Archive for ‘General Nonprofit’

April 17, 2019

How Generous is the Charitable Giving of Presidential Candidates?

While I applaud anyone who donates money and/or time to charities, some deserve more applause than others do. Since the presidential campaign season has begun, and with federal tax returns due earlier this week, The Washington Post has reviewed the charitable giving of the 2020 presidential candidates who have released their federal tax returns so far.

Here is what we know from the most recently released tax returns (with candidates and their spouses ranked from least to most generous as a percentage of Adjusted Gross Income):

Beto O’Rourke donated $1,166, 0.3 percent of AGI.

Kamala Harris donated $27,259, 1.4 percent of AGI.

Kirsten Gillibrand donated $3,750, 1.75 percent of AGI.

Amy Klobuchar donated $6,602, 1.85 percent of AGI.

Bernie Sanders donated $18,950, 3.4 percent of AGI.

Jay Inslee donated $8,295, 4.0 percent of AGI.

Elizabeth Warren donated $50,128, 5.5 percent of AGI.

For perspective, here is some information about past presidential candidates:

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March 15, 2019

5 Tips You Need to Know to Survive Funding Volatility

It’s no secret that nonprofit organizations face funding challenges. One of the biggest challenges is volatility. Donors give and often do not renew support. Sometimes, that’s the fault of the charity. Other times, it has nothing to do with what a charity does or does not do. For example, funding from government sources, whether contracts or grants, can go up or down depending on political whims and changing priorities.

Recently, I was doing research for an article I was developing for the January issue of Advancing Philanthropy, the magazine published by the Association of Fundraising Professionals. While doing that, I identified five tips that can help all nonprofits better cope with funding volatility despite the fact that the article focuses on poverty-fighting charities.

Let me explain. As I wrote in my article:

Globally, poverty has been on a sharp, steady decline. ‘In 1990, 37 percent of humanity lived in what the World Bank defines as extreme poverty; today that number is 10 percent,’ writes Gregg Easterbrook, author of It’s Better Than It Looks: Reasons for Optimism in an Age of Fear. Yet, even given that good news, nearly one billion people continue to suffer in extreme poverty around the world.

In the United States, poverty has also been on the decline while individual purchasing power has been on the rise. For example, ‘On the first day of the twentieth century, the typical American household spent 59 percent of funds on food and clothing. By the first day of the twenty-first century, that share had shrunk to 21 percent,’ Easterbrook reports. ‘US poverty has declined 40 percent in the past half-century.’ Still, despite the enormous economic progress, poverty continues to darken the lives of millions of our fellow citizens.”

While charities continue their efforts to combat poverty and its effects, government funding is becoming increasingly unreliable. With the national debt over $22 trillion and climbing, the federal government is contemplating cutbacks. Already, some state governments have been cutting back funding to charities.

Here are five tips that poverty-fighting charities are embracing that all charities would be wise to also adopt:

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February 26, 2019

Inspired by Lady Gaga: 10 Ways to be a Fundraising Genius

You might never have heard of Stefani Germanotta. Yet, she is known internationally as a top recording artist, nine-time Grammy Award winner, social activist, and philanthropist. Following the 91st Academy Awards, we now also know her as an Oscar winner.

You, as her millions of fans around the world, likely know her better as Lady Gaga.

Jesse Desjardins, when he was Social Media Manager for Tourism Australia, recognized that Lady Gaga is more than a singer. He recognized that she is even more than an entertainment genius. He understood that marketing and public relations professionals could learn from her, so he put together an interesting PowerPoint presentation, “10 Ways to be a Marketing Genius Like Lady Gaga.” When I saw the slides, I believed that fundraising professionals could also learn a great deal from her. Thanks to permission from Desjardins, I’m able to share 10 useful insights with you.

1. Have an Opinion

“Gaga regularly speaks out on issues she feels strongly about. In doing so, she keeps herself in the public eye.”

