Archive for ‘Current Events’

August 26, 2016

Do You Know How to Take Criticism?

I received an extraordinary message recently.

With the permission of the author, I’m going to share her message with you. It’s a superb example of how to respond to criticism and turn it into an opportunity for positive engagement. It also raises an interesting issue that I want you to share your thoughts about.

Books by Aimee Rivers via FlickrEarlier this summer, my wife received an email appeal from Philadelphia’s Rosenbach Museum and Library. That email inspired me to write a blog post about fundraising by email (“Stop Making Stupid Email and Direct Mail Mistakes”). The post was admittedly harsh though constructive with eight useful tips for the Rosenbach and you.

While I alerted the Rosenbach to the post, I never heard back from staff, not that I had requested or expected a reply. That is until a few weeks ago when I received the following message from Sara Davis, the new Marketing Manager at the Rosenbach:

Dear Mr. Rosen:

I recently joined the Rosenbach staff as the manager of marketing, and I stumbled across this post while getting caught up on social media mentions from the summer. Criticism can be hard to hear, and I admit that I would prefer to have found it in my inbox rather than see the organization named in a public post, but your advice is constructive and I agree with many of your points. I will certainly pass these suggestions along to my colleagues; our future campaigns will no doubt benefit from your expertise. My thanks.”

Wow! I was impressed with Davis’ message. I thank her for allowing me to share it with you. Davis struck the right tone and managed to pack a lot into a brief communication. Here are some of the reasons her message works:

Respectful. Davis referred to me as Mr. Rosen, knowing and respecting my feelings on the subject of salutations, which I had addressed in my post. Davis and I did not know each other, so an informal form of address would have been presumptuous.

Introduction. Davis introduced herself to me, told me her title, and mentioned that she is new to the Rosenbach, hence the delay in contacting me. This established a personal connection while putting her message into context.

Honesty. Davis shared her honest feelings about seeing my post. But, she did so in a professional way, without whining, complaining, or being defensive. She did not take my criticism personally. She did not take offense or, at least, she did not show that she was offended.

Value. Davis acknowledged that my post offered constructive criticism. She went on to show that she valued the tips I provided in my post. She also mentioned that she would share my advice with her colleagues. By valuing my advice, she showed she values me.

Thank you. Davis then concluded her message by thanking me! How often do you thank people for having criticized you or your organization? I know that I don’t do it very often. However, by thanking me, Davis reveals an understanding that constructive feedback is an opportunity for us to improve. She also understands that when someone takes the time to passionately and constructively offer criticism, it’s probably because they care.

Engagement. By writing to me, Davis engaged me and opened the door for me to contact her directly. And that’s exactly what I did.

Because of my interaction with Davis, the positive feelings I once had for the Rosenbach were rekindled.

When choosing whether to respond to criticism and, if responding, how to respond, we would be well served by following Davis’ excellent example. Every interaction is an opportunity for cultivation.

Now, here is where you come in.

August 19, 2016

Could Your #Nonprofit be Forced to Return a Donor’s Gift?

Officials at Vanderbilt University got schooled. They learned, the hard way, that nonprofit organizations cannot unilaterally void the terms of a gift agreement without returning the donation.

This is a story that keeps on giving. It provides an important lesson for all nonprofit organizations about the requirement, ethical and legal, to honor donor intent.

The tale begins in 1933 when the Tennessee Chapter of the Daughters of the Confederacy donated $50,000 to the George Peabody College of Teachers to build a dormitory named “Confederate Memorial Hall.”

Confederate Memorial Hall (2007)

Confederate Memorial Hall (2007)

In 1979, Peabody was merged into Vanderbilt becoming the “Peabody College of Education and Human Development at Vanderbilt University.”

After years of discussion, according to Inside Higher Ed, Vanderbilt decided in 2002 to drop the word “Confederate” and rename the building simply “Memorial Hall.” The University took this action without gaining the approval of the Daughters of the Confederacy or returning the gift.

