Action Alert: How one woman is using yoga to support a good cause

A series where we highlight people using their passions to make a difference in their communities.

Once a month on Saturday evenings, yoga students walk into a dimly lit studio at The People’s Yoga in Portland, Oregon. They bring with them their mats, their water, and a desire to give back.

They drop however many dollars they can into a donation jar set out on a table with brochures from NAMI: National Alliance on Mental Illness. Then they assume child’s pose while a meditative guitar plays in the background.

The donation-based yoga class is taught by Melina Donalson, a former costume and fashion designer who turned to yoga almost two decades ago to calm her mind amidst the fast-paced life in Los Angeles.


Melina welcoming students outside the The People’s Yoga on Killingsworth street in Portland, Oregon.

“I was totally burned out on all the ego and materialism in that world,” she says. “I was just too sensitive for it.”

While in California, Melina would teach yoga to friends in exchange for food, books, or anything else they felt like offering. When she moved to Portland in 2009, she knew she wanted to continue giving through teaching.

“The years of practicing have really helped me be kind to people and react in mindful ways to the world around me,” she says. “It’s an important part of yoga philosophy to be of service.”

Melina’s dad lives with a mental illness. Every other month she sends a check to NAMI as her small way of helping the cause. Sometimes it’s $30. Other times it’s a few hundred dollars. Grateful for the personal touch of support, the organization sends her a thank you letter each time, no matter the donation.

For Melina, everything seemed to fall into place once she knew what she wanted to do.

“It’s almost effortless,” she says. “It takes emails, it takes organizing, it takes being present and showing up.”

By creating a welcoming environment, she also hopes the class helps students who might be new to yoga and are nervous or afraid.

“It’s a beautiful feeling to see people leave class so relaxed. They feel good and they know where their donation is going,” she says. “That’s my whole intention with that class. To make people feel good.”


Want to use your yoga skills for good? Melina would happily answer questions about everything from getting in contact with the right people to staying encouraged. Reach her at

Do you know someone who is taking a small step toward making their community better? Email

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Beards BeCAUSE: A growing movement against domestic violence

Each day, people like you have ideas on how to make the world a better place, but don’t know how to put their ideas into action. To help you take the first step, we’re profiling social entrepreneurs who are tackling issues that are important to them, one step at a time.

The idea

I’m of the belief that every man, if their follicles allow it, benefits from a beard. So I was thrilled to discover Beards BeCAUSE, a volunteer-run nonprofit in Charlotte, NC that encourages men to put their razors away during the last few months of the year to raise money to end domestic violence.


From left: Scott, Wendy, and Jared.

Founded by Jared Yerg, Scott Doerr and Wendy Shanahan in 2007, the charity keeps with the city’s tradition of throwing epic philanthropy parties, but appeals to scruffier donors who can’t afford $90 plates.

“We wanted to do something that was more blue collar,” Jared says. “We wanted to host affordable gatherings for people who wanted to come out, have a good time, and get a little educated about domestic violence here in Charlotte and abroad.”

The idea came to Jared and Scott while they were sitting in a wine bar one Sunday afternoon. A guy with a beard walked in, and the two friends started one-upping another about who could grow a better one. Soon the idea morphed into a city-wide competition. With the Charlotte police receiving close to 32,000 calls about domestic violence per year, adding the charitable layer seemed a no-brainer.

“As a masculine effort we wanted it to be for a feminine cause,” he says.

Now in its sixth year, the rising popularity of beards hasn’t deterred the organization in the least. The number of participants – called growers – remains steady each year, women can now participate, and more importantly, Beards BeCAUSE has become an integral go-to resource in the domestic violence community.

“The beard is less shocking now so it’s one of those things where we can concentrate and focus on the advocacy more,” Jared says.


Within 45 minutes of writing their idea down on a napkin, Jared and Scott had the name, what they wanted to do, and how they wanted to do it. They arranged a meeting with the Community Relations Director of Safe Alliance, a local shelter. One week later they serendipitously met Wendy, their design, IT and PR woman, at a beer stand at Oktoberfest and set up a website shortly after.

Jared is a self-professed connector type who by day is a contract specialist for an energy company, and by night is involved in the arts and music scene. He knows a lot of people. Despite the help, he and the team still faced some challenges making Beards BeCAUSE a viable and long-lasting charity.

