Tag Archives: funding

Volunteering, by itself, isn’t enough to save the world

graphic by Jayne Cravens representing volunteers

Like so many communities across the USA, the town where I live has many, many homeless people: people, including children, who are couch surfing, living in cars, sleeping in public spaces or sleeping in shelters, because they have no space of their own. There is a patchwork of organizations trying to help them with basic, immediate needs, and I attended a presentation by one of the organizations trying to offer temporary shelter – and by temporary, I mean both temporary for people that will stay there and temporary in their own existence. One of the slides in her presentation had a list of all of the many things different agencies were doing to assist the homeless. But there was also this warning on the slide: None of which will go to preventing or ending homelessness. And that included the temporary shelter her organization was providing, and all of the volunteers helping in such.  

In Houston, we’ve seen all sorts of people volunteering to help people get to temporary shelters, to feed people in those shelters, to evacuate people from their flood ravaged homes and cars, to get animals to safety, and on and on. And that’s not just nice, that’s necessary, and I’m so grateful that I live in a country where people are so willing to donate their time. But volunteers could not do this alone, and eventually, disaster-response volunteers are going to go home, and there are going to be thousands of homeless people and animals who are going to need ongoing, continuing assistance, even as volunteers leave the area.

I love volunteerism, and I don’t trust nonprofits that don’t involve such. I think volunteers are critical for nonprofits, schools and government agencies – and not for saving money. I am passionate about the critical role volunteers can play in a range of issues and services. Again, they aren’t just nice – they are necessary.

However, I also believe we need more than only – solely – volunteers to keep schools open and of high quality, to keep water clean, to keep hike and bike trails safe, to help the homeless, to address drug abuse, to give children the safety nets they need to navigate their life into adulthood, to promote the arts, to address youth violence, to respond to disasters, and on and on. Full-time, fully funded experts are needed. Initiatives solely, completely dedicated to certain issues are needed – and these initiatives must have funding. I have been begging nonprofits and schools, for years, to tell government officials and corporate philanthropy folks explicitly that, while volunteers are great, money is ALSO needed, to meet the needs of the community. We cannot do all that needs to be done in our spare time, donating just a few hours a month. The last time I was fully on this soapbox on my blog was in 2011, regarding the UK’s “Big Society” movement.

I have often gotten a very cold reception because I don’t embrace the idea that serious community and environmental issues can be fully addressed by people giving a few hours whenever they might have some time to spare, as volunteers. I’ve even been accused of being anti-volunteer, which, given the amount of time and effort I give to promoting volunteer engagement and best practices for such, is ridiculous.

In July 2000, The New York Times published “The Vanity of Volunteerism,” by Sara Mosle. She taught public school for three years, and after she left that profession, mentored four of her former students for a few years. She writes about her experience in her Times’ piece and weaves into her account statistics and feedback about the growing expectation of the US government for volunteers to fill in the gaps in service left by the federal government withdrawing support for nonprofits, state governments and government social services. She quotes people and sources that note that the need for social services was increasing at the time, but donations and government financing didn’t increase, and volunteering wasn’t enough to fill the gaps. She also talks about the negative consequences for clients of nonprofits, schools and social service agencies of more and more people engaging in episodic volunteering – what we now call offline microvolunteering – instead of long-term, high-responsibility traditional volunteering.

The piece also references the Presidents’ Summit on America’s Future in Philadelphia, a three-day event that was aimed at boosting volunteerism and community service efforts across the USA. President Bill Clinton, Vice President Al Gore, former Presidents George Bush, Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter and retired Gen. Colin Powell all participated. I blogged about the 20th anniversary of that summit earlier this year.

Below is an excerpt from the 2000 New York Times article. Sara Mosle was singing the same song as me back in 2000, and I think her article’s statements, and the circumstances of nonprofits, need to be revisited. Note: the piece refers to Impact Online, and that is the original name of what is now VolunteerMatch. Also, the bolded text is my emphasis, not the article’s:


For more than a decade, politicians and civic leaders have been looking to volunteers like me to take over the government’s role in providing vital services to the poor. Although the movement arguably began in 1988 with the candidate George Bush’s invocation of ”a thousand points of light” as a response to Reagan-era cutbacks in social spending, it has been embraced by the current Democratic administration, which has continued those cutbacks, and culminated in the 1997 President’s Summit for America’s Future in Philadelphia, where President Clinton and Gen. Colin Powell touted the power of volunteerism. Now George W. Bush has picked up his father’s theme of ”a kinder, gentler” America by pushing ”charitable choice” — the provision in the 1996 welfare reform bill that allows faith-based organizations to contract with government to provide social services to the poor. (Al Gore supports it, too, though less vigorously.)

