Skip to content

Capitalizing on a Moment

2015 June 20
by Andrea

After the horror of this week’s assassinations at Emanuel AME in Charleston, South Carolina, I would like to see our philanthropic community capitalize on an opportunity to participate in the healing.

To be clear, the institutions and systems of racism in this country won’t go away because we make symbolic gestures. Hard, painful work awaits us, and will take time. Symbolic gestures alone don’t change minds, but they do show a path and create momentum.

Many of my friends in Houston had the same thought as the Houston Independent School District’s Superintendent:

Absolutely. Yes. And without delay.

The philanthropic community can play a role in making this change possible. After all, to go from the symbolic to the very mundane, it costs money to change school names.

I’d like to see several foundations and corporations come forward to offer a challenge grant to our community. The funds would make it much easier for the HISD board to vote to make changes, and the challenge would give many in our community the chance to contribute in a small way toward tearing down the literal institutions of racism.

We should look to the people we always say are heroes and role models—teachers, artists, dedicated volunteers—when drawing up suggested replacement names.

  • John H. Reagan High School, named for the postmaster general and secretary of the treasury of the Confederacy. Why not name it for Carrie Rochon McAfee, the first black woman named principal of a high school in HISD? She attended Texas Southern University, then started her teaching career at Yates High School, spending over 50 years in service to HISD and the community while winning national recognition for her teaching, including the Wall Street Journal Outstanding Journalism Teacher award in 1963.
  • Jefferson Davis High School, named for the president of the Confederate States of America during the Civil War. Let’s rename it in memory of Judge Alfred J. Hernández, a Mexican who moved to the neighborhood in which Davis is located at the age of 4, who grew up to become a citizen, US Army veteran, three-time president of LULAC, and the first Latino to serve on the bench in Houston. Right now, the only thing I know of that is named for him is the tunnel on N. Main immediately north of downtown.

Houston needs schools named for leaders like John Biggers and Ninfa Laurenzo. Biggers, a nationally renowned artist, and Laurenzo, an acclaimed and beloved restaurateur, both devoted significant time, thought, and resources to community causes, and enriched our civic life in immeasurable ways. We have so many we could honor whose names are not tarnished by an association with our civil war history.

I do not think we should bury our history. Racism, after all, is not something in the past, but something we grapple with daily. This changing of school names can be an important teaching tool for students.

I do think, however, that if we are serious about creating a welcoming community that celebrates diversity, the time has come to stop memorializing those who represent a heritage of slavery and divisiveness.

The philanthropic world can and should drive social change. A campaign to rename HISD schools is a smallbut meaningful way for it to do so.

Contribution of Negro Women to Education and Life in America, by John Biggers

Contribution of Negro Women to Education and Life in America, by John Biggers

Your Gift May Be Tax Deductible – But Should It Be?

2015 May 12
by Andrea

This conversation happens over and over—are some donations more deserving of favorable tax treatment than others?

The latest iteration to cross my screen comes from Dylan Matthews, who notes that while a donor’s $150 million gift for an arts center to his alma mater may be generous, and useful, and provide some emotional benefit to the donor while providing employment to the people who will oprate and maintain it, it should not be called philanthropy and should certainly not be eligible for a tax deduction.

Charity Navigator offers a calculator to show how much your donation to a qualified nonprofit organization is worth, an equation that depends upon both your tax bracket and your overall tax bill.

Assuming that the donor in the article gets put in the highest tax rate, 39.6% (not a safe assumption, as sophisticated tax planning probably lowers his marginal rate), the gift of $150,000,000 would actually only “cost” $91,500,000, because he would be able to deduct $58,500,000 from his tax bill.

(Let’s all just pause and be grateful most of us will never be able to subtract $58 million from any bill we receive, shall we?)

The deduction came about because, in theory, private donations to charitable organizations stand in for money the government does not have to spend meeting the needs being met by the organizations. This oversimplifies things, but a $100,000 gift to a food bank, in theory, relieves some burden on the government to provide nutritional assistance. The charitable tax deduction is, in one sense, one of the most basic types of privatization taking place on a daily basis in our country.