After taking Vanderbilt to court, the Daughters of the Confederacy received a Tennessee Appeals Court ruling in 2005 that ordered the University to either keep the original name of the building or refund the donation … in inflation-adjusted dollars. That $50,000 gift from 1933 is now valued at $1.2 million.

As reported in Inside Higher Ed:

The appeals court unanimously rejected Vanderbilt’s argument that academic freedom gave it the right to change the name. Vanderbilt argued that the Supreme Court has given private colleges considerable latitude in their decisions. But the appeals court said that was irrelevant because the agreement to name the dormitory ‘Confederate Memorial Hall’ was between a donor and a charitable group — and the government never forced the gift to be accepted.”

In its ruling, the Appeals Court stated (emphasis is mine):

We fail to see how the adoption of a rule allowing universities to avoid their contractual and other voluntarily assumed legal obligations whenever, in the university’s opinion, those obligations have begun to impede their academic mission would advance principles of academic freedom. To the contrary, allowing Vanderbilt and other academic institutions to jettison their contractual and other legal obligations so casually would seriously impair their ability to raise money in the future by entering into gift agreements such as the ones at issue here.

It took quite some time but, with money raised from anonymous donors, Vanderbilt paid $1.2 million to the Daughters of the Confederacy and renamed the building this month in accordance with the Court’s judgment.

Unfortunately, this has not brought this story to a happy conclusion. Vanderbilt has damaged its reputation by revealing its willingness to “casually” disregard donor intent.

I stand firmly with the Appeals Court decision. How I feel, or anyone feels, about the old Confederacy or the word “Confederate” on the building is irrelevant in this case. Instead, there are two powerful governing issues involved here:

August 12, 2016

When Things Don’t Go Your Way, How Can You Still Win?

Prospective donors look forward to talking with you. Donors love you. Your colleagues are supportive. Your appeals achieve record success. When everything works the way it should, being a fundraising professional is fulfilling and enormously fun.

Unfortunately, things seldom go completely according to plan. Problems arise. Conflicts simmer. Unexpected events bring new challenges.

So, what can you do to become or remain a champion fundraising professional in the face of anticipated and unanticipated challenges?

The answer: Think like an Olympian.

I enjoy watching the Olympics. I like the competitions, and I like the human-interest stories. We can learn a great deal from Olympic athletes. If you want to be a champion, it’s a good idea to discover what champions do to succeed. For example, let’s look at a story involving Hope Solo, the gold-medal goalkeeper for the USA Women’s Soccer Team.

Soccer Ball by Armando Sobrino via FlickrAt the start of the 2016 Rio Olympics, USA faced New Zealand on the soccer field. Whenever the ball came near Solo, Brazilian football fans booed and, at times, chanted “Zika.” According to a report in The Washington Post, Brazil’s football fans were unhappy with Solo’s pre-Olympic comments about Brazil and her concerns about the Zika virus.

Prior to making the trip to South America, Solo took to social media to say she was thinking about not going. Ultimately, she “begrudgingly” announced she would participate in the games, but that she planned on being well armed with mosquito repellent. She also joked that she would bring enough for anyone else in the Olympic Village who might need some.

Solo’s concern is not unjustified. Zika is a serious virus that is transmitted by mosquito. The first major outbreak began in Brazil. In addition to causing other health problems, the virus can cause major birth defects if contracted by a pregnant woman.

Nevertheless, Brazilians were not pleased with Solo’s ongoing commentary about Zika.

So, Solo faced two issues when she took the field against New Zealand:

July 7, 2016

Should You Worry about Election-Year Tax Plans?

As Americans, we should be generally concerned with who our next President will be. The outcome has both personal and professional implications for you, even if you’re one of my international readers.

Presidential Seal by Jason Seliskar via FlickrWho will be best for the future of the nation and the world? Who will voters elect?:

Whether you’re a nonprofit manager, fundraising professional, and/or donor, you should also be concerned about which of the candidates will be best for the charity sector. Government policies, particularly tax policies, can have a significant impact on charitable giving.

