAF management company’s website where they can enter the relevant information to make a donation recommendation for your organization. To see the widget live, visit the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society website by clicking here.

DAFs are an increasingly valuable source of donations for charities. Consider the following market-wide insights from The National Philanthropic Trust 2017 Donor-Advised Fund Report:

  2012 2016
Number of DAF Accounts 204,704 284,965
Total Assets in DAF Accounts $44.71 billion $85,15 billion
Grants from DAF Accounts $8.5 billion $15.75 billion
Ave. DAF Asset Size $218,413 $298,809

To put the above figures into context, non-corporate private foundations gave $45.15 billion to charities in 2016. By contrast, donations made from DAFs totaled $15.75 billion that same year, equating to roughly one-third (34.8 percent) of the estimated amount granted by non-corporate private foundations.

In other words, DAF donations represent a significant and growing source of gifts for nonprofit organizations. However, to get your share, you need to make it easy for people to recommend donations from their DAF accounts. That’s why MarketSmart created the free DAF Widget.

You can learn more about the DAF Widget and claim yours by clicking here.

There is just one catch, if you want to call it that. The DAF Widget is in its Beta Edition. So, MarketSmart is looking for feedback, either directly or through comments below. Then, Greg promises to invest more time and money to make the DAF Widget even better. So, if you use the DAF Widget, please let us know how you think it could be made easier to use and more effective.

Here are seven additional resources for you to help get 2018 off to a great start: Continue reading

January 5, 2018

How Bad is the New Tax Code for Your Charity?

If you’ve been reading the mainstream press, or even some of the industry media, you might believe that the future is all doom and gloom for charitable giving thanks to the Tax Cut and Jobs Act. But, how bad will things really be for you and your nonprofit organization?

As a former newspaper editor, I know that the media lives by the axiom: If it bleeds, it leads. In other words, negativity attracts readers and viewers, which in turn attracts advertising dollars. So, it’s no surprise that the media have put the new tax code in the most negative light when it comes to charitable giving.

Fortunately, reality is something quite a bit different. Let me explain, using figures from 2016 (the most current numbers available).

Overall, charitable giving totaled $390.05 billion. US Gross Domestic Product totaled $18.6 trillion. Therefore, total philanthropy in 2016 equaled 2.1 percent of GDP.

As a result of the new tax code, charitable giving could decline by approximately $21 billion, according to Patrick Rooney, PhD, Executive Associate Dean for Academic Programs and Professor of Economics and Philanthropic Studies at Indiana University-Purdue University.

However, is that number accurate? Unfortunately, we have no way of truly knowing as Rooney himself states.

For example, the estimated philanthropic decline of $21 billion does not take into account the impact of a likely increase in Gross Domestic Product.

Because philanthropy closely correlates to GDP at the rate of approximately two percent, we can expect a rise in GDP to result in a rise in giving.

So, how much will GDP rise? Again, no one knows for certain. The estimates vary greatly from 0.08 to 0.35 percentage points. The Tax Foundation provided the latter estimate. Applying that percentage to the 2016 GDP, we would see GDP increase by $651 billion. If two percent of that increase goes to charitable giving, that would be approximately $13 billion. So, Rooney’s prediction of a $21 billion decline in philanthropy could be mitigated partially by GDP growth resulting in just an $8 billion drop in giving. However, even that number could be further offset by growth in foundation giving resulting from robust growth in the stock market.

Simply put, the new tax code could increase GDP and stock values leading to more charitable giving that could, at least partially, offset any potential decline in giving resulting from the new tax policy.

For the sake of discussion, however, let’s assume a $21 billion drop in giving, as Rooney outlined. That would take philanthropy as a percentage of GDP from 2.1 percent to 1.9 percent, using 2016 numbers. This is still within the 40+ year historical range.

The bottom line is that the new tax law could result in a decline in charitable giving. However, we don’t know for certain if that will be the case and, if it is, how much the dip will be. Even if there is a dip, giving will still remain at historically typical levels, around two percent of GDP. Furthermore, there is the possibility that the pundits are mistaken and that charitable giving will actually increase. Time will tell.