Obstacle: Comfort when talking about domestic violence
Solution: At the beginning of each fundraising season they bring in speakers from shelters, the police department, and more for an educational night. They also give growers business cards that explain what they’re doing and why, and buttons that say “Ask me.”

“One of the biggest things that scared me our first year was that someone was going to come up to one of our growers and ask them why they were doing this. And they’d say, ‘Well I don’t have to shave for two months and they have awesome parties,” Jared says.

Obstacle: Maintaining momentum
Solution: Awesome parties, of course. The Clean Shaven event in October gives growers the resources they need to talk comfortably and intelligently about the issue. The 5 O’clock Shadow event in November makes sure things are going smoothly, and helps create camaraderie between growers. Throughout the month, which coincides with No Shave November and Movember, the growers themselves also host their own small fundraisers at happy hours or hockey nights.

The finale is in December at a local music venue. There are bands, beauticians from local salons doing creative trimming, a silent auction featuring donated items from local businesses, and an awards ceremony.

Obstacle: Staying relevant
Solution: Making sure there is always something going on that keeps their charity in the forefront of people’s minds. During the other ten months of the year, they organize things like the No Laughing Matter comedy night and a fashion show featuring burgeoning designers and models wearing prosthetic beards. It’s a win-win: they raise additional money, and every time someone sees facial hair they think of Beards BeCAUSE.



Jared and Scott start clean.

The organization has raised $214,000 to date. The money goes to Safe Alliance’s supplemental needs, taxi fare for a child staying at the shelter to get to school, for example, or replacement textbooks.

In recent years, they’ve tested the Beards BeCAUSE model in Atlanta, Pittsburgh, and Woodstock. Despite meeting with mixed success, they’d love to see the concept work nationally. And if only ends up being just Jared, well that’s fine, too.

“I can honestly say if in 10 years it’s just me, growing a beard for two months and raising $200 for the shelter, then that’s what I’m going to continue to do,” he says.

Jared is aware that the fundraiser works so well in Charlotte because of the team’s widespread and far-reaching connections in the community. While this is always an advantage, here are some other tips from Jared about how to make your idea a reality:

  • Tap into local community businesses and venues to help trim costs.
  • Anticipate your technical needs from the start, and know who you can talk to for help.
  • Just ask. You never really know what you’re going to get.
  • Always thanks people, no matter how small the support.
  • Don’t shortchange any idea you have.

“If you have an idea, just run with it,” he finally says. “We started with an idea on bar napkin and here were are six years later. You never know what you’re going to be able to do until you try.”

Inspired to adapt the Beards BeCAUSE model to end domestic violence where you live? Reach out to Jared for advice:

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Idea File: One City’s Guide to Giving

Year-end appeals may have ended, but it’s never too late to start planning for the next go-around.

The idea

In December, you most likely received a slew of emails from nonprofits near and far asking you to continue their support. If you’re anything like me, you probably felt overwhelmed.

Here in Portland, OR one alternative newspaper is trying to make shuffling through the noise of year-end giving easier. Willamette Week’s (WW) annual Give!Guide features 110 nonprofits in eight different categories from animals to youth to give your cash to at the end of the year.

It’s a win-win: Local organizations receive money to support all the awesome work they do, and you get incentives ranging from a free cup of Stumptown coffee to oh yes, an ice cream party for 200 of your closest friends at the best scoop in town.

While the guide is open to anyone to donate, the focus is on the 35 and under crowd.

“We have the least amount of money and most view philanthropy as something you do when you’re older or only if you’re wealthy,” says 27-year-old Nick Johnson, Give!Guide’s Executive Director. “We want to break through that barrier and make it clear to people that you are philanthropist even if you give $10.”

Recently completing its 9th year, Give!Guide has raised over seven million dollars in total, with nearly two million this past year alone. Complemented by the Skidmore Prize, which highlights four young nonprofit rockstars, and a volunteer guide one month later, WW is tapping into one of the many reasons why Portland is quickly becoming one of top cities in the U.S. to make a tangible difference.

“I can go through the list and name which groups from my life in Portland have affected and shaped me,” Nick says. “Anybody who lives here, even if they just moved, can’t avoid being influenced by one of them.”

