Thursday, December 23, 2010

Holiday Gifts for the Non Profit Communications Pro

My new post at PhilanTopic, the Philanthropy News Digest blog, featuring great examples of Heart, Head & Hand(TM) communication, and the strategic use of story.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

What Everyman Can Learn from Student Philanthropists

I’m an avid NPR listener. For awhile, now, I’ve regularly been hearing a message from the Community Foundation of Broward (Florida) on my local station that goes something like this: Bill Gates and Warren Buffet are encouraging their fellow billionaires to pledge half their fortunes to charity. But why let them have all the fun. You can participate in the joy of giving by making a gift through the Community Foundation.

I don’t know how well people are responding to this proposition. While I think it’s extremely clever and I hope it’s successful, I’m sure a large number dismiss it, believing that the Gates and Buffets of the world can afford to give half their money away to charity and never even miss it. After all, Gates’ 2010 estimated net worth is $54 billion and most of us assume that one can still live pretty nicely on $27 billion. But for Main Street USA, where, according to the Federal Reserve Board’s 2010 survey, half of Americans have a net worth of less than $84,000, giving away a significant portion of your money to charity doesn’t seem very realistic.

Yet, three graduate students at Rutgers University think it’s doable. Philosophy majors Nick Beckstead, Tim Campbell and Mark Lee have made their own significant pledge to give away a set percentage of their annual income to causes that they feel will do the most good in the world – not just over the next few years, but for life.

The three say they were influenced by Australian applied ethics philosopher Peter Singer, who holds dual appointments as the Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University and Laureate Professor at the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics at the University of Melbourne. In 1972 Singer published an essay entitled “Famine, Affluence and Morality,” in response to the mass starvation found in Bangladesh. In that article Singer argues that it is a moral imperative for persons of affluence to give more to humanitarian causes than they typically do: "People do not feel in any way ashamed or guilty about spending money on new clothes or a new car instead of giving it to famine relief. (Indeed, the alternative does not occur to them.) This way of looking at the matter cannot be justified. When we buy new clothes not to keep ourselves warm but to look 'well-dressed' we are not providing for any important need."

Few would classify graduate students as affluent and therefore individuals to be held to Singer’s standard. But in a December 11, 2010 Wall Street Journal article by Shelly Banjo, “Pledging to Give What They Can,” Beckstead says. "Someone who makes $25,000 is in the top 3% of the world's wage earners." Campbell adds, "It puts things into perspective and makes you realize you're on a much higher ladder than you think."

When I read the Wall Street Journal article I was incredibly impressed and began sharing the story with friends, family and colleagues. The responses I got all credited the three for pledging something so admirable. But, almost to a person added that they’d like to follow the three over the next 10 years as they graduate, start to have families and take on obligations for feeding, sheltering, educating and paying health care costs for those families – especially in America, where the costs for such basics are far more than in many other parts of the world.

The three have obviously been told this to their face. Beckstead is again quoted in the Wall Street Journal article as saying, "When people see us pledging to give away their income, some are critical and say this is an idealistic idea that they'll realize is unworkable in the real world. We think otherwise; this is a long-term decision."

I believe that a clear vision and commitment to that vision are the first steps in actually creating the world we all want to live in. Beckstead, Campbell and Lee have that vision and commitment. Whether or not they move away over the years from the level of financial commitment to which they’ve recently pledged,they will undoubtedly continue to give. And, right now they serve as extraordinary role models. Obviously, they are role models for other young people, who might be influenced to give more of their discretionary funds to charity or even join or start a chapter of Giving What We Can – an organization pioneered in Oxford, England that the three are bringing to Rutgers. But they, probably more than Gates and Buffet, are role models for the rest of us too. After all, if they can make this commitment on a 20-something’s salary, the rest of us should be able to pledge at least a bit more.