Would, however, the government be entitled to step up to provide a performing arts venue for students at Yale University in the absence of this gift?

How would you draw the line? Should nonprofits with operating surplusses or endowments over a certain size be disqualified? Should certain categories be in (food banks, homeless shelters) while others be out (private schools with tuition over a certain amount)? Should it be based on the demographics of clients served, and if so, should that be measure be tied to the poverty level index?

I think about this often. I believe that many, if not most, would still give to charity even without the benefit of the deduction, making it more of a tax benefit to the very wealthy than an incentive to the rest of us.

I imagine that larger charities, big enough to be able to afford federal lobbyists, would raise holy hell if anyone proposed doing away with the deduction. Are those the very charities that do not need the deduction in order to attract donations? Would you give to the Red Cross if a tsunami his Los Angeles even if you could not get a tax benefit for doing so?

I’ve never seen a serious academic analysis of how we would dismantle something like this that is so entrenched in our tax code and the identities of so many organizations. I’m sure one exists, maybe more. Point out to me the ones you find particularly illuminating or infuriating.

What do you think? How would you divide organizations? Would you scrap the whole thing? Could major changes ever happen? Are any of us in a position to judge what is and is not worthy of someone else’s donation? After all, it is their money.

Maybe one day, we’ll all sit in Stephen Schwarzman Hall at Yale and listen to a debate about it.

Event Venues & Accessibility

2015 April 3

I’m not proud to say that I have not always had accessibility front and center when considering venues for events.

At most big events, I’m covered, because a major hotel or convention center will almost always be accessible to people using wheelchairs or requiring other accommodations.

I’m covered, but not off the hook.

Too often, for the smaller, more casual, lower-dollar events, events which are often more about community-building than fundraising, the primary considerations are simply these: is a space willing to let us in, and will they let us in for free?

When you have a issue that needs community buy-in, and you can’t accommodate the entire community, that’s a problem.

In one of those conversations about where to stage an event, I mentioned how disappointing it was to learn that a space I was really keen on using wasn’t ADA-compliant. The person with whom I was speaking said:

Well, but do we have any guests who need accommodations?

If we plan events where key people are literally not able to be welcomed into our community, we never will have those guests.

Nonprofit organizations that work on social justice issues—which are so often framed as access issues—need to keep access at the forefront when we are planning meetings, fundraisers, performances, exhibits, speak-outs, hearings, and other events. We need to do it because we hold the public’s trust.

Let’s make every effort to ask about it on the front end, talk about it with other event organizers and fundraisers, and try to foster conversations about to create change on this front. If a venue isn’t physically accessible, can it be made virtually accessible via live video/audio feed? How do we create truly barrier-free spaces for our work?

Let’s also talk about it with the funding community. Think of the many performing arts organizations that operate on shoestring budgets, creating alternative theater spaces in spaces built well before the ADA, inevitably without the budget to retrofit in a meaningful way. How can this investment be framed as a necessity, not a luxury?

Of course, talk with people who are being shut out, and open your mind to who that might be. Many of us reflexively think about wheelchair users when we hear accessibility, but the barriers a Deaf person faces are qualitatively different, yet no less worth of consideration.

I’m not an expert, and am anxious publishing this, worried that despite my research and knowledge, I’ve used an outdated or offensive term, or overlooked an entire range of issues that should be glaringly obvious. I fear that I will be involved with plenty of events, going forward, that take place in less-than-ideal venues.

I commit to keep challenging myself to learn more, be proactive, and find a way to move beyond mere compliance* to meaningful inclusion. I hope you will join me.

Here are a few links that have helped me, in big and small ways, learn to think and talk about this:

Four Great Ways to Help Event Volunteers Help You in One Simple Email

2014 October 13
by Andrea

I’m volunteering at an event for a friend tonight, as several other volunteers had to drop out at the last minute.

Earlier today, I got a logistics email from the on-site coordinator about directions, parking, arrival time, and attire. Just now, I heard from my friend, in an email sent to all volunteers. Immediately, I replied to ask if I could share the message, because it was the best email I’ve ever gotten about volunteering at an event. I’ve edited out any identifying information.