By speaking out, Gaga makes certain no one forgets her. She remains relevant. She advances the issues that she finds important. She engages her fans.

Your organization has an important mission. Let supporters and potential supporters hear about it beyond those times that you ask for money. Stay in front of them. Remain relevant. Engage people year-round while advancing your organization’s mission. Communicate about issues relevant to your organization’s mission. Ask supporters to help in ways that don’t involve giving money (e.g., volunteer, call elected officials, etc.). Share information people will want and appreciate.

2. Leverage Social Media

“Gaga has worked tirelessly on accumulating over [78] million Twitter followers and [55] million Facebook fans.”

To put that into perspective, there are only five people on the planet who have more Twitter followers. In other words, tens of millions of people want to hear what Gaga has to say, and she says things people want to hear. She speaks to people where they are.

Today, people consume information in more ways than ever before, and how they do it varies by age group. You need to be where they are if you want your message heard. Understand the demographics of your supporters and potential supporters and learn what media they consume. Then, be there with relevant, meaningful information.

3. Be Different

“Differentiate wisely. There are too many normal people doing normal things. Show, don’t tell. You are extraordinary so show it.”

You’re not alone. Unless you work for an exceedingly rare charity, others have the same or similar mission as your organization. What makes your organization special? Why should people care about your organization instead of the others that do similar things? You need to address those questions if you want to capture hearts.

4. Don’t be Afraid to Make Lots of Money

“Being starving is not fun. If making a ridiculous amount of cash is what you want to do, go for it.”

If your organization relies on donations to fulfill its mission, don’t be shy about doing what it will take to get the funds your organization needs. Don’t be afraid to ask people for money. When people ask you what you do for a living, answer them with pride.

5. Give Your Fans Something to Connect With

“Gaga calls her fans Little Monsters and gives them a shared symbol. The official Little Monster greeting is the outstretched ‘monster claw’ hand. This allows fans to identify each other and connect.”

No, you don’t need to create a secret handshake for your supporters. However, you should create a sense of belonging. People would rather join a cause, a movement for change, than simply give money to a dusty institution. Provide people with easy ways to connect with you. Give them opportunities for meaningful engagement as a way to build connection.

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January 29, 2019

Are Donors Abandoning You, Or Are You Abandoning Them?

Donor retention rates for both new and renewing donors remain pathetically low and, actually, continue to decline. There are a number of reasons for this, many of which I’ve addressed in previous posts. However, just recently, I learned of a situation I had not considered previously. So, I want to make sure you’re aware of the problem and understand how to easily fix it.

I heard about the problem from The Whiny Donor, a thoughtful donor who uses Twitter to generously provide fundraising professionals with feedback and insights from a nonprofit-contributor’s perspective.

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

The Whiny Donor wrote, “In December, we gave through our DAF to several nonprofits that we had supported for many years with direct donations. I suspect several of them won’t have the capacity to make the connection, and will now consider us lapsed donors…. Which means they will change the way our relationship moves forward. They will think we didn’t support them; we will think we have. It’s a stewardship conundrum.”

As a philanthropic tool, Donor Advised Funds offer people a number of financial advantages compared to giving directly to nonprofits or not giving at all. At the end of 2018, we saw significant growth in the number and size of DAFs, in part, as a result of the new tax code.

While donors can benefit in a variety of ways from using a DAF to realize their philanthropic aspirations, the use of DAFs can create a stewardship challenge for charities:

  • Should the charity thank the DAF or the individual supporter?
  • Who should the charity continue to steward, DAF or individual?
  • How should the charity track and report the donation?
  • Does the charity’s software help or hurt these efforts?

The Whiny Donor worries that charities will recognize the DAF and ignore the role she and her husband played in securing the gift. She fears some organizations will assume she has abandoned them when, in fact, she has not.

This is a very real concern. As DAF giving becomes more common, I’ve heard many examples of how nonprofit organizations have stumbled. Some thank the individual, but not the DAF. Some thank the DAF, but not the individual. Some thank both the individual and the DAF. Some don’t thank either or thank in the wrong way.

