Tag Archives: donations

2018: time for USA nonprofits to be demanding

Did you know Meals on Wheels is being hit HARD by big budget cuts?

And Meals on Wheels isn’t the only one: many of the nonprofits that provide critical services and improve our quality of life and protect the environment all over the USA are NOT funded primarily by charity – by individuals and corporations giving money – and that means their already precarious funding situation is about to get more dire with the current federal government and philosophy of the majority of Congress. That’s not a political opinion: that’s a reality.

Meals on Wheels, like many nonprofits, does NOT get most of its funding from donations: a third of its funding comes from a provision of the Older Americans Act signed into law by President Nixon in 1972. The rest comes from state and local governments, corporate donations, and individual charity. But the OAA, like most government programs, is being scaled back, including federal and state government funding for Meals on Wheels. Among the reasons government officials are giving for the funding cuts, besides that “charity will take care of it” is that they doubt the program is needed – and say there’s no data to prove it is, let alone that it is doing anything critically necessary. As this December 2017 article in Slate notes, part of the problem is that Meals on Wheels data hasn’t been robust until recently:

A literature review in 2015 found that most studies related to home-delivered meal programs were small, unrigorously designed, and measured “self-reported dietary intake,” an unreliable metric. (Try measuring what you eat for a week.) Though senior nutrition advocates swore by the program, the lack of data made it harder to argue for more funding and may be the reason the OAA’s nutrition program has floundered. For many poverty programs, robust data are necessary for survival but not sufficient. Meals on Wheels programs are stuck in an appropriations purgatory where many don’t receive enough money to stay at capacity, much less expand, but they’re too adored to be cut much without political reprisal.

But the article also notes that, in 2013, a public health researcher at Brown University, published a paper that found “if all states had increased by 1 percent the number of adults age 65 or older who received home-delivered meals in 209 under title III of the OAA, total annual savings to states’ Medicaid programs could have exceeded $109 million.” Most of the savings would come from keeping seniors in their homes and out of nursing homes, which are more expensive. 92% percent of Meals on Wheels recipients say the service lets them live at home.

Meals on Wheels has relied on its VERY well known name and mission statement to be enough for government funding, let alone charitable gifts. No more. It needs data to prove the need for its existence and data to prove that its effective – not just number of meals delivered and number of seniors served, but how that changed anyone’s physical or mental health, let alone what independence it created and, ultimately, how much money it saved taxpayers.

And the same is true for YOUR nonprofit.

The United States federal government has just passed a massive tax cut that is giving all of these corporations and very well-off entrepreneurs and business owners a great deal of even more money. Meanwhile, several issues are at a crisis point in the USA: homelessness, poverty among people that are working full time, lack of affordable housing, opioid addiction (as well as other drug addictions), lack of access to health care, lack of access to dental care, understaffed schools in crumbling buildings, failing infrastructure, under-staffed public lands, arts groups on the brink of bankruptcy, and on and on.

So it’s time, for nonprofits in 2018 to be demanding.

Corporations, high-tech gurus and rich entrepreneurs like to tell nonprofits what they should be doing.

You should be using such-and-such fantastic new software/tech tool

You should be using social media more effectively.

You should be involving more volunteers.

You should have micro tasks and expert tasks and group tasks for volunteers.

You should be using meta data more often and more effectively.

You should have a program that addresses such-and-such.

You should do such-and-such activity.

And on and on.

Oh, but, when it comes time for funding any of those activities, they also love to say, “Sorry, we don’t fund overhead.” Let’s make 2018 the year nonprofits turn that statement on its head. Let’s make 2018 the year government officials and corporate leaders hear loud and clear that what they want from nonprofits takes MONEY.

Every time someone says,”You should be doing this,” tell them how much that will cost and ask them how much they will be able to donate to make that happen.

If a corporation asks you to give feedback on an employee volunteering idea or other philanthropic activity, say you would be happy to – and tell them what your hourly consulting fee will be.

If a corporate person says your executive director makes too much money, ask that person how much he or she makes, plus what benefits he or she gets (retirement, paid vacation weeks, bonuses, health care insurance coverage, etc.), and offer a comparison for your executive director, including level and type of responsibility.