If new government policies lead to greater economic growth, nonprofit organizations will likely benefit. Giving USA has shown that charitable giving consistently correlates to roughly two percent of Gross Domestic Product. So, if the nation experiences more robust economic growth, we can expect more robust philanthropic growth. The converse is also true.

If new government policies lead to greater personal income, nonprofit organizations will likely benefit as Giving USA has revealed that giving also consistently correlates to approximately two percent of personal income.

So, which Presidential candidate is best? Well, that’s a simple question with a complex answer. Evaluating the potential impact of each plan will never generate a consensus among economists. Furthermore, it’s doubtful that any of the plans will be adopted as presented. Congress will still have its say. And Speaker of the House Paul Ryan has introduced his own tax proposal.

While I will not tell you which candidate will be best for the country and the nonprofit sector — I don’t happen to own a crystal ball — I will provide you with a few key, relevant highlights of each plan. I hope you’ll then take the time to learn a bit more about each candidate and his/her proposals so that you can make an informed choice this November and be prepared when change arrives.

I also encourage you to visit the seemingly non-partisan website I Side With to take a quiz that will match your answers with the positions the candidates have taken on a variety of issues. At the conclusion of the quiz, you’ll be told how your positions align with those of each of the candidates. The results might surprise you. If you’re one of my international readers, I still encourage you to take the quiz to see how our presidential candidates align with your values so you’ll know who to root for.

Now, let’s take a brief look at some of the highlights from the various tax proposals:

June 30, 2016

It’s Time for You to Speak Up!

A jury recently convicted U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-PA) of federal racketeering, bribery, and conspiracy, a total of 22 criminal charges. Days later, Fattah resigned his Congressional seat. The court will sentence him in October. He is likely to appeal.

The saga of yet another corrupt, unethical politician might not normally attract much attention from the nonprofit sector. However, this particular story should. And you should be outraged.

Among other things, prosecutors argued that Fattah used charities he created to funnel funds for his personal benefit:

  • Funds were stolen from a Fattah-founded charity to repay an illegal $1 million campaign loan.
  • Fattah created a fake charity that received federal funds that were then misappropriated.
  • Fattah-founded charities were used to launder stolen funds.
  • Fattah-controlled groups received federal grants, but tried to cover up what happened to that money when officials conducted financial audits.

Furthermore, a Daily News investigative report stated:

…nonprofits founded or supported by the Philadelphia congressman have paid out at least $5.8 million to his associates, including political operatives, ex-staffers and their relatives.”

Despite Fattah’s abuse of the public trust, his Democratic Party colleagues have been tepid in their reactions:

U.S. Rep. Bob Brady (D-PA) — “It’s a shame to have something like this happen.”

Hear No Evil... by MASK Productions via FlickrPhiladelphia Mayor Jim Kenney — “The jury spoke, and the criminal justice system went forward.”

Ed Rendell (former Philadelphia District Attorney, former Philadelphia Mayor, former Pennsylvania Governor, and former Chair of the DNC) — “We’re not all bad. We’re not all evil.”

U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) — “Heartbreaking.”

While the responses from the political sector have been weak, the nonprofit sector has been infuriatingly silent. Where is the Association of Fundraising Professionals? Where is the Pennsylvania Association of Nonprofit Organizations? Where is Charity Navigator? Where is The Chronicle of Philanthropy?

I was very frustrated by the deafening silence from the nonprofit community. Instead of a yawn or a shrug, we should be condemning Fattah’s abuse of the public trust and his misuse of nonprofit organizations because his misdeeds negatively impact the credibility of all nonprofit organizations. We should be demanding that the Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General investigate Fattah and his charities. If appropriate, Fattah should be charged with violations of the state’s laws governing charities and the charities should be held to account.

Then, I realized something. I have a platform. Therefore:

June 14, 2016

Happy Days are Here Again … for Now

Charitable giving in the USA reached a record high for the second year in a row, according to the newly released Giving USA 2016: The Annual Report on Philanthropy for the Year 2015, a publication of Giving USA Foundation, researched and written by the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.

