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Donors & Nonprofits: Do you know the current IRS tax-deductibility rules?

As we near the end of 2011, many of us will be making what we believe to be ‘tax-deductible donations’ to charitable causes. Before making a donation and listing it on your tax return, please review the following current regulations, including how to document electronic gifts. As our law makers search for ways to resolve state and national economic challenges, regulations will continue to change, so staying current is in everyone’s best interest.

In addition, during this past year, over 275,000 organizations, nationwide, were dropped from tax-exempt status, so checking the status of organizations is more important than ever. Publication 78 lists current eligible organizations.

Here is a summary of IRS rules, direct from their website, with links to publications they refer to at the end:

IRS Tax Tip 2011-57, March 22, 2011 (,,id=106990,00.html)

Charitable contributions made to qualified organizations may help lower your tax bill. The IRS has put together the following eight tips to help ensure your contributions pay off on your tax return.

  1. If your goal is a legitimate tax deduction, then you must be giving to a qualified organization. Also, you cannot deduct contributions made to specific individuals, political organizations and candidates. See IRS Publication 526, Charitable Contributions, for rules on what constitutes a qualified organization.
  2. To deduct a charitable contribution, you must file Form 1040 and itemize deductions on Schedule A.
  3. If you receive a benefit because of your contribution such as merchandise, tickets to a ball game or other goods and services, then you can deduct only the amount that exceeds the fair market value of the benefit received.
  4. Donations of stock or other non-cash property are usually valued at the fair market value of the property. Clothing and household items must generally be in good used condition or better to be deductible. Special rules apply to vehicle donations.
  5. Fair market value is generally the price at which property would change hands between a willing buyer and a willing seller, neither having to buy or sell, and both having reasonable knowledge of all the relevant facts.
  6. Regardless of the amount, to deduct a contribution of cash, check, or other monetary gift, you must maintain a bank record, payroll deduction records or a written communication from the organization containing the name of the organization, the date of the contribution and amount of the contribution. For text message donations, a telephone bill will meet the record-keeping requirement if it shows the name of the receiving organization, the date of the contribution, and the amount given.
  7. To claim a deduction for contributions of cash or property equaling $250 or more you must have a bank record, payroll deduction records or a written acknowledgment from the qualified organization showing the amount of the cash and a description of any property contributed, and whether the organization provided any goods or services in exchange for the gift. One document may satisfy both the written communication requirement for monetary gifts and the written acknowledgement requirement for all contributions of $250 or more. If your total deduction for all noncash contributions for the year is over $500, you must complete and attach IRS Form 8283, Noncash Charitable Contributions, to your return.
  8. Taxpayers donating an item or a group of similar items valued at more than $5,000 must also complete Section B of Form 8283, which generally requires an appraisal by a qualified appraiser.

For more information on charitable contributions, refer to Form 8283 and its instructions, as well as Publication 526, Charitable Contributions. For information on determining value, refer to Publication 561, Determining the Value of Donated Property. These forms and publications are available at or by calling 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).



IRS Tax Tip 2011-57

Lobbying, Can Nonprofits Do That?

After attending the Michigan Nonprofit Association’s Nonprofit Day 2011, I found out that, yes nonprofits can lobby. According to the IRS, 501(c)(3) corporations are allowed to lobby as long as they follow their rules and fill out the proper forms. The IRS defines lobbying as attempting to influence legislation by contacting, or encouraging the public to contact, members of a legislative body for purposes of supporting/opposing/proposing legislation. The major rule is that nonprofits cannot spend a “substantial amount” of their budget on lobbying. For a clearer explanation of what the IRS considers to be a “substantial amount,” check out Measuring Lobbying Activity: Expenditure Test. Charity Lawyers Blog post titled, Lobbying-Yes You Can! clarifies in layman’s, terms what is and is not lobbying, as well as explaining the 501(h) election.

According to the IRS, qualifying organizations may file a special election under 501(h) of the Code, or Election/Revocation of Election by an Eligible Section 501(c)(3) Organization To Make Expenditures To Influence Legislation (501(H) Election), to allow them to spend up to a specified dollar amount for lobbying without fear of adverse tax consequence from such activities. The IRS and Michigan Nonprofit Association advise nonprofits to file the 501(h) election if they are planning on doing any lobbying, as well as tracking all expenditures. ‘Direct’ and ‘Grassroots’ lobbying must be tracked separately as they have separate expenditure limits.