When a business calls and says they would like a one-time volunteering opportunity at your nonprofit this Saturday from 10 to noon, tell them great, and also how much they will need to pay to cover the costs you will incur to make this happen. Make sure you charge an amount that truly makes the time and effort on your organization’s part worth the expenditure of your resources.

When a business says they need precise data that proves your organization does what it says it does, present them with an evaluation plan and how much it will cost to undertake such.

Sign up to speak during at least one city council meeting this year, to talk about what your organization is doing to address a community issue, to make your community a better place, etc. Offer specifics – not just number of activities, but testimonials from those that have benefited from such.

Sign up to speak during at least one of your city’s citizen’s committee that’s concerned with an issue your organization or program addresses (public safety, the arts, the historical commission, etc..).

Offer your own information for any “state of the community” statement your mayor or other local official prepares.

Say “NO” a LOT more. If a corporation wants you to do an event, activity or program that your organization cannot afford to do, say no. If a corporation wants you to do an event, activity or program that you don’t feel would be truly beneficial for those you serve and might actually detract from your mission, say no.

Nonprofits are going to be asked to do far, far more in 2018 than they have ever been asked to do before. They are, in many cases, going to be holding families and communities together, and be all that stands between survival and disaster for many people. They are also often what makes a community or public event or public space worth visiting, let alone living in or near. None of what nonprofits do is free. Meanwhile, corporations are experiencing record profits and corporate executives are enjoying record-breaking high salaries and bonuses. Time to charge them in full for your services and remind them of the financial costs of your work.

Also see:

Nonprofits & NGOs: you MUST give people a way to donate online

fundhuntingThe following quote is from a blog in 2013 by Sue Gardner (hi, Sue!!) of the Wikimedia Foundation, which administers Wikipedia. The quote is about how the many-small-donors-instead-of-a-few-big-ones works so well for Wikimedia, a nonprofit:

We don’t give board seats in exchange for cash… people who donated lots of money have no more influence than people who donate small amounts — and, importantly, no more influence than Wikipedia editors… We at the WMF get to focus on our core work of supporting and developing Wikipedia, and when donors talk with us we want to hear what they say, because they are Wikipedia readers. (That matters. I remember in the early days spending time with major donor prospects who didn’t actually use Wikipedia, and their opinions were, unsurprisingly, not very helpful.)

It’s not only that they have many, many donors of small amounts, rather than a few donors that give huge amounts of money, it’s also that their donors are users of their initiatives, primarily Wikipedia – in fact, many are volunteers for these initiatives.

This isn’t a new model. I worked in professional, nonprofit theater for many years, and this was their model as well; each theater had hundreds, even thousands, of donors that gave, for the most part, small amounts, and the vast majority of those donors were also performance ticket buyers. I learned that a healthy nonprofit theater has at least half of its expenses covered by such individual donors.

Of course, the many-small-donors models wouldn’t work for every nonprofit. But if your nonprofit had at least 100 clients, volunteers and/or event attendees in a year, you MUST have a way for those people to donate via your web site. There is absolutely no excuse for NOT having this way of giving, and no excuse for NOT encouraging such donations.

How about this: at least once a year, I have been ready to donate to a particular nonprofit, I’ve gone to the web site to do so, and, ta da: no way to donate online; the only way to donate is by sending a check or money order. And so, I end up not donating at all.

This happened to me last month regarding a nonprofit right here in Forest Grove, Oregon, where I live. I was going to say something to the nonprofit, but instead, decided to turn my thoughts into a blog for small nonprofits in particular. I hope they notice. I don’t have lots of money: when I donate, I’m giving up the price of a movie ticket and popcorn. Most nonprofits would claim that they would not say no to any amount of cash someone wanted to donate, including that small amount. Yet, that’s just what they do when they don’t have a way for people to donate online.

According to Blackbaud’s 2015 Charitable Giving Report, 93% of funds given to nonprofit organizations came from traditional means in 2015 – major gifts, annual funds, fundraising events, checks, snail mail and by phone. Only 7.1% of donations to nonprofits came in online. HOWEVER, online giving has been steadily growing over the last few years, up 9.2% from 2014 to 2015, and 14% of online giving in 2015 originated on a mobile device. I’ve no doubt the numbers are just going to keep going up. A good summary of the Blackbaud report is here. In addition, a study of younger supporters (age 20-35) found that 56% preferred donating online via an organization’s website.