Here’s what you need to know: The DAF is the donor. The individual is not the donor when the gift comes from a DAF. Because of the way DAFs are structured and the laws regulating them, individuals can only make a contribution recommendation to the DAF administrator (e.g., Fidelity Charitable, National Philanthropic Trust, Schwab Charitable, etc.).

Because the DAF is the donor, you should thank and send receipts to the DAF. However, as The Whiny Donor suggests, that’s not good enough. You should also thank the individual who recommended the DAF gift.

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January 24, 2019

Here are Some Things You Need to Know

Now that the 2018 year-end fundraising season has closed and you’ve had a moment to catch your breath, I want to share some things with you that you might have missed.

To begin, here is a list of my top ten most read posts published last year:

  1. How Bad is the New Tax Code for Your Charity?
  2. It’s Time to Stop Whining about Donor-Advised Funds!
  3. 9 Hard Truths Every Fundraiser Needs to Face in the 21st Century
  4. New Charitable Gift Annuity Rates Announced
  5. Jerold Panas (1928-2018), He Will Be Missed
  6. Setting the Record Straight about Jimmy LaRose
  7. Will One Charity’s Surprising Year-End Email Make You Look Bad?
  8. The Dark Side of the Fundraising Profession
  9. How to Get Last Year’s Donors to Give More this Year
  10. Avoid the 7 Deadly Sins When Working with Volunteers

Here’s a list of just five of my older posts that remained popular in 2018:

  1. Can a Nonprofit Return a Donor’s Gift?
  2. Can You Spot a Child Molester? Discover the Warning Signs
  3. Here is One Word You Should Stop Using
  4. 5 Things Never to Do in Your Phone Fundraising Calls
  5. Special Report: Top 40 Most Effective Fundraising Consultants Identified

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.

Over the years, I’ve been honored to have my blog recognized by respected peers. I’m pleased that, among the thousands of nonprofit and fundraising sites, my blog continues to be ranked as a “Top 75 Fundraising Blog” and as a “Top Fundraising Blog – 2019.”

To make sure you don’t miss any of my future posts, please take a moment to subscribe to this site for free in the designated spot in the column to the right. You can subscribe with peace of mind knowing that I will respect your privacy. As a special bonus for you as a new subscriber, I’ll send you a link to a free e-book from philanthropy researcher Russell James, JD, PhD, CFP®.

In 2018, I was pleased to have two of my articles published in Advancing Philanthropy, the official magazine of the Association of Fundraising Professionals:

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January 11, 2019

Was the Trump Foundation the Only Funder on Santa’s Naughty List?

As you struggled to raise more money at the close of 2018 while carving out holiday time with loved ones, you might have missed an important news story.

On Dec. 18, news reports announced that the New York Attorney General’s Office and the Trump Foundation had reached an agreement to dissolve the Foundation. Under the terms of the deal, the NY Attorney General will distribute the Foundation’s remaining assets to charities.

Donald Trump

However, the closing of the Trump Foundation does not end the matter. Barbara Underwood, the NY Attorney General, says the state still seeks $2.8 million in restitution, plus additional penalties.

Furthermore, the Attorney General is asking the court to bar Donald Trump from serving with nonprofit organizations in New York for 10 years. The state’s lawsuit also calls for a one-year ban for three of Trump’s children — Don Jr., Ivanka, and Eric — all of whom were Trump Foundation board members.

The State of New York “lawsuit says that Trump’s charitable organization, which he founded in 1987, engaged in ‘persistently illegal conduct’ and that Trump basically used the Foundation as a slush fund to promote his business and political campaign,” according to a report in Vox.

This news item is inherently important. It involves a charitable foundation with significant assets that appears to have acted far less than charitably. It also involves the President of the United States. However, the significance of this story does not end there.

