May 2008 Archives

May 28, 2008

Emptying Commercial Space: An Opportunity for Your Nonprofit?

Recession or not, reports of empty storefronts are popping up nationwide -- signs advertising "Free Rent" have actually been spotted in Las Vegas. That's bad news for the economy, but could actually be good news for some nonprofits.

StorefrontLandlords hate to have an empty storefront. It's a potential target for thieves and vandals, and reduces traffic to other stores in the same strip or complex. But finding another tenant and negotiating a new lease can take weeks or months to complete.

Some nonprofits have been finding ways to fill the gap. For no or very low rent, they've used empty retail space for such temporary purposes as animal adoptions, a soup kitchen, a depot to collect and contribute clothes to the poor, and more. It's a win-win situation: The nonprofits get higher visibility and a way to reach more people (both clients and potential donors); the landlord gets the benefits mentioned above, plus possible increased foot traffic to other stores; and both might get some good media coverage from the partnership.

If your nonprofit could benefit from such an arrangement, look around your area for empty storefronts and get in touch with the landlords. They might have already heard of your idea -- particularly if they read the "Commercial Lease Law Insider," a respected publication that featured an article called "Protect Yourself When Temporarily Filling Retail Space with Nonprofits" in its September 2007 issue.

The "protection" part of the article simply referred to the fact that the landlord needs to sign some sort of agreement with any nonprofit to which it lends or rents space. Signing such an agreement is in your interest, too, to make sure everyone has the same understanding of price and other terms.

Instead of a standard lease, the landlord is most likely to want a license agreement, which is appropriate for situations where the arrangement is so temporary that the landlord shouldn't have to evict you if you refuse to leave by the agreed-upon date. If, however, your organization turns into a long-term tenant, you'll want to sign a standard commercial lease. For help with this, see Negotiate the Best Lease for Your Business, by Janet Portman and Fred S. Steingold (Nolo).

May 21, 2008

Choosing Between Nonprofit and For-Profit Status? Think B Corp

Don't miss Ilana DeBare's excellent article in the San Francisco Chronicle, "B corporation plan helps philanthropic firms." It profiles a new melding of for-profit and nonprofit status, in which a business explicitly adopts socially conscious goals -- in one case, donating all profits to charity -- and writes these goals into its founding legal documents. The originators of the concept call it a B corporation.

DeBare is careful to point out that, unlike C and S corporations, B corporations have no actual status under the tax code. And if you've researched the dividing lines between taxable and tax-exempt corporations, you know that the tax rules can get gnarly. But by banding together with a self-invented status, B corporations at least put the shareholders and would-be company buyers on notice that they're serious about serving other ends besides sheer profit.

May 19, 2008

Candy Fundraisers: Why Pay the Middleman?

ChocolateRemember the days when Girl Scouts and Camp Fire Girls were the only folks selling sweet stuff for charity? Now you can't turn around without someone peddling a chocolate bar, candle, or discount coupon on behalf of some charitable cause.

And the services providing these goods have mushroomed -- try Googling "fundraising" if you want to see what I mean. The Internet is awash with services promising to provide items everyone will want to buy, while making it easy for you, the nonprofit, to sell them.

So, I recognize that there's something to be said for ease of setup. And many small charitable groups rely on candy and other sales for a lot of their revenues. But as a donor, I'd always assumed, when laying out a ridiculous $2 for a candy bar, that much of the money was going to the charity. Now I see from these online providers that they're charging the charity as much as $1.20 a bar! (They don't always make that clear -- you may have to do the math yourself.) Meanwhile, they tout the virtues of a 40% profit to the charity. Hmm.

Why not just go down to your local drugstore or discount grocery, see what's on sale, and buy a few cases? A quick online search shows that various energy bars are on sale near where I live for only $1 apiece, and I'll bet I could do better if I looked harder.

You'll have to create your own forms for the volunteers to fill out when selling, but really not much more. And is that so much work compared to the time you'd spend online figuring out which middleman service offers the best services for the lowest (but not all that low) price? For no less work, you could easily have profits over 100%.

May 11, 2008

Holding a Meeting: Got Snacks?

I seem to have been attending a lot of meetings lately, both in for-profit and nonprofit Fruitsettings. That's given me a chance, while I wait for people to file in, to notice that it's often the meetings where the announcement contained the magical word "food" that draw the most attendees.

That's hardly a headline-worthy revelation -- but then why are some organizers still missing their chance at a little bribery? Particularly when the weather is getting better and motivation to sit around inside is going way, way down?

Maybe bribery is too harsh a word -- anthropologists can give us plenty of examples where the first words out of a host, even when greeting a stranger, concern whether the person would like some food. It's a primal welcoming thing.

Anyway, if the reasons are budgetary, that doesn't seem like much of a barrier. No one needs to promise a hot gourmet meal, just some snacks. In fact, two or three people planning to come (board members or other volunteers, for example) can be asked to bring those snacks. Some cookies, fruit slices, nuts, and cheese and crackers will not break anyone's budgets.

May 2, 2008

Moment of Awww: Meet Colleen

Here's a dog I've been walking for weeks who still hasn't been adopted. I think of her as a metaphor for some nonprofits -- nothing out of the ordinary on paper (she's 8 years old, which is a hard sell), but amazing once you get up close. Dog photo

Colleen has a hilariously cute habit of greeting people with a chew toy in her mouth, running back and forth making an odd sighing sound that may be due to a past owner having cut her vocal cords. Unlike many dogs I meet at the Humane Society, she remains good natured even as the weeks go by -- doesn't get jealous when I go to walk other dogs, doesn't act demanding or desperate.

On the radio this morning, a caller to a talk show raised the issue of why people choose certain charities or causes and ignore others. The example given was that people in Britain give more to animal charities than to those helping victims of domestic violence. I do sometimes ask myself whether there isn't something more immediately useful I should be doing than dogwalking. And I haven't come up with a brilliant answer, except to say that spreading happiness can't be a bad thing, even if it's via a lonely dog.