Don Draper hates Louder, but we love it

At Idealist, we love good ideas of all kinds, but especially those that turn commonly-accepted notions on their heads, get us to confront our beliefs, and (maybe) stir up a little trouble. To honor ideas brave and bold, and inspired by Sydney, Australia’s Festival of Dangerous Ideas, we welcome you to Idealist in Action’s Dangerous Ideas Week.

Traditional advertising channels aren’t always available to nonprofit organizations, even though their messages are important for people to hear. Mainstream media ads, TV commercials, billboards—these are all out of reach for most small- to mid-size and even many large nonprofits.

In recent years, social media has helped nonprofits immensely: they can now reach targeted audiences and engage constituents in meaningful conversations at much lower costs. But nonprofits still have to compete with for-profit businesses for the most precious of resources: the attention of an increasingly distracted public.

Enter Louder

Louder is a new service that puts more advertising power into the hands of regular people. Louder is just getting started, but it has the potential to substantially disrupt traditional advertising models, and, if skillfully leveraged by the nonprofit sector and individuals doing good work, it could make a huge impact in our efforts to reach new audiences.

louder-bea7e63c9b6ae9c8c8ed08c21453d161

Here’s how it works:

  • Anyone can create a Louder campaign, at no cost. Simply choose a url that you want to promote (or “amplify,” in Louder’s parlance).
  • If you like a campaign, you can hit the “make it louder” button and contribute money to get it in front of new faces. A $3 donation is enough to reach about 1,000 people on Facebook. 86.5% of the donations go directly to advertising costs.
  • Much like a Kickstarter campaign, Louder campaigns will work best if they have an existing community of champions to help spread the word.
  • And there you have it: citizen-funded advertisements getting the right content in front of new audiences!

Louder isn’t specifically limited to social impact campaigns, but looking at their list of recent additions, it seems it’s mostly being used in that way. This is great news for anyone frustrated by the number of ads promoting consumerism that come across our screens on any given day.

Now the rest of us can assert a little control, and help our favorite causes get more attention. An idea worth shouting about, no?

What do you think? Is Louder going to be the next big thing to disrupt an entire industry?

*****
Join Idealist on March 11 as we launch a new global movement for action and change!

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Nix the partridge: 12 ways to spread joy past December

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From Flickr user AForestFrolic (Creative Commons)

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

No matter how you look at it, the next couple of weeks are sure to be full of a special seasonal energy. For some, that energy can verge on manic, which kind of takes the fun out of it.

For example, gift buying can get expensive. PNC Wealth Management calculates the 2011 cost of the gifts listed in the familiar “12 Days of Christmas” song at $24,263 – or over $100,000 if you decided to give a partridge in a pear tree twelve times, two turtle doves eleven times, and so forth ’til your true love’s tree would be surrounded by a jumble of 364 amazing gifts.

Here are twelve things you might do to brighten the season for yourself and others that don’t involve so many visits to the ATM.

Give time:

  • Look close to home and find a holiday project where you can pitch in as a volunteer via the search tools at the top of Idealist.org. Just using the word “holiday” in the box marked “What?” and “Seattle” in the box marked “Where?” turned up 14 different and interesting things to do in my hometown.
  • …And resolve to volunteer in 2014. Sure, a soup kitchen is an obvious choice at Thanksgiving and sorting toys is popular come Christmas. But can you commit to things after the holiday rush, fight the winter doldrums and get to know your community better? Set up Idealist Email Alerts to stay informed about volunteer opportunities.

Give attention:

  • Reminisce with family, friends, or neighbors. Look at snapshots from holidays past, talk about the times when things went right (or wrong – hopefully with only comic consequence), and record stories of holidays past. Storycorps has DIY tips.
  • Say ‘thanks’ to someone who works in community service. Look online for the name of the board chair or ED of an organization you admire and write a brief note of appreciation for what the organization contributes to the community.
  • Surprise a neighbor with a homemade treat or hand-picked seasonal bouquet. Best of all, do it anonymously, so there’s a bit of happy mystery about how it happened.
  • Experience your holiday in a new way. Attend a community group’s concert, dance performance, or play that you’ve never been to before. Even better: Take a kid or two along with you!

