This latest addition to the Nolo nonprofit series is meant for PTA parents, team and band booster volunteers, librarians who never realized their job was to include fundraising, church, synagogue, and other religious group members, and so on.
It's a guide to the most likely types of fundraising when your group is short on time, paid staff, and other stuff that an established nonprofit might have, such as a database of donors and a five-year plan.
These include special events, selling candy (and many alternatives to candy), auctions (online and off), walkathons, home & garden tours, benefit concerts, and more.
Now, back to the writing process: To make sure the book didn't just recite tired instructions that you've heard before, I talked to dozens of people in the same categories just described. They generously shared their stories, favorite tips, nightmare mistakes, and so on. The book includes direct quotes from many of them, along with sample materials, checklists, and other advice. Here's a quick sampling:
- Regarding scheduling an event, Emily Shem-Tov, a volunteer fundraiser with the Morgan Hill Library Foundation, warns: "One year we held our Silicon Valley Puzzle Fest on the same afternoon as the Super Bowl. That was a mistake. We thought that crossword puzzle people and Super Bowl people would be mutually exclusive, but no, attendance was definitely down."
- Regarding planning house tours, Michael Crowe, of the Oakland Heritage Alliance, says, "Tourgoers do like to see big, grand houses. No matter how much you talk up the virtues of more modest homes on your tour, they may stay away entirely if you don't present at least some grand ones."
- Regarding hiring a professional auctioneer, Jackie T., a parent volunteer, says, "Our hired auctioneer suggested clever ways to us to have the kids help out -- like having a little girl carry the quilt onstage that all the kindergarteners had helped make, with cutout patterns of their hands -- it sold for several thousand dollars, our top revenue -producer for the live auction -- or having the Cub Scouts get on stage in their uniforms to model the leaf raking that they'd do for the highest bidder."
As any fundraising special events
planner knows, part of the key to making a profit is to create a budget that
carefully accounts for all possible expenses, and then to make sure that the
likely income from the event will exceed the total expenses by a healthy
knew that rubber duck races were getting so popular that you might need to
purchase upwards of 40,000 ducks?
That's right, from Texas to Hawaii, duck
adopters are flocking (oops, bad pun) to join the race. You can read about it
in the article, "Rubber duckies go with the flow of charity,"
by Kristin R. Jackson.
The good news for the people making the budgets is that, according to my online research, two-inch rubber duckies can be had for about 39 cents apiece. So maybe it's storage space that should be your biggest concern.
Even if to you, this is old news, the story is worth a listen for:
- its ideas on the latest items to attract bids (though not every school has access to an unwashed Lance Armstrong T-shirt, I assume) and
- the professional auctioneer demonstrating how she slows down her normally rapid-fire patter when dealing with a benefit auction audience (who isn't used to live auctions).
Whichever of your volunteers can line this one up probably deserves a prize.
Some sites' themes offer promising matches with cause-related interests.
There are sites for people with disabilities, new moms, artists, a variety of ethnic groups, and so on.
I'm assuming you can skip the site called VampireFreaks (for "Goths and industrial subculture"), as well as those for knitters and Danish teens, but who knows?
For a detailed list of sites, including information on which have open membership policies, see the list provided on Wikipedia.
A recent survey and report from Johns Hopkins' Center for Civil Society Studies found that, "Despite the belief that nonprofits are free of taxes, substantial proportions of [those surveyed] reported being subjected to one or another type of government tax or fee . . . ."
Typical fees included state or local government use or activity fees.
For example, a new Schenectady, New York fee will require all property owners (whether nonprofit or for-profit) to pay a "curb fee" based on how much of their property fronts the city's streets. This is supposed to help pay for road services.
In some cases, nonprofits are actually being asked to make voluntary payments in lieu of taxes. Why? To offset their use of government services.
I guess I'd feel better about governments requiring nonprofits to pay their "fair share" if it weren't that government is already shifting so much of the burden of providing services to an increasingly needy public right over to the nonprofit sector!
Two fabulous seminars came to the Bay Area this week: One by Kivi Leroux Miller, an expert on nonprofit communications; and one by Ted Hart, ACFRE, an expert in online as well as traditional fundraising.
Athough the two presenters covered completely different topics ("Three Stories Every Nonprofit Should Be Telling," and "Social Networking and Online Fundraising Success," respectively), both had strong opinions on how nonprofits can improve their communication with prospective volunteers.
Ted Hart placed "Recruit and manage volunteers online" right on his list of "Online Basics" - the seven things that every nonprofit should make sure its website includes. (Without these seven, said Ted, "You have no business asking for money online.") But, Ted added, although recruiting and managing volunteers is an important bottom line issue, "Most charity websites don't even mention volunteers."