Why we’re adding it to the Idea File

  • Makes giving easy. Instead of going to multiple websites or writing numerous checks, all the nonprofits are there on one web page for you to choose from. Nick has found that the average donor will give to three nonprofits at once.
  • Raises awareness of local nonprofits, especially smaller ones. While larger nonprofits are included, it’s the smaller nonprofits that seem to benefit the most. “We bring them in new people, they get the fundraising experience and connect with other nonprofits,” Nick says.
  • Kickstarts philanthropy in the young. The 65 and older group, which has traditionally been the biggest donor base, are increasingly less likely to increase donations. “We think that younger people need to begin stepping up,” Nick says.
  • Collective effort to help the sector as a whole. It can’t be denied that there’s power in numbers. “When you create a critical mass of 110 groups and all their marketing departments and volunteers and staff are promoting it, it becomes a bigger thing than if one group was doing their own Kickstarter thing,” Nick says.

Give!Guide’s Executive Director Nick Johnson holding one of the lawn signs. (Photo via Willamette Week’s V.Kapoor.)


How you can replicate it

A version of the Give!Guide exists in some other places around the country, such as Colorado Springs, CO and Lexington, KY, but Nick would love to see the idea in even more cities. Already a handful of communities have reached out to WW for ideas.

If you’re thinking about doing something like this where you live, below are some tips from Nick on how to implement it. You don’t necessarily need newspaper backing; a group of nonprofits could easily create one.

Working with nonprofits

  • Choose the number or organizations based on capacity. Richard Meeker, the Willamette Week Publisher and Co-Owner, started the Give!Guide in 2004 with just 20 organizations, the number which has been increasing each year. Nick is now its only full-time employee, and feels 110 is a manageable number not only for him to be a dedicated resource for the organizations, but a way to keep the attention focused.
  • Have a selection committee that’s legitimate and has a wide reach in the nonprofit community. Last year,  WW’s publisher and accountant, staff from a local science museum and youth organization, and the former ED from the Nonprofit Association of Oregon chose which nonprofits appeared in the guide.
  • Include a variety of organizations. Have a balance of smaller and larger nonprofits (mammoth orgs are a good lure for the tiny ones), a range of categories, and fresh causes each year. “We want there to be some turnover so it doesn’t become a calcified thing and doesn’t shift,” says Nick, who tries to include 30% new orgs every year.
  • Encourage nonprofits to help you promote the guide. Ask them to push it on their social media channels, as well as in their community face-to-face. Give!Guide also ramps up the competitiveness by giving $500 to the nonprofits in each category who get the most individual donors under 35.
  • Pay attention to the small guys. Nick learned that nonprofits will have different expectations about what they want out of the Give!Guide. While the large orgs will usually not have a problem raising funds, the smaller ones might. So Nick put statistical reporting in place to make sure he was giving them equal attention. “If you want to manage a large group of nonprofits, you have to keep an eye on both the successes and the improvement areas,” he says. “I want these groups to walk away happy.”

Engaging the community

  • Provide incentives. Although Nick has found roughly 20% of people will opt out of receiving rewards such as discounted coupons  or a year-round show pass to local music venue or , he thinks it’s still a nice way to thank people and show appreciation. Working with businesses also helps their philanthropic image and brings in new customers, and on the flipside, introduces Give!Guide to an audience it may not have reached.
  • Consider the types of businesses you partner with. Be aware that nonprofits and businesses might have competing interests, and if the guide is part of a newspaper, keep the editorial separate.
  • Recognize local changemakers. The Skidmore Prize not only highlights the fact that many young people are involved with nonprofits, but helps the sector at large by keeping them motivated with a $4,000 prize. “If we can keep pushing them forward, that’s a huge asset for that organization and a huge asset for the city,” Nick says.
  • Be prepared for a slew of donations after the holidays. People will usually wait until the last minute to donate after they’re done with holiday shopping. This is an ideal time to encourage new donors.
  • Make donors feel they are a part of something. Whether it’s citizenship badge stickers or lawn signs, for example, having swag not only markets the guide, but helps people feel connected to a larger movement.

“People are bombarded so much. You can’t be passive,” Nick finally says. “That’s my biggest piece of advice.”