IRS Resources on Lobbying and expenditure limits:

IRS Definition of Direct & Grassroots Lobbying

IRS Schedule C Political Campaign and Lobbying Activities

IRS General Instructions for Filing Schedule C for Lobbying Activity

Excessive lobbying activities over a four-year period may cause a nonprofit to lose its tax-exempt status, making all of its income for that period subject to tax.

For questions on how to use communication channels such as your website, email, and social media channels for lobbying, Alliance for Justice is offering a free downloadable copy of Influencing Public Policy In The Digital Age: The Law of Online Lobbying and Election-related Activities. The guide is intended to inform 501(c)(3) and (c)(4) organizations on how to stay within the law and encourage participation in the nation’s democratic process using technology.

Consult your attorney and the IRS Charities/Nonprofits webpage for more information on how nonprofits can lobby for their cause. Other helpful resources are the IRS eNews: Exempt Organization Update and Center for Lobbying in the Public Interest website. ONEplace will be hosting a webinar November 15 titled Lobbying Rules for Nonprofits presented by Alliance for Justice. Register online soon as we anticipate seats will go fast!

Please share your thoughts about nonprofit lobbying by commenting on my blog!


Lobbying-Yes You Can!

Is Your Organization “Donor-Centric?”

A new article in the Nonprofit Quarterly by Simone Joyaux (See-MUN Zha-WHY-oh) adds another element to the discussion as she asks, “Are You So Vain?” Is your organization thinking about (and acting like) fundraising is all about you, instead of being all about the donor? She offers an assessment tool to look at your practices and attitudes, and a pledge to commit to, that will help your organization lose its vanity and gain donor loyalty.

Below are the first ten of 23 pledge items. You can find the complete list on her website. PDF


The Donor-Centric Pledge
We, [fill in the name of your nonprofit organization here], believe…

  1. That donors are essential to the success of our mission.
  2. That gifts are not “cash transactions.” Donors are not merely a bunch of interchangeable, easily replaceable credit cards, checkbooks and wallets.
  3. That no one “owes” us a gift just because our mission is worthy.
  4. That any person who chooses to become our donor has enormous potential to assist the mission.
  5. That having a program for developing a relationship with that donor is how organizations tap that enormous potential.
  6. That we waste that potential when donors are not promptly thanked.
  7. That “lifetime value of a donor” is the best (though often overlooked) way to evaluate “return on investment” in fundraising.
  8. That donors are more important than donations. Those who currently make small gifts are just as interesting to us as those who currently make large gifts.
  9. That acquiring first-time donors is easy but keeping those donors is hard.
  10. That many first-time gifts are no more than “impulse purchases” or “first dates.”

I recommend having several people in your organization take the assessment to see where your organization stands. Then, take the pledge and work the pledge over the coming months to see what a difference new actions and attitudes can make in your donor/nonprofit relationships and fundraising.


Simone Joyaux: The Donor-Centric Pledge

Tough Years Ahead for Fundraisers—What Can You Do?

Several fundraising and philanthropy organizations and journals, web-based experts, and sector associations are predicting ‘tough years ahead’ for all types of fundraising. Holly Hall’s article in the Chronicle of Philanthropy (June 2011) cites a Giving USA report indicating giving has fallen more since 2008 than in the past 50 years.

An article in the August 24th Chronicle cites a new report by Dunham+Company that shows two-thirds of donors surveyed plan to cut back on giving this fall—and, 10% plan to stop giving altogether!

The slow recovery and current threat of a double-dip recession, along with continued unemployment, suggest ‘it could be as long as 2016 before donations return to’ pre-recession levels.

Adding to the economic issues, the national deficit reduction talks and policy conversations may lead to additional challenges for nonprofits relying on donations to keep their doors open and serve their constituents.

What can nonprofits do? Take steps, today, to increase your skills and relationships!

The annual, year-end fundraising season is fast approaching! What can organizations do, now, to connect with their donors in more meaningful ways, and find new people to support their mission, in this environment?

  • Learn all you can about your donors and why they support your organization. What is ‘in it for them’ rather than what’s in it for the organization?
  • Gather stories (and photos) of real people benefitting from your programs and services to ‘show and tell’ what you do and what difference it makes.
  • Attend workshops and webinars at ONEplace and elsewhere to learn all you can about fundraising, donor relations, and communication.
  • Seek online resources, such as the Chronicle; blogs by fundraising experts across the country, like Tom Ahern or Donor Power; or, voices of experience on Monday Movies, Fundraising and Awareness Movies for Nonprofits; and, many more.