I know what to expect, and I know what is expected of me. What impressed me was how graciously everything is phrased—I really feel like a trusted and valued part of the team reading this. Here are the top four things that I noticed and loved:

One
“I look forward to seeing you there, and your immediate point of contact is Other Guy with Agency X, in case I’m not around. If an emergency comes up and you can’t make it for some reason, please be in communication – text me at 713-xxx-xxxx. I appreciate the opportunity to communicate to our benefactor what’s happened when a shift goes uncovered, and thanks for keeping this number private and using it for emergencies only.”

This sets the perfect tone. I understand that everyone is depending upon me showing up, and that it will reflect badly on the agency that is benefiting from the event if the agency’s volunteers are too rude to even call to cancel when an emergency comes up.

Setting the expectation, too, that volunteers should only reach out using this number in case of emergencies, is pure genius. It gives my friend permission not to answer if someone who volunteers tonight decides, going forward, to call directly using that number for every little thing. Nonprofit employees work regular business hours, but the nature of our jobs means we also work nights and weekends. Often, board members and volunteers who are being generous with their own time forget that the staff can’t be available 24/7.

Two
“I will have volunteer name badge for you, and in case tonight’s guests are particularly chatty, I’ve listed a few talking points below. I and a few board members will be there to answer any questions if folks ask you something you can’t answer.”   

I always appreciate name tags, and especially those that ID me as a volunteer, staff member, or board member. Most people will instantly understand where I fit into the scheme of things, and not yell at me if they are unhappy with some aspect of the event that is clearly not under my control. There is nothing worse than when your volunteers take the heat for something, right or wrong or misunderstood, that staff or board should be feeling instead.

Three
At the end of the email, as promised, are four talking points. Not a fifteen page annual report. Not a one-page fact sheet with twenty items on it. Not a complete list of all services. Just a handful of quick, easy facts. All of the volunteers will be on message. I’m guessing the board members got the same points as well.

Four
“Please remember that volunteers don’t drink on their shift — the Agency delivers excellence and professionalism on all fronts, and that’s especially true for our front line event volunteers. I am so grateful to have such a cadre of rock stars such as yourselves! There will be some nosh at the event, but I am not clear on how much, so I wouldn’t come starving. Let me know if you have any questions!”

This addresses two huge issues about volunteers at events: who drinks what, who eats what. The only thing worse than drunk volunteers, in my experience, is drunk staff in charge of drunk volunteers. I could tell you stories … but let’s just say I am so glad the alcohol policy is handled so deftly yet clearly. Who doesn’t want to appear excellent and professional, after all?

Food. We all eat it. Sometimes, volunteers have a special meal in another room, or are invited to sit at a back table, but this event is a quick cocktail reception. There likely won’t be room for a volunteer area, and probably won’t really be dinner-worthy food. Plus, we’re going to be working. Now I know to eat first and I won’t show up hungry and disappointed, and end up embarrassing myself by trying to eat a whole tray of goat cheese-stuffed dates while no one is looking.

Little emails like this, to 12 volunteers, may not get the attention that grant proposals or newsletters do, but they are reaching the same audience of potential donors and volunteers, so they need to live up to agency standards. I am really looking forward to tonight after getting this email, and I have a really great feeling about the agency and its staff.

Pictures: Worth 1,000 Words or The Price of a Lawyer

2014 August 15
by Andrea

I got a helpful reminder last weekend during a panel discussion about nonprofit administration.

Make sure this is part of your agency’s social media policy: anyone posting anything on behalf of the agency can only use images owned by the nonprofit or licensed appropriately. You open your organization up to liability by using photos, graphics, or images without permission. It can cost time, money, and good will in the community.

Can you ask someone to donate the use of an image? Sure, but be sensitive. You have to give the creator the opportunity to make that choice, and you need to understand that no matter how good your cause, or how much exposure someone might get, people who use their artistic skills to earn a living get hit up all of the time and can’t be expected to work for free.

If you do get a donation, and you offer exposure, follow through. In the photo credit, include a link to the photographer’s website. Make sure that person is listed in the annual report’s list of inkind donors. Tell your board members and donors about the photographer who gave you a great deal on your website images so they know she is available to handle their corporate websites, too. And, if next year you do have the funds to hire someone or buy art, go to that person first.