Inspired to create your own Give!Guide? Feel free to reach out to Nick Johnson for more advice:

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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Unique partnerships: How beer brewers are working with nonprofits to support social change


Many beer brewers are passionate about perfecting their craft while making a difference. (Photo credit: visitflanders, Creative Commons/Flickr)

Summer has finally arrived here in Oregon, and with that, craft beer month. In July, we celebrate Oregon brewers by hosting a variety of events including festivals, tastings, and meet-and-greets. While some folks kick off the summer by relaxing in the sun with a great beer, many breweries and nonprofits in Oregon and around the country are using our love of this beverage to work together and do some good.

To help budding brewers develop their businesses and careers, the Glen Hay Falconer Foundation in Oregon has a scholarship program that sends brewers from the Pacific Northwest to the Siebel Institute of Technology and the American Brewers Guild to further their knowledge and expertise of the industry. Additionally, the Foundation hosts an annual golf tournament that kicks off the Oregon Brewers Festival. During this event, participants pair up with local brewers for a morning of golf and beer to support the growing northwestern tradition of crafting beer. By supporting local brewers, the foundation ensures the industry and history of northwestern brewing live on.

Another foundation created by craft-beer lovers, brewers, and distributors is the Beer for Brains Foundation in Arizona. Beer for Brains is a nonprofit dedicated to raising awareness about brain cancer, helping fund groundbreaking research leading to a cure, and giving compassion to its victims. Each year they host large-scale craft-beer appreciation and fundraising events all over the country working in partnership with breweries and local organizations. The money raised goes to support the development of cutting-edge brain cancer research and treatment options at the Barrow Brain Tumor Research Center (BTRC), in Phoenix, AZ. The goal is to encourage people to have fun while making a difference.

The Dogfish Head Craft Brewery in Delaware also encourages people to have fun while doing good by donating beer, brewpub gift certificates, and Dogfish merchandise to local nonprofits. One of their biggest efforts has been the Dogfish Dash – a 5 and 10K run. Over the past few years, the race has raised more than $100,000 for the Delaware chapter of The Nature Conservancy.

Whether or not you’re a beer connoisseur, you can find plenty of social events that combine entertainment and an opportunity to give back. Ask around and check out what’s going on around where you live! Or if YOU want to partner with a local brewery, find one near you and ask if they work with nonprofits. Meanwhile, here at Idealist, we’ll say “cheers” to enjoying a beer while benefiting our community.

Have you partnered with beer brewers? Share your experiences below.

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Nonprofit Finance Fund survey deadline: Feb 15

Another day, another dollar, another survey

imageEach year, the Nonprofit Finance Fund surveys U.S. nonprofits. The goals are to document the issues being faced by community-serving organizations and to identify ways the fund itself, and other supporters of the work of nonprofits, can be most useful.

It takes maybe 15 minutes to complete the survey, which requires a pretty broad knowledge of an organization’s activities – from the state of the finances to relationships with funders to the board of directors.

Do you have that knowledge? Take the survey today! And if that’s not you, consider passing the request along to someone who has a good handle on how things are going. The survey closes on February 15.

Why take the survey?
Accurate information about what nonprofits can and can’t do is really important now as governments at every level struggle to meet community needs. Many foundations are cutting back on grants; others are shifting their priorities to meet new challenges; and individuals—whether donors, patrons, visitors, or clients—are feeling the pinch and watching their wallets with new caution. Accurate and up-to-date information about the state of nonprofits and their finances will help policy-makers, philanthropists, and program managers avoid mistakes that could make a bad situation worse.

Want to learn more about nonprofit finances?

Here are more resources:

  • The Urban Institute’s annual fundraising survey, conducted with the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University and other collaborators.
  • From the IRS, a new search tool that allows you to check on the exempt status of an organization directly on the web.
  • The final version of the Form 990 for 2011 (the one larger organizations will need to file by May 15, 2012) is now available for download (PDF). The form 990-EZ will be published soon. There is no change in the Form 990-N (“e-postcard”) used by small organizations to maintain exempt status.

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Take professional development into your own hands


How will you carve out time to learn and reflect? Photo: US Army (Flickr/Creative Commons)

Need professional development, but don’t have a budget for travel or tuition? Here are a bunch of free or relatively affordable upcoming trainings we’ve spotted recently – ones you can join from the comfort of your own desk or couch.

