Funding & Philanthropy


There’s money out there: 4 good fundraising angles for your passion project

On Idealists in Action, we love to tackle your biggest obstacles to doing good. One we hear a lot is, “I don’t have the skills or knowledge to start something.” This week, we’re taking that behemoth down.

Another way you can defeat the obstacles in your path is by joining the Idealist Network—a new online and on-the-ground platform we’re designing to help people everywhere connect and take action on any issue that concerns them, locally or globally. Sign up to attend our online launch on March 11 and see what it’s all about.

Raising money for a personal project is seldom a walk in the park. But with corporate social responsibility in vogue and the Internet leveling the communications playing field, there’s never been a better time to give funding your passion project a shot. Here are four solid ways to approach the task:

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‘Tis the season: Tips for end-of-year donations

Happy holidays! While our writers take a couple of days to savor the season, we thought you might enjoy this classic post (which originally appeared here).

It’s December, which means you’ve probably started getting requests for donations from worthy causes. Here in the U.S., the income tax rules and the holiday spirit both nudge in the same direction: give what you can, before January 1.

Here are three tips for making gifts that matter. (And matter they do, no matter the size!)

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From Flickr user Alexandra Campo

Tip #1: Understand the tax rules.

If you choose to itemize deductions on your income tax return and you want to include your charitable contributions in the mix, then it’s important to follow the guidelines that the law, and the IRS, have established:

  • the organization must be eligible (usually it will say so in the materials);
  • you’ll need a receipt or some other documentation of the amount;
  • and the gift must be made before the 1st of January to go on this year’s tax return.

There are other, more complicated, rules about larger gifts and in-kind donations. And if you don’t itemize deductions, you still get some credit in the standard deduction. These are calculated using the giving habits of all non-itemizing households. Check the IRS site if there’s anything unusual about what you’re planning to do.

Tip #2: Choose wisely.

Maybe you’re getting a lot of requests, more than you can afford to give. How do you get through the thicket of year-end appeals that tug at your generosity? If you don’t have a personal philanthropy plan, you can make a simple one:

  • Decide on an amount you’re willing, and able, to give. The average household donates about 2 percent of disposable income each year.
  • Consider the organizations you already know, and know you want to support, so you can decide how much to give to each of them.  Then you’ll know how much you might have left over to respond to new requests.
  • If you’re thinking of giving to a new organization, ask yourself “What does this organization do?” and “Do I admire how they do it?” With nearly 2 million nonprofits at work in the U.S., there are lots to choose from.  Looking at websites, reading fundraising appeals, and searching online to see what others have said about the group are good ways to see how strongly the goals, and the methods, appeal to you.

Tip #3: Maximize.

Financial data—the sort of information many charity “watchdogs” focus in on—can only take you so far.  Some causes are hard to administer, others are hard to raise money for.  Spending less than counterpart organizations doesn’t necessarily mean greater efficiency, it may just mean a different approach to the problem.

There are some things donors can do to help put the maximum resources to work, though:

  • Respond quickly to requests, especially to renewal notices.  It costs money to prepare mailings so a quick response, even if it’s a “not this year,” is doing the organization a favor.
  • Consider making fewer, larger gifts. That will focus your support on program work, not processing costs.
  • Positive you won’t ever support Organization X? Ask them to take you off the mailing list so they won’t waste their money on appeals addressed to you.

Finding the money to build stronger, healthier, more lively communities is hard work. With a little preparation and some thought, your year-end gifts can support that work and make an important difference for causes and organizations you care about.

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Q: Want a cool way to raise money & reach new people? A: Try Quiz for a Cause!

QFAC-logoThe beer-loving trivia nerds at Geeks Who Drink have a standing offer to help nonprofits and organizations raise money and reach out to new audiences by tapping into their collective benevolent geekiness.

It’s called Quiz for a Cause and for the price of free, organizations can partner with Geeks Who Drink to collect a small entry fee from participants who come out to their regularly scheduled quiz events.

