Posts tagged ‘non-governmental organizations’

November 24, 2015

What are Your Favorite LinkedIn Discussion Groups?

John Heywood, the 16th century English writer, once stated:

Many hands make light work.”

While Heywood might not have been the one to coin the phrase, he certainly helped preserve and popularize it. It’s a nice bit of common sense that we all need to be reminded of periodically.

For example, we can’t know everything. We can’t research an answer to every question by ourselves. We can’t read all of the professional publications to determine which items are of greatest importance or value.Spiral of Hands by lostintheredwoods via Flickr

That’s where LinkedIn Discussion Groups can help. By being part of a network of nonprofit managers and fundraising professionals, we can rely on the assistance of colleagues. In turn, we can also be of help.

Through LinkedIn, I’ve developed my professional relationships, broadened my professional network,  made new friends, accessed valuable information I never would have on my own, had some of my questions answered, and much more. I’ve engaged in provocative conversations. I’ve learned a great deal. I’ve been inspired.

While I belong to 45 professional LinkedIn Groups that are excellent, there are only some I engage with regularly. Here are just ten of my favorites:

[Note: You might need to be logged into your LinkedIn account for the above links to work. Even then, if you have any problems with the links, you can simply search on the Group names I’ve listed.]

Now, let me tell you about my absolute favorite Group.

Just days ago, I have created a new LinkedIn Discussion Group:

Blog Posts for Fundraising Pros & Nonprofit Managers

November 20, 2015

Stop Ignoring This Amazing Source of Contributions

There is a funding source that donated $12.5 billion to charities last year. Sadly, most nonprofit organizations ignore this massive opportunity for support with only 23 percent saying they are “very familiar” with how this funding source works, according to a report from Vanguard Charitable.

I’m speaking of Donor Advised Funds.

Pile of Cash by Pictures of Money via FlickrDonors create a DAF by opening an account with charitable organization equipped to manage it. Donors then make irrevocable donations of cash or appreciated assets to their DAF account to receive current year tax benefits and deductions. Donors can choose how their contributions are invested creating the potential for tax-free growth that can fund larger charitable grants. Donors “advise” when and how much to grant and to which organizations.

Unfortunately, many fundraising professionals overlook DAFs. They think DAF donations will either automatically come in or won’t. Some fundraising professionals simply complain about how much money is going into DAFs rather than to charities.

I think there are five myths about DAFs that we need to debunk before we review how you can secure DAF grants for your charity:

Myth 1: DAFs don’t generate enough total contributions to deserve attention.

In 2014, DAFs contributed $12.5 billion to charities, a 27 percent increase over 2013, according to a report issued by The National Philanthropic Trust. That’s 3.5 percent of all charitable giving in 2014!

Myth 2: DAFs might give a lot of money, but there are not that many of them.

The reality is that 238,293 DAF accounts existed in 2014. While some donors have created multiple accounts, the number of DAF donors is nevertheless large and growing. To put this into some perspective, there were just 107,000 Charitable Trusts created in 2014.

Myth 3: The average DAF does not contribute very much money.

The average size of each DAF account grew from $260,626 in 2013 to $296,701 in 2014. DAFs had a payout rate of 21.9 percent. This is much higher than the five percent payout rate required of private foundations.

Vanguard Charitable, one of the largest DAF managers, reports accounts valued at $100,000 or more granted an average of $13,841 while accounts valued at less than $100,000 granted an average of $3,422.

Fidelity Charitable, the country’s largest DAF manager, reports its average DAF account granted $4,138 and the average account made 8.3 grants in 2014.

Myth 4: DAF granters prefer to remain anonymous.

Vanguard Charitable reports that 95 percent of its grantmakers share their name with the charities they support. Schwab Charitable, another large DAF management organization, says that 97 percent of its grantmakers share their name. Fidelity Charitable reports that 92 percent of its grantmakers provide information for nonprofit acknowledgment. This means that charities are able to continue to cultivate and steward these donors.

Myth 5: DAFs can be ignored as a passing fad.

DAFs have been around for 84 years. Following the creation of the Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund in 1991, DAFs really began to gain popularity. In 2014, DAFs held $70.7 billion in assets, an increase of nearly 24 percent compared with the previous year. DAFs are not a fad; they are a growing form of philanthropy for those interested in endowed giving but who do not have the resources or interest in establishing a private foundation.

So, what can you do to dive into the DAF pool? Here are six tips:

November 18, 2015

It’s Shameful to Shame a Major Donor

Would you publicly shame a generous philanthropist who just contributed $100 million?

Dylan Matthews, a writer at the blog site Vox, has done just that in his recent post: “David Geffen’s $100 Million Gift to UCLA is Philanthropy at Its Absolute Worst.”

David Geffen

David Geffen

The post came after David Geffen, the billionaire entertainment mogul and philanthropist, announced that he is donating $100 million to the University of California, Los Angeles, to build a private school aimed, in part, at serving the families of UCLA’s faculty and staff, according to a Los Angeles Times article.

