March 2009 Archives

March 30, 2009

Cheap Ways for Nonprofits to Use the Internet for Public Access

Making the most of your nonprofit's web presence is no longer just a cool option, it's your best bet economically, when every stamp costs more money than your budget allows.

For ideas on expanding your online opportunities, check out news of this recent announcement from YouTube, which allows nonprofits, for free, to overlay ads onto videos they post. (Don't have a video? This is a perfect project for a volunteer or intern.)

Or, look at what other nonprofits are doing on Twitter

But don't forget the basics: A website that tells people who you are and what you do, with clear explanation of why you're a reliable and worthy place to send their money. For more information on this topic, see my article, "Using Your Nonprofit's Website to Help Fundraise," and this recent survey report about where nonprofit websites fall short.
March 22, 2009

Desperation in Fundraising Less Attractive Than Ever

Every nonprofit knows that telling its donors or funders, "We'll go under without some money!" is no recipe for fundraising success. As dire as the need for services to the clients or cause may be, the inevitable underlying message is, "We're kind of a mess, perhaps not the model of efficiency you'd want working on this cause or chewing through your money."

Yet many nonprofits, forgetting this lesson and driven by some very real desperation, regularly pull out the "Help, this is it!" message anyway.

Well, if ever there were a reason to tone down the desperation, it's expressed in the recent article in The New York Times by Stephanie Strom, called "As Detroit Struggles, Foundations Shift Mission." It quotes a University of Michigan professor, Larry Gant, who articulates what local Detroit charitable foundations are carrying out in practice: "Insolvent organizations need to be dissolved, weak ones need to be merged and acquired, and only the strongest should receive the stimulus they need to become more financially sound."

Gulp. By way of example, the article discusses one organization on the way to insolvency that a foundation guided into a merger with another organization. It was probably one of the lucky ones -- others are no doubt receiving outright "no's" to funding. If it were my organization, I'd want to take a hard look at my position before approaching a foundation, and if some radical change like a merger is the only realistic hope, have my plan in hand before seeking new money. Let them see that you've got your turnaround plan in place -- a light at the end of the tunnel.
March 11, 2009

Online Sales Controversy Surrounds Girl Scouts

845689_lemon_biscuit_series_1.jpgSo, the Girl Scouts have gotten themselves into a flap about whether they should be forbidding use of the Internet as a way of selling cookies. It seems that door-to-door is okay; and marketing your cookies on the Internet is okay; but once a girl (in this case, a particular girl named Wild) starts actually letting customers order online, that's either unfair to other girls or a safety risk. Not exactly a bright dividing line.

You'll find the whole story, called "The Cookie Crumbles," written up by Kurt Soller in Newsweek. He raises the important points that Internet sales are not necessarily safer than knocking on strangers' doors, and that a little entrepreneurship should probably be rewarded rather than slapped down, especially in a world where kids will need to know how to use the Internet (at least until the Next Big Thing comes along).

Another point that didn't get raised in the article, which may also underlie the unease with Internet sales, is that the girl in question had her parents' help in setting up the website, and not all Girl Scouts have that opportunity. That's a little troubling, but hardly new. I remember being irked as a kid when other parents took the cookies to work and sold them, while my dad worked at home and had no office to peddle sweets at. Here's hoping the Girl Scouts find a way to make this a "teaching moment" about Internet usage for all concerned, rather than get into an impossible enforcement effort.

And while we're on the topic, when is a major nonprofit going to come up with healthier snacks to sell?

March 2, 2009

Volunteers Love Behind-the-Scenes Access

dog1.jpgConfession first: I based that headline on a sample of one. Namely me.

But I've noticed over the years that one of the secret pleasures of volunteering is feeling like I'm part of the "inner circle" of a cool group that's providing a great service.

Most recently, in volunteering to walk and socialize with dogs at the Berkeley East Bay Humane Society, I actually get to meet the adoptable dogs before members of the public do. Like the two here: The smiling Pomeranian is Popcorn, and the cone-wearing one, whose parentage I don't know, is Pippi. If I were looking for a dog right now, I'd be in a prime position to choose my new friend (not that it didn't take all my willpower not to tuck these two into my car and drive off... ).

Pippi.jpgI'm sure nonprofits can do more to capitalize on sentiments like mine, both to recruit and keep more volunteers, and to get donors interested as well. I've already heard of theater companies that give major donors a "backstage tour". What else can your group do?