Archive for November, 2011

November 23, 2011

Most of What You Know about Thanksgiving is Wrong!

My blog posts are usually about serious matters. I write about nonprofit management issues, fundraising techniques, and government policies impacting the nonprofit sector among other topics. This time around, I thought we could step back and have a little fun this Thanksgiving season.

If you’re like me, there’s a lot about Thanksgiving that you think you know that is simply wrong. So, I’m going to set the record straight so you can regale your family and friends with the facts:

Myth 1: The Pilgrims Held the First Thanksgiving in 1621

While the Pilgrims did hold a Thanksgiving in 1621, it was definitely not the first such celebration on what would eventually become U.S. soil. Berkeley Plantation on the James River in Virginia claims to be the home of the first official Thanksgiving which was held in 1619. In 1963, President John F. Kennedy even recognized the Plantation’s claim.

However, there are several even older claims to the first Thanksgiving: In 1610, colonists in Jamestown, Virginia celebrated a Thanksgiving when a ship arrived full of food. In 1607, English colonists and Abnaki Indians observed a Thanksgiving at Maine’s Kennebec River. In 1598, San Elizario, a small community near present-day El Paso, Texas, held a Thanksgiving celebration. In 1565, the Spanish held a day of Thanksgiving in what is now Saint Augustine, Florida. In 1564, a Thanksgiving was held by French Huguenot colonists in present-day Jacksonville, Florida. In 1541, Francisco Vásquez de Coronado and his troops celebrated a Thanksgiving in what is now the Texas panhandle.

Myth 2: Thanksgiving has Always Been in November

While Thanksgiving is celebrated in the U.S. on the fourth Thursday of November, this has not always been the case. In fact, Thanksgiving hasn’t even been annually celebrated. While the Pilgrims marked Thanksgiving in the autumn of 1621 — there’s no record of the month — they did not do so again until 1623 and then it was a summer event.

The first Berkeley Plantation Thanksgiving was held on December 4. The San Elizario Thanksgiving wasn’t even held in the autumn or early winter; it was celebrated on April 30. The Saint Augustine Thanksgiving was held on September 8.

As for our modern Thanksgiving celebrations, the holiday was marked on different dates by the states until 1863 when President Abraham Lincoln declared the final Thursday of November to be a national day of Thanksgiving. It wasn’t until 1941 that the date was permanently established as the fourth Thursday of November.

Myth 3: Thanksgiving was a Harvest Celebration

Well, it depends on which Thanksgiving you’re talking about. While the first Pilgrim Thanksgiving was a celebration of the harvest, the Berkeley Plantation Thanksgiving marked the anniversary of the establishment of the colony. The Jamestown Thanksgiving marked the arrival of a ship full of food desperately needed by the starving colonists. The original San Elizario Thanksgiving celebrated the arrival of Spanish explorer Juan de Onate and his followers on the banks of the Rio Grande.

Myth 4: Thanksgiving was Always Celebrated with a Feast

Nope. William Bradford, Governor of Plymouth Colony, called for Thanksgiving to be celebrated in 1623 with a fast.

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November 21, 2011

Special Report: “Supercommittee” Fails!

[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.]

The Congressional Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, the so-called Supercommittee, announced that it will fail to reach a bi-partisan deficit reduction deal by the established deadline. The Committee issued a statement on November 21, 2011.

The failure of the Supercommittee leaves many questions unanswered for the nation, in general. It also leaves many open questions where the nonprofit sector is concerned:

  • Will Congress allow the Bush Tax Cuts to expire next year? How will that impact charitable giving?
  • Will Congress tinker with the charitable giving tax deduction? Both Democrats and Republicans on the Supercommittee have expressed a willingness to reduce, in some way, the charitable giving tax deduction. So, what will Congress ultimately do and how will that impact giving?
  • How will Congress’ failure to reduce the deficit impact the stock market and the overall economy? Today, the Dow fell 248.85 points (-2.11 percent) while the NASDAQ dropped 49.36 points  (-1.92 percent). How will this ultimately impact philanthropy?

One thing is certain: When it comes to tax rates, tax deductions, the stock market, and the economy, uncertainty is likely to remain at least until the 2012 election. This will obviously create challenges for all Americans. However, it will continue to present unique challenges to everyone involved in the philanthropic planning process.