The excuse I hear by most nonprofits for not having a way for someone to donate online?

We don’t want to have to lose some of the donation to processing fees. 

Let me be clear: you are losing ALL of the online donation by not having a way for people to donate this way to your organization. Those people that go to your web site and can’t find a way to donate online don’t say, “Oh, I’ll write a check then.” Nope – they just don’t give at all.

As of the time of this blog’s writing, Paypal charges 2.2% + $0.30 per transaction on any donation ($0 to $100,000) to a registered nonprofit with 501(c)(3) status. Wouldn’t you rather get most of a donation than none of it?

There’s no service that doesn’t have some kind of processing fee for donations to nonprofits, at least not in the USA. Some services, like Paypal or Google Wallet, just charge a transaction on every donation, but don’t provide any features, like a customized web page. Services like First Giving charge more, but also provide more services, like tracking and managing donor information and easily integrating into whatever donor database you are already using. Which should you use? That depends on the size of your nonprofit’s budget, how many donors you are expecting to donate online and how much information you need from those donors. Have a look at what other nonprofits in your community are doing in terms of allowing for online donations, and don’t hesitate to pick up the phone and give them a call and ask for advice (we need nonprofits collaborating together MORE!). Also, talk to your financial institution, the bank or credit union where you deposit your organization’s funds – they may have options as well.

And if you are looking for a magical third party crowdfunding site that will bring in lots of donations for your organization merely by your inputting all of your information and asking for money, forget it – that’s not how successful online fundraising works for 99% of nonprofits. Rare is the donor who goes to a third party web site with no idea of who he or she is going to give money to.  Most nonprofits that raise money through online means are raising that money through their own web sites, and raise that money from people in their communities that are familiar with their work and want to support them, from people that have attended the organization’s events, or from people that have seen an ad on TV or radio.


Excellent advice from someone else on how to encourage donations online to your organization

More advice for what should be on your organization’s web site

Also see Survival Strategies for Nonprofits

OCHA guide to crowdfunding: a review

409571-OCHA_TB16_Crowdfunding_for_Emergencies_onlineThe United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has released a briefing called Crowdfunding for Emergencies. Not really a how-to guide, more of a look at how it might work in the very best of circumstances. I’m glad to see a UN agency – OCHA, in particular – talking about crowdfunding – about how individuals can donate financially, directly, to humanitarian efforts – but any talk of crowdfunding needs to come with a reality check. And there’s no reality check in this short report.

So, here’s my reality check regarding crowdfunding for humanitarian crises:

  • Most of the time, a crowdfunding effort does NOT raise lots of money. Most crowdfunding efforts fail to meet the expectations of the initiatives that attempt them. We hear only about the campaigns that are wildly successful – not the many more that aren’t successful at all. Let’s look at just Kickstarter, which is mentioned repeatedly in the report — but without these statistics: less than 41% of approved Kickstarter campaigns get funded — and Kickstarter says another 20% of projects submitted are rejected by the site. Out of the over 72,000 projects funded on Kickstarter since its inception, as of October 2014, only about 1,600 raised more than $100,000.
  • The wildly successful crowdfunding efforts you have heard about – for Haiti, for Nepal – have had a tremendous amount of marketing and media coverage behind them. Vast amounts. People were hearing about the dire circumstances in Nepal on the news, on the radio, on their social media networks, and on and on, for days and days. Most initiatives won’t have that kind of outreach behind their crowdfunding effort.
  • The wildly successful crowdfunding efforts you have heard about have, later, lead to some very bad feelings among donors, who later read stories about the misuse of funds. Crowdfunding might get your initiative lots of money, but if it does, it will also get you lots of scrutiny. Are you ready to handle such? Are you ready to show the impact of the money you raised, in hard facts and figures, on demand?
  • Donor fatigue is real. People get exhausted from seeing images depicting desperate circumstances. They are moved the first time, maybe the second time, but then they feel overwhelmed, emotionally-drained, even under siege. If your crowdfunding effort for a humanitarian crisis happens soon after another humanitarian crisis, it might not matter that you have an excellent outreach campaign and lots of media coverage.