It isn’t a defense to say that you don’t have funds in the budget but really needed to use an image. It won’t matter who put the image up or whether they knew the rules—the organization is liable, period. The image doesn’t have to have the word or symbol for copyright on it, either.

All of this goes for images used in printed collateral, too. Social media is where problems crop up more often, however, since it is much easier to right-click a photo and put it on a Facebook event banner than it is to steal—because, let’s be honest, that’s what using someone else’s property without their permission is—a high-resolution image that a graphic designer can insert into your paper newsletter.

What can you do if you need images but don’t have them? You do have options.

1) You can search for royalty-free images on sites like Flickr that have a Creative Commons license attached. Make sure you abide by the rules for attribution and altering images.

2) You can ask your board and volunteers to help. If you run a botanical garden, surely you can find a handful of volunteers to donate a few hours snapping pictures to create your own stock photo reserve.

3) You can purchase access to an online stock photo site, like iStock Photo or Getty Images. Yes, this suggestion and the next one cost money, but so does legal advice when you get a demand letter from an artist who sees you using 20 of her images on your website.

4) When you hire a photographer for an event, ask if you can buy a couple of additional hours to get photos taken of your programs, clients, or the subject matter you need.  Some people can give you a discount if you are buying more of their time. Not all, but some.

If you are using client photos, of course, respect their privacy. Remember to get signed photo releases from adults and parents of any children whose images you snap. Get those releases at the same time you are taking the pictures so you don’t end up with a great shot that you can’t use because no one can find that really cute kid’s mom, and keep them in a place where you can find them in five years when you want to use the picture again.

I wanted to illustrate this post with a great photo from a friend who has been plagued by having his artwork stolen and used without his permission, but instead, I will link you to his site so you can enjoy his work in the format he’s chosen that makes it clear the images are his. Enjoy!  And, whatever you do, DO NOT use his images without permission. He won’t even have to come after you with a take-down request, because I’ll do it for him.

Brochures Tips for Fundraising Campaigns

2014 February 13
by Andrea

Someone just gave a supporter one of our beautiful fundraising campaign brochures—the outdated, too expensive to justify re-printing brochure we retired at the end of 2012!

I made a rookie mistake, assuming that because 12 of us in a room made a decision, everyone else in the organization would magically know not to use the remaining ones. Reflecting on how to avoid situations like this, I came up with a few of the things I could have done to help the brochure have a useful life, start to finish, including an honorable (and permanent) retirement.

Date it
Somewhere, print the date on the brochure. October, 2013 or Fall, 2012, or even just the year. As long as there’s a clue, people who discover it at some point in the future will have an idea of how current or how out of date information may be.

Design it with updates in mind
Your numbers will change. At some point, you might want to adjust the campaign goal, report on progress made, list new committee members, or describe an increase or accomplishment that your fundraising has made possible. You can stretch the useful life of a brochure by using an insert you can print in the office, or relatively cheaply at a copy shop, for the detailed facts and figures. The big pictures and primary story on the glossy brochure are then evergreen. Date the insert!

Give it a great retirement party
At some point, you can’t eke out any more mileage. Before you get caught up in designing the new piece, give the old one a great send-off. Do you have a retired collateral binder? If not, make one. Think of the binder as a retirement home for your brochures that have served well and deserve a rest.

  • Save a handful (3? 5? 10?) of hard copies. Keep two more than you think you’ll need, in case someone asks for one as a sample.
  • If you forgot to date it, include a note about when you used it.
  • Include a brief history of the piece, the kind of things people always want to know: who designed it, how many you printed, how much it cost. You could simply clip copies of the invoices together to capture that information.
  • Include, if you have it, a CD ROM with the design files that were used, especially photographs. You should have them elsewhere, too, but this way, someone can always find them. And, trust me, someone always wants to re-use the photographs. Ask for those images separate from the actual file that is the finished brochure, and make sure you have permission to re-use them.

Plastic document sleeves are great for keeping all of this together. If you aren’t a binder person, you can easily use file folders, or even slide everything into a big mailing envelope & tape an example piece on the front.

