Archive for the ‘Fundraising’ Category

Reader Question: Starting a new program and convincing foundations to fund?

February 26, 2010

Photo by tacomabibelot

I recently did a session on Programs: Developing, Managing, and Evaluating for the Emerging Nonprofit Leadership Network and I was asked a question by a participant about starting a new program. The participant was wondering how does convince a foundation to fund a new program when you have never done it before, and therefore don’t have evaluations showing it was effective?

This question surprised me because I thought most would know the answer, but I found that many at nonprofits were wondering this same thing. The answer is research. You should rarely, if ever, start a new program without research supporting your intervention. So, what if no one has ever done what you want to do – or someone has done it, but there isn’t research supporting it yet? Well, then you find research supporting components of the program.

I’ll take an easy example, say you want to start a program where 10th graders become tutors and mentors for at-risk 6th graders to help them improve academic achievement. Sure, there might not be research on that specific program, but you should definitely be able to find research on whether mentoring is effective, at what ages mentoring has been effective, what research has found to be successful interventions for academic achievement, research on causes for low achievement for at-risk youth, etc. Using this research you should be able to build a case to support the program you want to do.

So, what if you can’t find research or research does not support what you want to do? If you can’t find research to support any component of your program in any way, then it probably isn’t the best choice. If you find research but it doesn’t support your approach – then figure out why and think of ways you can address that.

Where do you find this research? Online, articles, journals, etc. Personally, I use Google Scholar when searching for articles, but you can also use local libraries to access journals and books. Also keep in mind if you find a good article that fits what you are looking for, look at the citations and who the author cited. It is more likely than not you will find a bunch more support or useful information that will help build your case!


Sing for your money…no really: A unique funding opportunity

February 26, 2010

Photo by Stuck in Customs

I was recently sent an email about an interesting and unique funding opportunity called the Heart and Soul grant (made possible by the CTK Foundation Philanthropic Fund and Grammy award-winners, Los Lonely Boys).

To apply for the grant, the organization must submit a 4-8 line poem (lyrics) that represents the “heart and soul” of their mission. After the grant closes a jury panel of recognized independent music artists and producers from around the country will select a winner based on the quality and impact of the lyrics. The selected nonprofit will be awarded $10,000 and have their poem put to song by Los Lonely Boys.

If you are interested in applying, do so by August 15, 2009. Any 501(c)3 nonprofit is eligible. To learn more and apply for the grant, please visit the CTK Foundation website and click on the gold Foundation tab.

What an easy fun grant application – at least it’s not the 5-10 pages you will typically have to write! If you apply for this, please feel free to submit your “lyrics” below in the comment section. Thanks!

Effective use of television in nonprofit marketing and fundraising

February 26, 2010

Should your meager advertising and marketing budget be spent on television? In nine out of ten cases I would say no. This past weekend I saw one of those rare times I would say yes. While watching a classic (Terminator 2) a commercial came on for the ASPCA. I’m sure many of you have seen the commercial, it has the sad music – “In the arms of an angel” by Sarah McLachan with pictures of dogs and cats with shocking statistics (every 10 seconds a dog or cat is abused or beaten – an issue that deserves its own post). It was a touching commercial – I remembered the statistics from watching it once.

The ASPCA did an amazing job bringing together all of the elements of a successful television commercial. They had an emotional pull, a soft appeal, saddening statistics, and a famous person to bring legitimacy and importance to the cause (I’m not saying you need famous people for television commercials). I just think they did it extremely well. After watching it, it made me want to donate.

For further reading about using television in your nonprofit work:

How deadly are stupid nonprofit ads?
One of the most effective nonprofit TV PSAs I’ve ever seen
Nonprofit group to take out TV ads backing Sanford on stimulus
TV ads are great, right?
5 Steps to a Potent Ad — rid Gets Attention for Reducing Hospital Infection

What is a lift letter?

February 26, 2010

Photo by iirraa

In a recent nonprofit finance meeting, the question was asked “What is a lift letter?” It made me realize that this terminology might not be as common as I thought, and that it might be worthwhile to discuss and define it on this blog.

What is a lift letter?

A “lift letter,” a direct mail term, is a letter designed to “lift” the response rate of your mailing (which many argue it does effectively). For nonprofits, it typically is a personal letter from a donor, volunteer, program participant, or supporter (who writes it themselves normally – with your editing) that builds a case for the nonprofit and adds credibility. It is used in combination with the normal ask letter.

For example, you write your normal year-end appeal. At the bottom of your normal appeal, you have a p.s. that says something along the lines of “P.S. Please make sure to read Sally’s letter enclosed. Sally has fostered eleven dogs with us over the past decade and recently adopted Westin, a lab mix that was a rescued from a puppymilll.” Then enclosed with the year-end appeal is a smaller (perhaps half sheet) letter printed on a bright colored piece of paper from Sally that explains why X animal rescue is important to her, why she gave, etc. This small additional letter is designed to lift the response rate to the year-end appeal.