Kivi, meanwhile, in invoking the power of good storytelling, says, "Anywhere you ask someone to do something, tell a story about someone else doing the same thing." That can apply to many calls to action in many formats, of course, but imagine how including a story on your website could help people who think they might be interested in getting involved with your group in some other way than making a donation -- but feel uncertain about what volunteering with your group would really be like.
Uncertainty can be a huge hurdle to overcome.
Just imagine the questions a volunteer who's never actually visited your organization, or met anyone there, might have: "Will they think I'm too young/old? Will the work be too hard/boring? Will the people in charge be friendly, or order me around like I'm at the bottom of the pecking order? Will I actually meet anyone I can talk to, or be stuck in a back room with a teenager completing the terms of his probation?"
Now imagine how implicitly welcoming it would be if your nonprofit website featured an article authored by, or profiling, a volunteer who has been with your organization for a while. Maybe that volunteer helped your nonprofit with some important achievements, loved the work so much that he or she moved up to more responsible work or spearheaded a project, or, I dunno, married a fellow volunteer. It's all good information for the prospect. Add photos, too.
Don't wait -- take a look at your website. Is there a "Get Involved" or similar tab well placed on your home page? Does that page make "Volunteer Opportunities" easy to find? And is there a dedicated page describing volunteer positions, which makes them sound appealing, and includes a story such as the one described above? If not, this little bit of effort could pay off in a lot of increased volunteer help.
In brief, here's Susan's advice on what to ask potential Web designers (mushed in with a little advice of my own):
1) How many years of Web design experience do you have? (Five or more is best.)
2) Will you provide samples of websites you've recently designed? (Visit them, while imagining yourself in the shoes of a donor, potential funder, or member of the public looking for information. Then see how well you can navigate around and find what you want.)
3) How do you price your services? (This may be by the hour, or by project. If it's by the hour, also ask whether different tasks are billed at different rates.)
4) May I contact three of your references? (Don't skip this step! There's nothing like hearing from others that the designer was easy to work with and followed through by creating a site the nonprofit is still happy with -- or not.)
5) Can you draft a design agreement with an estimated scope of cost and turnaround time? (Don't get me started on the weaknesses of verbal agreements, or of not discussing what's expected in advance, in detail.)
6) Will you be available for follow-up questions or to discuss a page design? According to Lee, she's heard many stories from clients who'd hired designers who turned out to be unreachable!
By the way, these are important questions to ask even if a volunteer has kindly offered to design your website.
Volunteer help can be a great way to save money in the short term, but unless the person is truly qualified, lead to long-term roadblocks in the workings of your website.
So what took NPR so long to use its airwaves for its own marketing purposes? The network has long been announcing taglines of its supporter foundations, as described in this 2009 article from L.A. Philanthropy Watch. Maybe NPR finally wised up and realized its own listeners could use some reminders of what it's all about, too.
And that's a lesson that a number of nonprofits could probably learn. Even your most devoted supporters may be a little vague on the details of what your group does. Some have a pretty good idea, but have ceased to be inspired by it. And then there are the new supporters, who are still getting a sense of your group's identity and personality.
So, finding ways to get your group's message across (most likely without the benefit of airwaves) can be crucial. To this day, I sometimes go to nonprofit websites where the home page doesn't even make clear what the group does, much less why or how. To this end, a "tagline" can be helpful.
For advice on developing a good one, see Nancy Schwartz's recent blog post: "How to Create a Tagline that Connects and Motivates."
The article details how either inept or unscrupulous Web design consultants saddle nonprofits (and others, no doubt) with websites that only the consultants know how to -- or literally have authorization to -- update.
Yikes. Having a website that doesn't take much work to keep up might sound like a blessing now, but what happens when you've got a big event coming up and discover that you don't have the power to devote more than two sentences on your homepage to it? Or can't swap out your photos to feature a relevant one? The very website that looked so fresh on day one will soon look like an ancient fossil.
Do your group a favor and make sure your website at least offers some flexibility, regardless of what you decide to do with it later.
Check out the 2011 winners of the DoGooder Nonprofit Video Awards. They include:
- For best small-organization video: The Post Carbon Institute, with "300 Years of Fossil Fuels in 300 Seconds"
- For best medium-organization video: Ronald MacDonald House Austin, with "Meet the Digits"
- For best large-organization video: American Jewish World Service, with "A Public Service Announcement Not Approved by AJWS"
- For best thrifty video: Watershed Management Group, "It's in Your Hands."
- Takeaway factoids. Each video tells us something we didn't already know -- facts we can tell our friends, like, "Did you know that studies show that children heal better if the people they love are close by?"
- Humor. Whether it's fun cartoons, finger puppets with silly hairdos or offbeat ethnic one-liners by Sarah Silverman, each video finds a way to take a lighthearted approach to a serious subject. (The Watershed Management Group is the one exception, but it uses a gentle, artful, cinematic approach instead -- another way of avoiding pounding viewers over the head with a dire message.) Viewers can watch them for enjoyment, not out of a sense of duty.