”Compassionate conservatives” would probably claim that I am the kind of ”caring adult” who can transform the lives of disadvantaged kids more effectively than any government program. I’m all for volunteering, but I would disagree. While I don’t doubt that I have had some positive effects on my kids’ lives — studies show that mentoring can reduce dropout rates and drug use among teenagers — they have mostly been of the ”boosting self-esteem” variety that conservatives, in other contexts, usually disdain. Besides, I’m not a very good volunteer. To work, mentoring has to be performed consistently, over a sustained period of time and preferably one on one. For the first couple of years, I saw my kids as often as twice a week. But now I’m lucky if I see them once a month, and I almost never see them individually. In their lives, I’m less a caring adult than a random one. And my failure is representative.

Although 55 percent of Americans reported that they volunteered at some point in 1998 — a 7 percent rise over 1995 — this jump does little more than recover ground that was lost in the early 1990’s and represents just a 1 percent increase over 1989. Moreover, the total number of hours that people are giving has actually declined. ”It’s a new trend,” says Sara Melendez, the president of Independent Sector, which compiled this data. ”People are volunteering, but when they do, it’s more of a one-shot deal — half a day one Saturday, instead of once a week for x number of weeks.” Overall, Americans donated 400 million fewer hours in 1998 than they did in 1995.

Consequently, while Powell has made recruiting 100,000 new mentors a top priority of America’s Promise, his volunteer outfit, there is little evidence that people are sufficiently answering his call. In New York, for instance, Big Brothers/Big Sisters receives just 4,000 inquiries each year from potential mentors. Of these, two-thirds never follow up once they learn they have to commit to seeing their kids at least twice a month. Another 700 lose interest after the initial training session or are eliminated through the program’s rigorous screening process. Only 600 people ever become mentors — this in a city with more than one million schoolchildren — and nationally, the program has a waiting list of some 50,000 kids.

To help nonprofits cope with this new unreliable work force, groups like Impact Online and New York Cares have sprung up that act like temp agencies, matching the interests (and busy schedules) of what might be called the impulse volunteer — someone with an urge to give but only a few hours to kill — with openings, arranged by time slot and geographical location. But this Filofax approach to giving often robs volunteerism of the very thing that was supposed to recommend it over government in the first place — namely, the personal connection that develops when you regularly visit, say, the same homebound AIDS patient.

And in a volunteer’s market, not every need has a buyer. ”People will come in and do a project — a school painting, a school wiring — and think they’ve done a good service and go away,” says Paul Clolery, editor of The NonProfit Times. ”But it’s not the type of traditional, week-in and week-out volunteering that a lot of organizations really need.”…

The experience of Meals on Wheels in Dallas is typical. It can’t find enough volunteers to commit to even a few hours a month to help deliver meals to the city’s elderly shut-ins. ”People can’t get away during the middle of the day,” says Helen Bruant, the program’s director. ”So, they ask, ‘Why don’t you deliver in the evenings?’ Well, we looked at that. But for a lot of our clients, this is their only meal. They eat half at lunch and save the other half for dinner. Plus, it’s not good for the elderly to eat a big meal at the end of the day.” Therefore, the program must hire 30 percent of its drivers. Even paying people, Bruant cannot find enough help. ”We can’t compete with McDonald’s,” she says…” Yet, if anything, the need is increasing. ”The aged population has grown by leaps and bounds in the last decade,” Bruant says, ”but giving and government financing haven’t increased.”

As a result, the heads of some of the most reputable nonprofits — the United Way, the Salvation Army, Catholic Charities — have reported that they can’t keep up with rising demand for their services. ”We’re having to turn people away, or ration portions, to stretch supplies,” says Deborah Leff, the president of America’s Second Harvest, the nation’s largest network of soup kitchens. And while charitable giving is up sharply, the growth has not kept pace with reductions in government aid to the poor. ”People have replaced some of it with volunteering, some of it with cash, but not all of it,” says Richard Steinberg, a professor of economics at the joint campus of Indiana and Purdue Universities in Indianapolis…

end of excerpt

September 14, 2017 update: wow, someone must have been inspired by my blog:
Bill Gates: Don’t expect charities to pick up the bill for Trump’s sweeping aid cuts.

