Archive for ‘Current Events’

January 9, 2015

Are You Ready for the Coming Storm?

A storm is coming. It will affect the entire US economy. It will likely affect the global economy.

The nonprofit sector will not escape the impact. You need to prepare now.

Koyasan Umbrellas 3 by Andrea Williams via FlickrAs 2014 began to wind down, the US National Debt surpassed the $18 trillion mark! That’s over $154,000 of Federal government debt per taxpayer or more than $56,000 per citizen. During the six years of the Obama Administration, the US National Debt increased by nearly $7 trillion, representing 67 percent growth. And it’s still growing.

As if that’s not bad enough, the US Unfunded Liabilities total more than $92.5 trillion dollars, or more than $789,000 per taxpayer! It, too, continues to grow.

President Barack Obama, former-President George W. Bush, and the US Congress are all responsible for the rapid growth in the US National Debt since 2009 as well as the growth in the Unfunded Liabilities. So, I’m not going to engage in specific finger pointing, policy debates, or politics.

Instead, I want to focus on what this means for the charity sector looking forward.

The rapid growth of national debt is not sustainable. We should no longer ignore it. Here are some of the reasons why:

• While our enormous national debt is not significantly affecting the nonprofit sector at the moment, the day is coming when it will. Prudent organizations will prepare for the storm before it hits.

• At some point, failure to address the massive debt issue will lead to a downgrade in America’s credit rating. Think it can’t happen? It already has. In 2011, Standard and Poor’s cut the US credit rating to AA+ because the government “fell short” of taming the nation’s debt. In 2012, Egan-Jones cut America’s credit rating to AA for the same reason. While these downgrades have had a mostly symbolic effect, they foreshadow what is likely to happen unless the government brings the national debt under control.

• Eventually, future credit rating downgrades will make it more expensive for the government to borrow money. Interest rates will rise. That will take more money out of the economy.

• In addition to becoming increasingly costly to borrow, lending sources will be harder to find. Some of those lenders might also use the lender-debtor relationship to force US policy changes. We’ve already seen this with the China relationship. By the way, China, no longer the US, is the world’s largest economy in “real” terms of goods and services produced.

• To deal with the debt, the federal government has four possible courses of action (or some combination of these): 1) pay more to borrow more which will add to the debt and take more money out of the economy, 2) print more money which would be inflationary, 3) cut spending which would likely mean less money for the social safety net and nonprofit organizations, and 4) raise taxes which will reduce individual disposable income. So, even if the government does address the debt situation, it could have a short-term negative impact on the nonprofit sector before it has a positive effect.

• A massive, growing national debt will make it more difficult for the US economy to experience strong growth in Gross Domestic Product. Philanthropy correlates closely with GDP; it’s been about two percent of GDP for decades. If the economy doesn’t grow rapidly, philanthropy is not likely to do so. If the economy truly falters, we might even see a drop in year-to-year philanthropy as we did during the Great Recession.

We’re already beginning to see some of the effects I’ve described above. If nothing is done to tame the national debt, these effects will be magnified and could eventually become catastrophic.

There are some things that nonprofits can do to prepare:

January 7, 2015

#JeSuisCharlie — I am Charlie

Those of us who work in or for, volunteer with, and/or donate to the charity, nonprofit, NGO, or community benefit sector do so to make the world a better place. Sadly, today, our world has been diminished by the murderous attack on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. The terrorists, shouting “Allahu akbar,” killed 12 people including the publication’s editor.

Charlie Hebdo is a satirical, weekly publication. It’s cartoons and articles are often juvenile and tasteless. In the past, the publication has poked fun at Christians, Muslims, government officials, and others. Slate has published an article explaining the magazine’s most controversial religious covers.

While I don’t necessarily agree with everything the magazine has published, I nevertheless recognize that a society can never be truly free without freedom of speech and the press. As a citizen journalist and as someone who has devoted his life to making the world a better place, I stand with my brothers and sisters in France.

With anger, with sadness, with defiance, I proclaim:

I am Charlie!

