Archive for the ‘Reader Question’ Category

Reader Question: Personnel issues at board meeting

February 26, 2010

Photo by Marco Bellucci

I work for a small non-profit for over 5 years. We have an Executive Director and three staff. In the past we have been sponsored by other 501c3’s and fell under their board of directors. As of this year, we have our own 501c3 and a new Board of Directors, 6 people who have never served on an active board. Our Exec. dir. has had some experience with Boards but not enough to guide them as to what they should do.

That’s the background….now here is the problem. The Exec. Dir. recently at a Board Meeting brought up personnel issues and in the notes first and last names given. (Is this a problem with confidentiality?) Also, the problems stated were untrue or misrepresented. Neither person has had a previous conversation with the director either before or after this was discussed with the board. What should be done?

First, I am not an employment lawyer, so I do not know the law surrounding confidentiality.

Now with that being said, the Executive Director can definitely (at least in my experience) bring up personnel issues and state specific names and issues at board meetings. In fact, many do when looking for guidance on issues. Particularly in small nonprofits. With that being said, those names are NOT typically published in the minutes, nor are the specific details. Typically the minutes will say something like “Staff issues discussed.” or something along those lines.

I would advise the staff who feel wronged to do two things. First, I would talk to the ED about having the specific names and issues removed from the meeting minutes. Instead, I would request similar wording to what I suggested above. Second, you have the right to talk to the board or board members. Many nonprofits have a grievance policy that advises staff what to do in the case of a grievance with the ED (typically involves going to the board). Since I don’t know the specifics about the issues, I’m not sure what the best course of action here is. Since you found out via the meeting notes/minutes, you definitely have the right to contact the board members and note you would like to provide additional information to what you saw in the minutes.

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Reader Question: Can facebook ever replace the face to face?

February 26, 2010

Photo by robleto

Recently, a student and reader of this blog asked me a few questions about social media, fundraising, and marketing for a class project. I thought this question was a particularly good question, and wanted to share my answer.

Can facebook ever replace the face to face?

It depends. I think facebook can definitely create relationships and connections that are not already there. It also can improve relationships and make them stronger. What I think it cannot do, is replace a face to face ask. Facebook is great for small campaigns, or for having your volunteers/supporters raise money for you. I don’t think it is as good for those large asks. Again, when you are targetting a new large donor, it can open the door to create a connection that may not have already been there (if that person is even on facebook). But, a large donor should not have their only ask for a large gift be via facebook.

Facebook cannot replace that in-person, one on one ask that large donors deserve and in most cases need to make large gifts. Unless you actually know someone on facebook (are actually friends with them or have some relationship in “real life”), they probably aren’t as inclined to give when asked via facebook. This is because people are asked to give all the time. They are asked by door to door people, by phone calls, by mail, by email, and now by social media (facebook, twitter, etc).

In my opinion, facebook will never replace a face to face ask. I think the face to face ask will always have better results. Even as we move forward into a more technologically advanced world, especially with larger donors, a face to face will almost always be necessary.

Reader Question: Starting a new nonprofit…

February 19, 2010

Photo by Stephen Hackett


I have a vision for a nonprofit organization and I am planning to initially just ask friends, family members, and people at my church for donations. But eventually, I want to ask small businesses. In order for the funds to be tax deductible, does my nonprofit “organization” need to be in a database somewhere? Or do I simply need to give them a receipt for their donations? Also, I know what name I want to use, how can I find out if that name is already being used by another organization? I don’t want to deal with any lawsuits.


Here was my response:

For the donations to be tax-deductible you will need 501c3 status. To get that you need to apply through the IRS:

You need to be granted exemption before you can legally say that someones gift to you was tax-deductible. As for the name, I would first take a look to see if the website is available at

If it is taken, then you might want to think of another name. You can also do a google search, a search with the attorney general/secretary of state’s website, and a search with the U.S. trademark office to check on the name.

Reader Question: Can the Executive Director be an independent contractor?

February 19, 2010

Photo by onkel wart

The answer is: Probably not.

I would err on the side of caution and say no, an executive director should not be an independent contractor. This is because they would likely fail multiple questions of the IRS’s 20 Factor Test. The most obvious one that comes to mind is #3 on the 20 Factor Test- Integration. The IRS says that if the services that someone is providing for an organization are vital and ongoing for the organization’s success (i.e. they are providing continuing day-to-day work) then they are probably not an independent contractor.

The only circumstance that they might be able to be an independent contractor is when they are serving as an acting or interim executive director.

To understand more about the difference between independent contractors and employees, read Independent Contractor vs. Employee Part I.

To learn about the process of transitioning an independent contractor to an employee, read Independent Contractor vs. Employee Part II.

Reader Question: How do I start an individual donor program?

February 19, 2010

Photo by crystaljingsr

Dear Kristen:

Due to our lack of funds, my first project is to develop a private donor program for my organization. I think they are mostly interested in trying to find potential donors and figuring out a way to solicit funds. I am writing you to ask if you know of any resources (books, websites) you think might be helpful to me while trying to come up with a plan.

As our economic climate continues to shift, organizations that have been heavily dependent on government/foundation contracts and grants have begun looking at beginning or developing their individual donor program.

My response:

There are several resources available that I can think of right away. Here are a few you might consider:

Conducting a Successful Annual Giving Program
The Relentlessly Practical Guide to Raising Serious Money: Proven Strategies for Nonprofit Organizations
Building Your Direct Mail Program

MNCN’s fundraising lunches are great. If you live in the Twin Cities (Minnesota) or can make it down, they are free and can give you great tips/advice. There really aren’t many workshops/classes in Minnesota that are specifically about how to start an individual donor program. There are a couple nationwide, but I am assuming your organization wouldn’t have the resources to pay for your travel and a large workshop cost (correct me if I am wrong).

Starting a monthly donor program
Starting a donor program
Building a donor base
Minnesot Council of Nonprofit’s resources for fundraising

Reader Question: Can nonprofit board members win the organization’s raffle?

February 19, 2010

Photo by HowardLake

Just to elaborate a little further, this person was asking whether a Director from their board of directors could win the raffle prize at their event. This same question could be asked about whether staff can win the raffle prize at an event.

This is a tricky question. Technically speaking, in most states, the answer is yes- your staff or board members can win raffle prizes. Now, this can vary, so make sure to check your state Gambling Board to see what the rules or laws are in your state.

So, it is allowed, but would you want your staff or board members to win the raffle? I would think no. From the appearance point of view, it may not look good to the donors and volunteers who spent money on raffle tickets if an organization insider won the prize.

I think this is a decision that each organization has to make, keeping in mind any rules or laws that gambling board have.