Posts tagged ‘United Way’

September 14, 2018

Lions, Tigers and Bears, Oh My: Fundraising in Times of Crisis

As I’m writing this, Hurricane Florence is barreling toward North Carolina. Watching the news reports, I’m reminded that the best way to weather a storm is to prepare before one strikes. The tragic situation in the southeastern US can serve as a metaphor for coping with any type of crisis, even for the nonprofit sector.

The best way to deal with a crisis is to prepare for one before one strikes. 

Guest blogger Sophie W. Penney, PhD is a big believer in that axiom. Sophie is President of i5 Fundraising and Senior Program Coordinator/Lecturer for the Penn State University Certificate Program in Fundraising Leadership. As the co-editor and chapter author of the soon-to-be-released book, Student Affairs Fundraising, Raising Funds to Raise the Bar, Sophie will be sharing her insights at the CT Alliance 2018 Conference on October 2, 2018 where she will present a session about leading through challenging times, Lions, Tigers and Bears: Leading Through Crisis.

A crisis can affect any type of organization. The nonprofit sector is not immune. As I point out in “What is the Most Important Thing You Can Learn from Recent Nonprofit Scandals?” there are three broad types of scandals or crises: 1) self-inflicted scandals beyond your control, 2) self-inflicted scandals you could have avoided, and 3) guilt-by-similarity scandal.

I’m grateful to Sophie for her willingness to share with us a few tidbits from her upcoming presentation that will help us all become better prepared to weather any scandal or crisis as we continue to strive to raise more money:


Michael Rosen’s recent blog post, “The Dark Side of the Fundraising Profession,” was a clarion call to fundraisers. The piece served as a reminder that a profession designed to bring joy and result in great good can be fraught with challenges.

Fundraisers are pressed to raise ever-larger sums (and the sooner the better); as a result, it can be compelling to focus on fundraising tips, tools, and techniques that will bring in ever-bigger dollars. Yet a crisis, particularly legal or ethical in nature, can derail fundraising not only for a fiscal year, but for far longer.

Fundraising in times of crisis hit home for me in 2011 with the advent of the Jerry Sandusky Scandal. This child sexual abuse scandal toppled the Penn State University President, resulted in the abrupt firing of the University’s revered football coach, led to the sale of a nonprofit founded to serve the very types of children who became victims, and rocked a small community previously known as “Happy Valley.” What’s more, the scandal came to light in the midst of the University’s billion-dollar capital campaign, which was on the verge of going into a public phase. Yet, the Sandusky Scandal is just one of many such crises to rock the nonprofit world:

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July 27, 2012

Nonprofit Mergers Can Be Like Dating

Nonprofit mergers can be a bit like dating. Sometimes, as both parties get to know each other better, they discover that they are not well suited for a long-term relationship. In other cases, the parties might feel they’ve met their soul mate and, therefore, they decide to spend the rest of their lives together.

My last blog post looked at why the merger plans by Abington Health and Holy Redeemer Health System failed, ending with the alienation of the entire community. With this post, I want to explore the successful merger on July 1 of seven United Way chapters in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

Why did the United Way merger come together while the Abington and Holy Redeemer effort failed?

I spoke recently with Jill Michal, President and CEO of United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey. While Michal would not compare the United Way merger with any other nonprofit merger, successful or unsuccessful, she was willing to provide insights about what she feels allowed the United Way merger to come together so well.

In short, she indicated that the merger was made possible because of shared values and enormous trust.

Given that each of the organizations in the merger were all United Way chapters, it’s easy to understand that they certainly held common values. Unfortunately, while Abington and Holy Redeemer both operate hospitals, the core values of each system are quite different; Abington has secular values while Holy Redeemer has Roman Catholic values. Sadly, the leadership of those organizations did not seem to anticipate how this would lead to controversy.

The United Way chapters developed trust in one another in a variety of ways. For more than a decade, the United Way chapters in the region engaged in collaborative efforts. Volunteer leaders and staff knew many of their counterparts and had worked collaboratively with them.

The merger exploration was not rushed; Michal says it took two years of work to explore a merger and craft an agreement. The time allowed each of the chapters to become comfortable with the merger idea and to work through the many details.

Early on, the merger discussions involved key staff and board members. As the talks became more focused and serious, the United Way discreetly reached-out to other stakeholders, according to Michal. This engagement also helped further build trust.

Susan J. Alston is a development professional who wrote an interesting research paper while in graduate school at Bay Path College. Fundraising Data Analysis and Stakeholder Communications: Considerations Prior to a Nonprofit Merger looks at the role that communications play in nonprofit mergers:

Orchestrating timely and hierarchal communications about the impending merger with stakeholders (state and private funders, past board members, major donors, and other key volunteers, staff) in an effort to encourage positive and supportive engagement will retain loyalty to the mission and purpose of the newly merged organization.”

I thank Alston for sharing her paper with us.

The United Way seems to have understood the link between effective communications and trust that Alston explored.

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