I am Charlie!

Please join me in standing up for freedom. There are many ways you can take action. Here are some of the simplest things you can do:

January 2, 2015

Don’t Make New Year Resolutions You Can’t Keep

It happens every year at this time. People make New Year resolutions. Then, a short time later, they break those resolutions.

Breaking New Year resolutions is bad. Doing so can make you feel guilty. It can erode your self-esteem. If you told anyone about your resolutions, your failure to keep them could even be embarrassing.

Here’s a novel idea for 2015: Don’t make New Year resolutions you can’t keep.

Fireworks

Happy New Year from Philadelphia!

Instead of setting overly challenging goals, I encourage you to adopt the three following, easy-to-keep resolutions. While easy to adhere to, the following resolutions are nevertheless meaningful. You’ll notice that my three resolutions include something that will benefit you, something that will benefit others, and something that will benefit your organization:

 

  1. Indulge yourself. Yes, you need to take care of yourself by eating right, exercising, and getting an annual medical physical. However, you also need to let yourself be bad occasionally. You need to take care of your psyche. If that means having a slice of chocolate cake, then go for it! If it means watching old television episodes of Gilligan’s Island, so be it. If it means having your spouse watch the kids so you can enjoy a leisurely bubble bath, make it happen. By being good to yourself, you’ll be better able to be good to other people.

 

  1. Make sure those you love know you love and appreciate them. Don’t assume that those you love know it or know the extent to which you care about them. Tell them. Show them. Don’t just run for the door in the morning to rush off to work; instead, take the time to kiss your spouse good-bye. Don’t just nod when your child comes home with a good test score; instead, take the time to tell him how impressed you are. Make your partner a steaming cup of tea before she asks for it or goes to make it herself. In other words, make the most of the little moments.

 

  1. Grow professionally. One of the hallmarks of being a professional is ongoing education and sharing knowledge. So, commit to attending seminars and conferences. If time or money are obstacles, participate in a webinar; there are some excellent free webinar programs available throughout the year. Or, read a nonprofit management or fundraising book. There are some terrific books at The Nonprofit Bookstore (powered by Amazon) that will inspire and help you achieve greater results. You’ll find Reader Recommended titles, the complete AFP-Wiley Development Series, and other worthwhile items. If you have found a particular book helpful, consider sharing a copy with a friend, colleague, or your favorite charity. By the way, a portion of the sale of books through The Nonprofit Bookstore will be donated to charity.

 

(If there’s a nonprofit management or fundraising book that you read recently that you found particularly helpful, please let me know below so I can include the title in the Readers Recommended section.)

For additional reading, you might also consider looking at some of my posts that you might have missed. Here is a list of my top ten most read posts during the past year:

  1. Can a Nonprofit Return a Donor’s Gift?
  2. Delivering (My Own) Bad News
  3. 5 Things Never to Do in Your Phone Fundraising Calls
  4. One Word is Costing Your Fundraising Effort a Fortune
  5. Special Report: Top 40 Most Effective Fundraising Consultants Identified
  6. How NOT to Run a Capital Campaign
  7. Cheating Death
  8. #GivingTuesday Has NOT Made a “Huge Difference”
  9. 5 Lessons Moses Can Teach Us about Fundraising
  10. 20 Factoids about Planned Giving. Some May Surprise You.

I invite you to read any posts that might interest you by clicking on the title above. If you’ve read them all, thank you for being a committed reader.

I’m honored to know that I have readers from around the world. (I love the Internet!) While I appreciate all of my readers, I thought it would be interesting to look, beyond the United States, to see my top ten countries for readership:

December 24, 2014

I Get By with a Little Help from My Friends

This week, legendary British singer Joe Cocker lost his fight with cancer and died. At Woodstock in 1969, he famously covered the Beatles song “With a Little Help from My Friends”:

What would you think if I sang out of tune

Would you stand up and walk out on me?

Lend me your ears and I’ll sing you a song

And I’ll try not to sing out of key”

As I reflect back on my own battle with cancer in 2014, I know I won, in part, because of the help I received from my friends.

