Give Thanks

th31With the universal season of giving upon us, it is the perfect time for the non-profit community to give appropriate thanks to their donors and volunteers. These are some of the strategies that I have learned about acknowledging donors and volunteers over the years:

  • Report the news! By and large, donors appreciate hearing news about organizations that they support. Or, at the very least, they like to hear about the activities of a non-profit; for example, our child care program went on a field trip to a museum last week. More important, donors like to understand the results or outcomes of their contributions; for example, the organization served 1,500 homeless individuals with hot meals last month.

 

  • Be timely! There is nothing worse than sending the acknowledgement of a gift six thCA33TA4Imonths later – and after the donor may also have forgotten it! This can only serve to remind the donor not to donate again. Prompt and efficient responses to all gifts is a simple way to increase the likelihood of long associations with donors.

 

  • Treat all gifts with gratitude and respect – no matter the size of the gift. Whether a donor gives $5, $500 or $50,000, all thCALXDFKIgifts need to be acknowledged appropriately. According to Kivi Leroux Miller of the Nonprofit Marketing Guide, 65 percent of first time donors do not make a second gift. Ms. Miller explains that donors want a simple, prompt and a meaningful thank you letter with some communication about how the donation was used.

 

  • Volunteers are donors, too! In many non-profit organizations, volunteers often perform critical and invaluable functions. At an average national “value” of $22.14 thCAE2BC6Kper hour, a volunteer who frequently gives freely of their time, talent and energy can quickly add up to the equivalent of a salary that an organization is not paying. Volunteers need to be thanked and acknowledged at every opportunity we have.

 

  • Hand-write notes. Despite the era thCA9B039Dof technological sophistication, people still like to receive hand-written notes! Rather than the officious form letter, hand-written note cards demonstrate personalization and the value of a relationship with a donor or volunteer. I have even hand-written the first names of donors and wrote personal notes in the margins of the officious form letter! This is especially true for donors or volunteers with whom we have personal and social relationships.

 

  • Put their names in writing. In general, people also like to see their names in writing, which can also help them feel that their contribution is valued by the organization. Whether it is in a printed newsletter, on the organization’s website and/or on lists of particular levels of giving, donors do tend th4to check that their names have been listed in writing! However, discretion should be exercised in “publicly” listing the amount of a donation. That is, public acknowledgement is typically understood at the time of soliciting the gift – e.g., the ‘president’s circle’ of $10,000 and above donations will be included in the annual report. Of course, if a donation is designated as ‘anonymous’ upon receipt, the donor does not want to be publicly acknowledged and that needs to be respected.

  • Plan a special event. Finally, another method of acknowledging volunteers and donors is to hold a special event around them or a holiday in order to thank and recognize them. Popular in volunteer management, some organizations use the concept of a volunteer luncheon; for example, to thank and recognize the people thCAJYS28Kwho help them every day. The same idea can be utilized with donors (and potential donors) and can include a tour of the organization or its facilities. A special event for this purpose need not be elaborate and can be as simple as a meet and greet, light refreshments or a social mixer. While having a breakfast or lunch does have costs associated with it, many businesses in the community are willing to make in-kind donations to a non-profit in order to help them thank their volunteers (and it’s good advertisement for their businesses!).

 Happy Thanksgiving!

References

Nonprofit Marketing Guide by Kivi Leroux Miller, “Nine Clever Ways to Thank Your Donors”, January 18, 2012. Retrieved from:

http://www.nonprofitmarketingguide.com/resources/fundraising/nine-clever-ways-to-thank-your-donors/your-donors/

Independent Sector, Independent Sector’s Value of Volunteer Time, “National Value of Volunteer Time”, Summer 2013. Retrieved from:

http://independentsector.org/volunteer_time#sthash.GuLh713d.dpbs

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So You Want To Start A Nonprofit?

thCAF5CM34The proliferation of non-profit organizations across the United States has been well documented for years. According to the National Center for Charitable Statistics at the Urban Institute, in the ten-year period from 1999 to 2009, the U.S. saw a 31.5 percent increase in the number of registered 501(c)3 public charities, totaling more than 1.5 million nationwide (2010). That percentage increase excludes foreign and government organizations. In my state of Pennsylvania alone, Non-Profit Stats reports a whopping 72,725 registered charitable organizations (2013).