I was glad to see this risk talked about in the publication:

“Financially supporting a few crowdfunded projects at the potential expense of the community-at-large is a substantial risk, as crowdfunding platforms tend to target individuals as compared to agencies.”

Crowdfunding is, absolutely, something humanitarian organizations should be exploring. But keep expectations realistic.

Also see:

Survival Strategies for Nonprofits

Volunteer groups leading to financial donation/sponsorships?

I’ve had an incredibly busy three weeks, preparing for, and then delivering, four trainings – two in Kentucky and two in Portland. Topics ranged from communications for small nonprofits (More Donors, More Volunteers and More Awareness: Doing It All With Better Outreach) in my home town of Henderson, Kentucky (more than 70 people attending – INCLUDING MY MOTHER) to a panel discussion regarding building relationships with current and potential even partners, part of the Arts Festival Conference 2013 in Louisville – which I was invited to partly because of this article I wrote in 2003 regarding finding sponsors (scroll down on the page to find it) and two all-day, intensive workshops on volunteer engagement essentials for AmeriCorps members serving in Oregon, hosted by Oregon Volunteers.

But I’m blogging today in particular about the presentation in Louisville, which was organized by ZAPP® / Western States Arts Federation (WESTAF).

There was an audible gasp from the audience when I suggested that a great way to build a relationship with potential sponsors  is to create volunteering opportunities for the employees of the company that festival organizers are targeting as a potential sponsor. People came up afterwards to ask, “Really?!”


There are many companies that are hungry to do something for communities and nonprofits beyond just buying a table at an event or having their name above the title of the event (“Acme Anvils Presents…”). Tell a company that 10, or 50 or even 100 employees could be involved in a one-day, just-show-up volunteering event and that company may very well ask you where to send the sponsorship check! And it seems to me that arts festivals present a terrific opportunity for this: event set up volunteers, tear-down volunteers, runners during the event, weather monitors, amateur photographers, tweeters and more.

True, Creating One-Time, Short-Term Group Volunteering Activities is not easy. But it’s an idea worth exploring if your event or program is in need of donors / sponsors.

How do I know? Because I’ve worked at a Fortune 500 company, directing its philanthropic activities, and I talk regularly with people who work at companies in the marketing or HR departments and do similar work. They love it when nonprofits don’t just come to them and say, “We need money – please give us some.” They like to hear about why the event or organization is important to the entire community, the real difference it makes, and how they can have a deeper connection than just a sponsorship check. They are being asked by employees for group volunteering events, and many companies see such events as ways:

  • to build employee cohesion
  • to allow people from different departments to work together in ways they never could in the work place
  • to allow employees to show talents and leadership abilities that haven’t been noticed in the work place
  • to give employees something fun to do

I also advised attendees to build a relationship with potential sponsors before ever asking for money: the first time they hear from you should NOT be when you ask for a sponsorship. Let them know about your events, let them know about your volunteering activities and invite them to participate, invite them to an open house – just meet to say “Hi, here’s what we do and wanted you to know. Tell us about YOU!”

I also talked at length about how arts festivals add incredible value to a community. Think about what people are looking for in a place to live: good schools, safe places, and LOTS TO DO, like farmer’s markets and festivals of any kind. Arts festivals – and arts activities of any kind (dance companies, live theatre productions, museums) add tremendous value to a community. Employers want to attract fantastic employees, and they OFTEN talk about community characteristics, including arts-related events and programs, to entice candidates to move or stay. So in making a pitch to a sponsor, talk about your organization’s value to the community – are you bringing a benefit to that company’s employees? THEN SAY SO.

Also see:

Creating One-Time, Short-Term Group Volunteering Activities
Details on not just what groups of volunteers can do in a two-hour, half-day or all-day event, but also just how much an organization or program will need to do to prepare a site for group volunteering. It’s an expensive, time-consuming endeavor – are you ready? Is it worth it?

