Archive for ‘Current Events’

November 6, 2015

Is a Zombie Video Good for Charity?

Halloween has passed, but zombies are still with us!

While checking my email Inbox recently, one subject line in particular caught my eye:

Zombie overpopulation video for Halloween by Population Matters.”

Halloween season or not, I like zombie films and television shows. For example, my favorite TV show of the moment is iZombie. If you haven’t seen iZombie, don’t judge me; instead, checkout an episode. Then, thank me.

Anyway, I quickly opened the email from a fundraising professional who I respect greatly. Her message piqued my interest even more:

I can’t believe that any communications or development department ok’d this! Horrible.”

Normally, “horrible” might be a good word to describe a zombie video, but that clearly was not the case in this situation. My fellow fundraiser believes that the video is problematic for the charity even if, on a superficial level, it might be mildly entertaining. So, doubly intrigued, I clicked on the link to the video by the UK charity Population Matters. You can watch it here:

On a superficial level, I kind of like the video. It isn’t great, but it is a bit fun while raising awareness about an important issue. I also acknowledge a few key points:

1.  The video is a British production for primarily (though not exclusively) a British audience. The British sense of humor and use of humor is very different from the American. What works in one country might not be appropriate in the other.

2.  Adults are not the primary target audience. The organization says “young people” are. I can understand how a zombie-themed video could capture the attention of the intended target audience.

3.  The video is bound to attract plenty of eyeballs that will achieve the objective of creating awareness for the issue of over population.

It was not until I thought about the video more deeply, viewed it again, and discussed it with colleagues that I began to see the problems with it.

Racism. At worst, the video is seen by some as racist. At best, it’s considered racially insensitive. The problem is that when mentioning the explosive population growth, only children of color are shown. No white babies or children are shown to illustrate the growth in population. Here’s what one colleague at an international social-service agency had to say about the video:

From our perspective, when people talk about overpopulation, they are often referring to black/brown folks in the global south and Africa. There can be a strong undercurrent of racism there, so connecting ‘too many black and brown people’ with zombies has an extremely negative connotation. In the human rights world, this kind of video is considered to be pretty racist. It got a uniformly negative response from the folks here in our office. So, even if millennials would like it, it’s very much out of step with the way family planning/population issues are framed in the human rights world, and makes it harder for groups like ours to even approach the overpopulation issue without being called racist.”

Overwhelming Use of Statistics. The video provided a number of interesting statistics. The trouble is, the use of statistics was overwhelming and abstract. As a result, even after watching the video three times, I cannot remember a single statistic cited. I suspect casual viewers will experience the same thing.

No Emotional Pull. While the video is somewhat fun, it lacks emotional pull. Greg Warner, of MarketSmart, pointed that out to me along with the next two points.

So What? This is one of my favorite questions when evaluating something. As Greg told me, “There’s nothing to answer the question any individual would ask while viewing it: ‘What’s in it for me?’” Yes, the video attempts to point out how the world and our species would be better off by reducing population growth. However, those “benefits” are abstract, particularly to young people who have some sense of immortality and narcissism.

Weak Call to Action. There are two calls to action in the video. Neither is compelling. First, viewers are encouraged to have smaller families. This is not immediately relevant to the target audience of teenagers. The second call to action is to go to the organization’s website for more information. As Greg mentioned to me, “[The call to action] is not all that exciting.”

Given my own thoughts about the video and the comments I received, I had questions about the production. So, I emailed Population Matters. I received a quick response from Simon Ross, the organization’s Chief Executive:

October 22, 2015

Do You Know if Your #Fundraising is Failing?

You might think it’s a blunt, maybe even a harsh, question. It is.

Do you know if your fundraising is failing?

If your nonprofit organization is typical, I have some bad news for you. You’re fundraising effort is most likely sorely underperforming. That’s according to the newly released 2015 Fundraising Effectiveness Project Report, from the Association of Fundraising Professionals and the Urban Institute.  Here are some of the key findings:

•  For every 100 donors gained in 2014, 103 were lost through attrition, a net loss in donors of three percent!

•  For every $100 gained in 2014, $95 was lost through gift attrition. In other words, organizations are running hard to remain essentially in place.

•  The median donor retention rate in 2014 was just 43 percent. There was no improvement over 2013’s rate despite all of the publicity and advice about the issue.

