Funding & Philanthropy


Snag one of those daily deals (and give back)

Tons of sites are putting a do-gooder spin on the Groupon model.

A few months ago I wrote about G-Team, the cause-based, collective action website that eventually sparked Groupon. Groupon is no longer running solo with LivingSocial, Google Offers, and Facebook’s Deals, amongst many others, now competing in the local, social deal business.

The huge success of these platforms has also caught the eye of some new startups that see the potential to use this model to support the work of nonprofit organizations. Here are just a few of them:

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    Has your organization joined GoodTwo? What do you think so far?

    goodtwo: Nonprofits can create a page, pick a deal, and then share with their constituents through tools that the company provides for social media and email promotion. About 25% of each sale goes to the nonprofit, so it’s a unique, fun fundraising opportunity that puts a modern twist on the old bake sale and wrapping paper model.

  • Philanthroper: They say they’re another daily deal site, but instead of selling something, they’re sharing the story of a new nonprofit every day. If you identify with the story, you can donate a $1 to the organization to help fund it’s work. It’s a great way to disconnect from that shop ‘til you drop mentality, and connect with new nonprofits that need your support to scale their model.
  • CAUSEON, The Daily Hookup, and so many others. CAUSEON sends 20% of each daily deal sale to local community causes, while The Daily Hookup pitches deals relevant to the gay community, then sends 5% of each sale to local 501(c)(3)s that support LGBT organizations.

There are hundreds of daily deal sites now (DonorBuy.com just joined our site, for example), so it’s great to see some of these companies trying to differentiate themselves from the competition by pursuing models that benefit the nonprofit sector.

Know of any others I didn’t mention here? Ever snagged a particularly awesome deal? Shout it out in a comment below.

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Do-gooder contests: Home Depot, GQ, and Nascar

Want to support an issue you care about or help someone get the recognition they deserve? If you’re the type to ask for a power saw for your birthday or get riled at the racetrack, then the following might interest you:

Home Depot Foundation’s Aprons in Action program
Think this mega home improvement store only exists to help you tile your bathroom? Think again. Company associates don their trademark orange apron well after the workday ends to help economically disadvantaged vets and their families build better houses. Home Depot features four team projects each month, and is asking you to vote on Facebook which one nails it. Winning project receives a $25,000 gift card at, you guessed it, Home Depot. You’ll have the opportunity to vote every month until February next year, but this month’s deadline is June 30.

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Hammer this into your brain: apply soon! Photo by David Blaine (Flickr/Creative Commons).

GQ’s Better Men Better World Search
The Gentlemen’s Fund, the men’s magazine’s philanthropic arm, is on the hunt to put the “good” in good looking. The target? Ordinary dudes in the U.S. who are at least 18 years old and are making a difference through charity, volunteerism or community involvement. Winner receives a glossy package: a donation of $10,000 to a charity of his choice, a promotional in GQ, a trip to NYC to be honored, $2,000 pocket cash, and a Movado watch. May the best man win. Deadline to apply is July 6.

NASCAR Foundation’s Betty Jane France Humanitarian Award
These prestigious car racing fans aren’t just about speed and glory; they’re also about driving change in their communities. U.S. NASCAR fans who are 16 and older and champion children’s issues are eligible to receive a $100,000 donation to a youth charity of their choice. The victory is certainly sweet: winner also receives a 2012 Ford Explorer and all-expense paid trips to both NASCAR race weekend and the Spring Cup Series Champion’s Week for their charitable efforts. Three finalists will also get in on the action. Deadline to apply is July 18.

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"Open up philanthropy": Lucy Bernholz at PdF 2011

Last week I got to attend the annual Personal Democracy Forum (PdF), a conference that crams two days full of nearly 40 talks and panels that explore technology’s impact on politics and government.

This is the first of a few posts about PdF11 takeaways that might be of of particular interest to our community. This one is about Lucy Bernholz; watch the video of her talk here.

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Lucy Bernholz blogs at philanthropy.blogspot.com

“I need your help to open up philanthropy,” said self-described philanthropy wonk Lucy Bernholz. How many of us, Bernholz asked, have researched a nonprofit on GreatNonprofits or GuideStar, backed a project on Kickstarter, or made a loan through Kiva? Thanks to sites like these, we can access vetted information about the causes we care about, feel confident that diligence has been done, and add our own testimonials so that others can do the same.

Contrast that, Bernholz said, with the experience of applying for a grant. We spend hours on end researching, editing, and laying out our ideas and plans to do something specific in hopes of making our communities better. At long last, we submit the application and – then what?

From Bernholz’s transcript:

In a best-case scenario, the due diligence by each funder unleashes one grant.

In the usual scenario, the due diligence results in no grant and no information sharing on what was proposed.

Imagine being able to unlock the vaults on what the Carnegie Corporation, literally the grand daddy of American foundations, knows about after school programs [...] or what we could learn from the Gates Foundation about improving libraries or distributing vaccines.