The Supercommittee has done the nation a massive, bi-partisan disservice by failing to do its job. If there were a shred of honor left in Washington, DC, every member of the Supercommittee would resign. The Supercommittee is not looking very “super” at the moment.

That’s what Michael Rosen says… What do you say?

November 18, 2011

3 Reasons Why You Don’t Need a Development Plan

From time-to-time, I will invite an outstanding, published book author to write a guest post. If you’d like to learn about how to be a guest blogger, click on the “Authors” tab above. 

This week, I have invited Amy M. Eisenstein, MPA, CFRE, author of 50 Asks in 50 Weeks, to share her thoughts with us about the value of planning. In addition to being an author, Eisenstein is a fundraising consultant for local and national nonprofit organizations; her firm is Tri-Point Fundraising. In her post, she looks at when planning is not necessary and, when it is necessary, just how easy it is to write one. 

As the official description of her book says, Eisenstein helps readers “Raise more money; create a basic development plan; identify new prospects; ask for gifts more frequently; review the basics of fundraising; work with your board on fundraising; hire your first development staff member; and work as a cohesive development team with your executive director, development staff members, and board members…. 50 Asks in 50 Weeks is a development planning tool that focuses on frequency of asking, but also the importance of having a diversified funding base, as well as making sure you are fundraising as efficiently and effectively as possible.”

Whether you’re new to development or an experienced veteran, I think you’ll like Eisenstein’s frank, simple, no-nonsense, common-sense view of development planning:


Not all nonprofit organizations need a development plan. You may be one of them. Here are three reasons you may not need to write a development plan:

  1. Your organization does not need to raise money because it has an adequate, sustainable revenue stream that is either earned or unearned.
  2. Your organization comfortably raises enough money every year without a development plan.
  3. Your organization is closing its doors.

If you happen to work for an organization that does not fall into one of those three categories, and most development professionals do, then you need a development plan.

A development plan is beneficial for all organizations whether yours is a large institution with dozens of fundraising professionals or a small shop where you wear all of the advancement hats. A sound development plan will benefit you in a number of ways:

  1. It will help you, your colleagues, and superiors better understand what will be necessary to achieve your goals in the coming year.
  2. It will allow you to clearly prioritize your activities.
  3. It will make it easier to justify the resources you will need to execute the plan.
  4. It will ensure that you stay focused on key functions such as getting out and asking for gifts rather than being constantly distracted by the daily minutia.

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November 11, 2011

Tragic Lessons of the Penn State Fiasco

This is the most difficult blog post I’ve ever written.

The subject matter is truly horrific.

The story on which this post is based continues to change daily, literally. The story offers so much to comment on, that it’s difficult to know even what to focus on. Children have allegedly been sexually abused. Two nonprofit organizations will likely suffer. It’s a moral and public relations debacle that has led to rioting. It reveals grotesque failures of character. It is about a powerful institution that seems to have cared more about protecting itself than protecting children and, as a result, has eventually done itself great harm.

I’m writing about the child sex abuse scandal that has been exposed at Pennsylvania State University.

I’ve been following the story closely. I’m a Pennsylvanian and, therefore, I care about what happens at Penn State, our flagship public university. I’m also a member of the board of directors of the Philadelphia Children’s Alliance, an organization that brings justice and healing to the victims of child sexual abuse. Protecting the innocent and defenseless are core values of mine.

Former Penn State Coach Joe Paterno

I learned of the story the way most people did. On November 5, 2011, Pennsylvania Attorney General Linda Kelly and State Police Commissioner Frank Noonan announced the results of a grand jury investigation. Jerry Sandusky, former Penn State Football Defensive Coordinator, was charged with sexually abusing eight boys. Tim Curley, Penn State Director of Athletics, and Gary Schultz, Penn State Senior Vice President for Finance and Business, were charged with perjury and failing to report suspected child abuse. Four days later, the Penn State Board of Trustees fired Graham Spanier, President, and Joe Paterno, the legendary football head coach.

Mike McQueary was a graduate assistant in 2002 when he allegedly witnessed Sandusky sodomizing a 10 year old boy in the showers of a locker room on campus. While McQueary did not stop the alleged rape, while he did not call police, he did notify Paterno … the next day. McQueary is now the wide receivers coach at Penn State though his position may be under review.

