Archive for ‘Current Events’

September 27, 2016

Are You Doing Something Wrong Without Even Knowing It?

Most fundraising professionals are good people trying to do good things. Most fundraising professionals believe they are ethical and, therefore, will routinely choose right over wrong.

However, what do you do when confronted with a situation where there is no clear right or wrong option? What do you do when you encounter a dilemma beyond your experience? What do you say when a donor or board member questions your actions?

That’s where fundraising ethics comes in. Ethical standards help us be the kind of people we want to be. Ethical standards guide us as we navigate fundraising challenges so that we can achieve the best results for our donors, beneficiaries, and organizations.

rights-stuff-cover-from-rogare(Toward the end of this post, I’ll tell you how you can get two FREE white papers that explore the ethics issue in greater detail.)

Unfortunately, many find that the existing fundraising ethics codes in use around the world are inadequate. That’s why Rogare, the fundraising think tank at the Plymouth University Hartsook Centre for Sustainable Philanthropy,  has undertaken a major, new ethics project.

Rogare seeks to develop a new normative ethics theory that balances the interests of donors and charity beneficiaries. This will empower us to more consistently make good decisions and take the right actions. That’s good for donors, charity beneficiaries, and nonprofit organizations.

Ian MacQuillin, Director of Rogare, explained it this way on The Agitator blog:

Ethical theories are intended to help us think through how to make better decisions in doing the right thing, and this is what our work at Rogare, with the help of people such as Heather McGinness, is trying to do, particularly to ensure that we do the right thing by our beneficiaries as well as our donors. We need ethical theories to help us make better decisions every day in our lives, precisely because knowing ‘right’ from ‘wrong’ is often such a morally grey area. Fundraising is really no different.”

For example, we can probably agree that we should not tell lies. However, imagine the following scenario: You’re scheduled to meet a wealthy donor for a noon lunch. You arrive at the restaurant early to make sure everything is perfect. At 12:05 PM, the donor has yet to arrive. At 12:10 PM, the donor has not shown up, and you have not received any messages. At 12:15 PM, you begin to wonder if you have the wrong day and begin to get annoyed. Finally, arriving 20 minutes late, the donor comes through the door. After greeting you, the donor says, “I’m sorry I was running late. I hope it’s okay.”

In response to the donor in the scenario I’ve described, you could say, “Well, as a matter of fact, I was becoming annoyed. You know, you could have sent me a text message to let me know you were running late.” Or, to put the donor at ease, you might choose to lie and say with a warm smile, “Oh, don’t worry about it. It’s no big deal. I’m fine.” Hmmm, maybe lies are not always bad.

My example is admittedly a bit silly, even simplistic. My point is that things we think are black-and-white don’t always remain such. That’s why ethical frameworks and decision-making models are so important.

Okay, now it’s time for the FREE stuff.

September 13, 2016

Is Social Media Hurting Your #Nonprofit Organization?

We’ve all heard the stories of social media success. President Barack Obama was perhaps the first US presidential candidate to raise a significant amount of money via social media. The Ice-Bucket Challenge generated awareness and raised over $100 million for the ALS Association in addition to millions more for other ALS charities. Countless charities have raised vast amounts of money through crowd funding campaigns and other social media campaigns.

Despite the success stories, there is a dark side to social media that can actually hurt your nonprofit organization.

Let me share a cautionary story involving Ursinus College. It reveals how, when used improperly, social media can embarrass your charity, cause supporters to abandon the organization, and reduce contributions.

Here’s what went horribly wrong:

Got to love a janitor with a ‘Ban Fracking Now’ sticker on his bucket. Barack is clearly reaching his target demographic.”

“Yoga pants? Per my DTW visual survey, only 10 percent of users should be wearing them. The rest need to be in sweats – or actually get dressed.”

“Just saw an Aborigenese in ‘full gear’ talking on an iPhone. What’s next Ben Franklin driving a Tesla?”

“Bruce Jenner [Caitlyn Jenner] got 25 K for speaking engagements. Caitlyn gets $100K. What wage gap?”

Those are just four of the, ahem, colorful tweets posted on Twitter by Michael C. Marcon, an insurance executive and 1986 Ursinus graduate. These tweets, and others from Marcon, might have gone unnoticed except for one thing: When they were posted, Marcon was a member of the Ursinus College board of trustees and, as of July 1, he served as Chairman of that board.

some-failed-tweets-by-irish-typepad-via-flickrRecently, several of Marcon’s tweets were publicized on Facebook by Jordan Ostrum, an Ursinus senior, and later on Odyssey by Haley Brush, an Ursinus English major. She told Philly.com, “The tweets that were sexist made me really uncomfortable…. Comments like that are really inappropriate for someone in his position.”