If the NY Attorney General is correct about the alleged misdeeds of the Trump Foundation, dissolution of the Foundation and a temporary prohibition of Trump family members from serving with NY charities for a limited time seem like an insignificant punishment. Unless serious penalties are levied against Donald Trump and his family members who were involved, the Trumps alleged criminal behavior will go unpunished. Furthermore, they will remain free to create and/or serve with nonprofit organizations outside of the State of New York. Other than a bit of bad press, the Trumps will pay little for their behavior.

The problem does not end there. Failure to hold the Trumps personally liable not only fails to punish the Trump family, it sends a signal to anyone interested in using a charitable foundation for personal benefit. That signal is that there is little downside for misbehavior. In other words, there will be little to no deterrent effect unless severe penalties are imposed by the court, assuming the allegations are proven true.

The other thing we need to understand about the Trump Foundation story is that it is not an isolated situation. A decade into my fundraising career, the nonprofit sector was rocked by the scandal surrounding the Foundation for New Era Philanthropy. Operating from 1989 to 1995, the Foundation raised over $500 million in an elaborate Ponzi Scheme that defrauded well known charities and experienced philanthropists out of millions.

That wasn’t the first funder scandal, and it certainly wasn’t the last. Let’s face it. The Trump Foundation is not the only funder on Santa’s naughty list.

As another report in Vox observed, “There are some 86,000 foundations in the United States, with total assets of around $890 billion. And the vast majority of them never face this kind of scrutiny.”

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December 13, 2018

Will One Charity’s Surprising Year-End Email Make You Look Bad?

This week, I received a surprising email from a national charitable organization. The email was so unusual that I need to tell you about it.

Like you, I’m deluged by emails from charities that arrive from the days leading up to #GivingTuesday through December. Most of the messages are from nonprofit organizations that forgot about me all year except now that they want my money. Most care nothing about me. None offers to help me or be of service to me. Most of the emails are just terrible.

One awful email came with the subject line, “Welcome to [I’m deleting the name of the organization].” Sounds nice enough, right? There’s just one tiny problem. I’ve been a donor for decades and even did a tour of duty as a trustee of the large organization. Ugh!

Given the garbage in my email Inbox, I was a bit relieved when I received a remarkable email from the Charities Aid Foundation of America.

WARNING: The email is so wonderful that it just might make you and your organization look bad.

Look for yourself, then I’ll explain why this is a near-perfect email and why you should immediately do something similar before it’s too late:

[Note, the actual email formatting was a bit better than the image I was able to capture for you. Ah, technology!]

Let me explain why this email works so well.

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November 28, 2018

“Philanthropy” Is NOT What You Think It Is

Do you understand what the word “philanthropy” really means? If you don’t, it could be costing your nonprofit organization a fortune in lost support. Conversely, once you know the true meaning of “philanthropy,” you’ll be better able to relate to prospective donors and inspire them to give. So, what does the word truly mean?

If you’re like most people, you probably think you know what “philanthropy” means. “Philanthropy” involves a large contribution to a nonprofit organization from a wealthy individual, a philanthropist. A recent example of this would be Michael Bloomberg’s recent announcement that he is donating $1.8 billion to Johns Hopkins University, the largest individual donation ever made to a single university.

However, that understanding of “philanthropy” is entirely too narrow. Let me explain by first telling you what “philanthropy” is not. Philanthropy does not necessarily involve:

  • donating vast sums of money;
  • supporting large numbers of charities;
  • sitting on nonprofit boards;
  • only wealthy people.

Coming from the ancient Greek, here is what the word “philanthropy” actually means:

Love of humanity.

Signs of support appeared throughout Pittsburgh following the murders at Tree of Life * Or L’Simcha Congregation.

Think about that. People donate their time and money to nonprofit organizations because of their love of humanity (or animals). They want to solve problems and alleviate suffering. They want to make the world a better place. That’s what motivates people to think philanthropically.

