March 2011 Archives

March 29, 2011

Fundraising Kudos to: Winners of DoGooder Nonprofit Video Awards

Looking for a little inspiration regarding how to create videos that get people interested in your nonprofit's cause? Or more realistically, that attract them to press "play" without pressing "stop" soon thereafter?

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."
Even if you don't have time to view all four videos in full, it's worth watching at least 20 seconds of each, to get a general sense of their tone and enjoy the creative variety in their approaches. Even with that variety, however, the videos share certain winning features, namely:

  • 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 simplemadagascar_wash_schools.jpg 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." 
Well done, I say!
March 24, 2011

Nonprofit Insiders: What's Your Takeaway From "Secret Millionaire?"

I usually run from reality TV, but for obvious reasons, had to take a peek at ABC's "Secret Millionaire."

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.

vegas.jpgThe 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. 

March 10, 2011

Hawaii Library Shows Link Between Fundraising and Volunteerism

The headline in American Libraries' magazine aptly reads, "The Little Library That Could." The article, by Brian Matthews, describes how the largely volunteer-run Makiki Community Library in Honolulu manages to stay afloat even without collecting library fines for overdue materials!

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.

March 4, 2011

Nonprofits Feeling Burden of New Fundraising-Registration Requirements

We'll probably be hearing more stories like the one with which Kiplinger's Personal Finance Magazine ended its March, 2011 issue: Herb Knoll, who founded a fledgling nonprofit called Michelle's Angels, describes the frustrations of needing to register the nonprofit in every state in which it receives donations and pay both first-time and annual renewal fees, and worries about the impact, in terms of costs and required time, on his group.

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.

usa50one.gifSo 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.