Geffen and UCLA Chancellor Gene Block described the new school, in part, as a recruiting and retention tool for faculty and scientists who may be worried about the cost of living in Los Angeles and the quality of the Los Angeles education system, the Times reports.

The gift to create the Geffen Academy was not the philanthropist’s first donation to UCLA. He has already contributed $300 million to what is now UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine. Through his gifts to UCLA, Geffen told the Times, he wants to help the medical school “to be competitive with Harvard and Johns Hopkins and the very best in the world.”

While many might think Geffen’s generosity is noble, Matthews clearly feels otherwise:

Music mogul David Geffen is very, very bad at being a philanthropist. His past donations have mostly taken the form of massive gifts to prominent universities and cultural institutions, rather than to poor people or important research or even less famous, more financially desperate universities and arts centers.”

In short, the Vox blogger says that Geffen is a “ very, very bad” philanthropist because he does not give to causes that Matthews believes he should support. This is a perfect illustration of holier-than-thou liberalism (not to be confused with liberalism).

Matthews calls Geffen’s philanthropy a “grotesque waste.” He adds, “This gift is actually worse than no charity.” He disparages Geffen’s desire to have UCLA compete successfully with Harvard and Johns Hopkins. He even insults the students who will be attending the Geffen Academy by dismissing them as “faculty brats.”

Interestingly, I discovered one reason why Matthews might really be opposed to the Geffen gift. Geffen wants UCLA to be able to compete more effectively with Harvard. Well, guess what? Matthews is a Harvard alumnus, something he neglected to point out in his blog post. That conflict of interest aside, I also noticed that most of the charities that Matthews thinks would be worthier of Geffen’s support work in the developing world. Could it be that Matthews believes in white paternalism and/or keeping people of color dependent on white, Western charity? Is Matthews of the belief that there are no needy children in the US or is it that he’s simply anti-American?

So, Mr. Matthews, how do you like having your motives judged and your character impugned? Normally, I wouldn’t have done so, but I decided to take a moment to adopt your writing voice. I also thought it might be interesting for someone to hold a mirror up to you.

I won’t go into why the Geffen donations are beneficial. Suffice to say they will do a great deal of good from creating good paying jobs to enhancing medical education and research. It might not be what you or I would support. It’s certainly not what Matthews would support. But, the fact is, it’s not our money. It’s Geffen’s wallet, and he can empty it however he wishes, or not at all. If Matthews wants $100 million to go to the various causes he listed, let him go out and earn it so he can give away his own money where he sees fit.

November 11, 2015

Rejecting a $100,000 Gift Helps #Nonprofit Raise MORE Money

The idea of rejecting a major donation usually sends a chill up the spine of nonprofit executives. After all, nonprofit organizations are not in business to return donations. Instead, charities employ hardworking fundraising professionals to bring in contributions. For many nonprofits, donations are the lifeblood of the organization.

However, rejecting a gift can actually help a charity protect its mission. Recently, I reported on two organizations that rejected or returned major gifts:

“When Should You Refuse a Gift?” — tells the story of Lucy the Elephant rejecting a grant offer from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

“Update: Spelman College Returns Gift from Bill Cosby” — relates why a major gift from Cosby was returned

Not long ago, the Girl Scouts of Western Washington demonstrated that a nonprofit can protect its mission and raise more money by mindfully rejecting a donation. In the case of the Girl Scouts, the organization rejected a $100,000 gift and raised over $250,000 in the process!

Girl Scouts W WashingtonWhen the Girl Scouts received the $100,000 gift, the staff was understandably thrilled. The money equaled approximately one-third of the organization’s financial assistance program budget for the year. The Girl Scouts offer financial assistance so that any girl can join despite economic obstacles.

Unfortunately, the Girl Scouts quickly learned that the major gift came with a major stipulation: the organization could not use any of the funds to help transgender children.

Megan Ferland, CEO of the Girl Scouts of Western Washington told Seattle Metropolitan magazine:

Girl Scouts is for every girl. And every girl should have the opportunity to be a Girl Scout if she wants to.”

In other words, accepting the donor’s terms for the gift would have violated the organization’s mission. So, the Girl Scouts made the only decision they could; they returned the gift.

Then, the organization tried to turn a lemon into lemonade. The Girls Scouts launched an Indiegogo crowd-funding campaign to try to recoup the funds. In the campaign, the Girl Scouts explained the situation. However, the organization correctly protected the privacy of the donor by not revealing the donor’s name.

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 27, 2015

The #Fundraising Life is Tough, so Laugh More!

Are you able to laugh at yourself?

I’ll be the first to admit that it’s not always easy to laugh at oneself. At times, it’s not even easy to laugh at the challenges we encounter in any given day. However, finding the humor with ourselves, and the situations we encounter, can be enormously beneficial.

Consider what actor Salma Hayek has said on the subject:

Life is tough; and if you have the ability to laugh at it, you have the ability to enjoy it.”

Author Kurt Vonnegut emphasized another benefit of laughter:

Laughter and tears are both responses to frustration and exhaustion. I myself prefer to laugh, since there is less cleaning up to do afterward.”