The featured organization usually raises between $200-$400 per event, and even better, they get a few minutes on the microphone to talk up their mission and get in good with a whole new group of potential donors.

Quiz for a Cause event organizer and self-identified dork Eric Kohen says this opportunity to tap into the highly-coveted late-20s and early-30s young professional crowd is really the big payoff for nonprofits who participate in QFAC events.

“You can make a little bit of money from the door, but the greater good comes from getting your message out to a whole other demographic that you might not otherwise reach,” he says.

Quiz for a Cause is available in 27 states and has raised money for all kinds of nonprofits and community organizations.

“From animals to stolen people to gay lacrosse teams, it’s cool we can help out so many different causes.”

Want to generate some extra cash and buzz for your cause? Email Eric at info@geekswhodrink.com.

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Crowdfunding tips from the pros at CauseVox

Stuck? Feeling hopeless? Unsure of your next step? For the almost two decades Idealist has been around, we’ve been asking you—our community—to tell us about the obstacles you face when trying to turn your good intentions into action. We’ve compiled a short list of the top-reported obstacles, and now we’re blogging about them one by one.

This week we present: money.

Growing up, maybe you were the 4th grader who sold lemonade for 25¢ a glass to help feed hungry kids. Or maybe more recently, you’ve been rocked by the correlation between global warming and the natural disasters that hit developing nations the hardest.

Whether you’re a born do-gooder or had a life-changing experience somewhere along the way, crowdfunding can help you scale your social impact.

Here are a few tips to get started with crowdfunding your social good project.

Create a point of view

crowdfunding point of viewYou want to do some good. Great! Now what good, exactly?

You know what distinguishes vivid, memorable dreams from the vague, forgettable ones?

Details.

It’s not enough to want to make the world a better place, you need to tell the world how you plan to do that:

●      What particular problem are you trying to solve?

Is there a lack you want to fill? A mistake you seek to correct? Or even something good you want to make even better?

●      What’s your strategy for solving the problem?

What tools are at your disposal?

●      Who are you helping by solving this problem?

By trying to help all seven billion people in the world, you’ll hardly accomplish anything. Instead, start with seven and slowly but surely, you’ll start to reach more.

But you must have a point of view on how you’re going to change the world. Follow our guide on how to form a point of view before you start crowdfunding.

Identify your story

Your story is your most important asset in a crowdfunding campaign. It’ll drive people to take action for you, whether they share your story with friends or feel moved donate to your project themselves.

shutterstock_105363872Specifically, your story is important to crowdfunding for a couple reasons:

1. It’s an invitation

The fact that 27 million people are enslaved throughout the world ought to be convincing enough for anyone to get involved, right?

Ideally, yes; the reality, however, is that most people are more intimidated than moved to action by such statistics.

We’re more easily won over by the emotion and imagery that stories evoke than by plain numbers. Narratives bridge the gap we perceive between the helpers and the helped.

Learn how to use storytelling for your nonprofit or project.

2. It’s your own motivation, too

Spoiler alert: At some point during your crowdfunding campaign, you will hit a wall. What’s gonna keep your nose to the grindstone?

Your memory of the sight of faces, the smells in the air, the sounds, the tastes, the textures.

Your story will remind you that it’s not about hitting certain numbers, that people’s lives are at stake. Your story will keep you motivated, encouraged, and inspired through your crowdfunding campaign.

Create your tribe

Your tribe consists not only of the people you hope to serve, but those who will serve alongside you.

Social enterprise is a team sport; your people—prospective staff, board members, supporters, clientele—will help you work smarter, and not unnecessarily harder. Any successful crowdfunding campaign takes the time to create a community of believers that will help amplify the marketing and funding of that campaign.

It’ll be helpful to consider other like-minded social enterprises and projects not as your competitors but your teammates, as though you were all members of a relay team. Then, figure out which leg of the race you’re running: are you starting off? the anchor? in-between?