•  The median dollar retention rate increased slightly from 46 percent to 47 percent in 2014. However, the fact that the retention rate is not well above 50 percent is pathetic. Sadly, that’s been the case for nearly the past decade.

The Scream by Mark Tighe via FlickrRoger Craver, one of the Editors at The Agitator blog and author of Retention Fundraising: The New Art and Science of Keeping Your Donors for Life summed up the results perfectly with just one word: “depressing.”

Even if your charity is performing on par with the median nonprofit organization, make no mistake about it, it is failing. Unfortunately, many organizations do not even know whether or not they are performing well. They usually don’t look at or understand their numbers. Fortunately, the solution is simple. Here’s a story I told The Agitator:

October 16, 2015

When Should You Refuse a Gift?

From opposite sides of the Atlantic Ocean, I learned of two stories that both raise an important question:

When should a charity refuse to accept a donation?

The first story concerns Lucy the Elephant,  an historic six-story tourist attraction in the US. Built in 1881, the wood and tin structure is in need of major repairs. The nonprofit organization that operates Lucy the Elephant is raising money for the project.

Lucy the Elephant by Doug Kerr via FlickrHearing about the repair effort, the nonprofit People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals offered to make a significant, though not huge, donation. However, the gift would come with major strings attached.

PETA wanted to use the attraction for anti-circus messaging. “PETA wanted to decorate Lucy ‘in a way that would educate visitors about the grim lives facing elephants in circuses.’ That would have included shackling one of her feet and affixing a teardrop below one eye,” according to the Associated Press.

However, the board of trustees for Lucy the Elephant rejected the PETA offer. Richard Helfant, the CEO of Lucy’s board of trustees, said that accepting PETA’s terms would risk scaring or upsetting children who visit the site. “Lucy is a happy place,” he said. “We must always ensure that children who visit Lucy have a happy experience and leave with smiles on their faces. Anything that could sadden a child is not acceptable here at Lucy.”

In other words, the board of Lucy the Elephant found that the conditions of the PETA gift offer were not in alignment with the organization’s own mission and, therefore, it could not accept the donation.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic, a children’s charity in the UK was offered a gift from the Jimmy Savile Trust. Under normal circumstances, this would be considered great news. Jimmy Savile  was a huge celebrity in the UK. He worked as a DJ, radio and television personality, dance hall manager, and a major charity fundraiser. He was sort of the Dick Clark of the UK.

Unfortunately, Savile also had a very dark side. Following his death in 2011, hundreds of people came forward to accuse the media star of sexual abuse. His alleged victims were eight to 47 years old at the time of the abuse. A Scotland Yard investigation and an ITV documentary looked into the allegations and the alleged cover up of the crimes.

In 2014, UK Secretary of State for Health Jeremy Hunt delivered a public apology in the House of Commons:

Savile was a callous, opportunistic, wicked predator who abused and raped individuals, many of them patients and young people, who expected and had a right to expect to be safe. His actions span five decades — from the 1960s to 2010. … As a nation at that time, we held Savile in our affection as a somewhat eccentric national treasure with a strong commitment to charitable causes. Today’s reports show that in reality he was a sickening and prolific sexual abuser who repeatedly exploited the trust of a nation for his own vile purposes.”

So, why would a charity, particularly a children’s charity, even consider accepting a gift from the Jimmy Savile Trust?

Raising the issue in the Institute of Fundraising Discussion Group on LinkedIn, the Fundraising Manager for the charity and participants provided some insights:

September 30, 2015

Extra! Extra! Updates to 6 Popular Posts

Fundraising news is dynamic. It’s constantly changing. So, I thought I’d look back on some of my more popular posts of the past several months and provide you with important updates to some of those stories.

“Cheating Death”

About a year ago, I outlined my personal battle with a very rare form of cancer: Appendicial Carcinoma with Pseudomyxoma Peritonei. While my recovery following last year’s 14-hour surgery has been good, I hit a bump in the road last week when a post-surgery complication sent me to the hospital for the week. That’s why I haven’t posted and haven’t engaged much on social media.

The good news is that my problem resolved naturally. Now, I’m working on regaining strength and the more than seven pounds I lost. As I return to “normal,” I’ll resume regular blogging and engagement.

I thank you for your patience and support.