While the news is good, storm clouds are gathering on the horizon. You need to hear both the good and the troubling news. I’ve tried to distill the most relevant, overarching information for you and provide you with some tips to help you be more successful moving forward. While I would normally advise against sharing lots of statistics, I nevertheless think you’ll appreciate these numbers.

Source Pie Chart_June 13 2016Researchers estimate that giving totaled $373.25 billion in 2015.

That new peak in contributions represents a record level whether measured in current or inflation-adjusted dollars. In 2015, total giving grew 4.1 percent in current dollars (4.0 percent when adjusted for inflation) over 2014.

The revised inflation-adjusted estimate for total giving in 2014 was $359.04 billion, with current-dollar growth of 7.8 percent, and an inflation-adjusted increase of 6.1 percent.

Charitable contributions from all four sources — individuals, charitable bequests, corporations, foundations — went up in 2015, with those from individuals once again leading the way in terms of total dollar amount, at $264.58 billion. This follows the historical pattern seen over more than six decades.

Giving to eight of the nine nonprofit categories studied grew with only giving to foundations declining (down 3.8 percent in current dollars, down 4.0 percent adjusted for inflation).

Giving to the category of International Affairs — $15.75 billion — grew the most (up 17.5 percent in current dollars, up 17.4 percent adjusted for inflation).

Giving to the category Arts/Culture/Humanities — $17.07 billion — grew the second most (up 7.0 percent in current dollars, up 6.8 percent adjusted for inflation).

While the numbers are terrific, the story is really about more than that. Giving USA Foundation Chair W. Keith Curtis, president of the nonprofit consulting firm The Curtis Group, says:

If you look at total giving by two-year time spans, the combined growth for 2014 and 2015 hit double digits, reaching 10.1 percent when calculated using inflation-adjusted dollars. But, these findings embody more than numbers — they also are a symbol of the American spirit. It’s heartening that people really do want to make a difference, and they’re supporting the causes that matter to them. Americans are embracing philanthropy at a higher level than ever before.”

While the 2015 giving news is certainly positive, there are four points that indicate that the good news might be short lived:

June 13, 2016

It’s Never Been Easier to Find Good Help

There’s a common saying:

Good help is hard to find.”

If you’ve ever found that to be the case, I have some valuable news for you. Finding the help you need to improve your fundraising results just got a lot easier thanks to the newly released list of “America’s Top 25 Fundraising Experts,” published by Philanthropy Media and Michael Chatman Network.

Owl by Jake Kitchener via FlickrI’m honored to be included on the list and to be in the company of so many wise fundraising thought-leaders whom I hold in high-esteem. A number of these experts generously contributed helpful insights for my book Donor-Centered Planned Gift Marketing.

Here is what the publishers say about their list:

As competition for the charitable dollar continues to heat up, nonprofits are asking some very fundamental questions about new ways to raise funds to support their missions. Our 2016 Top 25 Fundraising Experts help nonprofits get past ‘we’ve always done it this way, we’ve tried that before, and fundraising is difficult.’

Folks ask us how we put together the list. Like all of our lists, our readers, listeners, conference attendees and members choose our experts. We survey them through our social and digital media network, and they respond in record numbers.

Thanks to Sandy Taylor, Wayne Weaver, and the Financial & Philanthropy Experts Academy promotions team for excellent research. Because of this incredible team, we have produced a list of fundraising experts that will help you find more money for your mission.”

Members of this list of innovative, highly-effective nonprofit professionals are successful fundraising staff or consultants; authors of articles, books, and blogs; teachers of seminars, webinars, and college courses; and professionals who embrace solid fundamentals while exploring innovative ideas.

June 7, 2016

Be Smart. Act Like a Beauty Queen!

I recorded the 2016 Miss USA Pageant. I know. I know. But, here’s why: My favorite part of beauty contests is the question-and-answer portion of the show. Sometimes it’s a dud. More often, it’s hilarious. Sometimes, on rare occasions, it provides wisdom. The latter was the case this year.