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

Arts education is ESSENTIAL, not a nice extra

Amy Cuddy and CBS This Morning are in love with “power poses.” The “news” story they did recently was all about how standing or sitting a certain way, even if no one is looking at you, can help you feel more confident and powerful, and when done in front of other people, allow them to see you as such. Certainly body language is very important in presentation, for both the presenter and those you want to listen, but I was cringing over some of the recommendations, like for the pose where you sit in your chair and put your feet up on your desk as you talk to others – which, as anyone who works internationally knows, is profoundly disrespectful to people in a room with you. And the reporter’s fawning over a photo of Cuddy’s husband, in a pose they loved but that, to me, was demanding and demeaning to the viewer in a way that made me want to leave the room and get as far away from him as possible.

But what really ticked me off was this exchange:

“We don’t learn this stuff in school,” the interviewer, Rita Braver, said.

“No, we don’t teach it,” replied Cuddy.

Um… I learned it in school. I learned it in choir. You know, one of those arts classes that a lot of people that want to “revolutionize” and “disrupt” schools think are unnecessary in schools and should be replaced with more practical classes? If you were in any of the choirs in the Henderson County, Kentucky school system, you learned very quickly how to sit and how to stand, even when you weren’t singing. Certain postures were required, and other postures absolutely banned in the classroom. And those posture requirements have stayed with me to this day, decades later; I don’t sing in a choir anymore, but I know how to sit or stand in a meeting to indicate I am listening, that I hear you, and how to sit or stand so that you will feel compelled to listen to me. Performing in school plays also helped me with posture, with saying something by the way I was standing or sitting: fear, disinterest, confidence, surprise, and on and on.

But posture and presentation skills aren’t the only things that choir and drama activities in school gave me and that continue to serve me: I also know how to work in a team and meet a deadline, and how to dream, how to imagine, how to think creatively. There is a creative process, one that gets kick-started and flourishes when you go to art galleries, watch movies, read novels, and if possible, participate in making art yourself – singing, dancing, drawing, performing. You stare at clouds or a field or trees instead of a lit screen, and you let your mind wander, so that you can actually get ideas, so that you can formulate your own ideas. A lot of times ideas will turn up when you’re doing something else. Creativity is vital for most successful entrepreneurs or people brought in to improve a project, a program or an entire business. You don’t just disrupt a project or program or entire organization just because you can – you look for new ways of doing things that are needed by those served, an innovation that increases efficiency, that better addresses needs and challenges, and that keeps staff inspired – not just a change for change’s sake – and those disruptions come from inspiration, from creativity.

Neil de Grass Tyson, David Byrne, talked recently in an interview on Star Talk about the VITAL importance of arts education to innovators in any field – business, engineering, scientific research, whatever. I cried over this 3:44 minute part of the show, where an astrophysicist talks about why arts is VITAL to creativity. I could not agree more.

Instead of taking arts-related classes and learning to imagine, some Silicon Valley tech workers are taking LSD to be more creative. That’s so sad. Start a company choir. Dance. Try out for community theater. Have a reading of a Shakespeare play at your house. And sit up straight!

Also see:

That ‘Useless’ Liberal Arts Degree Has Become Tech’s Hottest Ticket

Why Top Tech CEOs Want Employees With Liberal Arts Degrees

tips for fund-raising for NGOs serving the developing world

fundhuntingSome of the most frequently asked questions (FAQs) to online forums for non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in developing countries, no matter what the subject of the forum is supposed to be (urban disasters, HIV/AIDS, maternal health, water and sanitation) , are regarding funding.

In 2004, frustrated at seeing fundraising questions from NGOs over and over and over again, and no INGOs nor UN agencies trying to answer them, I drafted a short list of basic tips for fund-raising for NGOs serving the developing world. I was an online volunteer with the Aid Workers Network then (the organization is long gone, unfortunately). Several other AWN volunteers revised the draft, and we finalized and published a version online for the AWN community. But I kept updating the document, and it grew from 15 pages to 30.

I have no idea how many people accessed the document. I tried to track it through various means, but was never successful.

I have updated the document for the first time since 2011, and instead of asking people to write me for it, so I could get an idea of how many people accessed it, I now have it ready for download from my web site. It’s now 29 pages.