Create a crowdfunding campaign

STR-CauseVox-Fundraising-SiteNow that you’ve sketched the fundamentals of your social enterprise or social good project, you can create a fundraising site to start crowdfunding. An effective crowdfunding campaign has the following elements:

Visual storytelling

That a picture conveys a thousands words is cliche for a reason. It takes less time for someone to get your vision by watching a two-minute video than by reading a 600-word article. Rest assured that putting the time in to tell your story through a well-made video is worth the effort.

Impact metrics

You’ll need to show the crowd the power of their collective dollars.

For example, members of the Mocha Club donate $9 a month toward the organization’s project areas (clean water, orphan care, health care, etc.). By forgoing three coffee shop drinks every month, you could: give clean water to nine Africans for a year, save one child from malaria, or extend the life expectancy of one person living with HIV/AIDS.

Number-crunching that highlights the potential progress your enterprise could make instead of harping on the severity of the problem are what will compel the crowd to join your cause.

Seamless branding

Hopefully, you’ve invested time and thought into branding your social good project or social enterprise. Branding is more than just picking colors and creating a logo—it’s about the impression you make.

Your brand presents your identity to the public. A branded fundraising page is like a lighthouse that helps guide boats to harbor.

Studies have shown that branded donation pages get more donations than generic, unbranded pages!

Leverage social media

crowdfunding social mediaI’ve intentionally saved this step for the end, since you need to be grounded before your grow!

Most, if not all, of your crowdfunding efforts will take place online, and social media will play an important role. In fact, social media is a key tool. But no amount of social media savvy and strategy will make up for a lack of substance.

But by now, you have established a solid foundation: you’ve clearly defined your identity and point of view and story. Now you’re ready to broadcast your presence! This is where social media steps in.

Here’s one simple, obvious-yet-easy-to-forget strategy in using social media: Keep it social.

This is about connecting with people.

In your effort to quantify and measure and be results-oriented, remember that all of this is ultimately supposed to be people-oriented. Make sure your numbers and statistics represent people with unique stories and gifts. You’re starting a social enterprise, after all.

Wrapping up

Crowdfunding to launch your social enterprise is about more than raising money—it’s a means of building relationships. Your tribe, your clients, and your supporters are part of the momentum that will sustain the movement you’re starting.

Taking this holistic approach to starting your own social enterprise or social good project will set you up for success, not just survival.

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Sara Choe is a crowdfunding expert at CauseVox, a fundraising platform focused on crowdfunding for nonprofits and social good projects. They’ve helped thousands of people raise millions of dollars via crowdfunding.

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GiveDirectly: What happens when we just give money to the poor?

When you first hear from an organization that’s asking for money to fight poverty, how do you respond? If you’re like me, it’s usually with a healthy dose of skepticism: how would my money be used?

Would it go to financing the nonprofit’s advertising costs, or administrative costs, or maybe even… to financing staff birthday parties?

The fact that there’s been some buzz recently about GiveDirectly—an organization that distributes donors’ cash gifts directly to people in need—is evidence that these questions have indeed been on a lot of people’s minds.

GiveDirectly’s answer is unusual: just give the money to people in need, and trust them to do something worthwhile with it.

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A Kenyan recipient of a GiveDirectly donation
(photo via GiveDirectly.org)

To be fair, the idea isn’t really new—governments and NGOs have been distributing money directly for years. What is new is that the development of phone-based banking has made it possible to send money from anywhere instantly and with fewer middlemen—a concept that could be attractive to donors who dislike the overhead of more traditional organizations.

GiveDirectly, founded in 2008 and recently featured on NPR, finds people living in extreme poverty in Kenya, and sends them the equivalent of up to 1,000 USD by phone. The recipients can spend the money however they like—no prescriptions, no strings attached.

How is this laissez-faire approach going over in the new era of accountability? First of all, it’s not quite as hands-off as it sounds. GiveDirectly has conducted follow-up interviews with some of its donation recipients to find out how they used the money.

Many said they used it for one-time items that would contribute to their future economic well-being, like money-saving home improvements or business startup costs. So there is some continuing relationship, and some results are being measured.

