June 2010 Archives

June 22, 2010

Fundraising by Selling Sweet, High-Fat Foods Is a Problem!

I just came across the excellent and well-written report "Sweet Deals: School Fundraising Can Be Healthy and Profitable," by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (and authored by Joy Johanson and Margo G. Wootan).

Wow! It's a couple years old (2007), but given how many kids selling cookies and candies on behalf of their club, team, or school still cross my path, remains highly relevant. And the report doesn't pull any punches, making the case that, "Given rising obesity rates and children's poor diets (only 2% of American children eat a healthy diet), it is no longer acceptable to sell junk food to children through school fundraisers."

I would even take it a step further and say it's not acceptable to sell this stuff to anyone. Although adults are held more responsible for their actions, the statistics are equally dire: Around one third of the U.S. population is classified as not merely overweight, but obese. And the U.S. Centers for Disease Control says that obesity increases the risk of a whole host of health troubles, such as coronary heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, many cancers, hyptertension, high cholesterol, stroke, and so on.

Even people who keep their weight down can, through poor dietary habits, put themselves at risk for a number of diseases, such as cancer, bone loss, anemia, and more.

Having a child selling candy -- and candy for a good cause, no less -- is just an unfair way to tempt an already-unhealthy populace. There are alternatives, as the report describes -- granola bars, fruit, and non-food sales items. Hopefully with a little creativity, the nonprofit community will come up with even more healthy options.  
June 19, 2010

Oops -- Not-So-Effective Fundraising Examples

Usually I try to applaud fundraisers who are doing a great job, rather than point a finger at those who don't quite get it. It's tough being a fundraiser, and many come to the task with no training other than goodwill.

But more and more, the field of fundraising is full of high-quality, easily accessed information about how to do things right. And in some cases, those working at established organizations with good access to mentoring and training should know better by now! So why am I seeing misguided practices like the following?

1) Just got an email with the subject line, "Larger Donors We Need Matching Funds." Huh. Is this addressed to me? Just how large do I have to be to be considered a "larger donor?" Is it measured by weight or volume? (Yes, I know what they mean, but do the rest of the email recipients?) And if I already knew I was a "larger donor," would I appreciate being taken for granted in this manner, as if my history of large donations were just a tap to be turned on as needed? I doubt it. There's nothing about this subject line that makes me want to open the email.

2) Passing by a table near the front of my local Safeway recently, I noticed a stack of used books for sale, in support of a local charity. Good idea! But rotten execution. I've never seen a pile of books more in need of some culling. There was a guidebook to Seattle schools from the year 2001 -- and we're in Oakland. There were other reference books just old enough to be useless, but not old enough to be antiques. And the overall look of the books was cheap, cheap, cheap. At least they didn't have to worry about shoplifting. But, as is typical, I didn't want to paw through the pile any further in hopes of treasure. At a certain point -- and I say this with due reverence for books -- a few of them simply need to be recycled, just like with an old newspaper. Sales of used goods to the public are most successful when people can see a good proportion of quality among the junk.

3) I got yet another appeal letter from a certain national organization, despite having requested, several months ago in writing, that it stop sending me appeal letters. As I explained to them, I'd like to continue subscribing to their lovely magazine, but was annoyed by the fact that I could never tell from the letters whether my subscription was about to run out or whether this was just another appeal for money. The language of the letters seemed intentionally vague. Too bad, because I might have considered their side-appeals but for this annoyance factor. In any case, I called them and have supposedly been removed from the appeal-letter list. We'll see -- they haven't shown much efficiency around my separate requests to change my address (started off okay, then reverted to the old one!?).

Ok, that's all for now. Will presumably get back to acknowledging all the great work done by hard-working, creative, and committed fundraisers next week.   
June 15, 2010

Record Rise in Volunteerism: Is Your Nonprofit Ready?

A whopping 63.4 million Americans (age 16 and older) volunteered for charitable causes last year (2009), despite -- or perhaps in response to -- economic hard times.

As if that weren't impressive enough, it represents an increase of almost 1.6 million volunteers since 2008, and the largest one-year increase in the volunteer numbers since 2003. Women, particularly working mothers, were among the most active.

For more details and numbers, see the Volunteering in America 2010  report by the Corporation for National and Community Service.

In the meantime, the key question is, ARE YOU READY? Volunteers can perform a number of valuable tasks for an organization, from the menial to the skilled professional, in some cases reducing the need for paid staff.