But the big news is that I’ve updated it for the last time. I’m not updating it anymore.

Most of the information is timeless; the web sites in the document will change over time, the organizations cited will come and go, but the basic advice will always be valid, I hope. Also, there are so many more resources now to help NGOs with fundraising than there were 10 years ago, as any search on Google will show – this document isn’t filling an information gap like it was when it was first drafted and published.

Some things that have been surprising in the decade I’ve maintained this document, some of which are also reasons I will no longer be updating this document:

  • I have regularly gotten funding solicitations via email from NGOs in the developing world because they’ve done exactly what this document says NOT to do: they’ve found my name in association with fundraising and sent me a grant proposal, unsolicited, despite the obvious fact that I am NOT a foundation. The emails aren’t even addressed to me by name; they are often addressed to “sir”, or they have 10 other emails listed in the “to” bar.
  • I make it clear that this document is for NGOs serving the developing world, yet I frequently get requests for it from nonprofits in the USA. Sure, some of the advice is universal for mission-based organizations, but the document talks about funding sources that are available only to organizations working in, say, Africa or the poorest parts of Asia and South America, sources that are NOT available to organizations in North America.
  • Several people and organizations have posted the document to their web sites without my permission, despite me asking on my web site and in the document for this not to be done. When I’ve written to ask them to remove it – they often are posting an old version, not the latest – they say they had no idea I wouldn’t allow the document to be posted. Which means they didn’t bother to read even the first two pages, or, they just don’t care.
  • Several people and organizations have passed this document off as their own. That hurts most of all. All I’ve asked in return for this document is credit for it – I have never asked for payment. For someone to go through it and take my name off of it and then publish it as their own, including people from at least two NGOs – it’s shameful. It’s disheartening. It contributes to a negative image of NGOs working in and for the developing world.
  • I’ve never received follow up from anyone saying how they have used the document. Has it been helpful? Did it result in funding? I’ll never know.

I sound bitter. Sorry. I’m frustrated that a decade-long effort didn’t seem to do any good. If this document does make a difference for your NGO, I hope you will tell me.

Also see:

Survival Strategies for Nonprofits , a guide for nonprofits facing critical budget shortfalls.

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

Nonprofits still struggling

An interesting note, per my last blog about my most popular blogs in 2012: even those weren’t as popular as an entry from December 2011: Survival Strategies for Nonprofits. Visitor numbers for that blog just keep getting higher and higher.

It doesn’t take much to know why: nonprofits, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and other mission-based organizations are struggling. The recession is ending for much of the economy, but I think it will take another five years before nonprofits get to focus on expanding and experimenting again – not just surviving.

Also see:

Survival Strategies for Nonprofits , a guide for nonprofits facing critical budget shortfalls.

Volunteers: still not free

graphic by Jayne Cravens representing volunteersWikipedia is free – for users. Its more than 12 million articles can be accessed free of charge. It’s maintained by more than 100,000 online volunteers – unpaid people – who create articles and translate them into over 265 languages. That makes Wikipedia/Wikimedia the world’s largest online volunteering endeavor.

Unlike most organizations that involve volunteers, Wikipedia doesn’t screen the majority of its volunteers: anyone can go in to the web site an edit just about any article, any time he or she wants to. You want to volunteer for Wikipedia, you just start editing or writing any article. That makes the majority of its volunteer engagement microvolunteering, the hot term for short-term episodic online volunteering.

But, wait — maybe Wikipedia is not free…

This is from a blog post in 2012 regarding its latest fundraising campaign:

The Wikimedia Foundation’s total 2011-12 planned spending is 28.3 million USD.

Funds raised in this campaign will be used to buy and install servers and other hardware, to develop new site functionality, expand mobile services, provide legal defense for the projects, and support the large global community of Wikimedia volunteers.

That emphasis is mine – some of those millions of dollars are needed to support Wikimedia’s involvement of volunteers. Because volunteers are not free. It takes a tremendous amount of time, effort and expertise to wrangle more than 100,000 online volunteers and all that they do on behalf of Wikipedia/Wikimedia. And that takes money.