While the new tax code may change how and when people donate, history teaches us that changes in the tax code have only a short-term impact on the amount of giving though the methods and timing may vary. For example, the Reagan tax cuts resulted in greater year-end giving in 1986 before giving normalized thereafter. Furthermore, while a dip of billions of dollars is a big number, the reality is that it is not massive in the context of overall philanthropy.

Here are some of the relevant items you need to know from the 500+ page Tax Cut and Jobs Act signed into law on December 22, 2017 by President Donald Trump: Continue reading

December 29, 2017

Do Your Colleagues Know Something You Don’t?

Keeping on top of all of the latest fundraising, marketing, and nonprofit management information can be a real challenge. After all, you have a full-time job. Your boss expects you to raise a lot of money, probably more than last year. It keeps you busy.

Unfortunately, having a hectic work life could mean that you’ve overlooked some useful information that actually could help you achieve your goals more easily.

So, what’s the information that your colleagues found most interesting in 2017 that you should be sure not to miss?

Here is a list of my top ten most read posts published in 2017:

  1. Here is the One Word You Should Stop Using
  2. Delivering More of My Own Bad News
  3. 5 Mistakes that Could Cost You Year-End Donations
  4. What is the Most Important Thing a Donor Can Give You? … It’s Not What You Think It is.
  5. The Best Fundraising Blogs You Should be Reading
  6. Your Charity is Losing Big Money If It Ignore This Giving Option
  7. What are the Obstacles to Improving Donor-Retention Rates?
  8. What is the Special Ingredient that Leads to Fundraising Success?
  9. Philanthropy Will Increase in 2017 and 2018
  10. Do the Numbers Tell the Full Story?

Here’s a list of five of my older posts that remained popular this year:

  1. Can You Spot a Child Molester? Discover the Warning Signs
  2. Can a Nonprofit Return a Donor’s Gift?
  3. 5 Things Never to Do in Your Phone Fundraising Calls
  4. Special Report: Top 40 Most Effective Fundraising Consultants Identified
  5. 16 Tips for Crafting a Powerful Postcard Campaign

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

Over the years, I’ve been honored to have my blog recognized by respected peers. This year was no exception. I’m pleased that I was once again recognized in Bloomerang’s list of “100+ Fundraising Blogs You Should Be Reading in 2017.”

To make sure you don’t miss any of my future posts, please take a moment to subscribe to this site for free in the designated spot in the column to the right. You can subscribe with peace of mind knowing that I will respect your privacy.

To make finding interesting blog posts by others a bit easier, you might want to join the LinkedIn Discussion Group I created: Blog Posts for Fundraising Pros & Nonprofit Managers.

This is a LinkedIn Group for blog authors and the fundraising professionals and nonprofit managers who read them. Bloggers can promote their latest posts and readers can easily find those that interest them most and engage in thoughtful conversation, all in one place.

The site provides a welcoming environment for blog authors where they can freely promote their posts. It is also a safe place for readers who may not want to subscribe to multiple blog sites but who want to easily scan the great information that is available across blogs.

I also want to take this opportunity to thank you and all of my readers. I appreciate that you stood by my side during what was a profoundly challenging year for me. A fierce battle with cancer forced me to take a lengthy leave-of-absence this year. Now, I’m delighted to be back. You can read about my battle in the following posts: Continue reading

December 20, 2017

The Secret You Know but Do Not Know You Know

There’s a powerful fundraising secret you know. Unfortunately, you probably don’t know you know it. Yet, knowing it is essential to your fundraising and career success. 

While scanning year-end articles, blog posts, and webinar offerings about fundraising, you might be overwhelmed by the huge volume. You might also suspect that all you have to do to become a great fundraising professional is master the numbers and techniques involved in the development process.

Even my recent blog posts have focused on how-to information. However, your fundraising efforts and career are about more than numbers and skills. Don’t believe me? Let me ask you some questions. When you woke up this morning:

  • were you excited to get to the office so you could generate that report your boss asked for?
  • were you thrilled that you’d soon be listening to a webinar about donor retention?
  • were you energized by thoughts of the upcoming staff meeting?

When you accepted the job offer from your current employer, I suspect you weren’t thinking of reports, webinars, and staff meetings. Instead, you were probably thinking about the organization’s mission. You likely thought about how fun it would be to join a great team to help fulfill that mission.