But effectiveness is as important to donors as accountability, if not more. GiveDirectly’s website cites nearly thirty academic studies on the effectiveness of direct giving which help to dash a common suspicion about the model: namely, that people will spend the cash on frivolous or even harmful things like alcohol or drugs.

These studies found no evidence of that.

Even so, not everyone is sold. Aside from potential misuse of the money, some fear that giving cash introduces a risk of dependency that doesn’t exist with other kinds of development assistance, like infrastructure improvements.

However, proponents of direct giving could argue in return that giving money is at least better than giving material goods, as the local economy is stimulated when people have more cash to spend (when goods are given, local merchants don’t stand to profit).

There’s another, less obvious benefit to going the direct-giving route: discovering how people choose to help themselves, given the resources, can provide great data to help NGOs better understand how to meet their community’s unique needs—instead of imposing what they or their or donors might think is needed—and to refocus their efforts in that direction.

For example, GiveDirectly’s data show that a vast majority of recipients spent the money they received on a new, durable metal roof to replace their old grass roof. They’ll save on maintenance costs for years, allowing them to put more money toward educating their families, starting or growing businesses, and general well-being.

Larger NGOs could now enter the picture to help many more people by replacing many more roofs. It’s possible to arrive at the same conclusion through surveys, analysis, or other means, but there’s an attractive elegance to inviting people to literally show potential supporters what kind of help they could really use.

What do you think of GiveDirectly’s approach? Do you believe the direct giving model could—or should—work on a larger scale? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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Contest roundup: Funds to help ideas spring to life

Innovation is in the air! Dust the cobwebs from your brain and polish your ideas for a better world before these opportunities disappear:

Dell Social Innovation People’s Choice Awards

  • WHO: University students from around the world
  • WHEN: Deadline to submit and vote for projects is May 13
  • WHAT: Dell Social Innovation Challenge wants your brilliant solutions to global problems in categories from agriculture to health to technology. The community votes on which projects make the grade, with $1,000 awarded to the eleven most popular ideas.

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    Want your idea to have the best chance at success? Increase the levels of serotonin in your brain by soaking up sunlight, spending time with loved ones, and encouraging others. Photo via Flickr user Spec-ta-cles (Creative Commons).

2012 Rockefeller Foundation Innovation Challenges

  • WHO: Individuals, organizations, and groups across the globe
  • WHEN: Deadline to apply is May 15
  • WHAT: To celebrate its 100th birthday, the Rockefeller Foundation invites you to submit your innovative ideas for the next century in three areas of focus: data, irrigation, and farming. Icing on the cake if your idea shows promise of being scalable and replicable, positively impacts poor or vulnerable populations, respects local context, and finally, is new and exciting. The foundation will grant funding from a pool of $100,000 to nine finalists.

GOOD Maker challenges

  • WHO: Anyone with a good idea
  • WHEN: Deadlines for the challenges vary
  • WHAT: The folks at GOOD are at it again. With their new tool Maker, organizations and individuals want to hear your ideas for social change, with the community deciding which ones will have the most impact. Right now challenges include a call for speakers at TEDxChicago, an ideal car-free day in Los Angeles, and new ways of learning. Rewards for ideas typically run the gamut from funding to promotion to more tailored goodies like—ready for this?—a vacation at a Hawaiian resort.

Know of more contests and awards our community should be aware of? Leave a comment below!

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Idea File: Pitch your idea at a "Sunday Soup" potluck

Today’s idea funding model

The idea

Food + creativity = community. That’s the concept behind Sunday Soup, a micro-granting model that brings together those with a taste for innovative ideas and the people who want to help fund them.

Here’s how it works: a local group organizes an affordable meal. People pitch their ideas for a creative project during the course of the gathering, with attendees voting on who to give the proceeds of the meal to. Think Kickstarter, but offline and with good grub.

So far, the network has collectively granted almost $60,000 to initiatives around the world such as an art project that transforms abandoned signs in Albuquerque, NM; a documentary featuring children’s thoughts on the political situation in Egypt; bike taxis in Toledo, OH; and more.

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Photo of Detroit SOUP event by Vanessa Miller.