Wordle_Merry_ChristmasMy personal friends were always there for me whenever I needed a distraction, supportive conversation, a joke, a ride, a dinner, a hug, etc.

My professional friends around the world always stood by me as well. Folks kept reading my old blog posts and returned once I resumed fresh blogging. Clients returned. My professional friends checked-in with me with cards, calls, visits, and prayers.

My wife and I were touched deeply by the support we both received from all of our friends.

You never walked out on me. As I continue my recovery, I’ll try not to sing out of key. (Okay, I’m being figurative here. In reality, I can only sing out of key. :-) )

So, my friend, thank you for your ongoing support. I appreciate it.

I hope you and yours enjoy the holiday season with health and happiness.

December 23, 2014

#GivingTuesday Has NOT Made a “Huge Difference”

Earlier this month, I expressed my concerns about #GivingTuesday. Now, the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University and the Case Foundation have announced the results.

Guess what? Despite all the hype and self-congratulatory headlines, #GivingTuesday did not accomplish much.

The official #GivingTuesday website  proudly displays this message:

#GivingTuesday Thank You

However, are the good, well-intentioned folks at #GivingTuesday correct? Did the occasion really make a “huge difference”?

#GivingTuesday 2014 inspired $45.68 million in charitable giving, according to an infographic prepared by the Case Foundation.  The final tabulation is expected to be even greater. Over 15,000 charities participated, representing 68 countries.

#GivingTuesday Full Infographic-Dec 2014The numbers look great at first glance particularly when recognizing that donations grew by more than 63 percent over #GivingTuesday 2013.

But, let’s look at the numbers a bit more closely.

Last year, total philanthropic giving to the nonprofit sector in the USA totaled $335.17 billion. For our discussion here:

  1. Let’s assume that total giving in 2014 increases by four percent to $348.58 billion.
  2. Let’s assume that the initial reports that were shared were only half of the actual results. This would mean that donations on #GivingTuesday totaled $91.36 million, likely an overly generous estimate.
  3. Let’s assume that 100 percent of the reported donations were made in the USA.
  4. Let’s assume that the more than 15,000 participating charities are all based in the USA.
  5. Let’s assume that no donations would have come in on that day if it were not for #GivingTuesday.

With those assumptions in mind, let’s look more closely at the #GivingTuesday results:

• #GivingTuesday generated 0.026 percent of donations for the year despite the day itself accounting for 0.274 percent of the calendar. In other words, despite the big promotional push, #GivingTuesday produced a disproportionately low volume of giving.

• With more than 15,000 participating organizations, #GivingTuesday generated an average of just $6,091 per organization. While it’s nice to have the $6,091 of income, it’s hardly a transformational amount especially considering that that amount includes money that would have come in anyway.

Beyond the numbers we do know, we do not know how much money would have come in anyway. We do not know how many new donors were inspired to give. We do not know if organizations are able to retain #GivingTuesday donors. We do not know if larger organizations are simply siphoning support from smaller organizations. We do not know if #GivingTuesday simply shifts when people give without inspiring more people to give, more people to give more often, and more people to give more.

December 19, 2014

Is Spelman College Unethical?

Spelman College has announced that it is suspending an endowed professorship in humanities that was funded by Bill and Camille Cosby. Spelman issued this one-paragraph statement:

December 14, 2014 — The William and Camille Olivia Hanks Cosby Endowed Professorship was established to bring positive attention and accomplished visiting scholars to Spelman College in order to enhance our intellectual, cultural and creative life; however, the current context prevents us from continuing to meet these objectives fully. Consequently, we will suspend the program until such time that the original goals can again be met.”

The Cosby family donated $20 million to Spelman in 1988. In 1996, Spelman opened the Camille Olivia Hanks Cosby EdD Academic Center. At that time, “an endowed professorship named for Drs. Cosby was also established to support visiting scholars in the fine arts, humanities and social sciences as well as Spelman College’s Museum of Fine Art,” according to a November 25 written statement by Beverly Daniel Tatum, Spelman’s president.