What can donors do? Take steps to know what your gifts do in the community/world and give** generously to those you believe in.

As donors, the choice is yours to invest in a nonprofit or not.

  • Why do you support the organizations you do and not others? How and when did you start giving to them? Are you involved in any other way? How much do you really know about them?
  • Have you stopped donating to some nonprofits? Why? Would you consider renewing gifts to them? Why?
  • Are you sure nonprofits you want to donate to are still tax-exempt? Check the new IRS rules.
  • Study online resources for donors that will help your decision making: TakeAction@GuideStar; Questions to Ask; and the Donor Bill of Rights from the Association of Fundraising Professionals
  • **Invest in the nonprofits you believe in and trust, generously, with your gifts of money, time, expertise, and ambassadorship. You will help make our community and world a better place during this challenging time, and always. Thank you!


ONEplace @ KPL

Conquering the Blank Page

Do you cringe at the idea of facing a blank page? Does the task of blogging and writing newsletter articles make you nauseous? You are not alone; there is help available to you. Here are some useful resources you can access with helpful advice from those working in the nonprofit communication field.


Katya’s Nonprofit Marketing Blog is written specifically for nonprofit professionals and offers a wealth of knowledge on different topics pertaining to communication and fundraising.

Kivi’s Nonprofit Communications Blog focuses mainly on writing appeal letters, websites, and social media content. Kivi also offers webinars and podcasts.


6 Tips for Writing Nonprofit Marketing Copy That Works written by Nancy E. Schwartz constructs the foundation for all nonprofit writing.


(all can be found at Kalamazoo Public Library)

Writing for a Good Cause by Joseph Barbato and Danielle S. Furlich

The Complete Guide to Writing Successful Fundraising Letters by Charlotte Rains Dixon

Storytelling for Grant Seekers by Cheryl A. Clarke

How to Write Successful Fundraising Letters by Mal Warwick

Writing for a nonprofit organization goes beyond your basic introduction, body, and conclusion. We as nonprofit professionals are challenged to create interest, meaning, and sometimes action surrounding our organizations. What inspires your writing? Do you have some words of wisdom to share that help you conquer the blank page?


Writing for a Good Cause

Rules of Engagement With Foundations

Nonprofits often seek grants from foundations for new projects or ongoing financial support. During an informative webinar, presented today by John Hicks, CFRE, for the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP), he discussed ways to build positive relationships with foundations.

His ‘elements of a good relationship’ include: trust, communication, shared values, honesty, and respect…as he noted, the elements of any good relationship. Learning about a foundation’s mission, values, culture, philanthropic philosophies, and practices, is critical to assessing a good match and possible funding opportunity. If mission and values clearly aren’t in alignment, he urges grant seekers to not waste their own or the foundation’s time in pursuing a relationship.

His ‘six rules of engagement’ build on those elements. Nonprofits need to know:

  • The landscape--the type of foundation: mega, competitive or community, family
  • The people you are dealing with--program officer/staff, board members, or family foundation donor; learn through direct conversations and through your networks
  • Their considerations—what they are dealing with that has nothing to do with you, or ‘their environment’
  • What they value—outcomes that relate to their vision, working with people who have authority and responsibility for funding and outcomes, and people who follow their protocol
  • How to give them what they want, how they want it—by learning their culture, personalities, and information processing practices, without shortcuts. Never to under estimate the importance of the gatekeeper—the person who opens and is the first to review your correspondence, requests, and reports for process (rules) and information
  • Minimize risk—their risk through failed projects or misuse of funds; grantee risk through unrealistic expectations or mission drift

Stating that, like other types of fundraising, people give to people the trust, he encourages nonprofits to keep foundations informed about their work and outcomes before and while seeking funding from them. The relationship is a professional one, not a personal one, that needs to be treated much like working with an attorney to prepare a case: the grant-seeker preparing a case to the foundation and the foundation professional preparing a case to his/her board, grants panel, or the donor, directly.

These and many other grant-seeker/grant-maker resources are available at ONEplace and through the AFP website. If you have tips for developing positive relationships with foundations, please comment on this blog.


Association of Fundraising Professionals

Google+ Will It Be Worth Your Time?