Yet because many volunteers report being turned away by groups unable to handle them, or worse yet, quitting on their own because they didn't feel their time was being meaningfully used, you've got to think ahead of time about how to best choose, train, assign, and supervise them. I've learned this lesson the hard way, having had volunteers walk out because they were bored by the tasks assigned them -- and I've myself quit volunteer jobs because I felt my time was being wasted standing around waiting for instructions. 

Creating a volunteer program that both helps your organization and satisfies the volunteer's desire to feel needed, well used, and perhaps reach other goals such as learning new skills -- or even meeting other single volunteers (see previous post, "Volunteering for Charity May Lead to Romance!") -- isn't easy. But there's a lot of good advice out there on how to make it work, starting with this article, "Nonprofit Volunteers: Top Five Tips to Keep Them Coming." 
June 10, 2010

It's Official: Humorous Videos Win the Most Eyeballs

My previous post, called "Videos: Hot New Communication Tool, or Waste of Time?" mentioned journalists' observations that the videos that draw people in the most are those that manage to incorporate humor.

As if in response, the Pew Research Center just reported a study showing that 50% of adult Internet users watched humorous or comedy videos during the year studied (2007); more than watched any other category of video. Educational videos came in 2nd, at 38%.

So, if your organization can combine humor with education, you should be able to get some serious viewership!

June 7, 2010

Videos: Hot New Communication Tool, or Waste of Time?

As part of every nonprofit's efforts to connect and communicate with members and donors via every media possible, I've heard a lot of buzz about videos of late. Michael Stein, for example, who writes the blog Internet Strategy for the Nonprofit Sector, has described videos as "a great way to showcase your organization's mission and work," and "a growing trend in nonprofit communications." You can check out various tips for using video effectively on his blog. 

But then, wearing my other hat as a real estate writer/editor, I attended a NAREE conference recently during which top journalists from around the United States described their growing frustration with video: It takes away from their other responsibilities; even if you have spare time, filming, editing, and preparing the video takes up a heck of a lot of it; and in the end, very few readers click to watch.

(In one of those classic moments where you can't tell whether you're part of a representative majority or just hanging around with fellow Luddite outliers, I and other audience members leaned to each other with comments like, "Yeah, I never click videos either, they take too much time for too little substance.")

So, what gives? Is creating videos a worthy use of time for nonprofits but not for real estate writers? I doubt it. It's not as though the audience is completely different -- people who buy or sell homes also give to charity.

 Is this perhaps a situation that fits my in-laws' favorite maxim of, "If you're not going to do something well, don't do it at all?" This might be closer to the truth, given that anyone who's online is exposed to new video offerings, both serious and humorous, every few minutes. The novelty is wearing off, though I did laugh at the "4 Laughing Babies" one. Presumably the journalists I was hearing from weren't doing too badly at their video-making efforts, but they'd probably be among the first to say that being a good writer doesn't automatically make someone a good videographer.

Perhaps the most telling nugget of information came from Lauren Beale of the Los Angeles Times, who noted that, among the reporters she works with, the ones whose videos attract a significant audience are the ones who have natural camera appeal and know how to use humor. (No wonder I clicked on those laughing babies!) Everyone is looking for a watchable persona, and the lift and stimulation that humor provides.

But not everyone can do humor. And those who can't shouldn't necessarily try. We've all groaned at the efforts of someone who, trying to lighten up a speech or talk, opens it with a bad joke. Besides, we're talking now about creating videos that represent the work of charitable organizations, which isn't necessarily thigh-slapping material.

Is the inevitable conclusion, then, that unless you've got a natural comedian on your staff who can magically make oil spills and hungry people funny, give up on the video and retreat to the familiar territory of writing newsletter articles? I wouldn't go that far.

Let's think about the mental zone entered by someone who is able to create humor. It usually means the person isn't just cranking out content, but has let the topic enter his or her consciousness in a deeper way, to bring forth a unique personal perspective. What's more, the person cares enough about the audience to want to share the information with them in a way that's genuinely engaging.

That's something anyone making video can aspire to. To me, the takeaway lesson is, don't create videos indiscriminately. Create them if and when you've got a staff person -- or maybe a young intern -- who's really inspired about presenting the content. It will help to have some visual material that you feel like people just hafta see -- the very kind that you'd email a friend. If you make just a few compelling videos, you'll ultimately get a lot more eyeballs on them than with a slew of mediocre ones. (Uh oh, I guess my in-laws have the last word on this one after all.)  
June 1, 2010

"Cleverness is a gift, kindness is a choice."

Those were the words of Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, addressing the Princeton graduating class this year. A worthy sentiment to pass on in your organization's Twitter feed or Facebook page, perhaps?
Here's the Princeton press release, and the full text of the speech.