But how do we get foundations to share this information? Bernholz pointed out that several foundations and organizations are already leading by example: from the DonorsChoose hackathon supported by Bing to the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, “which feeds all of its grants out in an RSS feed as well as on Twitter.” She implored the crowd at PdF11 (mostly tech geeks) to do three things: ask foundations to share the data they have about what’s been proposed and what works; give them permission to share your information when you apply for grants; and show them what their data can look like. If we do this, we can give communities and planners access to a vast amount of information about good ideas and good projects – the ones that are funded as well as those that aren’t.

Do you work in philanthropy? Or do you rely on foundations to run your programs? I’d love to hear what you think of Bernholz’s talk, specifically:

  • Why aren’t more foundations already sharing data like this? What are the main barriers and challenges?
  • Do you believe, as Bernholz does, that “we need to hold foundations – which hold private resources in trust for the public good – accountable to that public good”?
  • Do you have a favorite example of a foundation’s transparency leading to positive change in a community or around an issue?

The full transcript and video are here.

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Want to keep donors coming back? Pay attention.

Are the appeal letters you send to supporters a helpful reminder or a huge turn-off?

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Flickr user Shane Adams purchased a cow through Heifer International. Photo: ishane/Creative Commons

Last week I wrote that the first thing I want when I make a donation is a simple, quick thank you. It’s the no-brainer, proven “donor retention strategy” every organization should follow.

Paying attention to what donors want in a wider sense is, though, a little more complicated.

One day I ended up sitting next to the charming ED of a large organization in my home town that I’ve supported in a small way for years.  I said to him, “You know, I send you guys a check every year, and almost before it lands in your mailbox, I get an appeal for additional support.  I’m at the point where I’d almost rather forget about making my gift if I get more than one reminder a year.”

His answer?  “Those systems are automated.  The only way I could make sure you only get one reminder would be to put your name and address in my tickler file and do it myself.”

I can’t remember my answer, but I do remember being astonished. I still get way too many reminders…and I still make a gift every year. I guess I value their services enough to put up with this familiar feeling that no one is paying attention.

Still, I’d love it if the organizations I support could operate their development departments efficiently and still pay attention to the requests that donors make about how they want to be treated in the future. Admittedly, those two goals are a little bit in conflict.  The most “efficient” way to handle the daily incoming mail is to open it immediately, record the donors’ names and gifts in some database, and deposit the checks.  The most respectful way is to examine the post-it notes and scribbles on the donor-response forms to see whether there’s any sort of message there, and then do as much as possible to honor any reasonable request.

In a busy organization, being able to honor requests depends on having systems in place that match what donors want, which takes us back to square one and then on to square two.  Say “thank you;” pay attention. That’s the “donor retention strategy” that has the greatest promise of success.

Has your development department found a way to balance both of these priorities?

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An easy way to get more donations

Wondering what donors want?

Well, what do you want – when you make a gift to a friend, a wedding couple, a grandchild, or a community organization?

The first thing I want is just a “thank you.” Often that’s enough. And if I want anything more, it’s to know that my gift made a difference was welcomed and put to use.

Penelope Burk is famous in fundraising circles for researching what donors want. As Guidestar reported last summer in its newsletter, Burk found that organizations where board members call key donors to say “thanks” see an increase in donations of 39% —without anyone doing any asking at all.

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From vistamommy (Flickr/Creative Commons)

Saying thank you—quickly!—is the proven “donor retention strategy” that seems to fall off the edge of the desk a little too often.  When coupled with a brief message about the difference donations make to the success of the organization, it’s about the best thing a nonprofit can do to keep the flow of donations coming.

Not every organization can use this exact technique.  But every organization can think about what donors want, which is probably the more direct route to getting what the organization needs – more donations.

Have you tried having board members call your supporters? What works for you?

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Why do people donate?

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From Flickr user Alan/Falcon (Creative Commons)

Hope Consulting wanted to find out why people donate to good causes, and specifically what would encourage people to focus on supporting organizations that get results. What they found is published online in “Money for Good” (a pdf). According to the study, here’s how the universe of donors divides up:

  • 23% support organizations that have helped them or a loved one in the past
  • 18% give to well-known organizations, often through payroll deductions
  • 16% give to organizations they feel are making the greatest social impact
  • 16% choose organizations that match their religious beliefs
  • 14% look for small organizations where their gift makes a bigger difference
  • 13% give to organizations where they know people or where their friends also give

Only a third of the people they surveyed reported doing any research before giving, and nearly two-thirds of those donors do the research only to check up on an organization they have already decided to support (to “validate” the choice, in the researchers’ words).

Hope Neighbor, the leader of the consulting group, described herself in a profile on FastCompany with a bit of chagrin about her own habits. “I am mired in inertia,” she said, “and I definitely don’t choose the best organization. The way we act is different than the way we think we act. It’s true for me as for any of the people surveyed.”