But it’s not just Wikipedia: any nonprofit organization, non-governmental organization (NGO), school, government initiative or community initiaitive that wants to involve volunteers has to:

  • Provide at least one staff member – an employee or a volunteer – to supervise and support volunteer work, to ensure volunteers don’t do any harm to the organization, its clients or other volunteers/staff, and to ensure everyone working with volunteers has the support they need to do so appropriately and successfully. That person has to know how to do that part of his or her job, even if it’s just 25% of his or her job, and that might require the organization to send the person to workshops or classes, to subscribe to e-volunteerism (the leading online resource in the USA regarding volunteer engagement), to read books about volunteer screening, supervising volunteers, child safety… and that takes FUNDING.
  • Everyone that works with volunteers must make sure the work volunteers undertake is of the quality and type the organization’s clients deserve. That might require sending multiple staff members to workshops or classes, to read books about volunteer screening, supervising volunteers, child safety… again, that takes FUNDING.
  • Staff has to develop activities for volunteers to do — activities that often would be probably be cheaper and done more quickly by staff themselves. Those activities must be in writing, to ensure everyone’s expectations are the same. And, newsflash: the majority of people charged with this task do NOT know how to do it! They need support and guidance in creating volunteering assignments. Who is going to do provide that support and guidance?
  • The organization has to monitor volunteers, record their progress and report it to the board and donors, as well as to the volunteers themselves and, perhaps, the public. That takes time and expertise.

Any organization that does not allocate time and resources to these volunteer management tasks ends up with:

  • people applying or calling to volunteer and never getting a response
  • people coming to volunteer and standing around for the majority of the time, wondering what to do
  • volunteers that don’t complete assignments – which means the organizations has to either recruit more volunteers and start again, or give the work to employees
  • volunteers that don’t complete assignments correctly
  • volunteers that blog and tweet about their negative experience with your organization and, perhaps, about volunteering in general!
  • staff that does not want to involve volunteers

Volunteers are not free. I’ve said it many times before, before, and before that and… well, you get the idea.

I’ll keep saying it until I stop hearing people say, “Volunteers are great because they’re free!”

I’ll keep saying it until campaigns to encourage people to volunteer also include resources to help nonprofit organizations, NGOs, schools, communities and others involve and support more volunteers.

And don’t even try to say volunteers save money, because that starts yet another blog rant…

Can Komen recover?

No matter how you feel about abortion services or Planned Parenthood, you have to agree that the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation handled its decision-making and communications regarding its defunding of Planned Parenthood very, very poorly:

  • They did not discuss the decision with their affiliates, let alone involve those affiliates in the decision. Some of the affiliates (Oregon and Connecticut, and perhaps more) even issued press releases after the Komen headquarters announcement asking for their HQ to reconsider. When your organization’s own affiliates are asking PUBLICLY for you to reconsider a decision, you have made a grave error.
  • They gave contradictory statements about why they were defunding Planned Parenthood. Sometimes they said it was because of a new policy not to fund any organization under investigation by state or federal authorities – yet they had no plans to discontinue funding for Penn State! They said the decision wasn’t political, nor because they had hired a dedicated, outspoken advocate against the right to abortion services – Karen Handel – who retweeted this on her Twitter account, contradicting Komen’s statements about this NOT being a political decision:


The original image from Lisa McIntire

Today, Komen somewhat reversed its decision regarding Planned Parenthood, but left the door open to stop funding the organization after the current funding cycle. It has not gone unnoticed that Komen has also stopped funding stem cell research. It has also has not gone unnoticed that Karen Handel is still a senior vice president at the Komen foundation.

This PR nightmare is not over for the Komen foundation. Can the foundation rebuild trust with the thousands of women who are saying they will never support the organization again? Can it successfully make this switch in its work, avoiding any organization that garners criticisms from far-right religious advocates, and therefore be the target of women’s rights advocates?

How should have Komen handled both this decision and the communications of such? Or is there any way for them to have done this without suffering such massive fallout with so many (now) former supporters? Share in the comments section here.

Also see: How to Handle Online Criticism.

Basic Fund-Raising for Small NGOs/Civil Society in the Developing World

Some of the most frequently asked questions (FAQs) to online forums for community-based organizations (CBOs) in developing countries, whatever the subject, are regarding funding.

In addition, the first impulse of many small non-governmental organizations (NGOs) seeking funding is to request the contact information for possible funders, and once they find the name of any company they think gives grants to NGOs, these NGOs often write immediately to the company with a desperate please for funds. This approach often harms the NGO, rather than garnering any support at all. Not only do these please rarely attract funding, they can turn funding sources against the NGO altogether.