Why didn’t McQueary rescue the child? Why didn’t McQueary call 9-1-1? Why did he wait until the following day to tell Paterno, his superior? Where was McQueary’s moral compass?

After receiving the news, why didn’t Paterno call 9-1-1? Instead, he reported the information to Curley, his supervisor. While Paterno may have fulfilled Pennsylvania’s legal requirements, what about his moral obligations? Even the coach himself admitted, “With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more.” Rich Hofman, of The Philadelphia Daily News, has asked what Paterno’s legacy will now be: “Is it: ‘He did the legal minimum.’ Or is it: ‘He told his supervisor.’”

Bill Phillips and the editors of Men’s Health wrote an interesting article that explores the psychological issues involved and what may have affected the behavior of McQueary and Paterno. However, I still have to say that I would have expected better, especially of Paterno.

In our country, one-in-four girls and one-in-six boys will be sexually abused before adulthood. We must act when we have suspicions. In Pennsylvania, it’s the law. It’s not up to us to investigate. But, it is up to us to give the professionals the chance to investigate. If you suspect child sex abuse and do little or nothing about it, you are part of the evil. We have a profound moral obligation to protect the innocent and defenseless in our society. Please do your part. You can learn more about what you can do at the National Children’s Advocacy Center website, at the National Children’s Alliance website, or by contacting your local child advocacy center.

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November 4, 2011

Is it Time to Dump “Planned Giving”?

As we all work to promote planned giving, many in the nonprofit sector have questioned whether or not the very term “planned giving” can be replaced by something more effective.

Greg Warner, President at MarketSmart, started an interesting discussion a couple weeks ago on the Legacy/Estate/Gift Planning and Planned Giving Professionals Group on LinkedIn. Warner asked:

Since most donors are not familiar with the term ‘planned giving,’ what other terms or phrases should we use to market planned gifts?”

The question stimulated a lively discussion.

The nonprofit sector has grown tired of the term “planned giving,” thinks of it as inelegant, or recognizes that very few people understand what the term means. As happens periodically, the nonprofit sector is searching for a new, more comfortable descriptive label. And, there is some validity to the concerns the sector has about the term.

The Stelter Company conducted a survey that I cite in my book, Donor-Centered Planned Gift Marketing, that found only 37 percent of Americans over the age of 30 have a familiarity with the term “planned giving.” We have no way of knowing what percentage of those claiming familiarity really, in fact, know what the term means.

Those who responded to Warner’s question suggested several alternatives to “planned giving.” However, none of the suggested replacement terms represents a perfect solution. So, what should the nonprofit sector do? Should we keep or dump the term “planned giving”?

My friend Viken Mikaelian, Founder of PlannedGiving.Com, has done a comparison of the terms “planned giving” and “gift planning.” He discovered that, on Google, the words “gift planning” are out-searched 100-to-1 by the words “planned giving.” In a search of Google’s digital library of over 13 million books, “planned giving” is far and away the more popular term when compared to “gift planning.”

Mikaelian concludes, “So if you believe in search engine optimization (SEO) for your planned giving website, ‘planned giving’ is a better choice.” You can read Mikaelian’s full report here.

I decided to conduct my own test. I Googled the various terms suggested by those who responded to Warner’s question. I wanted to see how many results would be found for each term. Here’s what I discovered:

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November 1, 2011

Special Report: AFP Webinar, “Donor-Centered Planned Gift Marketing”

On November 1, I did a webinar for the Association of Fundraising Professionals. The program was titled: “Donor-Centered Planned Gift Marketing.” If you missed the webinar, you can purchase a recording, slides, and handouts directly from AFP by visiting The program is approved for credit by CFRE International.

If you were able to participate in the webinar, I invite you to post comments or questions below. We can continue the conversation here.

The webinar bears the same name as my book, Donor-Centered Planned Gift Marketing. The book is on the official CFRE International Resource Reading List. For writing the book, I was honored to receive the AFP-Skystone Partners Prize for Research in Fundraising and Philanthropy.

I thank AFP for inviting me to do the webinar. And, I thank the AFP Greater Philadelphia Chapter and the Community College of Philadelphia for providing my host location for the presentation.

[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.]

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