“Update: Spelman College Returns Gift from Bill Cosby”

Spelman College terminated the William and Camille Olivia Hanks Cosby Endowed Professorship and returned the establishing donation to the Clara Dog Reads Newspaper by Steve Eng via FlickrElizabeth Jackson Carter Foundation, established by Camille Cosby. The move comes as the negative news surrounding Bill Cosby continues to mount.

Now, Central State University in Ohio has changed the name of the Camille O. & William H. Cosby Communications Center to the CSU Communications Center. The Cosbys had given the University a donation of $2 million to name the Center. It is unclear whether or not the University has returned the contribution. The University has failed to respond to my request for more information.

“Special Report: Hillary Clinton Wants to Limit Charitable Deduction, Could Cost Charities Billions”

As the US presidential campaign season heats up, some candidates have released their tax proposals. Hillary Clinton’s plan could cost the nonprofit sector billions of dollars in voluntary contributions each year. In an unscientific reader poll, 91.67 percent of respondents said they opposed Clinton’s proposal to reduce the charitable giving deduction.

Recently, Jeb Bush released his tax plan which preserves the deduction for charitable giving as it now stands. Donald Trump’s tax proposal also preserves the charitable giving deduction.

When attempting to evaluate which tax proposals will be best for the nonprofit sector, we need to consider a number of factors:

  • Does the proposal preserve the tax deduction for charitable giving?
  • Will the proposal increase personal income?
  • Will the proposal help grow the economy?

The calculus is certainly complex. However, we do know that charitable giving incentives work, that people give more when their personal income is greater, and that charitable giving correlates closely to the growth (or decline) of Gross Domestic Product.

September 1, 2015

A Charity Scandal with a Surprising Twist

Yet another charity scandal has made headlines. What makes this ongoing situation startling is that the charities involved are the victims while government is the offender.

“Nearly $10 million in charitable donations by California taxpayers sat unspent in government accounts at the end of last year, The Associated Press has found, and the Senate Governance and Finance Committee chairman said Thursday that he wants a review of state accounts and will hold a hearing to find out why the money hasn’t been spent.”

Since 2005, California has collected $35 million for 29 funds. The state’s taxpayers donated the money when filing their tax returns. The money was supposed to go to a variety of charitable organizations ranging from cancer research to wildlife protection.

“’This is just embarrassing. It’s unacceptable. People expect their money to be spent for these important purposes and these delays, you know, they’re not explainable to me,’ said Sen. Bob Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys. ‘So I just learned about it, but I’m going to jump on it,’” according to the AP report.

Sadly, California is not alone in mishandling taxpayer donations to charity. For example, “New York’s top financial officer found donations languishing in its tax checkoff funds,” according to the AP.

While well intentioned, the government’s efforts to help charities have not always been efficiently or properly managed. I’m reminded of a famous quote from a former California Governor, President Ronald Reagan:

In 1986, Reagan famously said, “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: ‘I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.’”

While Democratic administrations in both California and New York have mishandled money meant for charities, Democrats do not have a monopoly on making life difficult for nonprofit organizations.

While it initially looked like the Republican controlled US Congress might quickly enact certain charitable giving incentives including the IRA Charitable Rollover, the body failed to act before the summer recess. With a full legislative calendar awaiting the return of lawmakers, it’s unclear if or when the matter of charitable giving incentives will be addressed. This means that even if Congress passes measures that would benefit charities, nonprofit organizations will once again have very little time to promote those opportunities to donors prior to the end of the year.

While government can and should take steps to help the nonprofit sector, charities should not wait expectantly for assistance. Furthermore, even when assistance is promised, charities should not expect such assistance to be delivered in a timely or efficient manner.

As Doug White, Director for the Master of Science in Fundraising Management program at Columbia University, told the AP, “They are not in the business of charity. The government has its own issues.”

Another way in which government hurts the nonprofit sector is through burdensome, costly regulation that does little or nothing to protect the public interest. Such regulations divert donor funds away from the fulfillment of charitable missions.

While government action and in-action has a direct cost for nonprofits, the problem could be much greater. For example, in California, donors may now distrust the government to such a degree that they will no longer bother to designate funds for charities. Time will tell.

So, what can you do?:

August 27, 2015

Is the Facebook “Donate Now” Button: Dumb or Helpful?

