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!)
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:
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:
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:
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.
The 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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
You know what distinguishes vivid, memorable dreams from the vague, forgettable ones?
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.
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
Now 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:
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Innovation is in the air! Dust the cobwebs from your brain and polish your ideas for a better world before these opportunities disappear:
Know of more contests and awards our community should be aware of? Leave a comment below!
Today’s idea funding model
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.
Why we’re adding it to the Idea File
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:
“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.”
If you’re inspired to bring Sunday Soup to your community, feel free to email Amy for more advice: email@example.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.
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:
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.
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?
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.
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?
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
How you can replicate it
Currently, there are 29 chapters from Berlin to NYC to Zurich. But they’d love to see more; email firstname.lastname@example.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.
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.
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.