There is beautiful saying by Leo Burnett, “If you reach for the stars, you may not quite get one, but you won’t come up with a handful of mud either.” Keep reaching Nick Beckstead, Tim Campbell and Mark Lee.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Rent to Own

Our November 2010 issue of Added Value focused on space solutions for nonprofit organizations. Many organizations expend a large portion of their income on rent, mortgage payments and space costs. After personnel, it’s usually the second largest expense. The article offers a broad list of options to explore your space needs—its likely that one of these will help you to spend less on space and more on mission, either now or in the years to come. If you have space challenges check it out. If you want to increase the resources your organization has for mission, study it and implement your best options.

The article starts with fifteen options. It will remain permanently under-construction. I will add to it as I encounter new ideas. To help, send me your space answers. If you wish, I’ll be glad to credit you for them.

Here is the first addition:

#16. Rent to Own

Consider if you have a relationship with someone with who can buy a space for you. If yes, work with them to purchase it and then enter into a rent-to-own agreement with them. Assuming the rent payment in similar to the one you now pay, over time you will move from being a renter to owner, without the need for capital campaign. One local organization recently found that this arrangement allowed them to house all their staff in one building (instead of scattered sites in two counties), pay the same rent and put down permanent roots.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Give Your Regards to Broadway

A recent Wall Street Journal article, “A Different Kind of Broadway Twofer” provides an excellent stepping off point for nonprofits that seek to improve their relationships with potential donors and the community. Improved relationships lead to greater nonprofit income opportunities.

The article explores different techniques theaters have recently added to enhance patron’s experiences before and after the show. Designed to match the play’s content, they include things like singing for departing audiences, offering refreshments around the theme and creating a “football shrine” in the lobby.

According to the article, audience enrichment efforts help patrons to feel, “welcome and well-tended, and, in the process giving them a little something extra for their money.” Most are low-cost and employ a creative twist that makes them perfect in concept for nonprofits to adapt and adopt. Read and study the article. Consider what you can offer at public performances, special events or around counseling sessions with troubled teens. What can you offer that will make your guests, whether donors, customers or members of the community feel welcome, well-tended and give them a little something extra for their money or time?

For more about improving customer experiences, whether they are donors, customers or the community, listen to our newest podcast with retail expert, Doug Fleener.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Want Money? A Basic Toolkit

What lies between you and income for your nonprofit? Here are eight key glass-shattering tools to use to break the glass between you and the income your organization needs:

Board Credibility. When you list your board members, do people nod and indicate their respect? Do you have a nominating committee looking at board member recruitment for this year and future years?

Ask. Does anyone ask anyone for money? Both passively (i.e., a written request) and in person, “Will you donate to the annual appeal this year?”

Realistic Ideas and Actions. You have neither too many fundraising ideas (they swarm around you like mosquitoes at dusk) or too few (the same old, tried, true—and boring). Instead, you have two or three that energize you, your board and staff. One stands out. It’s ripe. In ink, you schedule time to bring it to completion.

Work Quality. You produce results worthy of investment whether you call them outcomes, outputs or products. These change people’s lives. You offer donors the chance to participate in helping to make those changes.

No Secret. There is good word about you “on the street.” People talk about your efforts and create a positive buzz. This is no accident or byproduct. You intentionally let people know about your important work. You are never too busy to get the word out.

Strategy for Us. Your strategy embraces a community. In return, it invites that community to embrace you monetarily and with their esteem. A neighborhood school’s community is both the families it serves and the neighborhood. If you’re a parenting education program you’re “them” includes parents and all people in the your service area who care about children and families.

Sustainability. You have a long haul plan to thrive. Donors who invest in you today or include you in their estate plans recognize both as worthwhile investments.

Partnerships. While you might do it alone, you recognize that partners enhance resources, bring new dimensions to your work and provide your customers better outcomes. You help those who invest with you to understand that you provide a “match” to their gifts through partnerships. “If you give us $10 in cash, we turn that into $100 of service with our various partnerships.”

Use these glass-shattering tools to raise your organization to reach through he glass ceiling that keeps you away from earning the money you need to meet your mission. For more help regarding income, see our Money-tastic Audio Series at and sign-up for our Monthly Newsletter Added Value.