My takeaways?

Donors: think about what you want to accomplish with your gifts and then spend some time exploring whether the recipients are aligned with those goals. (Here’s how.) It won’t take long to put you in the top ranks of intentional donors.

Organizations: your work isn’t going to appeal to every group of donors, so figure out which donor-profile fits your work and your mission. Once you’ve done that, make sure they are able to find the information they look for on your website, in your “support us” mailings, and in the presentations you make. If your messages don’t match what your core supporters are looking for, you’re wasting your time – and disappointing people who might find great satisfaction in supporting your work.

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Spotted: Contests and fellowships to fund your great ideas

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Buoy your idea with the help of others. Photo of colorful buoys by Flickr user hermanturnip (Creative Commons).

Competition makes the world go round, and pushes us to make good ideas even better. Here are some folks who want you (yes, you!) to throw your hat in the ring for a little—er, a lot—of support:

  • MIT’s IDEAS Competition. Grab your fellow world changing nerds, reach out to a community partner and come up with a solution to a problem of your choice. (Caveat: one third of all teams must attend MIT.) If you want to win $10,000, get your proposal in by February 5.
  • Yoxi’s “Balance Your Digital Diet” Competition. Curbing digital addiction – can it be done? Yoxi, a hip social game, invites you to slim down on tweeting, Facebooking, emailing, and more. Register your team by February 7 to be in the running for up to $40,000.
  • Toyota Ideas for Good Contest. From a solar powered ventilation system to advanced injury simulation, the Japanese car company has implemented some pretty awesome technologies in its vehicles. The challenge? Use ‘em to drive change outside the automotive world. Deadline to submit and win your own ride is February 28.
  • PopTech’s Social Innovation Fellows. Are you an ambitious changemaker with a bright idea? Nominate yourself, or someone you know, for the chance to gain tools, skills and contacts in the social entrepreneurship field, as well as an opportunity to speak on stage at PopTech’s annual conference. Nominations close March 11.

Know of any others? Leave a comment below.

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Survey says: What's the state of the nonprofit sector today?

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Screen shot from the Nonprofit Finance Fund website

Do you have a few minutes to fill out a survey? If so, you can help the Nonprofit Finance Fund understand what’s happening now, in order to better advocate on behalf of the sector’s needs. The survey gets a good deal of attention from funders, media, and nonprofits themselves, so it’s up to all of us* to make it strong and accurate.

Watch the “awesome video” about why the Nonprofit Finance Fund is conducting its State of the Nonprofit Sector survey for the third year in a row. (If you prefer, there’s the “moving drama” version or the “terrifying horror” version to watch instead; to tell the truth, all three are pretty much the same, but the different soundtracks are good for a smile.) The videos give a glimpse of the results from the 2010 survey and look ahead to what can be learned from people who complete the 2011 survey between now and February 15th.

You can take the survey at http://nonprofitfinancefund.org/2011-nonprofit-sector-survey.

Want to view the results from 2010? The full results from last year are in this file (pdf).

*If you’re not the right person to be taking this survey, you might pass along the link to someone at a nonprofit you care about who can answer the questions. The more data from the real world the survey collects, the better the information the Nonprofit Finance Fund can offer to funders, policy makers, and anyone else who cares about this work.

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

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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The couch potato's guide to being an active supporter

Via flickr user fergie_lancealot (creative commons)

I recently read that this Sunday’s New York City marathon has the highest number of people running on behalf of charities in the event’s history, expecting to raise over $26.2 million dollars. That’s a million dollars for every mile. That’s a lot of money and a lot of people willing to run a long way to support a cause they believe in.

Walk/run events such as The Susan G. Komen For The Cure event, March for Equality, and the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer are popular with nonprofit organizations, maybe because they’re such visible fundraisers and awareness-raisers. (Who hasn’t heard of them)?

One of my friends recently participated in the AIDS/LifeCycle event in California, a 545 mile, 7 day bike trip. I would have loved to support the cause by riding with him, but let’s face it, I would have probably required medical attention after mile one. I donated on behalf of my friend’s race, but I was still left wanting to be in an event instead of just cheering on the sidelines.

So, I searched for events that were more up my ally and matched my physical stamina:

  • Dance-a-thons: I can definitely boogie all night. Check out the 24 Hour Cancer Dance-a-thon.
  • Movember: Teams of dudes raise money and grow mustaches in the month of November to raise awareness around men’s cancers.
  • Donate your birthday: Hannah blogged about this phenomenon last year. I love my birthday more than the average Joe, so this is a big one for me. Ask your social networks to make a donation on your behalf to an organization that you support.

Boom: My excuse to not fundraise for a cause I believe in because I’m out of shape is out the window. Have any other non-athletic fundraising ideas?

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