Why we’re adding it to the Idea File

  • Cheap and easy. While it’s the meal that brings people together, the idea is that it should be low-cost, like soup.
  • Circumvents bureaucracy. The people who decide which idea will benefit your community are the ones you pass in the street everyday – not foundation officers whom you might never meet.
  • Increases supporters. Don’t lose, schmooze. Even if your project doesn’t win the cash, it’s a great opportunity to make contacts – maybe even an employer or new flame. And, Amy adds, getting your project funded from a Soup event also gives you a leg up when applying for funding elsewhere.
  • Awesomeness awareness. There are probably a gazillion good ideas waiting to be discovered where you live; why not get them all out in the open?
  • Adaptable in many contexts. The model is flexible and Sunday Soup encourages you to adapt it, taking regional and cultural quirks into account.

How you can replicate it

First, see if one already exists where you live. If not, and the 63 groups from the U.S. to South Korea to Ukraine have whet your appetite, check out Sunday Soup’s tips for getting started.

We also reached out to the folks at Detroit SOUP, who’ve helped other SOUPS in Michigan and across the U.S. get up and running, to hear their tips on how to make your group a success.

Here’s what Lead Coordinator Amy Kaherl had to say:

  1. Don’t restrict the types of projects. Allow everyone from business entrepreneurs to artists to activists to pitch their ideas to keep the discussions and voting process interesting. Here are the Detroit project proposal guidelines.
  2. Know what’s affordable and what’s not. Detroit SOUP, for example, charges $5 per plate so as to include as many community members as possible.
  3. Ask for help. Local restaurants, gardens, farms, and friends might be happy to donate food.
  4. Proposals first, dinner second. People are more likely to converse and exchange ideas when there is a point of connection.
  5. Stay informed and curious. Listen to the community’s needs, and cultivate an environment where people are encouraged to ask questions.

“Don’t be afraid to fail either with the dinner or with the projects,” Amy finally says. “When things break down, we all learn from one another about what to do and not to do.”

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If you’re inspired to bring Sunday Soup to your community, feel free to email Amy for more advice: detroit.soup@gmail.com.

Do you know of other projects that are fun and potentially replicable? If you’d like us to consider posting it as part of this series, leave a comment below or email celeste [at] idealist [dot] org.

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You worked hard to find donors. Now don’t lose them!

We’re 10 days into the new year, which means it’s a great time for some of us to reflect on our organizations’ year-end fundraising efforts, our personal giving decisions, or both. Here’s a report (a PDF) from the Fundraising Effectiveness Project that affirms:

  • Nonprofits of every size and description make a special effort to identify supporters and secure additional support in the closing weeks, days, and even hours of the year. (Network for Good has an entire year-end fundraising guide if you’re already looking ahead to 2012 holiday season.)
  • Sadly, a large number of those donors won’t be found in the roster of supporters during the following year.
  • And, if you look closely, there’s an amazing range from the most to the least successful organizations when it comes to maintaining a strong group of supporters who renew their gifts year after year.

Finding new donors is much more difficult (and expensive) than staying in touch with people who already know about the organization and have shown their interest through making a donation. So why do so many organizations spend so much time trying to reach new donors, rather than building relationships with the old ones?

Why don’t donors continue to give?

Of course, there are some perfectly good reasons why a donor might give once and never again – such as gifts that celebrate a milestone or great accomplishment, or a memorial gift that honors a person who has passed on.

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Beth Kanter posted this photo to Flickr with a thank you note and update to donors after her campaign raised money for students in Cambodia. (Photo: cambodia4kidsorg / Creative Commons)

But the most common reason donors offer for not continuing to support an organization is lack of information about what has been accomplished with the money given so far before there’s a request for more. Finding out what donors want to know and making sure to tell them during the year is just as important—maybe even more important—than getting the year-end appeal in the mail on time.