Chelsea Hardin, Miss Hawaii, was asked an inappropriate question. Her response provides a wonderful example for fundraisers facing uncomfortable questions from donors and prospective supporters.

Pageant judge Laura Brown asked Miss Hawaii:

If the election were held tomorrow, would you vote Hilary Clinton or Donald Trump for president, and why would you choose one over the other?”

It was an awkward moment. Regardless of which candidate she would choose, Hardin would alienate a massive portion of the audience and, possibly, the judges. So, instead, she answered without revealing who she would vote for. Rather than picking one, she outlined the qualities of an ideal candidate. Hardin said:

It doesn’t matter what gender, what we need in the United States is someone who represents those of us who don’t feel like we have a voice, those of us who want our voices heard. We need a president to push for what is right, and push for what America really needs.”

While the audience booed the question, it cheered the response.

When speaking with prospects and donors, they occasionally will ask awkward questions. In this highly-charged political season, uncomfortable questions are even more likely to arise. When this happens, it’s important to keep the following five points in mind:

June 2, 2016

Avoid a Big Mistake: Stop Asking for Bequest Gifts!

Nonprofit organizations are making a big mistake. Many charities ask individuals to consider making a “Bequest Gift.” Of course, an even bigger mistake is not asking at all. However, there is a better way.

Russell James, JD, PhD, CFP, a leading philanthropy researcher based at Texas Tech University, reports that the latest research shows that asking Words that Work IIpeople to consider “Gifts in your will” generates far more interest. When asking prospects to consider a “Bequest Gift,” 18 percent responded, “I might be/am definitely interested.” By contrast, when prospects were asked to consider “Gifts in your will,” 28 percent expressed interest!

James will offer additional research-based insights in a FREE webinar, Words that Work II: The Phrases that Encourage Planned Giving, hosted by MarketSmart on Wednesday, June 8, 2016 at 2:00 PM EDT. Registration is required and space is limited so click here now.

During the webinar, you’ll get the following information:

  • How to describe bequest gifts and tax benefits in a way that will increase a person’s desire to learn more;
  • What elements of a charitable gift annuity advertisement make people want to get one;
  • What the latest data patterns say about trends in charitable estate planning;
  • The best “front door” phrase to get people to read about planned giving information;
  • Test results that showcase the responses to different charitable gift annuity advertising messages;
  • And much more of great interest and value!

In short, James’ webinar will provide you with powerful, practical insights that will help you enhance your planned giving results.

So, why is asking for a “Bequest Gift” less effective than asking for “Gifts in your will”?

May 18, 2016

New Donor Advised Fund Legislation Introduced in Congress

Late last year, the Federal Government made the IRA Charitable Rollover permanent. Now, just months later, Congress is considering a bill that would expand the IRA Rollover provision. If passed, the measure would allow donors to contribute IRA dollars to a Donor Advised Fund in addition to 501(c)3 nonprofit organizations.

Arc of Washington by Eric B Walker via FlickrIn the US Senate, Sen. John Thune (R-SD) introduced S-2750, Charities Helping Americans Regularly Throughout the Year Act. In the US House of Representatives, Rep. George Holding (R-NC) introduced a companion bill: HR-4907, The Grow Philanthropy Act of 2016.

(Just as an aside, I have to ask: Who came up with these bill names? I’m not sure if they suffered from too much creativity or not enough. In any case…)

The Senate bill has been assigned to the Finance Committee while the House bill has been sent to the Ways and Means Committee. At this point, it’s unclear whether either bill will receive a floor vote. And, if a vote is held, it’s uncertain whether the measure would pass. You can track the progress of the bills at GovTrack.us.

Even if the bills do not pass this year, it’s doubtful the matter will be dropped. Remember, it took many years before the existing IRA Charitable Rollover became permanent. So, unless the new measure passes this year, I think we can expect the matter to come up again.

Some fundraising professionals believe that DAFs are good for the nonprofit sector because they encourage more giving. Others believe that DAFs are harmful because they divert funds away from operating nonprofit organizations. Still others believe that it doesn’t matter what we think about DAFs because they’re here to stay.

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