The big buzz in the social media world right now is Google+. But what is it and why should nonprofits care? Google+ is a new social media venture created by Google to, “bring the nuance and richness of real-life sharing to software” according to Vic Gundotra, Senior Vice President, Engineering at Google. It offers many of the same communication features social media users of Facebook and Twitter are familiar with such as messaging, pictures, and games, along with some valuable extras.

The big difference between Google+ and other established social media sites is Google+ organizes contacts into different “circles” or groups. This allows the user to communicate specifically with targeted groups. For example, a user can send out a targeted post to their planned giving circle, and a different post to their professional circle. Other features include Instant Upload, Hangouts, Sparks, and Huddle.

To learn more about Google+, visit:

Keep in mind that Google+ has not been rolled out to the general public, it is by invitation only.

What is your opinion of Google+? Are you one of the lucky few to receive the Google+ golden ticket? Please share your comments by posting to this blog.



Is There Discontent In Your Organization?

 Do you know if there is? Do you know how much it affects your organization’s ability to do your mission-driven work now or in the future?

During our First Wednesday Risk Management Series webinar, presenter Carlye Christianson of the Nonprofit Risk Management Center pointed out several critical outcomes from having ‘unhappy stakeholders’ (staff, volunteer, board members) in your midst. Common to all stakeholder groups: discontent diminishes commitment to mission; and, costs of replacing people are high. She recommends studying retention in departments and stakeholder groups at least annually so problems can be addressed quickly. Below are some key points she made about why people leave organizations and how to proactively address discontent-causing practices:


  • Only 12% leave an organization for reasons related to compensation
  • 88% leave for other reasons, including: organizational culture; management style or a specific supervisor; lack of opportunities for advancement or professional development; or, the organization’s lack of commitment to quality or mission
  • One in three employees is thinking of leaving at any one time; for discontented staff that rises to 50%
  • Discontented workers often increase: tardiness, mistakes, detachment, poor attitude
  • To proactively address potential discontent: listen to employees; conduct a ‘stay interview’ (what will keep you here/what will send you away); offer opportunities for new assignments, training, and leadership development; provide options for work/life balance, encourage ‘a voice’ in how the organization runs and how the mission is served


  • Leave organizations for the same reasons staff do plus lack of: orientation, interpersonal relationships, good skill/assignment match, commitment to mission
  • To get and keep volunteers: develop a volunteer management program with a policy and procedure manual; review and update recruiting practices (only recruit people and skills you really need); develop job descriptions; provide orientation, ongoing training, and recognition; assure meaningful integration into the organization; and, conduct stay/exit interviews

Board Members

  • Leave organizations because of: low productivity in the board room (low expectations; poor attendance, preparation, or engagement; lack of meeting management); crisis mentality; factions and impasses; poor ED-CEO / board relationships;
  • To get and keep board members: recruit and orient purposefully and appropriately; create an intentional culture of candor, inclusiveness, foresight, and reflection; evaluate and change board structure, operations, and ‘work’ (clearly define board / ED roles; move from hands-on to policy focus, etc); engage in strategic discussions and issues; and, conduct stay/exit interviews

Continually assessing all areas (ED, board, staff, volunteers), individually and collectively, and implementing a culture of continuous engagement and improvement will go a long way to stemming and/or reversing discontent in all stakeholder groups. The costs for your organization and, especially the constituents you serve, are too high to do otherwise.

For more information on this and many other risk management topics, visit the Nonprofit Center for Risk Management. ONEplace presents their First Wednesday Webinar Series and Third Thursday HR Webinar Series. Check our website calendar for more information and registration.


Nonprofit Center for Risk Management (symbol: Chinese for angry, annoyed, unhappy)

IRS: 275,000 Groups Lose Tax-Exempt Status

The IRS changed the filing requirements so that every tax-exempt organization has to file an annual 990, no matter how small their budget. They promised to drop organizations that didn’t file for three consecutive years. They notified nonprofits and the public over and over, again. They extended the deadline to get 990 filings up-to-date.

Now, the list of nonprofits that have lost tax-exempt status for failing to file has been published—and, it numbers 275,000 (about 14% of all nonprofits in this country)! In Michigan, almost 9,000 charities are on the list.

What does this mean to your organization or you, as a donor? An article in The Chronicle of Philanthropy (6/8/11) summarizes the ramifications of a nonprofit being dropped, affects on tax-deductibility of donations to dropped groups, and how to seek reinstatement. It also provides a link to the list.

Additional information is available on the IRS website for exempt organizations. 