People won’t think philanthropically simply because it’s Giving Tuesday, and you tell them they should. They won’t think philanthropically just because they attended your university and are told they should “give back.” They won’t think philanthropically just because your organization exists and is a household name.

If you tap into a person’s love of humanity, you’ll tap into their philanthropic spirit. That’s how you’ll inspire their support. That’s how you’ll upgrade their support. That’s how you’ll maintain their support.

Charitable giving is an expression of a donor’s love.

I was reminded recently of the true power of the  philanthropic spirit. It wasn’t Bloomberg’s massive gift, though that was definitely amazing. Instead, when I visited Pittsburgh, I was reminded of the power of love to build, and rebuild, strong communities.

Temporary memorial outside of Tree of Life * Or L’Simcha Congregation.

When my wife and I traveled to Pittsburgh a couple of weeks ago, we attended evening Sabbath services with the congregants of the Tree of Life * Or L’Simcha Congregation in their temporary home. This was less than two weeks after a gunman entered the synagogue and horrifically murdered 11 people as they worshiped. Praying with the congregants, talking with them, and meeting Rabbi Hazzan Jeffrey Myers was a profoundly moving experience. Making the evening even more moving was the fact that it fell on the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht, also known as the Night of Broken Glass. During Kristallnacht in Nazi Germany, Jews were murdered and synagogues and Jewish-owned businesses were vandalized and had their windows smashed.

Support came from around the world.

Rabbi Myers drew a parallel between Kristallnacht and the recent attack that nearly took his life. Both violent attacks were motivated by rabid anti-Semitism, which has been on the rise in America since 2014. However, Rabbi Myers also drew meaningful distinctions between the two events.

During Kristallnacht, officially sanctioned groups along with German civilians attacked the Jewish population. Local authorities did nothing to stop the attacks. The police protected non-Jewish citizens while arresting and imprisoning Jewish victims.

By contrast, American authorities condemned the Pittsburgh attack immediately, and offered comfort to the victims. People throughout Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the United States, and the world expressed their sense of horror and grief. They offered words of condolence, and made donations to help the families and to rebuild the badly damaged synagogue. The police in Pittsburgh ran toward the danger, put their own lives at risk, confronted the attacker, and ended what could have been an even more tragic event.

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November 8, 2018

Did the Midterm Elections Help or Hurt Your Nonprofit?

I’m a news junkie. So, I was up very late on election night, actually very early the next morning. Now that I’ve caught up on some sleep, I’ve been thinking about what the midterm election means to charities. In this post, I’ll layout some of my nonpartisan thinking. Just be warned, I’m also going to share some statistics and a bit of history as we consider what the election means for the nonprofit sector.

The midterm elections this week resulted in the Democratic Party regaining control of the US House of Representatives. Let’s put that into a bit of historical perspective. Despite successfully securing a majority in the House, the Democratic Party’s much-hoped-for Blue Wave did not materialize. As I write this post, the Democrats are expected to gain a 27 to 34 seat advantage over Republicans in the House. However, Republicans not only hung on to control of the Senate, they actually enhanced their position by three to five seats.

To put the Federal election results into some context, let’s look at the 2010 midterm elections during President Barack Obama’s second year in office. Going into the 2010 election, Obama’s approval rating was six points higher than Trump’s was prior to the 2018 election. Nevertheless, Democrats lost 63 House seats and lost six Senate seats.

“[The 2018 midterm elections are] only the third time in the past 100 years that the party holding the White House has gained seats in the Senate in a midterm election while losing seats in the House,” according to MarketWatch. “The President’s party has won seats in both the House and Senate just twice in the past century in a midterm election.”

This all means that both Democrats and Republicans can declare success this week. But, what about the nonprofit sector?