Read more about lift letters here.

Fundraising House Parties: Why won’t anyone host one?

February 26, 2010

Photo by boxercab

Does your nonprofit want to have house parties, but can’t find anyone to host? Maybe you should take a look at how you are structuring them – if a structure even exists. Many nonprofits include house parties in their goals for the year, but fail to find individuals to host. Is it because no one wants to open their home? I don’t think so.

I think much of it has to deal with how to you sell someone on it. While there will always be people that won’t want a bunch of people in their home, there are a lot of people that wouldn’t mind if it was simple and easy. Unfortunately, many nonprofits don’t make it an easy decision for prospective hosts.

The two biggest barriers to getting people to host a house party are the guest list and the refreshments.

Guest List
Is the house party just for the host’s friends or is it a comprehensive targeted event? This is a key distinction. While most hosts won’t mind sending out some invitations to their neighbors, friends, or family, it shouldn’t be expected that they are the only guests (unless that is what the host wants). Hosts will be stressed by the idea that they are solely responsible for getting people there, plus your nonprofit will be missing out. This is the time to take a look at who lives nearby (say a 20 mile radius) and invite them too – especially those that get your newsletter but maybe don’t donate, or those who donated 5 years ago but haven’t donated since.

This is a tough one. Some believe that hosts should pay for everything as part of their “gift” of having the event. I don’t agree. I think hosts can be asked to help in a variety of ways, from making cookies to asking the local restaurant for donated food, but I don’t think a requirement for them hosting a house party should be that they are required to provide food and drinks. The nonprofit should be prepared to handle this. There are many ways to keep this low budget, for example, have it be a mid-afternoon house party and have cookies (or get them donated) and refreshments (donated or ask host, otherwise nonprofit pay for).

To maximize the number of hosts your nonprofit gets for house parties; I tend to think that the nonprofit should be prepared to do everything involved with hosting a house party. The only hard and fast expectation from the host should be that they are there helping the event and that they provide the use of their home. In most cases, in my experience, the host will at least help cover food.

Regardless, it should pay off. All you need to do is get one donation to cover the meager cost of refreshments and cookies (if they weren’t donated or covered by the host), but you may reap later donations by attendees and the one person that did donate may become a lifelong donor. It’s better to eat the meager cost of throwing a house party (or to build relationships with businesses to get donated food/beverages), than to just keep not having house parties because no one is signing up.

Finally, make sure to make everything clear and easy. Whether you agree with me about who should be responsible for what, spell it all out in a house party information sheet. It’s important to make sure the host feels that they aren’t on their own with it.

One more thing – House parties don’t have to be about fundraising for prospective hosts that don’t like fundraising – they can be information sessions (friendraising).

Some thoughts about grant writing

February 26, 2010

Photo by Churl

When I wrote my very first grant, I had no idea what I was doing. I leaped at the opportunity to write a grant so I could have that experience under my belt. At I can honestly say that I probably didn’t do all that great of a job…I got the money…but I saw several typos and upon reflection, realized I had made numerous mistakes. I thought I would share some of my lessons learned, so maybe you won’t repeat my mistakes 🙂

  • Proofread, proofread again, and when you think it is perfect, proofread one more time.

I can’t tell you how often I see grants with typos, errors, etc. My first grant had some, and it’s likely yours do too. It’s very difficult to get every single typo in a 10-20 page grant, but you should try, and proofreading is the best way to help avoid all those typos.

  • Don’t wait to the last possible minute to write the grant.

I have done this, as have most people. Waiting until the last minute guarantees you will be stressed as you rush to get your grant done in time. You won’t be able to proofread it as well or as much, people will be less willing to help you, and it overall won’t be as good as it could be. Plus, it doesn’t look that great to the funder when you call them the day the grant is due with a question about the application requirements.

  • Use other staff.

I often find that the grant writer (or whichever development staff person that gets stuck with/volunteers for grant writing) is a lone pillar. They write the grants on their own with minimal outside help. Often times they are using templates from past grants. Please try not to do this. While it is completely ok and often good to use templates/past grants when writing a new grant, don’t just copy and paste. Make sure to talk to other program staff. Sit in on your organization’s programming. Attend the class or day program. Experience it first-hand. This will make you a better writer. Plus, having an ongoing relationship with the program staff ensures that you have the most updated information on that program. Programs, especially new ones, tend to slightly alter themselves as they grow and develop continuously getting better. Last year’s grant may not have the most updated and relevant information.

  • Finally, use updated research!

Some organizations don’t use research period. You read their grant and they make their case, but don’t really back it up. Others do back it up, but don’t have the most relevant or recent research. This is important – particularly incorporating evaluation information. Funders want to know why your approach works, why it is best, and why it is needed. Including statistics like “One in three teens currently get no education about birth control at all, and of those who do, many do not get it when they need it most—before they start to have sex.” when writing an application for comprehensive sexual education, or “Children whose parents read to them tend to become better readers and perform better in school” for a family reading program, they can help build your case and demonstrate the need for support. But don’t only use this sort of research, use internal research and evaluations. Include evaluation information from your program, for example 90% of program attendees increased competencies after attending X program as evidence by pre- and post-test results (for this, you would need to be evaluating your programs).