Special thanks to Ben Hastil for his contributions to this roundup.

Telling your organization’s story

Show me the money

  • Grantseeking basics, fundraising planning, nonprofit sustainability…find trainings in these topics and more at your nearest Foundation Center.

Social media

  • Social Media for Social Good events: Heather Mansfield of DIOSA Communications and Nonprofit Tech 2.0 has lined up one-day intensive social media trainings in conjunction with the launch of her book. They aren’t free, but they do benefit local nonprofits in the host cities.

Become a better manager

  • The Management Center’s upcoming “Managing to Change the World” trainings are sold out, but you can access tons of free worksheets to strengthen your delegation skills, hiring practices, organizational culture, and more.
Dig out of debt
  • This might fit better under “personal” than “professional” development, but hey – lots of us have loans to pay, and I’d bet that those take a toll on our overall morale, and thus our work performance. If your new year’s resolution was to conquer your student loans, check out Heather Jarvis and her resources for Public Service Loan Forgiveness in Five Easy Steps.
What else is on your radar?
Of course, attending conferences or more intensive trainings and retreats can also be a way to deepen your skills and knowledge. And after you take advantage of any opportunities like these, it’s important to make space to reflect on how you’ll implement your new skills, as New Organizing Institute pointed out recently.
What do you plan to do in 2012 to ensure you are growing as a professional?

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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.

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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Headlines: Crowdfunding; a party bus for volunteers; and more

Just a few articles that caught our attention recently:

Crowdsourcing a Better World and On the Web, a Revolution in Giving (New York Times Opinionator blog):

In the first piece, Tina Rosenberg explores “what crowdsourcing can do to help civilians contribute to social change in a way that is both useful and emotionally satisfying.” In the latter, she breaks down the strengths and drawbacks of crowdfunding sites like DonorsChoose and Kickstarter.

Next Stop, Volunteering! The Do Good Bus Makes Community Service Easy and Fun (GOOD):

From the article:

For her birthday, [co-founder Rebecca] Pontius organized a party bus and noticed the camaraderie created amongst her friends just by traveling to a new location together. Teaming up with two of her friends, Hannah Halliwell and Stephen Snedden, the trio decided to combine the fun of a party bus with a service trip as a way to make volunteering easy and accessible.

Why Sting Operations Cheapen Public Policy Discourse (Nonprofit Quarterly):

NPR. ACORN. Planned Parenthood. Sting operations, writes Rick Cohen, “have reduced public discourse to the level of ‘Candid Camera.'” Cohen argues that in this era it is important for nonprofits to stay transparent; stand firm in their beliefs; keep egos in check; and correct misguided staff, improve management, and train employees carefully.


Serious stuff. Image via makelessnoise (Flickr/Creative Commons).

Send us a headline for our never-ever-exhaustive news roundup! If you read something that moved you to action or gave you hope, leave a comment below or tweet it to us @idealist.

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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?


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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Headlines: After the 11NTC (Nonprofit Technology Conference)


Panelists from the "Free Agents" session. Photo via Beth Kanter (Flickr/Creative Commons).

Elise and I went to NTEN‘s annual conference in Washington, DC last week. It was great to meet many of you there! Here are some of the takeaways we’ve spotted thanks to the still-buzzing #11NTC Twitter stream

Change doesn’t have to be scary

Online fundraising

Kudos for transparency

Be nice to your tech people

  • Maybe I just have it easy? (Bailey Kasten, Wish You Worked Here). At the National Society of Collegiate Scholars, muses Kasten, “operations and technology have a voice.” She offers some advice to the folks in workplaces where that’s not true.

Storytelling through specific channels

  • DoGooder Video Awards Announced at NTC! (Maddie Grant, Thinking of incorporating video into your organization’s communications strategy? Check out the winners of “best thrifty organization video,” “best small organization video,” and more categories.
  • Using Location Based Services for Your Nonprofit (John Haydon, SocialBrite) recaps a session about how services like FourSquare can be included in your strategy to raise awareness and money.

And these are just the beginning!

Are you blogging about your 11NTC experience? Leave a comment below with a link!

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