Facebook has unveiled a new option that could benefit the nonprofit sector:

We are excited to introduce a new ‘Donate Now’ call-to-action option on both link ads and Pages. Now, it’s easier than ever for nonprofits to connect with people who care about their causes and encourage them to contribute through the website of their choice.”

Many in the media were quick to applaud the move by Facebook:

“This is definitely a valuable tool for nonprofits…” — TechCrunch

“This new Facebook feature is hard not to like.” — Huffpost Impact

“…nonprofits won’t be complaining now that they have easier access to a billion and a half potential donors.” — Mashable

“Charities welcome Facebook decision to let them use ‘donate now’ buttons.” — Third Sector

However, not everyone greeted the announcement with great enthusiasm.

Steven Shattuck, Vice President of Marketing at Bloomerang, outlined his issues with this new feature in his post “The Facebook Page Donate Now Button Is Dumb and I Hate It”:

In my mind, this button is problematic for two reasons: 1) This is an obvious ploy by Facebook to get you to buy ads … 2) There is no organic path to the donate button that makes any logical sense or has any basis in reality…. I don’t buy it. It’s the equivalent of a coffee shop putting their tip jar outside and around the corner.”

Non-Profits on FacebookHere is how Facebook designed the “Donate Now” button to work. A nonprofit organization can put the button on its Facebook page and in its ads. People who click on the button will first see a Facebook disclaimer box and then be taken to the organization’s own donation page.

Shattuck writes, “So should you set up the button? Probably. There’s really no downside per se and the whole process takes less than a minute.”

While there might not be a downside to the “Donate Now” button on Facebook, is there an upside as some have suggested or is Shattuck right to think the button is “dumb”?

August 17, 2015

Urgent Alert: Immediate Action Needed to Defend Nonprofits

There is an alarming issue you need to be aware of.

While I do not use this blogsite to engage in partisan politics, that does not mean that I avoid politics and government relations altogether. I consider myself a bi-partisan, vigorous defender of the nonprofit sector.

CA State House by David Grant via Flickr

California State House

Over the years, I’ve worked with both Democrats and Republicans in my capacity as Chairman of the Association of Fundraising Professionals Political Action Committee, Chairman of the AFP Greater Philadelphia Chapter Government Relations Committee, and a member of the AFP US Government Relations Committee. I’ve even represented AFP in testimony before the Federal Trade Commission.

As a passionate defender to the nonprofit sector and a cheerleader for voluntary philanthropy, I took notice of a recent post on The Agitator blog. Fundraising legend Roger Craver sounded an alert and issued a call to action over a dangerous move by the California Attorney General.

Never before have I reprinted a blog post. However, this issue is so important that, with Roger’s permission, I am sharing his post with you now:

 

If you’re willing to turn over the list of your top donors to the government then you need read no further.

However, if you’re not sure, or you’re absolutely certain you’d be unwilling to give up the donor list, then take this post to your CEO and General Counsel. Immediately.

Why? Because right now the Attorney General of California is set on requiring that any nonprofit seeking a license to solicit funds in the nation’s largest state first turn over their lists of top donors that are filed with the IRS on a supposedly “confidential” schedule of your tax return.

This dangerous and unconstitutional power grab in the name of ‘fundraising regulation’ and ‘consumer protection’ must be stopped.

And it’s up to all of us—nonprofits and the companies that serve them to stand up now and take action.

Whether or not your organization or one you serve solicits funds in California the battle ahead will affect the freedom of speech and privacy rights of every nonprofit in the U.S. and their donors.

In a moment I’ll outline the steps you can take immediately to head off this threat. But first some background.

A year ago this week The Agitator warned about a sinister move by the Oklahoma Attorney General and his special interest contributors to silence the Humane Society of United States (HSUS) using that state’s fundraising regulations.

HSUS has boldly and, so far, successfully fought back.

As I pointed out last August there have been relatively few occasions in modern history where politicians have blatantly sought to use the power of their office to silence nonprofits that opposed them or whose views and ideology they disagreed with.

At the end of the day, Americans and the U.S. Supreme Court have shown little tolerance for political zealots and bullies who abuse U.S. Constitution’s guarantees of free speech and due process.

NOW …The Intimidators At It Again. And We Must Make Sure They Lose. Again.