The November statement also explained:

The academic center and endowed professorship were funded through a philanthropic commitment from the Cosby family made more than 25 years ago, and at this time there are no discussions regarding changes to the terms of the gift.”

Just 19 days later, Spelman reversed its position and suspended the professorship. When contacted, several Spelman officials refused to comment. A representative for Cosby also declined to comment.

Bill Cosby by remolacha.net via Flickr

Bill Cosby

For the past several weeks, Bill Cosby has been the target of a large number of sexual assault allegations. However, no criminal charges have been filed against Cosby. Spelman knew this in November. It’s unclear why the College abruptly suspended the endowed professorship now. While additional allegations have been made in the intervening weeks, Cosby still has not been charged with a crime.

To paraphrase Tyler Perry, if Cosby did commit the sexual assaults, it’s a terrible situation. If Cosby did not commit the sexual assaults, it’s a terrible situation. I won’t comment on the Cosby situation beyond that. However, I do want to explore the Spelman news because it has broader implications for all nonprofit institutions.

Nonprofit organizations are ethically required to use a donor’s contribution in the way in which the donor intended. The applicable portions of the Donor Bill of Rights “declares that all donors have these rights”:

IV. To be assured their gifts will be used for the purposes for which they were given….

V. To receive appropriate acknowledgement and recognition….

VI. To be assured that information about their donations is handled with respect and with confidentiality to the extent provided by law.”

The relevant passages from the Association of Fundraising Professionals Code of Ethical Principles state:

December 16, 2014

Special Report: Congress Passes the Charitable IRA Rollover

At 7:32 PM (EST) this evening, Dec. 16, 2014, the US Senate passed HR 5771, the bill that retroactively extends several tax provisions, including the IRA Rollover. The law will expire on Dec. 31, 2014, without any grace period. However, it’s important to note that the measure will not become law until signed by President Obama, which is expected.

While approval of the IRA Rollover is good news, it unfortunately comes extremely late in the year. This means most nonprofit organizations will be unable to fully take advantage of the provision. Nevertheless, there are a couple of simple actions you can take:

  1. Look at your donor file to see which individuals have made gifts from an IRA in the past. Then, call those donors to let them know of the opportunity for 2014, assuming President Obama signs the measure. At the very least, email those donors.
  2. Email all of your older donors to alert them to the opportunity for them to give from their IRAs. Even if they don’t take advantage of the IRA Rollover, they’ll appreciate that you informed them about this late breaking news.

December 7, 2014

Special Report: House of Representatives Approves IRA Rollover

[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 usually not widely promoted. To be notified of all new posts, including “Special Reports,” please take a moment to subscribe in the right-hand column.]

 

On Wednesday, Dec. 3, the US House of Representatives passed a short-term tax extenders bill. The bill extended certain tax provisions for 2014, including the IRA Rollover, a provision long supported by the nonprofit sector. The package would cover 2014 but NOT apply to 2015 or beyond. The bill now goes to the Senate.

US Capitol by Glyn Lowe Photoworks via FlickrSen. Harry Reid (D-NV) has questioned whether the Senate will have time to pass the House bill before the end of the year. However, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), Chair of the Senate Finance Committee, and the White House have shown a willingness to move forward with this one-year retroactive fix, according to Jason Lee, General Counsel at the Association of Fundraising Professionals.

For more information about the bill, click through to:

The Hill“House Approves Slate of Tax Breaks”

The Hill“Reid Indicates Senate Might Not Pass House Tax-Extender Bill”

The sad reality is that even if the tax extenders bill passes the Congress and is signed by Pres. Obama, there is precious little time for charities to take advantage of the IRA Rollover provision in 2014.

December 2, 2014

Have You Made This #GivingTuesday Mistake?

I have serious concerns about #GivingTuesday. Recently, the Context with Lorna Dueck Canadian television show invited me to share some of those concerns. My interview begins at about the eight-minute mark.

Context with Lorna Dueck television show.

