General fundraising: 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 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.