Do you know the current status of the organizations you are involved with as a staff or board member, volunteer, or donor?


IRS: 275,000 Groups Lose Tax-Exempt Status

Summer Interns: Are They Volunteers or Employees?

Summer is around the corner and teens and college students, or recent graduates, are seeking summer internships to gain knowledge and job experience in an area of interest or study.

At the same time, many nonprofits are hoping to engage interns to accomplish projects, often in areas staff don’t have skills in, while offering the intern a chance to experience the nonprofit’s day-to-day operations and mission-driven activities.

So, it’s a win-win, right? It certainly can be as long as employment laws are followed. When deciding the scope of intern engagement, whether and/or how to pay them, and whether or not they are added to your employee ranks, consider the Department of Labor (DOL) guidelines for interns, or as they call them, ‘trainees.’

The intern or ‘trainee’ must meet these six criteria (all of them) to be an intern and not an employee:

  1. The training the intern receives ‘is similar to what would be offered in a vocational school’
  2. The ‘primary benefit of the training/internship is to the intern’
  3. The ‘trainees don’t displace regular employees but work under close supervision’
  4. The ‘nonprofit employer derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the interns, and on occasion, its operations may actually be impeded’
  5. The ‘intern is not guaranteed a permanent job at the end of the program’
  6. The ‘nonprofit employer and intern understand that the intern isn’t entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship’

All criteria are important, but number 4 is a key area the DOL looks at in determining if the ‘intern’ is, indeed, an employee. Employees must be paid at least minimum wage, on the regular payroll schedule, with all required employee taxes withheld and deposited.

To qualify as interns, their engagement needs to: be primarily related to their own benefit through mentoring and/or training; include credit for a course or major with required reports to the sponsoring educational institution; not include work done by regular employees; not guarantee future employment.

To learn more about this important topic, read the entire article from which this information was taken. Classifying interns mistakenly can lead to penalties as well as having to pay back wages and employment taxes. Classifying them correctly benefits everyone.

The Nonprofit Risk Management Center offers a range of resources for nonprofits, including webinars on general risks and human resources risks. ONEplace offers them regularly throughout the year. Check our calendar for upcoming topics and dates.


Department of Labor guidelines for interns

Gail Perry Fires-Up Fundraising

Gail Perry ‘wrote the book’ about transforming your nonprofit board members into a ‘fired-up’ fundraisers by putting their passions into actions. She will be in Kalamazoo on April 28 to share her wisdom and 7-step process for creating excitement about your organization’s potential and enthusiasm to generate the resources to make it happen. She’ll explore ways to change board members’ perception of fundraising from “asking for money” to “changing the world.”

Her presentation will be held at the Fetzer Center, Western Michigan University, from 8:30 to noon, followed by a networking luncheon (optional), and is co-sponsored by ONEplace@kpl and the Association of Fundraising Professional’s West Michigan Chapter. Registration information is available at ONEplace or AFPWM. Put it on your calendar, invite board members and fundraising staff, and register today!

If you aren’t yet familiar with Gail, she is always on the lookout for stimulating and, often, counter-intuitive fundraising ideas. Following is a summary of ‘pearls’ she gathered at the Association of Fundraising Professionals’ International Conference in mid-March—and a taste of what you can expect at her April 28 presentation. For the complete idea, follow the link to the originator.

16 Provocative Ideas That Will Raise More Money

1. Go All Out for Monthly Donors On Your Home Page

Monthly donors are worth gold to you. On average, they will stay for 10 YEARS. Put the ask right on your home page. The ideal monthly appeal ties a monthly ask to something specific. “$31 a month will do xxxx.” (Harvey McKinnon)

2. Focus on Fewer – Not More Donors

You don’t make more money by having more donors. The more donors you accumulate – the less profitable your fundraising program. (Penelope Burk)

3. Encourage Restricted Giving

Restricted asks raise more money. Period. We are holding our philanthropy back, because we are asking for unrestricted rather than restricted. (Penelope Burk)

4. Get Rid of the Words

Put your whole message in the first 150 words. The rest of your copy just backs it up. (Tom Ahern)

5. Get Rid of “Unmet Needs,” “Programs,” “Services”

Write like you are an outsider to your organization. Get rid of the boring, obtuse jargon. Jargon is a flame retardant! (Tom Ahern)

6. Make Your Case Like a Series of Ads

Add photos while you get rid of words. Create your case or your fundraising materials with the fewest words and the best photos. (Tom Ahern)