After seeing these questions and messages again and again over several years (I’ve been on the Internet since about 1994) I drafted a list of basic tips for fund-raising for small NGOs – it was 15 pages long. Now, years later, it has evolved into 31 pages. It is a PDF file.

The document is meant to provide very basic guidelines for small NGOs in the developing world regarding fund-raising and adhering to the basic principles of good governance, and to point to other resources. By small NGOs, I mean organizations that may have only one paid staff member, or are run entirely by volunteers; and may or may not have official recognition by the government. These organizations are extremely limited in their resources, and are often in unstable environments and/or serving profoundly poor populations. Certainly medium-sized NGOs could use it as well – organizations that may have two or three paid staff members.

Please note that this document is NOT written for nonprofits serving the “developed” world — organizations serving communities in North America, Western Europe, Australia, New Zealand or Japan would probably not find this document particularly helpful, as it has been prepared to make recommendations relevant for nonprofits serving in a developing country.

This document is also not for organizations that send volunteers into developing countries to work. This document will not help you fund the trips of such volunteers. If you are such a volunteer-sending organization, see funding your volunteering trip abroad and fund raising for a cause or organization for more helpful information.



It is, instead, a set of guidelines on how to prepare an organization in a developing country to be attractive to donors, how to search for potential donors and how to approach such potential donors.

The document includes:

  • A list of activities an NGO should NEVER do regarding fund-raising
    (& how I know if an NGO has actually read this document!)
  • How to network among various sectors in your country and establish credibility to insure fund-raising success
  • The absolute essential preparations to solicit donations, both locally and from international NGOs working in your geographic area
  • Establishing credibility and a reputation of integrity, transparency and accountability
  • How to find donors that would be interested in your NGO and how to make contact with them
  • A warning about fund-raising scams
  • Online resources for detailed tips on writing funding proposals
  • Suggestions regarding volunteers in other countries fund-raising on your NGO’s behalf (new chapter added October 2011)
  • Online resources for further information

Once you have received this document, please do NOT distribute the document via a web site or on an online discussion group without my written permission. I frequently update the document, and want to ensure people are getting the most recent version.

Here is the web page for more regarding: Basic Fund-Raising for Small NGOs/Civil Societ in the Developing World, including how to access the document.

Mothers/women facing dire times worldwide

Mother’s Day is Sunday here in the USA, so here’s some stories that have gotten my attention recently about the condition of women and girls in various places:

    • The average height of very poor women in some developing countries has shrunk in recent decades, according to a new study by Harvard researchers. “Height is a reliable indicator of childhood nutrition, disease and poverty. Average heights have declined among women in 14 African countries, the study found, and stagnated in 21 more in Africa and South America. That suggests, the authors said, that poor women born in the last two decades, especially in Africa, are worse off than their mothers or grandmothers born after World War II.” More in this article by The New York Times.
    • “Women cry when they have girls”: Despite economic growth, Indian families let its girls die. A deep-rooted cultural preference for sons remains in India. Even the government has accepted that it has failed to save millions of little girls. “Whatever measures that have been put in over the last 40 years have not had any impact,” India’s Home Secretary G.K. Pillai said last month.
    • Jamie Henry, 24, is enrolled at South Texas College, has two children and gets by on government assistance and a $540 disability check her husband, a veteran of the Marines and National Guard, receives every month. “I have a 7-year-old boy and a 4-month-old girl, and I probably would have had 10 kids in between that if I didn’t come here and get my (contraceptive) shot,” Henry said Tuesday morning as she waited for her appointment at Planned Parenthood’s McAllen clinic. Henry, who gave birth to a baby girl four months ago and does not want any more children in the near future, is the type of woman Planned Parenthood Association of Hidalgo County is fighting to protect from an onslaught of legislative attempts to cut basic family planning services at the state and federal level. Here’s the story from Texas, as well as breakdowns of numbers from Minnesota and New Jersey that explain just how devestating to women – including mothers and mothers-to-be – cuts to Planned Parenthood will be.

Also see: Empowering Women Everywhere – Essential to Development Success, a list of research and articles that confirm that empowering women is essential to development success and highlight the very particular challenges to women’s access to education, health care, safety and economic prosperity.

Tags: moms, women, woman, wives, wife, gender, female, value, worth, funding, MDGs