What savvy development professionals can do

Looking ahead to the 2012 fundraising program, you’re probably already thinking about your communications with donors and prospective donors. How will you tell them—clearly, accurately, and persuasively—what the work they have supported is accomplishing and how important this support is to the morale of the people who do it? The books listed toward the end of the 2011 Donor Retention Supplement (the first link on that page) are full of ideas on how to do this well.

What savvy donors can do

If you’re looking ahead to the contributions you might make in 2012, consider your own priorities. What kind of community do you want to live in? What kind of world do you hope to see? Then find out which organizations are most likely to bring those visions to life.

If you have lingering questions about organizations you’ve supported in the past, you’ll do them a favor by asking. The request doesn’t need to be a demand, and the response doesn’t need to be a burden. If you can spark better communication between an organization and the donors who support it, that will be good for organization and donor alike.

How do you plan to communicate with your supporters (or learn more about the organizations you support) this year?

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Idea File: "Awesome" way to fund your innovation

If your New Year’s resolution was to make the everyday a little more awesome, check out today’s idea incubating model. Browse more Idea File posts here.

The idea

Every month, a group of 10 volunteer “micro-trustees” from a chapter of the Awesome Foundation each shell out $100 to fund an innovative idea in their city. While the criteria is vague and guidelines are generous to say the least, the overall goal is to fund new projects that make the world more fun and happy to live in. Who doesn’t want that?

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Though this is just one street in Cary, NC, the folks from the foundation are dedicated to “forwarding the interest of Awesome in the universe, $1,000 at a time.” Photo by moonlightbulb (Flickr/Creative Commons).

So far, they’ve helped support everything from an Indiana Jones simulator in Washington, D.C. to a rooftop beekeeping venture in Melbourne to birdhouse-sized free libraries in Chicago. Anyone with a catchy idea and the gusto to see it through can apply.

Why we’re adding it to the Idea File

  • Philanthropy for the people. This crowdsourced model makes philanthropy accessible to anyone, and enables you to sidestep the complex bureaucracy of foundations when seeking funding.
  • Enticing and easy application process. Their lighthearted spin on submitting an idea is a welcome break from the usual dry, jargon-heavy grant applications.
  • Local ideas, local (free!) money. Here’s your chance to revisit those seemingly crazy ideas jotted on a napkin in your drawer, and make an impact where you live.
  • Community building. Being a micro-trustee gives you the opportunity to meet others, not to mention a direct connection to innovators in your area. Besides, imagine how good you’ll feel when you’re walking down the block and see your money put to good use?

How you can replicate it

Currently, there are 29 chapters from Berlin to NYC to Zurich. But they’d love to see more; email contact@awesomefoundation.org to get one going where you live.

If you don’t think being part of the Awesome Foundation is for you, try browsing their blog. You’ll find no shortage of inspiring ideas (like aMoment’s adorable art) to bring to your community.


Like this idea? You might also want to check out the One Percent Foundation and the Sunday Soup Network, or read our post about a secret society that tests the boundaries of philanthropy.

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Discount code for Vivanista fundraising summit

Looking for practical ways to improve your fundraising, inspire donor loyalty, and broaden your community? Want to connect personally with other fundraisers and share your own expertise?

If you’re a volunteer manager or a nonprofit development professional and you’ll be in the San Francisco area from November 10-12, you can do all this and more at the Vivanista Fundraising Summit. And between now and September 30, Idealist blog readers can access a $60 discount off the ticket prices using the code IDEALIST-VIP.

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A Vivanista training (photo: Vivanista1, Flickr/Creative Commons)

The summit features dozens of bootcamp workshops, plus “TED-style talks” from the likes of Adriana Gasciogne of Girls in Tech; Susan Gordon, Director of Nonprofit Services at Causes.com; Darian Rodriguez Heyman, organizer of Social Media for Nonprofits; Robert Rosenthal of VolunteerMatch; Tamsin Smith of (RED); Julia Hartz of Eventbrite; Rick Smolan, photojournalist best known for the ‘Day In The Life’ series of books; and many others.

Learn more about the full summit lineup at http://vivanista.com/fundraising-summit/, or follow along on Facebook or Twitter (@Vivanista and #fundsummit).