Get rid of the remaining stock
This is critical, and it is where I fell down on the job. Make sure you get rid of any remaining copies. Send an all-staff email asking everyone to recycle; and send it to the board as well, if they were ever distributed to board members. Check the store rooms, cabinets, boxes, and shelves in the copy area. Check all of the brochure holders. Because you have your retired collateral binder, no one will feel like they, too, need to save “just a few,” which always translates to an entire box of 500 that get moved, stored, and possibly distributed by mistake.

Other collateral
This actually all works for coffee cups, t-shirts, and hats, with one quick modification. Take photos of the piece (front and back, if it is a t-shirt), and keep those, together with the design/cost/size of run info, in the binder as well. Someone, well in the future, will call you to ask about those great mugs you designed for your campaign ten years ago, and you’ll be able to give them the details and a copy of the photo (although they’re likely calling because they still have theirs). It isn’t as critical to date these things, obviously, but they will become part of your agency’s documented history.

Binders Full of Event Details

2013 July 23

At the risk of sounding like Mitt Romney, I’ve got binders full of event information.

Don’t get me wrong. I do about 90% of my fundraising work on the computer/in the cloud, and have cut way back on paper. When it comes to events, however, I have a stubborn connection to having an actual binder to keep track of the entire project.

I like to be able to present a volunteer who will be chairing the event with a binder as well. The chair may or may not add to it, but here’s what I think should absolutely be in that binder:

Key Contact List
Give the volunteer the name, title, phone number, and email of everyone she might need to contact at your organization or on the event committee. If the person’s function isn’t immediately clear, you might even list why the chair might need to contact a person. For example, don’t just list the CEO’s assistant. Specify that the assistant is the person who can send emails to the board of directors, schedule a tour of the facility for a potential donor, or reserve the conference room for a meeting.

Chair Job Description/Expectations
I’ve touched on this before, but it is extremely helpful to outline both what you expect the chair to do, and what the chair should expect you will do.

Event Budget
I find it even more helpful to show the prior year’s budget and actuals for both expenses and revenues, annotated with any special information.

On the expense side, the annotations are key. If you see a zero in the photographer column, you need to know whether that means someone donated the service, or the event didn’t have a photographer.  The expenses you show should be limited to those directly attributable to the event. I understand that your accounting department may allocate part of each staff member’s salary to the event, but that isn’t a number the chair can control, so it isn’t helpful to show it.

On the revenue side, show totals and details. Unless this is a new event, your chair shouldn’t be worried about starting at zero. Seeing who donated last year helps the chair understand who to talk with first this year.

Last Year’s Collateral
You should always save a stack of printed collateral from an event, and this is one of the times when you’ll use it. Include samples of letters, donation forms, invitations, programs, and any other printed piece you’ll need to update for this year’s event.

Calendar or Key Dates
Make sure you include not just event dates (the day invitations need to be mailed, or the day the guarantee is due to the hotel) but dates relating to your agency, such as staff in-service days or your vacation so the chair knows when you won’t be available.

Quick Facts About Your Nonprofit
Include talking about your mission and programs so the chair can answer basic questions with confidence when talking to potential donors.

 

Do you give your event volunteers a binder? A zip drive? What other critical information or guiding documents do you provide to your chairs?

 

The College Credential, Debt, and Nonprofit Jobs

2013 June 9

Mother Jones has published some terrifying statistics about student loan debt, starting with this:

More than 38 million Americans have outstanding student loan
debt totaling nearly $1 trillion, and those numbers are rising fast.

One trillion dollars in student loan debt. You can see nine charts that illustrate the problem in great and horrific detail on their website.

I’ve written and talked about it before, but considering these startling statistics (which, thanks to the relentless march of compound interest, will only get worse), it is time to focus, again, on what steps we can all take to help cope with this crisis. The nonprofit sector has many roles to play. Allow me to address a small but not insignificant way we might help.

If your social service or human service nonprofit that works in any way with people affected by poverty, then school debt, in one way or another, has an adverse impact on many of your clients. People could be living in poverty because of significant debt, or because the lack of education (which at least means lack of education debt) precludes opportunities for a living wage. You have a vested interest in reducing college debt, because doing so will create greater economic stability for your clients and our country as a whole.