David Bloom, another member of the Ursinus board, made an even stronger statement about Marcon’s tweets when he resigned in protest. He said, “I read strong evidence of an elitist, racist, sexist, body-shaming, anti-LGBTQ, exclusive-minded and generally intolerant individual.” He also called for Marcon to resign.

Ostrum was the first to publicly raise the issue of contributions when he said, “I pledge to not donate money to the Ursinus College Annual Fund while Michael Marcon remains on the Board of Trustees… If he remains on the board, they are saying yes [to] his behavior. I will say no — with my money.”

Days after the news story broke and Marcon met with administrators, faculty members, and students, he resigned from the board. In a written statement, Marcon said:

September 7, 2016

Update: Should I Keep Naming Names?

The poll results are in!

In a recent blog post (“Do You Know How to Take Criticism?”), I explored the ways in which we can all deal with criticism more effectively. I also asked the poll question:

When critiquing a nonprofit organization or its fundraising appeal, should I name the charity or provide it anonymity?”

For a number of reasons, which I outlined in my post, I have generally named the charities that I have critiqued. As you might guess, I’ve been criticized for this from time to time. So, I conducted the admittedly unscientific poll, and I promised to be guided by the results moving forward.

Here is how readers responded:

September 2, 2016

Let a 12-Year-Old Competitive Chef Show You the Way

The fundraising profession is not for the faint-of-heart. Ours is a field full of rejection. Every time we ask for a donation, we know there is an excellent chance we will hear, “No!” Even when we receive a positive response, it might not be quite as positive as we had hoped.

A fundraiser who has not learned how to deal with rejection, obstacles, and defeat is a person who is destined to burnout, who will become reticent to ask, who will ultimately fail at the job.

One of the greatest skills a development professional must learn is how to cope with inevitable rejection.

The Screaming Man by Walt Jabsco via FlickrI once attended a seminar led by sales-guru Tom Hopkins. He told us not be disheartened when receiving a rejection. Instead, he told us to celebrate the rejection because it brings us one-step closer to achieving a success. In other words, sales, or fundraising, is a bit of a numbers game. We know we will encounter rejection no matter what we do. So, when we do encounter one, we know we’re getting it out of the way and getting closer to finding a “Yes.”

In sales and fundraising, maintaining a champion’s attitude is a key to success.

Recently, I was watching the Food Network show Chopped Junior (“Beginner’s Duck,” Season 3, Episode 3). In this program, children compete to determine who is the best chef of the group. I’m always amazed by the high-level of talent on display. We’re not talking about making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich; we’re talking about real cooking.

Ellie Zeiler, a 12-year-old cooking enthusiast, competed against others her age this week. Despite her enormous talent, Zeiler was cut following the second of three rounds.

When watching the show, I was struck by how Zeiler handled the rejection. She did not whine. She did not complain. She did not blame her defeat on unfairness, time, the judges, or her competitors. She did not bury her feelings, nor did she become consumed by them. Instead, she handled her defeat with extreme grace and wisdom:

I’m really sad that I got chopped. This competition has inspired me to really focus on my cooking. And I want people to know that I never quit, and I keep moving forward.”

Here’s what we all can learn about dealing with rejection from Zeiler’s fine example:

Do not bury your feelings. Recognize how you feel and accept it. However, do not let yourself be defeated by how badly you might feel. Move on. Zeiler acknowledged her sadness, but did not let it consume her.

“Life is 10 percent what happens to you and 90 percent how you react to it.” — Charles R. Swindoll

Do not focus on the negative. Find and focus on the positive. Zeigler found inspiration in the competition. It inspired her to concentrate on her cooking and to further develop her skills. Whenever we face rejection, we have an opportunity to examine what we did and how we can improve our own skills.

“If you’re trying to achieve, there will be roadblocks. I’ve had them; everybody has had them. But obstacles don’t have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don’t turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it.” — Michael Jordan

Never quit! Zeiler made it perfectly clear that she is not a quitter. Rejection is all part of a development professional’s life. If you’re not used to it, get used to it. To find the next “Yes,” you need to move forward with another ask.

“Winners never quit, and quitters never win.” — Vince Lombardi

The next time a prospect tells you “No,” I want you to think about three things:

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:

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