That feeling might now be somewhat buried. You might not think about it much. However, at a deep level, it’s that feeling that probably gets you out of bed and to the office each morning. Passion for your organization’s mission is easy to forget when facing day-to-day demands.

In the heat of the moment, it’s easy to reduce our jobs to a set of numbers. How many donors did you acquire? Renew? Upgrade? How many major donor prospects did you visit? How many of those prospects became major donors? How long does it take to send out a thank-you letter? How much money did you raise this year? You get the idea. It’s easy to get caught up in the process and begin to lose sight of what is most important.

You will never be truly effective unless you constantly remind yourself of why you really do what you do. You won’t be able to inspire prospects to give, and you’ll likely experience premature burnout.

So, if you want to more effectively inspire people to give and if you wish to have greater career satisfaction, spend more time focusing on what the money you raise will accomplish. For example: Continue reading

December 15, 2017

Avoid a Big Misstep Now to Raise More Money in 2018

Fundraising can be complex and challenging. We need to consider strategies, tactics, technology, staffing, budget, and so much more.

What if I could help you cut through all of the clutter, so you can avoid a big misstep now and raise more money in 2018?

Well, here you go:

If you want to raise more money, do not fail to send a proper thank-you letter.

It’s pretty simple, right? I think it is. Unfortunately, so many nonprofit organizations mess up this important step in the development process either by not sending a thank-you letter at all or by simply dashing off a letter with little thought. While professional fundraisers expend considerable effort to master the complexities of the fundraising process, many stumble when it comes to something as simple as the thank-you. Don’t be one of those fundraisers.

The thank-you letter is an essential part of a sound stewardship program. Every donor should receive a thank-you communication. It amazes me that some organizations still refuse to send thank-you letters to lower-level donors. Sending a simple receipt is not the same as a thank you.

A wise person once observed that the most important communication a donor will receive from you is the first thank you after the first gift. At that point, many donors will decide whether to ever make another gift to your organization.

So, what are the three essential principles of a great thank-you letter?

1. Immediacy.

The first rule of effective thank-you letters is: Be sure to send them. The corollary is: Be sure to send them immediately, within three to seven days of the gift coming in. If you delay, donors will likely think that you do not need their money or that you do not truly appreciate them. Wise organizations that don’t have the infrastructure to do this will outsource the gift acknowledgment process recognizing that it’s a worthwhile investment.

2. Caring.

Let your donors know you care. You can do this by sending a thank-you letter out on a timely basis. In addition, make sure you spell the donor’s name correctly, acknowledge the amount received, encourage the donor to contact you with any comments or questions, include an appropriate gift receipt and tax information. If your organization hosts events or programs for the public (i.e., a theater company that has a new stage show about to open), take the opportunity to share this information with your donor. These are just some of the things you can do to show you care.

You should also remember that a thank-you letter is not another solicitation piece. So, don’t appear ungrateful by asking for more money or enclosing a gift envelope. I know this is a controversial issue so, for more about this, read “Can a Thank-You Letter Contain an Ask?”

3. Meaningfulness.

Don’t just send a simple thank-you letter that shows you didn’t spend much time thinking about it or drafting it. One way to force yourself to be a bit creative when writing a thank-you letter is to not use the words “thank you” in the first sentence. This prohibition will slow you down and force you to be more thoughtful when writing the letter.

Another tip is to remind donors of the impact their gifts will have. Better yet, tell them how their gift is already being put to good use.

Whenever possible, hand sign the thank-you letters. Even better, hand sign the letters and write a short P.S. This will go a surprisingly long way in building a meaningful relationship with the donor.

For her book Donor Centered Fundraising, Penelope Burk reviewed hundreds of thank-you letters. Based on her analysis, she outlined 20 attributes of great thank-you letters. I felt so strongly about her list that I cited it in my own book, Donor-Centered Planned Gift Marketing: Continue reading

December 8, 2017

5 Mistakes that Could Cost You Year-End Donations

As year-end approaches, you are probably working feverishly to raise as much money as possible for your nonprofit organization. Unfortunately, you might be making some mistakes that could cost your charity enormous sums of potential donations.