Short-term Assignments for Tech Volunteers
There are a variety of ways for mission-based organizations to involve volunteers to help with short-term projects relating to computers and the Internet, and short-term assignments are what are sought after most by potential “tech” volunteers. But there is a disconnect: most organizations have trouble identifying such short-term projects. This is a list of short-term projects for “tech” volunteers — assignments that might takes days, weeks or just a couple of months to complete.

One(-ish) Day “Tech” Activities for Volunteers
Volunteers are getting together for intense, one-day events, or events of just a few days, to build web pages, to write code, to edit Wikipedia pages, and more. These are gatherings of onsite volunteers, where everyone is in one location, together, to do an online-related project in one day, or a few days. It’s a form of episodic volunteering, because volunteers don’t have to make an ongoing commitment – they can come to the event, contribute their services, and then leave and never volunteer again. Because computers are involved, these events are sometimes called hackathons, even if coding isn’t involved. This page provides advice on how to put together a one-day event, or just-a-few-days-of activity, for a group of tech volunteers onsite, working together, for a nonprofit, non-governmental organization (NGO), community-focused government program, school or other mission-based organization – or association of such.

Article by me from 2003 re: Finding Sponsors (scroll down on the page to find it)

Don’t Just Ask for Money!
Something much more should happen if someone clicks on your web site’s “Help Us” link than a message that asks only for money.

Helping Southern states in the USA

Disaster is striking in the American Southeast. Recent tornadoes and current flooding have brought devastation and heartache to many parts of the South, and messages are everywhere on various online communities, asking how to help. There is an incredible amount of misinformation being posted about how to help as well.

If you want to help the states affected by recent tornadoes and current flooding in the USA, you can:

  • Watch the news, and when you hear a county name for a state that is being affected, or a city name, look up the American Red Cross chapter, or the local Humane Society/ASPCA/animal welfare organization serving that area on Google. Most of these will have a web site that allows you do donate directly to the organization. The Red Cross provides emergency housing and various other emergency services to local people, but usually doesn’t allow pets in their emergency shelters; local animal shelters are struggling with abandoned pets and pets that aren’t allowed into emergency shelters. Your donations provide desperately needed funds to help both food and animals! The Red Cross estimates that it will spend as much as $31 million responding to these recent disasters; you can donate to the national chapter, but many feel better donating directly to chapters serving an affected area.
  • If you want to volunteer in a disaster-affected area, you need to be entirely self-funded and self-sufficient, formally affiliated with a credible organization, and have full approval of that organization to go to the area and serve as a volunteer. People affected by these disasters need to be protected from unscrupulous people who may use this situation to take advantage of others (it’s already happening), and people affected by these disasters deserve trained people who won’t end up having to be cared for themselves because they are woefully unprepared (yes, it happens). Here’s much more about the realities of volunteering to help after major disasters.
  • Unless you have read on a web site by an organization in the affected area that they are accepting donations of food and clothing, do NOT start gathering food and clothing for the affected area. It’s often much cheaper – and much safer – for a relief organization to buy food and ship it to an area, knowing they are buying exactly what’s needed, knowing the food is not spoiled, knowing it’s appropriate, etc., than to ask for donations and have to spend endless hours figuring out what food is usable, what is not, and trying to put together meals based on what is donated. If you are determined to donate items for an affected area, then call the local Red Cross and local communities of faith in the affected area and ask if they will accept what you are gathering to donate. And be prepared to drive to the area yourself – no one is going to come pick them up from you, as they are much too busy dealing with disaster victims. Also, note that organizations are saying they CANNOT handle any more used toys or cast-off clothing (they would prefer cleaning supplies and diapers!). More on donating things instead of cash or time (in-kind contributions).
  • You can also look at the web sites of high schools serving these affected areas; if they are in need of something (prom dresses, school supplies, etc.), they will say so directly on their web site.

Obviously, donating financially is the way to go if you really want to help. Even just $10 will help – and, yes, you can afford $10 (don’t buy coffee shop coffee for a few days, make your lunch for a few days, don’t eat from any restaurants all week, reduce your cable package subscription to the most basic for a month or two, etc.).

Use this as an incentive to call your local American Red Cross, right now, and start getting training for disaster in your own area. Why not at least call and attend the next volunteer orientation? There’s no obligation to volunteer just for attending the orientation!