Be bold. Make a four-year college degree, or even a two-year degree, an optional credential for  jobs unless it truly is a necessary credential.

Are you hiring a physician, attorney, or licensed social worker? Clearly, because of the way those professions are governed, and the skills (and liabilities) involved, you are justified in requiring certain educational credentials as non-negotiable requirements for candidates.

Are you hiring an administrative, fundraising,  volunteer services, or marketing assistant or coordinator? Consider screening for the skills you actually need, instead of the skills for which you assume a college degree serves as a proxy.

Next, look to the continuing education you provide to your staff. Invest in these people. If you hire someone with a high school diploma for your entry level phone intake position, help them earn the skills they need to earn a promotion within your organization. Pay for them to take a business writing class, or at least pay for half and give them paid time off to attend.

Is there a risk staff will use those skills to get a job elsewhere? Sure there is. But if you are a mission-driven organization that hopes in any way to level the playing field, isn’t that risk part of your reason for being?

Think your small nonprofit cannot afford to offer tuition reimbursement or training? Think coalition, people.

What if local United Ways offered professional writing and financial literacy classes for the staff of area nonprofits at a greatly reduced rate? What if nonprofits, schools, and companies that offer those classes created incentives or discounts or scholarships for nonprofit staff to participate in them? Law firms and doctor’s offices get lunch and learns where they earn continuing education credits. There’s nothing stopping anyone from creating lunch and learns for entry-level nonprofit staff.

What do you think? What holes can you poke in this? We’re in the helping business, and we’re always being told to be innovative. How can we innovate and help?

The Heiress, The Smurfs, and the Homemade Pies

2013 May 30
by Andrea

If nothing else, this article provides fascinating fodder for cocktail talk about fundraising ethics. Well, maybe you discuss more exciting things when you meet your friends for cocktails—feel free to share in the comments because we love eavesdropping—but you should check out this article from the New York Times before you dismiss the topic out of hand. Hospital Caring for an Heiress Pressed Her to Give Lavishly details the story of Huguette Clark, who spent the final twenty years of her life living at Beth Israel Medical Center. The quick highlights:

  • She checked in at the age of 85 when she was dealing with multiple health complications related to skin cancer, and asked to stay on because she took great comfort in the level of care she was receiving.
  • She stayed for twenty years! While I’m sure insurance covered her initial treatment, she must have become a cash patient fairly early in the process. There aren’t many of us who could afford that level of care.
  • She died at the age of 104, and the story has come to light as “part of a battle over Mrs. Clark’s $300 million estate with her distant relatives.” Note the size of the estate, and the adjective modifying relatives.
  • “Admitted in 1991, Mrs. Clark ended up staying until her death, giving the hospital at least $4 million in donations, not counting millions more she paid just to live there and a $1 million bequest in her final, contested will, according to court papers.”
  • “In previous court filings, the Manhattan public administrator, who has been appointed as temporary administrator of the estate, also has criticized the hospital’s behavior — as well as that of Mrs. Clark’s accountant, lawyer, admitting doctor and a private nurse, all of whom appear in the disputed will as beneficiaries of her estate.”

So, after she spent twenty years in the hospital, distant relatives are upset about approximately $5 million in donations, 80% of which were made while she was still alive. This article, and the juicy parts of the lawsuit, focus on the ethics of the fundraising staff at the hospital. I think there’s much more to unpack, however, starting with the overall ethics of having a permanent resident in your medical facility (a topic at least one  fundraiser broached, according to court records).

And these distant relatives, the “20 grand and great-grand half-nieces and half-nephews”—did they step in at any point while she was alive? Do they have any claim over gifts she made while living? Should they?

Who do you engage in your cultivation and stewardship activities? Staff beyond the fundraising department, sure, but what about spouses and significant others? At some large institutions, spouses receive stipends for their role in professional activities supporting their spouses who lead institutions, after all.

Dr. Newman [the CEO] and development officers planned to hold a “brainstorming” meeting in the office of the hospital chairman, Morton P. Hyman, on May 11, 1998, to talk about how to get a “big gift” from Mrs. Clark.