Here are just five common ways you might unknowingly short-change your organization at this special time of year:

1.  Appeals by the Numbers.

Many of the year-end appeals that I receive focus on numbers. Often, the number is “31,” as in December 31. Other numbers tout the volume of people served or the amount of a challenge grant. As I wrote last week, numbers can tell part of an organization’s story; however, numbers can’t tell the full story.

For the most effective appeals, you will want to engage hearts and minds. While some numbers can be meaningful, telling an individual story makes your nonprofit’s work more relatable and easier to understand. Individual stories are also far more likely to engender an emotional response.

The Wounded Warrior Project is a great example of what I mean. The organization could tell us how many veterans suffer from PTSD and medical issues. The charity could simply tell us how many veterans they serve each year. Instead, the Wounded Warrior Project tells the story of a single veteran. The organization’s television appeals are mini-movies that tell us of a veteran’s war experience, the problem he or she came home with, and how the Wounded Warrior Project is improving the veteran’s life. You can watch one of the organization’s television spots by clicking here.

2.  Not Asking for Gifts of Stock and Other Planned Gifts.

If you want to maximize year-end giving, you must seek planned gifts. Planned giving allows donors to make more gifts and larger gifts than they might otherwise be able to do simply from their checkbook. This is great news for your charity. Even better news is that not all planned gifts are deferred gifts. Here are some types of planned gifts that will result in immediate cash for your organization:

Gifts of Stock. With the stock market in record territory, many Americans own appreciated securities. By contributing stock shares to your organization, a donor can make a generous gift, realize a charitable gift deduction, and avoid capital gains tax.

Gifts of Appreciated Property. As with stock, many individuals own appreciated real December 31st by TransGriot via Flickrestate, art, and collectibles that they can donate. Your organization can either use the item for mission fulfillment (i.e., a museum can accept a work of art for its collection), or the organization can sell the item and put the cash to good use. You’ll just need to be clear with your donor about which option you intend to exercise.

Gifts from Donor Advised Funds. An increasing number of Americans have established a DAF. Be sure to remind your donors that they can advise that a gift be made to your charity from their DAF account.

IRA Charitable Rollover. Since the U.S. Congress has made the IRA Charitable Rollover permanent, individuals who are age 70.5 or older can donate up to $100,000 from their IRA each year without having to recognize it as income.

Year-end is also a good time to ask for deferred planned gifts such as Gifts in a Will, Beneficiary Designations, and Trusts.

You can read more about planned giving options by clicking here. Continue reading

November 30, 2017

Do the Numbers Tell the Full Story?

I’m back! I haven’t written a new blog post in nearly eight months due to serious health issues. Now, as my recovery progresses, I feel compelled to return to my blog as I have much to share with you. Thank you for your support and patience.

I want to take this opportunity to update you about what the past several months have been like for me while making a useful fundraising point that I believe will be of benefit to you.

Like you, as the end of the year approaches, I’ve been inundated with direct mail, e-mail, and telephone fundraising appeals. Many of these appeals focus on numbers. For example, I’ve read about how one organization won several awards for its theater productions, how another has a $10,000 challenge grant, how another needs to raise an additional $50,000 to meet its goal, and how yet another has helped feed over 500 people during Thanksgiving.

On the other hand, I also received an appeal from the Philadelphia Children’s Alliance, which brings justice and healing to the survivors of child sexual abuse. The appeal, which stood out from the pack, told the story of one child, 5-year-old Sarah. Reading about Sarah’s situation, I learned how PCA helped her. In addition to Sarah’s compelling story, the appeal mentioned that PCA also provided services to over 3,500 other children in need over the past year.

Which charity do you think I’m most likely to support? If you guessed PCA, you’re right.

While numbers can tell part of the story, they can’t convey the whole story the way that sharing the experience of one individual can. Sharing someone’s personal story can make a cause relatable, more real, and more compelling. Stories tap into emotions that statistics simply cannot.

Now, let me try to do a bit of both. I want to update you about my personal situation while using some numbers.