Tags: nonprofit, NGO, not-for-profit, outreach, disaster, volunteer, tornado, flood, earthquake, tsunami, volunteers, donations, donate, canned goods, clothing, clothes

How to help Alabama & surrounding areas

This is the address of the Alabama Red Cross serving the areas hardest hit by the tornado, including Tuscaloosa. Donate directly to them if you want help to get quickly to those in most need. The Red Cross provides food, shelter, vital information and connections to the government and health resources local people are in desperate need of right now – and will continue to do so in the weeks to come.

The Humane Society of West Alabama is in need of financial help – they’ve suffered some serious damage and can’t take in all the abandoned and lost animals in need. The Greater Birmingham Humane Society will also need help with the influx of lost and abandoned pets. Making a donation will help buy food and pay for medical services. Adopting a pet from this or any nearby shelter will free up space for other animals.

For other areas, simply look up the state and county’s American Red Cross chapter or Humane Society or animal shelter on Google.

Unless you have extensive medical, engineering, logistics, health care or emergency management experience in post-disaster zones, and unless you are *already* affiliated with an emergency response agency (American Red Cross), and you are fully self-sufficient (you have a place to stay, you have transportation and fuel, etc.), DO NOT GO. If you do, you will be in the way and you will be a drain on resources (food, gas, etc.).

If you enjoyed the Royal Wedding today, why not make a donation to any of the above in honor of such? Or in honor of anyone you love? In honor of your own pets?

Also see:
Volunteering To Help After Major Disasters
(earthquake, hurricane, tropical storm, flood, tsunami, oil spill, etc.)

Please call your local American Red Cross and get training NOW for disasters LATER. They have training specifically for disaster response!

Volunteer with your local animal shelter NOW and build up your skills and your credibility so that you will be in a place to provide critically-need help in the future.



Giving the wrong way

I regularly read the questions posted to the Community Service section of YahooAnswers. It helps me to know what is trending regarding volunteerism, philanthropy, community service, especially among pre-teens and teens.

One of the many things I’ve learned from participating on YahooAnwers is the ongoing misconception people have, particularly in the USA, that collecting items to send abroad is a great idea and something NGOs and international agencies will help you coordinate. Most organizations do not want donated items. There are a number of reasons why:

    • Donated items can take away desperately needed local jobs. Even donated food can hurt, because how are local farmers supposed to get people to buy their food if a rich country dumps huge amounts of such into a country? There are local people in poor countries barely getting selling clothes, paper, pencils, building supplies and more – and donations of these materials flooding a country can drive them out of business.
  • Donated items shipped from the USA to another country can cost more to ship than simply buying the materials locally, or closer to the affected area.

That’s why many aid agencies try to buy needed materials and supplies locally, whenever possible, in cities near an area in need of such assistance: it helps the local economy, which is often in tatters because of the crisis, and stretches donor dollars much farther.

In addition, a lot of people want to donate their “gently-used clothes and toys” to people in need, not understanding that even the poorest people want their children to have new clothes and new toys, not people’s cast offs, however “gently-used.” Maybe the last thing they have to hold on to is their dignity.

That isn’t to say people shouldn’t donate used items appropriately: I’m a strong advocate for Goodwill, because it is a secular organization, accepting all people as volunteers and recipients of service, and it is focused on helping people to enter or re-enter the workforce. Goodwill stores aren’t just the places where the organization raises funds for its programs; they are also training grounds for those the organization is trying to help. Volunteers work alongside clients on the sales floor and behind the scenes in inventory.

My friend Ann in Ukraine wrote an awesome blog that talks about how international donations of stuff can be giving the wrong way. She wrote about a US NGO that wanted to send a humanitarian aid shipment to a hospital in a Chornobyl-affected area of Ukraine. It turned into a DISASTER. She isn’t trying to discourage people from giving:

There are extremely important reasons to give to humanitarian aid organizations. They do valuable and critical work, and they are essential in conflict zones, disaster areas and other at-risk places around the globe. I don’t want the “take-away” of this post to be that you should never give to a humanitarian aid organization. You should!

That said, her blogs about her situation with the US NGO will give you wonderful insight into why many NGOs in the developing world just-say-no to material donations.