While it’s too early to know with any certainty, there are some things we learned on election night and other things we can learn from history:

1. Impact on the Election. In the lead up to the vote, nonprofit organizations flexed their muscle along with their corresponding Political Action Committees. On a variety of issues, the nonprofit sector demonstrated that it could have a profound impact on public policy. Regardless of where you stand on the issues, here are just a few examples to illustrate the point:

In Massachusetts, the American Civil Liberties Union, Human Rights Campaign, MassEquality, Planned Parenthood Advocacy Fund of Massachusetts, The Yes on 3 Campaign, and other organizations joined forces and scored a massive victory on election night when voters, by a two-to-one margin, reaffirmed the rights of transgender people.

In North Carolina, voters approved a measure directing the legislature to amend the state constitution to guarantee the right of citizens to hunt and fish. This was a victory for the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation and the National Rifle Association.

In Florida, the Humane Society of the United States and PETA persuaded voters to change the state constitution to ban greyhound racing.

Nonprofit organizations have political power. When nonprofit organizations join forces, they can have a dramatic effect on public policy.

2. Good News for the Stock Market. Historically, Americans prefer divided government, so it’s not surprising that Democrats were able to regain control of the House. Like the populace, the stock market also prefers divided government.

“Here’s what Investor’s Business Daily found, looking at S&P 500 returns during each two-year election cycle, from election day to election day. The best outcome, an average 18.7% two-year return, came when Congress was divided. Unified control of Congress by the same party as the president yielded an average 17.3% two-year gain. When control of Congress was unified under the opposition party, gains averaged 15.7%.”

If the stock market goes up, many donors will own appreciated stocks that they can donate to charities. Foundations will see their stock holdings grow and, therefore, have more money to grant to nonprofits. That would be good news for investors and charities.

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October 19, 2018

How about a Bit of Fun for Fundraising Professionals?

It’s time to dig out your old swag from the National Society of Fundraising Executives and/or Association of Fundraising Professionals. Let me explain.

These are stressful times. In the broader society, we’re witnessing a volatile stock market, international intrigue, upcoming mid-term elections, the aftermath of hearings for Brett Kavanaugh’s appointment to the US Supreme Court, and so much more.

In the fundraising world, we read articles about how the new tax code could lead to a decline in charitable giving. We also read about scandals involving nonprofit organizations and religious institutions. Furthermore, we know that donor-retention rates remain abysmal despite all the talk about how to resolve the problem.

Against this anxiety-inducing backdrop, fundraising professionals have the added pressure of trying to meet fundraising goals as the end of the calendar year approaches.

If you’re not feeling a bit of stress and/or anxiety, you haven’t been paying attention, or you’re really good at meditation, or you’re drinking too much, or you’re eating too much chocolate.

So, with that in mind and given that Halloween, a fun holiday, is just weeks away, I thought I’d give you a brief break from fundraising talk. With this post, I want to do something a bit different and, I hope, have a bit of fun together.

The ever-stylish Michael Nilsen models his classic AFP shirt.

A few weeks ago, Taryn Gold, Vice President of Chapter Engagement at the Association of Fundraising Professionals, shared a photo on Twitter that I found amusing. The current picture shows Michael Nilsen, AFP’s Vice President of Communications and Public Policy, wearing an official AFP polo shirt from 2001.

One of the reasons the photo caught my eye is that I also still own the same shirt. No, I’m not ashamed to admit that. In fact, I also still have a bunch of older AFP swag, some of it from NSFRE, the name of the organization prior to 2001.

Gold’s tweet inspired me to dig around for my own ancient NSFRE and AFP swag. I was a bit surprised by what I found (see the photo below). Resting on my AFP shirt, you’ll find an NSFRE handbook from 2000, two AFP logo pins from 2001, an early CFRE button from 1994 (NSFRE created the CFRE credential), my first NSFRE Foundation donor pin from 1992, An NSFRE Founder’s Club donor pin from 1998, an NSFRE President’s Club donor pin from 2000, an AFP Political Action Committee donor pin from 2002, an AFP conference badge, my name badge from when I represented AFP before the US Federal Trade Commission, and an NSFRE conference badge.

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