Archive for March, 2021

March 23, 2021

7 Easy Tips to Boost Your Fundraising-Appeal Results

I’ve recently come across some conversations on social media about the readability of nonprofit communications. The bottom line is that your loving cultivation messages and inspiring fundraising appeals will fail unless the people who receive them can read them.

Once you get people to open the envelope, click on your website link, open your email, or view your text, will they be able to easily read your message? If they can’t, it won’t matter how brilliantly written your message is. So, what do you need to do to ensure your audience reads what you send you to them?

While I’ve written about this before, I want to take this moment to share seven easy tips with you:

1. In print, use a serif font such as Times New Roman.

Serif fonts have little flourishes at the tips of letter strokes while sans-serif fonts such as Arial do not. Studies have shown that most readers have an easier time reading printed text that uses serif fonts. The exceptions to this are children and adults who are learning to read.

It’s unclear if serif fonts are easier to read because it makes letters more recognizable for experienced readers or if it is because it is simply what people are accustomed to seeing in print. In any case, readers will usually prefer reading printed material in a serif font. However, it’s important for you to know your audience and be guided by their preferences.

2. In electronic communications, use a sans-serif font such as Arial.

Some studies have shown that readers have an easier time reading electronic media messages that use a sans-serif font. The cleaner lines of a sans-serif font make it easier to read a message on a low-resolution screen. Fortunately, as screen resolutions have increased over the years, the choice between serif and sans-serif makes less of a difference.

However, with smaller screens, such as those on smartphones, a sans-serif font will be more readable. The issue really is no longer print vs. electronic. Instead, the issue is screen size. On smaller screens, cleaner fonts tend to be easier to read.

3. Never use reverse type.

Reverse type, whether in print or electronic media, is more difficult to read than dark type on a light background. It’s also easier to cut-and-paste, photocopy, and fax (Do people still do that?) copy that uses dark type on a light background. Some designers like to use reverse type for emphasis or because it looks pretty. Nevertheless, you should resist the temptation to use reverse type for the reasons stated. The darker the type and the lighter the background, the better.

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March 16, 2021

It’s a Terrible Sign When More Nonprofit Employees Join Labor Unions

Are labor unions really necessary today? A growing number of nonprofit employees think they are. That should serve as a wake-alarm for the nonprofit sector. It’s a terrible sign that should concern everyone involved in the charity sector.

A new report in the Star Tribune reveals that the staff at the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits, the largest statewide nonprofit association in the country, has scheduled a vote to unionize in April. Staff at Minnesota’s Walker Art Center and Jewish Community Action have already unionized.

Dan Sassenberg, CFRE, Director of Advancement Services at Luther Seminary, shared the Star Tribune article on LinkedIn.  He identified a number of issues facing nonprofit employees, particularly fundraisers, that a union might be able to help address:

The expectation that folks work 45-60 hours every week (I have been given this expectation); non-transparent, inadequate benefits and pay; organizations refusing to cut ties with racist and sexist donors; expecting responses to emails on the weekend; sometimes extensive after-hours work engagements with no downtime during the week to compensate; folks fearing that they can’t be seen to be away from their desk unless they have a donor visit on the calendar; no professional development, etc.”

Amber Davis, a Nonprofit Services Assistant at MCN, told the Star Tribune that the unionization effort has been a “long time coming” and enjoys majority support. She says that reasons the staff seeks to unionize “include limited transparency on policy changes, dismissive behavior toward workers, and high turnover.”

While Davis and Sassenberg have identified some legitimate concerns that nonprofit employees have, it is nevertheless unfortunate that this is leading to growing interest in unionization when there is a better solution: more effective management.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should let you know that I have mixed feelings about labor unions. Historically, they have often been corrupt, racist, controlling, violent, and over-reaching. On the other hand, they have struggled successfully for a shorter workweek, better pay, and safer working conditions, among other important things.

As the labor movement has scored major successes, as government legislation has changed workplace conditions, and as companies have grown more responsive to their employees, people have been less interested in being part of a labor union. According to 2020 data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 6.3 percent of private-sector workers are members of a union, down from 16.8 percent in 1983. That would seem to indicate that the vast majority of Americans do NOT think unions are necessary to worker wellbeing.