Click to watch Context with Lorna Dueck.

I also shared some of my concerns in two prior blog posts: “#GivingTuesday: Hype or Hope?” (2012) and “No Evidence of #GivingTuesday Success” (2013).

I have many issues with #GivingTuesday.

Nevertheless, I continue to hope it will ultimately prove worthwhile for the entire nonprofit sector. Time will tell. Meanwhile, I want to make sure you do not commit a serious #GivingTuesday mistake that can hurt your organization.

If #GivingTuesday attracts new supporters and successfully inspires increased contributions from current donors, you can’t just operate as you normally would and expect to retain such support. Business-as-usual would be a big mistake. You need to do more to retain support.

We have Black Friday immediately following Thanksgiving. We also have Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday. Thanks to the folks at New York’s 92nd Street Y, we now have #GivingTuesday. The 92nd Street Y served as the catalyst and incubator for #GivingTuesday. Early on, the United Nations Foundation joined as a partner, bringing its strategic and communications expertise to the project. #GivingTuesday has now attracted participants from around the world.

To be worthwhile, #GivingTuesday will need to encourage:

  • more people to give,
  • more people to give more often,
  • and more people to give more.

In other words, to be good for the entire charity sector, #GivingTuesday must significantly increase the philanthropic pie. Helping some organizations do better at the expense of others is not a beneficial outcome for the entire nonprofit sector.

Unfortunately, most nonprofit organizations are poorly equipped or motivated to do what is necessary to secure gains made through #GivingTuesday. While charities might be able and willing to leverage #GivingTuesday promotions to attract new donors, those same charities are doing little to ensure those donors continue their support. Sadly, it’s not a problem unique to #GivingTuesday donors.

In the USA, donor retention is a real problem. Seven years ago, the average donor-retention rate was just 50 percent. While that’s not good, the retention rate has become far worse, falling to 39 percent!

In Canada, the pool of philanthropists relative to total tax filers has fallen in recent years, from 30 percent to 23 percent. In other words, the donor-pie is shrinking, rather than growing, relative to the total population of tax filers.

If your organization has participated in #GivingTuesday, I hope you have developed a creative strategy for engaging and cultivating all new and increased donors. By properly stewarding these individuals, you just might be able to hang on to them. If not, what’s the point of investing in #GivingTuesday?

So, are you doing anything special to retain your #GivingTuesday supporters as well as your other donors? At the very least, I hope you:

November 27, 2014

A Thanksgiving Like No Other

Thanksgiving 2014. It’s easy to focus on all that is wrong in the world: civil war in Syria, domestic demonstrations, Ebola epidemic, sluggish economy, ISIS attacks, Palestinian-Israeli conflict, etc. If you want to be depressed, just pick up a newspaper or tune into the news on radio, television, or Internet.

Thanksgiving Cartoon by Cathy Liu via FlickrNevertheless, we all have much to be thankful for this season. Sometimes, it’s just a matter of how we choose to view events.

For example, I could choose to view 2014 as a brutal year due to my battle with cancer. On the other hand, I can choose to view 2014 as a heart-warming year as I felt the love from so many during my winning battle with cancer. 2014 is the year I came close to death, but it’s also the year I received a new lease on life. Sometimes, it’s just a matter of how we choose to view events. For me, I’ll choose to think of the glass as half full rather than half-empty.

I have much to be thankful for. Among many other things, I’m thankful for:

  • My life. I began the year fearing that death was near. I finish the year knowing I have a normal life expectancy.
  • The many good thoughts, prayers, love, and helpful acts from friends, family, colleagues, and even strangers.
  • The medical teams at the University of Pennsylvania Abramson Cancer Center and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, Shadyside. They literally saved my life.
  • My readers and clients for their patience and for standing by me.
  • My wife for her heroic efforts, strength, perseverance, and help. She continues to amaze and inspire me.

Thanksgiving is a time for us to reflect on our blessings. It’s a time for us to be with friends and family. While I’ve always understood this, the meaning of this special day has been amplified for me this year.

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