January 2008 Archives

January 24, 2008

Media Hooks Abound in Your New Year's Calendar

President's Day, Chinese New Year, Earth Day, Cinco de Mayo, Mother's Day -- so many entries on that new calendar, before it's scribbled full of appointments and events. And for anyone whose nonprofit is vying for media coverage, all of these offer great "hooks," or opportunities to highlight a newsworthy aspect of your work.

I discussed the importance of media hooks in my book, Effective Fundraising for Nonprofits, but I was recently reminded of it while listening to a recorded teleconference with three radio producers -- Rusty Lutz from ABC Radio Networks, Chad Wilkinson from Westwood One Radio Network, and Charles Munroe-Kane from Public Radio International (PRI) -- discussing how they select guests. (It was sponsored by Bulldog Reporter in late 2006.)

One theme that all three hit on repeatedly was their effort to tie stories to what's going on in the news or in people's lives. For example, Chad says that around Christmas, he's scouting for topics to do with shopping and religiosity; around New Year's, he's thinking about resolutions; and he even did a show around the 500th anniversary of the writing of Don Quixote (try finding that one on your calendar).

All of these give you opportunities to place your work in a new light. If I were still working in immigration nonprofits, I'd be pitching Valentine's Day stories about all the U.S. citizen/immigrant couples who'll be spending the holiday apart, due to tortuous bureaucratic procedures. Or, I could bring up citizenship trends around the 4th of July.

Pumpkin pieAnd, as alluded to in the Don Quixote example, you aren't limited by what's on your calendar -- in fact, it's time to expand beyond the classic "homeless person getting a Thanksgiving dinner" story. Events like the U.S. elections, Women's History Month, anniversaries of important people's births or deaths, and others can all offer potential tie-ins.

But, speaking of the elections, watch out that you don't collide with other events that have basically taken over the media, particularly if you're pitching to a news show. The panelists agreed that sending a fax on the night of a major primary will almost guarantee that it gets lost in the shuffle.

January 17, 2008

The Pool of Retiree Volunteers Is Growing

Let's focus on some good news to start off the year 2008: 76 million baby boomers are about to retire, and nearly half of them are expected (according to past trends) to put some of their time toward volunteer work. That's according to a report from the Urban Institute's Retirement Project.

Senior riding motorcycleOf course, no one knows whether these millions will REALLY decide to volunteer -- in fact, an increasing number are choosing a new career altogether, or opening that small business they've always dreamed of -- but it's certainly an opportunity for every nonprofit to get out there and show retirees why volunteering could be the most soul-satisfying way to spend their newfound free time.

January 10, 2008

Foundation Support Returning to Long-Term Projects?

I hope the Foundation Center is onto a real trend with its article "More Foundations Questioning Project-Based Funding Approach," posted January 8, 2008 in its PND News.

The story explains that, "a small but increasingly vocal group of foundation leaders" is advocating rethinking the all-consuming focus on accountability and measurable return on investments. Instead, they argue, funders should realize the need for long-term support of projects whose results are difficult to measure. And in close connection with this, they want to make sure that funder-imposed limitations on overhead costs don't, in the words of Thomas Tierney, chairman and co-founder of the Bridgespan Group, create "a vicious cycle that perpetually starves [organizations] of capacity."

Hurray! It's not that no one has ever made these arguments before, but the fact that they come from collective voices within the foundation world gives me cause for hope.

I've worked for nonprofits that could have been case studies in the need for long-term support and investments in overhead - namely in the immigration-services field. I remember getting blank stares whenever I told people where I worked, because helping immigrants get political asylum or work permits does nothing to bring you within the general public's eye - and that means difficulty in raising funds. So, without many sources of individual funding, we'd turn to foundations - but they'd eventually lose interest, because we were doing the same old thing year after year.

Of course, there are ways to address challenges like these - which I discuss in my book, Effective Fundraising for Nonprofits - but the bottom line is that it takes dedicated development staff to implement these. And you can't have development staff without investing in some overhead.

Yes, people are worried about lavish salaries going to fundraisers - and a few unethical organizations have apparently allowed just that - but our organization was lucky to find any development director willing to work a double-time job at low wages for more than a year. Meanwhile, back when I was still working as an attorney, I and other staff members wrote grant proposals at home, in our "spare time," which wasn't much since we all had so many clients that we'd just helplessly watch the phone messages pile up every day! (And our salaries were barely over $20,000, in the 1990s!)

Sorry, didn't mean to go off on a rant. But I'm trying to give some illustrative detail to what I believe is a problem for many nonprofit staffers, who might not be willing to talk about it because they don't want the public to think they're in financial trouble. Let's hope that the small group of foundation leaders described in the article becomes a chorus.

January 5, 2008

Fundraising Events Shouldn't Take All Night

The Houston Chronicle hit the nail on the head with its January 2, 2008 article, "In fundraising, short is sweet," by Shelby Hodge (billed as, interestingly enough, a society writer).

Hodge's basic premise is that charities who let their gala luncheons, dinners, auctions, or other events go on too long are going to turn off the very donors they're hoping to thank or inspire.

Hodge quotes one experienced fundraiser who says, "Remember that the members of your audience are your donors, your friends. They are giving you the gift of their time, the most valuable thing they have. Be kind to them. They want to have some fun."

I couldn't agree more, having recently attended an end-of-year dinner and awards event that went on so long I had to leave in between speeches. The problem was that they had invited five big-name awardees -- all of whom were wonderful to listen to (well, okay, I'm not sure about the ones who spoke after I left) -- but who were either not given clear instructions on how much time they had, or were not told when their time was up.

Personally, I'd hate to be the one to tell a famous person at the microphone that he or she is going on too long. So lesson one might be to hire a tougher enforcer than me. But better yet, either limit the number of people encouraged to make a "speech" as opposed to a quick thank-you, or give them a full lecture beforehand on the importance of keeping it brief.

While we're at it, the Hodge article offers ten tips on keeping your event on track that are worth a look.

U.S. at nightThe only one I'd quibble with says, "Don't beat the audience to death with your nonprofit's message. You already have their money." That's fine by itself, but many in the audience will be friends, dates, or even spouses who don't know the nonprofit's message. So without "beating them to death," I'd say give a quick reminder or update to inform the new attendees and inspire the old. Then let everyone get home and wake up the babysitter.