The numbers are even more significant today because many non-profit organizations in communities throughout the country are often trying to carve out their existence in fierce competition with one another for stagnant pools of local monies as well as they are facing reduced if not eliminated private and public funding in a poor economy.thCAIWFVQO

My recent introduction to a very worthwhile start-up non-profit in the Lehigh Valley, PA community reminded me of the rigors of starting a new non-profit organization. The following are just a few highlights of the many, many “hoops” through which a fledgling non-profit is required to jump:

  • Determine the need and sustainability. Before hanging a sign on the door and printing business cards, determine the need for a non-profit serving the proposed mission or purpose in the community. Are there other organizations already established in the local community that serve the same purpose, goals, population or issues? If so, there may not be a strong commitment to a “duplicate” th25organization starting up. More important, determine the sustainability of the proposed non-profit among the community. Who will fund it? Is there enough interest and money in the community to support the organization on an ongoing basis? Research corporate and government funding opportunities that are good matches with the mission of the organization and visit with local, private foundations in order to introduce the idea of a start-up non-profit, gauge their interest, and get to know them.
  • Determine the type of tax exempt status needed. Perhaps the most widely thCA8H6AI8known, the 501(c)3 non-profit is an IRS tax code that permits certain tax exemptions to charitable, educational, scientific, religious, etc. organizations. Other tax exempt codes have been established for civic leagues, child care and social welfare organizations; for example, that have varying disclosure requirements and contribution allowances. Currently, I count 34 different IRS tax exempt codes!
  • Establish by-laws. The by-laws of a non-profit define how the organization will function and conduct its business thCA2UG3JWin the community and typically address issues like board governance, terms of service and lines of authority within the organization. Consultation with legal counsel – or at least review of the by-laws – is highly recommended at this stage of the process.
  • Select a board of directors. What does this particular non-profit need in terms of the community representation on the board of directors? In general, organizations usually need financial, legal and human resource experience. thCAJ8QCJEAdditionally, people tend to gravitate to what they know best so it is typical; for example, to see organizations with an educational purpose with teachers and school district administrators on the board. Make it a goal to diversify the board of directors as much as possible. While there is obvious value in keeping similar people together, diversification in the board increases the richness of experience and expertise that a board of directors can provide to a non-profit.
  • Develop strategic and fundraising goals. The management and board of start-up non-profit organizations are strongly encouraged to engage in some level of strategic and fundraising planning. How will the organization be funded? Where do management and board members expect the organization to be financially and programmatically in a year? In three years? In five years? A strategic plan is eventh28 more important to start-up non-profits especially because in the absence of a proven, successful track record of results it is one of the key items to be shared with potential funders to demonstrate that the organization has been formed with forethought, expertise and a business plan.
  • Request tax exempt status from the IRS. This is really the “big kahuna” in forming a non-profit organization. An organization is not considered not-for-profit until the IRS deems it so with a “Letter of Determination” (see bullet above about types of tax exemption). thCAGJ23S9Without it, an organization may not legitimately solicit funds as a non-profit and donors can not make tax deductible contributions.
  • File state articles of incorporation. Typically granted from a Department of State, incorporation refers to the thCAT51N9Kabsorption of state law under the specific protections of the U.S. Constitution.  That is, the U.S. Constitution shall override all state constitutions and state laws. For organizations that plan to incorporate, this is a key step that may occur in conjunction with filing for tax exempt status with the IRS.
  • Establish record keeping and financial accounting systems. Establishing board approved, financial and internal management procedures and protocolsthCAZOQ79X early in the game; for example, financial statements and reports as well as board meeting minutes, is advisable. Who will be responsible for maintaining records and financial accounting?
  • Obtain liability insurance. Like any other business, non-profit organizations are susceptible to legal risks and start-up organizations are advised to obtain liability insurances. Again, consultation with an attorney familiar with non-profit organizations can be very valuable in selecting Directors’ and Officers’ liability insurance as well thCAOF3FUUas general professional liability coverage.

The bulleted items above are only some of the issues that need to be addressed by a start-up non-profit organization. Depending on the organization, additional items that may need to be addressed at start-up include: personnel policies, unemployment compensation, withholding taxes for the IRS, filing for state sales tax exemption status, and registering with state Bureaus of Charitable Organizations.