Regular readers of my blog know that I have suffered from the exceedingly rare Appendicial Carcinoma with Pseudomyxoma Peritonei (PMP). I’ve been open about my situation for three years so that readers would understand when I stepped away temporarily and so that others suffering with PMP would know that I am willing to be a resource for them. If you want to learn more about my journey, just search “Pseudomyxoma Peritonei” on this site.

I was diagnosed with late-stage PMP in 2014. My doctors suspect it had been growing in me undetected for nearly a decade. Two months after diagnosis, I underwent successful major surgery. Unfortunately, the cancer came back in 2015. While chemotherapy kept it in check for several months, surgery was again required in April 2017.

This time around, my primary surgery in April was 14 hours long. My follow-up surgery in June was two hours.

I was in the hospital for a combined total of 40 days from April to June. That includes my initial hospital stay, two readmissions for complications, and one follow-up surgery stay.

During my three-month treatment period from April through June, I read 10 books. Hey, I couldn’t always rely on television for good entertainment. I would have read even more books if it wasn’t for the painkillers.

Lisa, my wife, and I spent nearly one-quarter of the year in Pittsburgh, home to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s Shadyside Hospital where I received expert treatment.

I went into the hospital weighing an already diminished 146 pounds. I exited at about 112 pounds. I’m now over 130 pounds and gaining toward my goal of 150 or more. (If anyone wants to help fatten me up, I’m available for lunches. 🙂 ) Continue reading

April 4, 2017

What to Do If You Suspect Child Sex Abuse

At some point in your life, you might encounter someone you suspect of child sex abuse. Sadly, it’s not that much of a long-shot. One-in-four girls and one-in-six boys are sexually abused in the USA. It’s a horrible and relatively common crime.

So, what should you do if you suspect someone of child sex abuse?

Before I answer my own question, let me answer a question you might be asking: Why is a fundraising blog talking about child sex abuse?

Well, April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. To mark the occasion every year, I devote one blog post that will help you protect your loved ones and others from a nightmare crime. Fortunately, we can do something about this national tragedy. First, we need to educate ourselves about the problem. Then, we need to understand what action to take.

Because I’m not a lawyer, a member of law enforcement, a social worker, or a child-welfare worker, I contacted an expert to help me understand what we should do if we ever suspect an individual of child sex abuse.

First, in certain jurisdictions, you may have a legal obligation to report your suspicions if you hold a particular job such as teacher or healthcare professional. Furthermore, your organization might have reporting requirements as part of its employee policies. So, be sure to know the legal and policy obligations that come with your job.

Second, even if you’re not required by law or policy to report suspicions of child sex abuse, you are most definitely morally obligated to do so. Children are largely defenseless. It’s up to adults, any adult, to provide protection when needed.

Unfortunately, protecting children is sometimes easier said than done. For example, you may have a vague gut-feeling that a teacher is up to no good. But, with no evidence or even a concrete suspicion involving a particular child, it’s doubtful the authorities would do anything with a report.

However, if you do suspect that an adult is sexually abusing a particular child, particularly if you have any evidence (e.g., you’ve witnessed the adult taking the child away to a private room), then you need to take immediate action.

When you have a valid suspicion, contact your local police department, local child protective services agency, or your local child advocacy center (an independent social service agency). Or, better yet, contact them all. Continue reading

March 17, 2017

Delivering More of My Own Bad News

If you’re a longtime reader of my blog, you know that I’ve been in an ongoing battle with cancer since 2014. If you’re a relatively new reader here, I want you to know that I have an exceedingly rare form of cancer known as Appendicial Carcinoma with Pseudomyxoma Peritonei (PMP).

So, why am I once again writing about my health?

The reason is that I’ll soon be undergoing another extensive surgery. That means that for now, and for at least the next few months, I need to focus 100 percent of my energy on preparing for surgery and focusing on my recovery. 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, if you want to learn more about my situation, just search “Pseudomyxoma Peritonei” on this site using the search bar at the right.

I also want to thank you for being a loyal blog reader and for being supportive of my various efforts, in various ways. I’m already looking forward to the day when we can re-engage.

Finally, I want you to know that I recognize that we all face challenges. So, I’m going to share with you just some of the quotes that have lifted my spirits during my darkest hours; I hope some of them will inspire you as well: Continue reading

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