We can all benefit by laughing more at the daily frustrations we face while trying to do our fundraising work. That’s where Phillip E. Perdue, MBA, May I Cultivate You?CFRE, CDM can help. A longtime fundraising professional, Perdue has written the book May I Cultivate You? Perdue’s book takes a humorous, insightful look at the various aspects of fundraising.

When reading the book, I recognized any number of frustrating/humorous situations I’ve seen over my long career. If you want to have some chuckles and gain some insights about the world of fundraising, I encourage you to pick up a copy. If you want to spread the cheer, you may want to get some extra copies to share with your favorite fundraisers this coming holiday season.

May I Cultivate You? is available on Kindle and paperback. To give you a taste of the book, Perdue has allowed me to share “Chapter Twelve — Your Fundraising Software is the Worst.” Thanks, Phil! This bonus chapter is not available in the print version of the book. Let me know what you think of this chapter:


When you begin a new job, someone will give you a log-in for the fundraising software. Moments later, one of your new co-workers will come over and say how much they hate the fundraising software and moan about how confusing, user-hostile and archaic it is. Everyone within earshot will nod agreement.


 Your passwords go on post-it notes next to your computer.


The software will seem to have caused more human misery than typhoid, small pox and opera combined. Which is strange because you thought the software at your last job was the worst. And it was. And now this new system will be the worst. Wherever you are, whatever you are using, it is the pits, the bottom of the barrel.

To be fair, the modern software industry has given fundraisers remarkable tools. But as you know, this is generally an awful thing for a lot of reasons.

Imagine using a 200-lb sledgehammer to kill ants. Or having a Swiss Army knife with 7,000 attachments the size of a pickup truck. Modern development software feels like that to the Liberal Arts majors trying to jockey it. It is too unwieldy for people who use words like “unwieldy.” Mostly, we use the software as a rolodex and a gift log.

It does not help that most of the computers running the software are nearly as old as the furniture they sit on.

And it does not help that as the systems have grown exponentially more sophisticated your organization’s training budget has not increased since 1950. Chances are no one in your shop has had any professional training or knows how to take advantage of all the wonderful features buried away in FundJuggernaut ’98 or whatever you are using. If newcomers are lucky, they will be taught to log-in and look up phone numbers.

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:

October 9, 2015

Do Not Make This Year-End #Fundraising Mistake

The fourth quarter of the calendar year is a popular time for charities to send out fundraising appeals. As a result, nonprofit organizations raise a lot of money during the fourth quarter. In addition, many nonprofit organizations host galas in the fourth quarter. Love it or hate it, #GivingTuesday is in the midst of the holiday season.

‘Tis the season to fundraise.

If you doubt that, just Google “year-end fundraising.” You’ll get over 20 million results!

Unfortunately, despite all of the terrific how-to articles, blog posts, books, webinars, and seminars, most nonprofit organizations continue to make a massive year-end fundraising mistake:

They overlook planned giving.

When developing a year-end fundraising strategy, most charities fail to include planned giving for a variety of reasons including:

  1. They don’t have a planned giving program.
  2. They think all planned gifts are deferred.
  3. They think that planned gifts are not time-of-year sensitive.

Let’s take a moment to look at the above reasons more closely.

Keep Calm - Management Center Mugs by Howard Lake via FlickrIf your charity does not have a planned giving program, it probably should, assuming you have individual donors. The effort does not need to be elaborate or fancy. The most common planned gift is the simple Charitable Bequest through the donor’s will.

While Bequests are the most common type of planned gift, not all planned gifts are deferred. Don’t over think it. Planned gifts are simply any gift that requires planning. Here are some examples of planned gifts that result in current, rather than deferred, giving:

Gifts of appreciated stock or property (i.e.: real estate, art, collectibles, etc.):

When a donor makes a gift of appreciated stock or personal property, she can avoid capital gains tax and receive a charitable gift deduction. Sadly, many fundraising professionals believe that individuals with appreciated stock or property somehow already know about the advantages of gifting such assets. However, that’s not always the case. Consider this true story from my book, Donor-Centered Planned Gift Marketing:

A member of the board of a scholarship foundation was approached at a cultivation event by a modest donor who wanted to give a $5,000 cash gift. The board member thanked the donor but asked, ‘Do you own any appreciated stock?’ The donor was a bit puzzled by the question, but replied, ‘Yes, I do. Why do you ask?’ The board member then explained that if the donor contributed appreciated stock valued at $5,000, rather than cash, she could avoid the capital gains tax, thereby resulting in a savings. The donor replied, ‘I can avoid giving my money to the government, by giving the foundation stock? That’s a great idea! And, since I really don’t need the money, why don’t I just increase my gift by the amount I’ll save in taxes?’ She did exactly that. However, her generosity did not end there. She was so moved by the work of the foundation and the good advice she had received that allowed her to avoid some capital gains tax that she consulted with her family and her advisors eventually giving over $15,000 to create a namesake scholarship fund.”

Since over half of all Americans own stock (Gallup, 2015), it’s very likely that some of your donors are in a position to donate appreciated securities to your organization. They just need to understand how they can benefit and what the mechanics are.

Gifts from a Donor Advised Fund:

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.


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