Give your voice:

  • Read aloud from a favorite holiday story-book. For those who celebrate Christmas, Google Books has an 1849 edition of A Visit from St. Nicholas (or “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas”) with fabulous illustrations online for free.
  • Sing! In the shower, with a group caroling in the neighborhood, in your place of worship…

If you can, give money.

  • Give cash. Times are tough for many of us, but for those who can spare even a few dollars, see my 2010 post full of tips for year-end donations.
  • Find a “Giving Tree” (or other community gift exchange for kids) and add your contribution to someone’s holiday cheer. The Marine Corps Reserve’s Toys for Tots is active in many communities.
  • Look abroad to places that need our help even once they’re out of the spotlight. The Philippines, for example, has lots of recovery work ahead. Google Disaster Relief also offers links to reliable ways to help out in many parts of the world, as do familiar newspapers and magazines; try a quick online search.

And, since I doubt your shopping list will disappear entirely…

  • Give experiences or contributions instead of objects. For theater-goers, a gift certificate for a pair of tickets. For mountain bikers, a membership in the local single-trackers club. Whatever your friends and family love to do, nudge them in that direction and you’ll get the vicarious pleasure of imagining them doing what they like best with your help. Alternatively, spread the warm glow by supporting a favorite organization in someone’s name.

Warm wishes from all of us at Idealist.org!

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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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Nix the partridge: 12 ways to spread joy past December

featured

From Flickr user AForestFrolic (Creative Commons)

No matter how you look at it, the next couple of weeks are sure to be full of a special seasonal energy. For some, that energy can verge on manic, which kind of takes the fun out of it.

For example, gift buying can get expensive. PNC Wealth Management calculates the 2011 cost of the gifts listed in the familiar “12 Days of Christmas” song at $24,263 – or over $100,000 if you decided to give a partridge in a pear tree twelve times, two turtle doves eleven times, and so forth ’til your true love’s tree would be surrounded by a jumble of 364 amazing gifts.

Here are twelve things you might do to brighten the season for yourself and others that don’t involve so many visits to the ATM.

Give time:

  • Look close to home and find a holiday project where you can pitch in as a volunteer via the search tools at the top of Idealist.org. Just using the word “holiday” in the box marked “What?” and “Seattle” in the box marked “Where?” turned up 11 different and interesting things to do in my hometown.
  • …And resolve to volunteer in 2012. Sure, a soup kitchen is an obvious choice at Thanksgiving and sorting toys is popular come Christmas. But can you commit to things after the holiday rush, fight the winter doldrums and get to know your community better? Set up Idealist Email Alerts to stay informed about volunteer opportunities.

Give attention:

  • Reminisce with family, friends, or neighbors. Look at snapshots from holidays past, talk about the times when things went right (or wrong – hopefully with only comic consequence), and record stories of holidays past. Storycorps has DIY tips.
  • Say ‘thanks’ to someone who works in community service. Look online for the name of the board chair or ED of an organization you admire and write a brief note of appreciation for what the organization contributes to the community.
  • Surprise a neighbor with a homemade treat or hand-picked seasonal bouquet. Best of all, do it anonymously, so there’s a bit of happy mystery about how it happened.
  • Experience your holiday in a new way. Attend a community group’s concert, dance performance, or play that you’ve never been to before. Even better: Take a kid or two along with you!

Give your voice:

  • Read aloud from a favorite holiday story-book. For those who celebrate Christmas, Google Books has an 1849 edition of A Visit from St. Nicholas (or “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas”) with fabulous illustrations online for free.
  • Sing! In the shower, with a group caroling in the neighborhood, in your place of worship…

If you can, give money.

  • Give cash. Times are tough for many of us, but for those who can spare even a few dollars, see my 2010 post full of tips for year-end donations.
  • Find a “Giving Tree” (or other community gift exchange for kids) and add your contribution to someone’s holiday cheer. The Marine Corps Reserve’s Toys for Tots is active in many communities.
  • Look abroad to places that need our help even once they’re out of the spotlight. Japan is still recovering from the earthquake, tsunami, and related damage to nuclear power plants and tens of thousands of houses. Haiti still struggles with the effects of the terrible earthquake there two years ago. Google Disaster Relief offers links to reliable ways to help out in many parts of the world, as do familiar newspapers and magazines; try a quick online search.