On May 20, Stefanie Steel, a development officer, asked Dr. Newman whether his mother [who had once lived in France, as had the donor] had broached “the joy of making a will” with Mrs. Clark.

“Yes,” Dr. Newman replied. But Mrs. Clark’s response, he said, was, “ ‘Let me show you a wonderful tape of Christmas with the Smurfs.’ ” “I kid you not!” he wrote. “My mom spent 30 minutes watching the Smurfs celebrate Christmas; she deserves a medal — the lack of outcome notwithstanding.”

Would you watch a Smurf cartoon with a donor? Spend an afternoon being a companion and sympathetic ear? How is it different if your spouse or partner does the same? Is it coercive, or generous and kind?

Periodically, the hospital’s tactics involved small tokens, as many cultivation and stewardship activities do:

Over the years, the hospital showered her with gifts like classical music CDs, an orchid, birthday balloons and an Easter basket.

Mrs. Clark sometimes replied in writing.

In a card dated Nov. 30, 1992, she thanked Dr. Newman “for the most delicious home made Thanksgiving desserts, which I enjoyed very much.” Dr. Newman annotated the file copy, crediting his wife: “5 different homemade pies!” [The CEO’s wife visited Mrs. Clark periodically, and made the pies.]

Would you, as a fundraising professional, make a pie for a donor? Buy one? I’ve baked for donors and board members plenty of times. I am firmly pro-pastry as a relationship-strengthening tool. If it is unethical, I’m in trouble.

What role do doctors at hospitals play or not play as far as fundraising at these institutions go? We all talk about creating cultures of philanthropy at our nonprofits, and part of that is making sure all staff understand how to bring supporters into the fundraising pipeline. Do you provide ethical guidance for how staff should do this with people whose primary contact with you is via the services you deliver?

I know plenty of clinics that put out donation jars in their lobbies, and plenty of patients who are glad to chip in, even though their means are extremely limited. How different is this, and how is it the same? I’m not willing to condemn the grateful patient fundraising model based on this story, especially since so many of us who will, at some point, use a hospital, will benefit from it. I’m sure some who don’t work in this field, however, would be horrified to learn that ‘grateful patient’ is a term of art in the fundraising world.

This story is a great tool for talking about how you talk about donors internally, what protections you put in place, and how and where you draw the lines between enthusiastic relationship-building and stewardship, and coercion and manipulation.

This is also a nice reminder that estate lawyers often recommend making a token bequest to family members to prevent them from challenging a will. I’m not qualified to go into great detail over this point, but I raise it because it is a conversation worth having with your own attorney about how to stop challenges and lengthy court battles if your estate plan involves bequests both to family members and other institutions.

The more times you read this article, the more issues jump out at you, and I believe that even non-fundraisers could spend a considerable amount of time chewing them over, cocktail in hand or not. Perhaps an interesting article to assign ahead of a board retreat to stimulate a conversation about stewardship and ethics?

Don’t Hide Your Financials

2013 May 1

A quick shout-out to a Houston nonprofit that does something really simple on their website that tells a great part of their story.

The Neuhaus Education Center is a non-profit organization dedicated to the prevention of reading failure. I know many teachers and tutors who’ve taken their training classes, and many students who’ve overcome struggles with reading thanks to those teachers and tutors. My mother-in-law worked with students for many years, thanks to her Neuhaus training (and her native patience and kindness) and she has wonderful stories about how those students have thrived.

One item on their ABOUT menu button is FINANCIALS. Click on it, and you see two simple pie charts that break out their revenue and expenses.

These are not high-end graphics, nor do they need to be. They are pie charts anyone can create in Excel. They quickly demonstrate how they spend their funds, and show the impact donations have on their ability to carry out their mission.

As I write this, their charts are current as of December 31, 2011, so they could probably stand to be updated. And, it wouldn’t hurt if they linked to PDFs of their most recent audit and IRS 990 for complete transparency.

Still, even without those documents, my guess is that most donors are satisfied just seeing these pie charts. The data is clear and easy to find. I like it. Kudos to Neuhaus.