If you have your own lessons learned or tips, please leave them below for others to learn from!

Should your organization require board members to give at least $x annually?

February 26, 2010

Photo by Eric Gjerde

No. I don’t agree that nonprofits should require their board members to give at least $x each year.

Let me clarify though, I do completely agree with The Nonprofit Consultant Blog’s recent post, “How Much Should Board Members Give?” that discusses whether nonprofits should require that their board members give. If you are on the board of a nonprofit organization, you should not only be giving an annual gift, but that nonprofit should be one of the top three nonprofits you give to. Plus, you should be helping to friend-raise and fundraise as part of being on the board and having a fiduciary responsibility.

But, I do not agree with organizations that say that you as a board member are required to give $1,000 (or whatever amount organizations say). That is for two main reasons:

1. If you require individuals to give $1,000, those that can’t afford just won’t give and those that can afford it may just give that (when they might have gave $2,000 or $10,000), so either way you are missing out.

2. You are actively reducing the amount of diversity you will have on your board. There are many people (students, low-income, young, etc) that would never be able to afford that, so you are erasing any opportunity to hear their opinions and have them on your board. This is why I am a fan of the you must give and we must be one of your top three nonprofits you give to language.

Free speech…as long as your funders approve what you are saying

February 26, 2010

Photo by Katie Tegtmeyer

Have you ever had a grant rescinded? How about, have you ever had a grant or donation rescinded because of something your organization took a position on?

Well, the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP) knows what its like. The California Wellness Foundation disagreed with the NCRP’s recent report that said foundations should have half of their gifts go to “poor and other disadvantaged people”, so the foundation cancelled their membership and sent a letter asking for their $10,000 grant back.

This brings up two totally unrelated, but important issues: should nonprofits be “punished” for taking positions on issues and should 50% of foundation money go towards poor and disadvantaged people?

My thoughts are that foundations (or donors for that matter) shouldn’t be able to take back a gift unless it was misused – which wasn’t the case here. If a donor or foundation gives a general gift, then that money is used however the nonprofit deems appropriate. Unless the nonprofit significant changes its mission immediately after the donation takes place, I don’t think gifts should be able to be rescinded.

As for the 50% of grants going towards poor and disadvantaged people, I think that since there are many important causes no foundation should be expected to give a percentage of their gifts towards a cause that others deem to be the most important. Is helping the poor and disadvantaged an important cause? Yes. But so is the environment and cancer research and education (you get my point). Which cause is the most important is subjective – it depends on who you ask. Foundations should be able to give their money to whatever cause they want to. It’s their money.

Read the full article “Foundation Rescinds Grant to Watchdog Group” in the Chronicle of Philanthropy.

Charitable Lead Trust 101

February 26, 2010

Photo by Leo Reynolds

What is a charitable lead trust?
A charitable lead trust is designed to reduce its beneficiaries taxable income. Some view it as opposite of a charitable remainder trust. With charitable lead trusts, the donor transfers their property to the trust, which pays a percentage of the its value to the nonprofit for a pre-determined number of years and then the remaining assets (plus any growth) are passed on to the beneficiaries.

Why are these trusts appealing to donors?
These trusts are a win-win for both donors and nonprofits. Nonprofits receive a planned gift, and donors receive tax benefits. There is not a income tax deduction when a charitable lead trust is created, plus when the beneficiaries receive the remaining assets, their gift tax/estate tax is significantly reduced and they receive the growth estate tax/gift tax free.

Need more information?

To help you understand how it works, click here for an example.

To learn more about the nuts and bolts, and history of the charitable lead trust click here and here.

This article will help you in “Choosing the Best Charitable Lead Trust to Meet a Client’s Needs.”

8 tasks for board members who hate fundraising

February 26, 2010

Photo by Leo Reynolds

Do you have board members that hate fundraising? Board members that refuse to ask anyone for money or tap into their networks? Well, here are 8 things they can do to help with fundraising: 

  1. Sign thank you letters
  2. Include your organization in their estate plan
  3. Help with prospect research (review annual reports, look up addresses, etc)
  4. Make thank you calls to donors
  5. Research foundation/corporate funders
  6. Write an article for the annual report or newsletter
  7. Help with your events (set-up, take-down, staffing a table, etc)
  8. Volunteer to speak at programs/events about why they are involved with your organization

And if they just don’t want to verbally ask anyone, then they could: 

  • Provide you with their address book
  • Write ask letters for in-kind donations for events
  • Write personal notes for appeal letters
  • Send an e-mail ask to their friends

To see some examples of board commitment forms and board job descriptions: 

Samples Week- Board of Directors