- Hope. The Watershed Management Group video, for example, highlights the simple solution of getting kids access to soap and water using "tippy taps" as a way of reducing by half the instances of deadly childhood diarrhea. Viewers instantly think, "That's doable!" (What's a tippy tap? The video makes it clear, as does the photo to the right, from USAID.)
- A call to action. There's no point in getting us interested without giving us a way to follow up, and each video does that, whether by asking for support of the group itself, or with tips like, "Learn to live without fossil fuels" (and an image of a bicycle), or "Understand the issues and pitch in."
The premise, if you've avoided television with even more success than I, is that an actual millionaire gets involved with three different charities, knowing that he or she (mostly "he's" so far) will, in the final few minutes of the show, deliver a fat check to one or more of them.
The suspense is all about deciding which one will be the major beneficiary. On Sunday night's episode, for example, millionaire James Malinchak (a motivational speaker from Las Vegas) described having trouble sleeping on the night before he announced his choices.
And the three charities on his roster all looked pretty deserving, based in economically depressed Gary, Indiana. They included an after-school learning program, a community cleanup program, and a kids' basketball program.
So, if lots of Americans watch this show, will it be a good thing for charities? On the whole, I'd say yes -- it introduces the viewers to real community needs at a personal level, shows them how individuals can help meet those needs, and leaves everyone wiping away tears, onscreen and off.
On the other hand, the show skirted the supposedly central issue of how to properly evaluate a nonprofit's effectiveness -- which is increasingly important for donors, who suspect that in many cases they're dropping their money into a bottomless pit. Maybe Mr. Malinchak happened to link up with the three most functional charities on the planet, but from all we saw, everyone within them was hardworking, willing to make personal sacrifices, and happily free from common nonprofit syndromes such as burnout, internal disagreements about methods and priorities, wondering why the staff/board/whoever aren't doing more to raise money, and so forth. How on earth was our check-writing millionaire supposed to choose between them?!
One imagines the producers did a good bit of vetting of the three featured charities. Not to mention that the millionaire in question gets to spend only a few days' worth of time at each charity, so any darker aspects of working there probably had yet to emerge. And would we want viewers to find out that the nonprofits in question aren't as perfect as all that? Maybe not.
Yet it left me feeling that viewers won't get to appreciate some of the truly most difficult aspects of working at a nonprofit -- the persevering through all the dysfunctionalities I mentioned above.
And it certainly won't help donors with that ongoing question of how to choose between worthy charities. As far as I could tell, Malinchak made a fairly personal decision, awarding the biggest check to the group that offered basketball (which Malinchak once played competitively) and whose coach had suffered the loss of several siblings (Malinchak had lost his own sister). When you come right down to it, his decision-making process probably isn't that far away from that of many other donors, millionaires or not.
What I'd like to know is how, beyond the "aloha spirit" mentioned, the library manages to do such a great job keeping volunteers interested. They've got some volunteers willingly cleaning the bathrooms, for God's sake! That sort of commitment doesn't come without effort on the part of the organization, and good leadership -- which it sounds like the Makiki Library has, in the form of a former librarian turned Friends group president, Wendy Maxwell.
In any case, it's a fine example of how rallying volunteers can supplant some of the need to raise straight cash.
Although the article didn't specify, it looks quite logical for Michelle's Angels to want to be able to fundraise nationally. Unlike many nonprofits, it doesn't provide local services -- it primarily uses the Internet to providing emotional support to people in need due to illness or other reasons.
So as long as Michelle's Angels is reaching out to clients around the country, it would make perfect sense for it to ask them to contribute, or to request that their interested friends and family do so. Yet the site currently has to warn donors that it can accept contributions only from two U.S. states, New York and Tennessee, while it works on getting registered in others.
Knoll says, "There should be a not-for-profit national registry or a single, uniform state application and low fees -- or no fees for small charities."
Good idea -- let's hope that message gets to the right ears! In the meantime, for nonprofits struggling with interpreting and meeting the registration requirements, help can be found in the Nolo book, Nonprofit Fundraising Registration: The 50-State Guide, by Stephen Fishman.
Which is why I found one of the Q&As especially interesting. Someone asked what impact mildew has on the value of a book. The response? "Throw the book out." Mildewed books are apparently not only unappealing, but an actual health hazard, particularly to people with respiratory sensitivities.
And the mildew can spread to other books, as described in this writeup on Biblio.com. As you read it, take careful note of the suggestions for how to store books so that they don't develop mildew problems. And if you're holding a fundraising book sale, consider this your official permission to simply toss any books with a bad smell into the recycle bin.