And, since I doubt your shopping list will disappear entirely…

  • Give experiences or contributions instead of objects. For theater-goers, a gift certificate for a pair of tickets. For mountain bikers, a membership in the local single-trackers club. Whatever your friends and family love to do, nudge them in that direction and you’ll get the vicarious pleasure of imagining them doing what they like best with your help. Alternatively, spread the warm glow by supporting a favorite organization in someone’s name.

Warm wishes from all of us at Idealist.org!

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Candy, ghosts…and year-end donations?

It’s that time of year! While many of us have been gathering treats for the goblins and ghouls who will appear at our doors tonight, fundraising and communications professionals at nonprofits across the country have been anxiously preparing their year-end fundraising appeals.

Why “anxiously”? Because the year-end appeal often makes the difference between a strong program next year and a struggle to achieve the mission. And because the sorry state and uncertain future of the economy is having an effect on public support for the work of nonprofits.

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Freaky: the fact that every store is about to begin blaring holiday tunes. Not freaky: deciding which organizations to support with any year-end donations you make! (Photo: Micah Sittig, Flickr/Creative Commons)

Year-end giving is a tradition that brings satisfaction to many families year after year. But sometimes the number of requests can be overwhelming. If you receive envelopes or emails day after day, you might wonder, “Is this much fundraising really necessary?” or “How could this possibly be efficient?”

It is necessary. Donations are an important way for organizations to get the money they need for all the things that contribute to valuable programs – from the vegetables at the soup kitchen to research on the root causes of problems.

But it’s true that fundraising could be a lot more efficient. And often, attentive donors can help on that front. If you’re planning to donate this year, here are some tips to help make sure your year-end contributions do the most good.

  • Have a plan. Decide in advance how much you can afford to give this year and what causes or groups you want to help.
  • Take the initiative. If you already know the groups you want to support, make your gifts without waiting to be asked. You can send along a request that the groups you support not solicit you further; that’s a good idea at any time of year. But if you do get a year-end appeal anyway you can recycle it with a clear conscience…or pass it along to a friend who might share your interest.
  • Be clear. If you get a year-end appeal from an organization that’s not in your plan, let them know and ask that they not send you fundraising appeals. When you do send a gift, suggest that the recipient limit any future appeals to you. Helping an organization avoid the costs of making a pointless request is a small but real contribution to their work.
  • Consider volunteering. Many organizations offer special, expanded services at this time of year. Joining such a project adds a new dimension to the celebrations of the season.
  • And this year, if you can, maybe stretch a little. Nonprofits in every community are helping people cope with the effects of the bad economy. If you’re doing ok, do a little bit more so they can do their jobs better.

Let us know if you have tips to add – either from the nonprofit fundraising perspective, or the individual donor point of view (maybe both!). And happy Halloween!

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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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'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!)

featured

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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New GuideStar Report: The Effect of The Economy on the Nonprofit Sector

Almost everyone has felt the effects of the less than stellar economic performance in the first half of this year. This is no less true for the majority of nonprofit organizations as seen in GuideStar’s report on The Effect of The Economy on the Nonprofit Sector for the first half of 2010 released last week.

Nonprofit organizations have been particularly affected this year on two fronts. With unemployment rates barely moving and the number of people coming off of jobless benefits rising, folks have increasingly turned to local community organizations to help fill the gap in services that they can no longer afford. Sixty-three percent of surveyed organizations reported an increase in demand for their services between January 1, 2010 and May 31, 2010. At the same time, more than 40% of organizations reported a decrease in donations and other funding streams. The strain on nonprofits has been so high that 17% of organizations had to cut programs and services and 8% said they were in imminent danger of closing.

From flickr user jasoon (Creative Commons)

If you’ve been considering donating to an organization whose work you support, you might want to consider donating now. You can find financial information on the nonprofit of your choice at GuideStar.org.

If you’re worried about the nonprofits in your community but not currently in a position to donate, there are other ways to help. About a third of organizations reported that they have increased their reliance on volunteers as a way to support their programmatic work and not cut services. You can search for a local volunteer opportunity here — and remember, volunteering is a great asset in career development if you find yourself temporarily out of work.

[This blog entry appeared on an older version of Idealist; any broken links are a result of having re-launched our site in Fall 2010.]

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