August 14, 2015

Easy Ways to Cultivate Your Donors and Raise More Money

Steven Shattuck recently interviewed me about one of my favorite topics for Bloomerang TV: Donor Cultivation.

Many nonprofit organizations see caring cultivation and solid stewardship as luxuries rather than essential components of the fundraising process. That’s one reason for low donor retention rates, 23 percent for first-time donors and 43 percent overall.

Well, I’m here to tell you that if you simply ask for donations with little or no attention given to cultivation and stewardship, you’re nothing more than a professional beggar. Development professionals recognize that fundraising does not begin and end with an appeal. Development professionals know the importance of cultivation and stewardship.

During my interview, I share a number of easy to implement, low-cost ideas for cultivating and stewarding your prospects and donors. One of the things I talk about is the value of pleasantly surprising people; I even share a couple of examples. You can read the full interview transcript of “Sneaky Ways to Cultivate Donors” by clicking here. You can watch the full 17 minute video below:

For more tips about cultivating your planned giving prospects and donors, read my article “Effectively Cultivating Prospects at Little or No Cost” which appeared in Advancing Philanthropy, the magazine of the Association of Fundraising Professionals. For additional tips and great examples for educating, cultivating, and stewarding planned giving prospects and donors, checkout my book Donor-Centered Planned Gift Marketing.

August 12, 2015

23 Sources for Powerful #Fundraising Tips that Will Get Results

Most fundraising professionals want to achieve better results. Unfortunately, finding the insights and tips that will help you enhance your development efforts is challenging. So many information resources exist. However, which sources are the best?

Last week, I reported that Fundlio created a valuable resource list: “20 Fundraising Blogs Every Nonprofit Organization Leader Should Be Reading Now.” I’m honored to have my blogsite included on the list.

Now, I’m honored to report that my blog has been included on yet another list of must-read sites. Chris Baylis of The Sponsorship Collective has written: “23 Fundraising Websites and Blogs Every Fundraiser Should Read.”

Information Hydrant by Will Lion via FlickrTo compile the list, Baylis says, “My preference is for blogs that provide good content, comic relief and tips and tricks that I can implement right away.”

Baylis has done fundraising professionals a great service by putting the list together. While his list is not exhaustive, as he himself admits, it is certainly another great place to start if you’re looking for wisdom in the vast sea of information on the Internet. I encourage you to checkout the list and visit some of the blogs with which you might not yet be familiar.

August 10, 2015

Special Report: Hillary Clinton Wants to Limit Charitable Deduction, Could Cost Charities Billions

[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 not widely promoted. To be notified of all new posts, including “Special Reports,” please take a moment to subscribe in the right-hand column. New subscribers will also receive a free e-book from researcher Dr. Russell James.]

 

Hillary Clinton, the current frontrunner for the Democratic Party nomination for President of the USA, put forward a plan that could cost the nonprofit sector billions of dollars in voluntary donations.

Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton

Like President Barack Obama, Clinton announced that she would seek to impose a cap on tax deductions, including the deduction for charitable giving.

On the campaign trail, Clinton proposed the “new college compact.” At a town hall meeting in New Hampshire on Monday, August 10, Clinton announced a plan to reduce the cost of four-year public schools, make two-year community colleges tuition-free, and cut student loan interest rates.

To pay for the $350 billion plan, Clinton would seek to impose the same 28 percent cap on itemized deductions that we have seen in Obama’s proposed budgets. Charitable deductions are not exempt from this plan. Currently, taxpayers may claim up to a 35 percent charitable deduction.

When Obama proposed a similar tax policy, the Charitable Giving Coalition issued the following statement:

Any caps or limits on charitable giving will have a devastating impact on charities and nonprofits. If donors have less incentive to give to charities — donations will decline, impeding the important work nonprofits do for the millions of Americans who rely on them. For example, up to $5.6 billion in charitable giving would be lost each year if the President’s proposal to cut the charitable deduction were enacted.”

Like the Obama plan, the Clinton proposal would also negatively affect charitable giving. Nevertheless, “Clinton aides believe their plan will help build enthusiasm for her candidacy with younger voters,” according to an Associated Press report.

The cynical effort of the Clinton campaign to buy the youth vote reminds me of two quotes from Alexis de Tocqueville, the 19th century philosopher and historian:

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