References

  • The National Center for Charitable Statistics at The Urban Institute; Quick Facts About Nonprofits, Custom Report Builder (2013). Retrieved from:

http://www.nccs.urban.org/

  •  Nonprofit Stats; Distribution of Charities in the U.S. (2013). Retrieved from:

http://nonprofitstats.com/

  • Pennsylvania Association of Nonprofit Organizations (PANO); Nonprofit Resources, Forming a Nonprofit (2013). Retrieved from:

http://www.pano.org/Nonprofit-Resources/

To Facebook Or Not To Facebook, That Is The Question: The Role of Social Media in Fundraising

thCAZ7PAN7Yes, I know that I am using Facebook as a verb in the title. It’s at that level. The social medias have made an often incomprehensible imprint on our culture as a people such that it is difficult to remember what we did before their genesis. According to Huffington Post Tech blogger, Brian Honigman, Facebook’s active monthly users now total nearly 850 million people as well as 250 million photos are uploaded everyday (source: Jeff Bullas). That’s a lot of people with a lot of pictures! One more fun fact: As of 2012, 210,000 years of music have been played on Facebook (source: Gizmodo). Now that is very compelling about its size and scope!

Along with the proliferation of social media sites on the world wide web (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pintrest, Google+, YouTube, etc.), thCAEL4EITso too have there been a plethora of writings, lectures and webinars (ad nauseam) on their fundraising uses by and potential impact on the non-profit community. In addition to the social media giants like Facebook and Twitter, the advent of sites like Google+ and YouTube have made it easier than ever to promote non-profit organizations with photos and video of events and activities. Social media is a wonderful invention and can be an excellent accompaniment to a non-profit organization’s marketing or development plan but it plays a very prescribed role in the activity of fundraising.

A discussion about the role of social media in non-profits needs to be prefaced by a key concept. A non-profit organization’s website is the foundation of its on-line presence. th12In other words, the organization’s website is like its on-line “home-base” of operation, including a place at which visitors and supporters are able to make secure on-line donations. The website serves as a reflection of the organization’s mission in the community and communicates it’s values and philosophies to all who visit it. Sounds beautiful, right? But perhaps the single biggest problem for organizations and their websites is maintaining them. The organization’s website needs to be as current and timely as possible at all times. There is nothing worse than going to a non-profit’s website, clicking on the ‘News’ tab and finding that the latest news is from 2010. Thud! Did nothing happen since then? When potential donors – both seasoned and newcomers – feel that they are not being actively engaged in the current events of the organization by visiting the website, they may move on to other organizations that do. Typically, the management of a non-profit’s website may be a task of the development director or department; however, smaller organizations that do not have the luxury of a development staff are encouraged to select a point person within the organization to perform maintenance and update tasks on the web site on a routine basis.

The value in non-profits utilizing the power of social media to raise funds is not in all the thCA7Z6QPLmillions they will rake in simply from being on Facebook or Twitter. Rather, the value of social media in non-profit is to bring donors to the organization’s website. That is where the real “business” of the organization happens and why it is so important that it is functional and current. The real “job” of social media like Facebook or Twitter in a non-profit organization is to generate interest in the organization and the mission, prompting the potential donor to think, “I’d really like to get involved there” or “I’d like to contribute” and subsequently leading them back to the website where they can make a contribution or volunteer. Social media can be used to inform or teach lay visitors about the mission of the organization, often in creative ways. I saw one organization place a quiz about homelessness on their Facebook page in order that visitors can test their own knowledge of the social problem. Social media can be used to highlight the organization’s partnerships with businesses and other organizations in addition to thanking them publicly. Moreover, the social medias are fun and they can and should be used to create excitement or anticipation about the organization’s activities or events – and again, take donors back to the website when they have “bought” the idea on Facebook or Twitter. If an organization holds an annual fundraising golf tournament; for example, Facebook and Twitter thCA3QZEQCare very good social media to not only raise awareness of the event but also to increase the excitement and anticipation for it with strategically timed posts and tweets – and with the added result of possibly bringing more people on board!

Similar to the organization’s website, a non-profit’s social media sites need to be just as well maintained. Once a social media page or account has been established, it does a non-profit little good if it just lies out there in cyberspace. It looks like nothing happens at the organization and in some ways that can be fatal. I have followed several local non-profits on Twitter; for example, but quite honestly, I’ve lost interest in them because they never put any tweets out. They are not telling us anything about their organizations and thereby letting their presence be known by not communicating often enough. Finally, a non-profit organization’s social media is likely going to be as effective as the organization itself. thCAJFZ195The bottom line is that there needs to be substance behind the posts or tweets. In other words, when an organization is merely taking up (cyber) space just for the sake of being there and there is no real “meat” in the posts or tweets, it tends to come through. If a non-profit organization is struggling – for whatever reasons – it may be best to focus all of the organization’s resources and energy on resolving those issues before moving forward with a social media marketing plan.

Reference

The Huffington Post; Tech Blog by Brian Honigman; “100 Fascinating Social Media Statistics and Figures From 2012”, November 29, 2012. Retrieved from:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/brian-honigman/100-fascinating-social-me_b_2185281.html