Archive for January, 2019

January 15, 2019

Have You Done Something Stupid to Alienate Donors?

As 2018 drew to a close, my wife and I received a few good emails from nonprofit organizations. I even highlighted one of those in a recent blog post. Unfortunately, we received far more fundraising appeals that I can only describe as stupid.

The garbage email appeals simply mentioned that December 31 was fast approaching and, therefore, I should donate to that particular charity while there was still a chance to do so in 2018. Doing multiple count-down to year-end emails simply magnified the annoyance.

So, what’s the problem with that? Let me make it simple and clear:

The calendar is not a case for support!

Jack Silverstein, Vice President of Financial Development at the National Capital Region YMCA-YWCA (Ottawa, Canada), shares my frustration over this. He recently posted his views in “People Know When the End of the Year Is!!!” I encourage you to read it though it does contain a word some may find offensive.

Because I agree with Silverstein, I want to provide some highlights for you.

Your prospects and donors know when the year ends. They don’t need you to remind them. They’re not idiots.

With most charities engaged in year-end fundraising, people want to know why they should give to your nonprofit organization and why they should do so at the end of the year. The mere fact that it is year-end is not a reason. People can donate to any charity at year-end or, for that matter, at any time of year. You need to inspire them to give to your organization. In other words, you need to make a case for support.

A related mistake that charities frequently made was to highlight the tax-deductibility of donations. In the USA, some have estimated that as few as 10 percent of taxpayers will itemize. It’s only that small population that might be able to take advantage of the tax-deductibility of a contribution. However, even among that population, tax benefit is a low ranking reason why people donate. Furthermore, it’s no reason whatsoever why they should donate to your organization; after all, people can get the same tax benefit by donating to any qualified charity.

When charities send such terrible appeals, they are not being donor centered. Instead, Silverstein asserts:

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January 11, 2019

Was the Trump Foundation the Only Funder on Santa’s Naughty List?

As you struggled to raise more money at the close of 2018 while carving out holiday time with loved ones, you might have missed an important news story.

On Dec. 18, news reports announced that the New York Attorney General’s Office and the Trump Foundation had reached an agreement to dissolve the Foundation. Under the terms of the deal, the NY Attorney General will distribute the Foundation’s remaining assets to charities.

Donald Trump

However, the closing of the Trump Foundation does not end the matter. Barbara Underwood, the NY Attorney General, says the state still seeks $2.8 million in restitution, plus additional penalties.

Furthermore, the Attorney General is asking the court to bar Donald Trump from serving with nonprofit organizations in New York for 10 years. The state’s lawsuit also calls for a one-year ban for three of Trump’s children — Don Jr., Ivanka, and Eric — all of whom were Trump Foundation board members.

The State of New York “lawsuit says that Trump’s charitable organization, which he founded in 1987, engaged in ‘persistently illegal conduct’ and that Trump basically used the Foundation as a slush fund to promote his business and political campaign,” according to a report in Vox.

This news item is inherently important. It involves a charitable foundation with significant assets that appears to have acted far less than charitably. It also involves the President of the United States. However, the significance of this story does not end there.

If the NY Attorney General is correct about the alleged misdeeds of the Trump Foundation, dissolution of the Foundation and a temporary prohibition of Trump family members from serving with NY charities for a limited time seem like an insignificant punishment. Unless serious penalties are levied against Donald Trump and his family members who were involved, the Trumps alleged criminal behavior will go unpunished. Furthermore, they will remain free to create and/or serve with nonprofit organizations outside of the State of New York. Other than a bit of bad press, the Trumps will pay little for their behavior.

The problem does not end there. Failure to hold the Trumps personally liable not only fails to punish the Trump family, it sends a signal to anyone interested in using a charitable foundation for personal benefit. That signal is that there is little downside for misbehavior. In other words, there will be little to no deterrent effect unless severe penalties are imposed by the court, assuming the allegations are proven true.

The other thing we need to understand about the Trump Foundation story is that it is not an isolated situation. A decade into my fundraising career, the nonprofit sector was rocked by the scandal surrounding the Foundation for New Era Philanthropy. Operating from 1989 to 1995, the Foundation raised over $500 million in an elaborate Ponzi Scheme that defrauded well known charities and experienced philanthropists out of millions.

That wasn’t the first funder scandal, and it certainly wasn’t the last. Let’s face it. The Trump Foundation is not the only funder on Santa’s naughty list.

As another report in Vox observed, “There are some 86,000 foundations in the United States, with total assets of around $890 billion. And the vast majority of them never face this kind of scrutiny.”

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