While the overall private-sector unionization trend has been downward, the fact that the nonprofit sector is witnessing greater interest in unionizing is troubling because it indicates that something is wrong with employer-employee relationships as Davis and Sassenberg have observed.

I believe, based on personal experience, that labor unions, while they can be useful, should NOT be necessary. If employers build strong, caring relationships with employees and are responsive to their needs, employees will not see a need to unionize. Employers should seek to build healthy organizations by ensuring employee satisfaction. Let me tell you my story.

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March 9, 2021

Shocking Fundraising Behavior from Nonprofits Captures Media Attention

Nonprofit hospitals across the country have made disturbing news headlines recently. Sadly, while medical staff continue to provide heroic patient care, many of the recent news stories deal with unethical fundraising behavior that puts all nonprofits at risk. Consider these two items:

  • Hospitals across the country have given major donors special, early access to the COVID-19 vaccine.
  • In a story unrelated to the coronavirus, one hospital fundraising office has offered medical staff bonuses for referring “Grateful Patient” prospects.

While those news items involve healthcare organizations, all charities should be concerned. Let me explain. When some nonprofits behave badly, it reflects on the entire nonprofit sector with the potential to erode public trust and, therefore, support. There is ample research, as well as anecdotal evidence, that reveals that the fundraising efforts of virtuous charities can be harmed by the unethical behavior of unrelated nonprofit organizations.

Let’s look more closely at what has occurred recently:

MAJOR DONORS GIVEN EARLY ACCESS TO VACCINE

Initial excitement over the release of COVID-19 vaccines has given way to frustration as only 18 percent of the US population has received the first dose with confusing sign-up procedures and long lines greeting many people.

“But one group has gotten a head start in receiving the coveted shots: people who’ve donated money to hospitals distributing the vaccine,” according to a report in MarketWatch.

Ethical_Decision_Making_Article.28164930 AFP statement major donor vaccinations Feb 2021 final AFP Statement Grateful Patient Fundraising March 2021 final According to reports, hospitals across the nation have been giving favorable treatment to major donors including Storment Vail Health (Kansas), Overlake Medical Center (Washington), Hunterdon Medical Center (New Jersey), MaineGeneral Health (Maine), and Garnet Health (New York).

Authorities in New York have launched a probe into Garnet’s actions to determine if any laws were broken. While evaluating whether or not laws were broken, it is important for us to also consider whether the actions of Garnet and other hospitals are ethical or unethical.

“As we see numerous reports of line jumping and favoritism, any situation that could lead to distrust in the fairness of the vaccine allocation process needs to be proactively managed. Redeploying staff to help with vaccination is reasonable, but care should have been taken to avoid [MaineGeneral Health] fundraising staff connecting with prior donors on this,” Holly Fernandez Lynch, an ethics professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, told the Bangor Daily News.

The Bangor Daily News added, “Medical ethicists said there were many good reasons for MaineGeneral and other hospitals to test processes before opening wider clinics, but even well-intended efforts involving philanthropy staff and donors can be seen negatively.”

Medical ethicists weren’t the only ones to weigh-in on the situation. The Association of Fundraising Professionals, the largest community of charities and fundraisers in the world, has released the following statement from President and CEO Mike Geiger, MBA, CPA:

The idea of hospital systems, or any charity, ignoring protocols, guidance or restrictions—regardless of origin—and offering certain donors and board members the opportunity to ‘skip the line’ and receive vaccinations ahead of their scheduled time is antithetical to the values of philanthropy and ethical fundraising….[emphasis added]

Offering vaccinations to major donors, and not to populations with the greatest need … destroys public trust—to say nothing of the possible impact on constituents of the charity who don’t receive the appropriate vaccinations or medical attention in time.…

AFP, and the 26,000 members in our community around the world who represent nearly every charitable cause imaginable, condemn this activity in the strongest manner possible. It is unethical and inequitable, and we call on all health systems and all providers of vaccinations to deliver this service in a manner that is fair and equitable for the people they serve and consistent with procedures developed by the Centers for Disease Control and all applicable levels of government.”

Some hospitals around the country have behaved unethically, violated the law, or both. However, even those who may have a legitimate explanation for their actions and who have done nothing wrong may still be giving the appearance of having done something unethical involving their interactions with major donors. That’s still a big problem. As the AFP Code of Ethical Standards states clearly:

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