7. Hire More Fundraisers

Saying, “We can’t hire any more staff” is stupid. Each additional fundraising staffer upticks gross fundraising revenue. Period. (Penelope Burk)

8. Give Your Fundraising Staff Raises

Money is the #1 reason fundraising staff leaves. Investing in retention of staff will make you money. Retention boosts profit. Extend young staff from 18 months to 30 months saves you money. (Burk)

9. Get Rid of the Raise Money Now Mindset

31% of fundraisers who are planning to leave their jobs will leave because of an unrealistic “old school” culture of fundraising: ie, “you HAVE to bring in the $ NOW.” How much more money could you raise if you took a long term, strategic approach? (Burk)

10. You Must Give Your Staff Management Training

Success in business is 95% in the management of other people. But we cut staff training first whenever there is a shortfall. Training is essential. There’s not enough management training in nonprofits.(Burk)

11. Get Rid of Lousy Board Members Now

Allowing a lousy, nonperforming board member to serve out their term is, two words: “Chicken S***” (Simone Joyaux)

12. Be Blatant

Try this: “With your help, all these amazing things happened. And without your help, they won’t.” You‘re selling the impact of the donor’s gift. (Tom Ahern)

13. Stop Talking About The Money You Need

You choose: A case is about the opportunity you‘re putting in front of the donor. OR A case is about your organization‘s need for cash. (Ahern)

14. Become a Shrink

When dealing with volunteers, you are a psychologist not a fundraiser! (Laura Fredricks)

15. Don’t Believe Your Prospect, When...

If he says, “I’m just a plain ole country boy,” it really means he is a wealthy prospect! (Eli Jordfald)

16. Close Down Some Programs

Leaders will close or giveaway a program or activity that is no longer profitable and has little impact.

So were these ideas provocative? Would they challenge your status quo? Remember fundraising is changing. Donors are changing. Doing what you’ve always done the same old way will get you yesterday’s results. Go for it! Change is good. Use this article to rattle some cages! –Gail Perry



ONEplace Nonprofit Employment Opportunities Webpage

ONEplace is excited to announce our Nonprofit Employment Opportunities webpage. The webpage posts position openings at nonprofit organizations in Kalamazoo County, assisting both job seekers and employers make easy, timely connections. Postings are restricted to 501c3 tax-exempt organizations located in Kalamazoo County.

We receive a wide range of nonprofit job opportunities ranging from executive to staff to seasonal internships, across a wide range of sub-sectors. Since its recent launch, the webpage continues to gain both posts and views. Positions are posted on the bulletin board in ONEplace as well as on the web and in our bi-weekly eNews.

The nonprofit sector is a powerful economic development force that continues to add jobs – up 2.8% during the recession while the for-profit sector has reduced employment over 12.8%. The sector employs over 10% of all workers in the state and is a continuing to grow to meet increasing demands for services. We know of several people who found their position through ONEplace postings.

We invited you—job seekers and nonprofit employers--to take advantage of this new community resource. If you have a job search success story related to our webpage, please share it with us.


Nonprofit Employment Opportunities

Keep Your Donors From Defecting

The Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) and the Center on Nonprofits and Philanthropy sponsor the Fundraising Effectiveness Project (FEP), which provides nonprofits with tools for tracking and evaluating their annual growth or decline in giving. The FEP focuses on “effectiveness” (maximizing growth in giving) rather than “efficiency” (minimizing costs). It conducts an annual survey and publishes gain (loss) statistics in a yearly report.

The 2010 Report (pdf) is enlightening. The Project looks at “donor lifetime value: the total net contribution that a donor generates during his/her lifetime on a [nonprofit’s].” It also looks at donor defection rates, or the rate of declining donations following a first gift. For cash gifts, it’s 50% in the first year and 30% each year after that! In addition, 30% of ‘regular or sustainer givers’ are lost from year to year.

With these ongoing trends, and the time and money needed to attract new donors--over and over again--learning how to attract and keep donors with the greatest potential lifetime value is critical for nonprofit sustainability.

During a recent AFP webinar, several ‘drivers of lifetime value’ were discussed, starting with reasons donors defect. Simply: lack of customer satisfaction with their donating experience, led by the lack of responsiveness by the nonprofit staff. Donors who were surveyed said they were ignored, lied to, meetings were delayed, staff were ‘uncivil,’ and the nonprofit/staff ‘failed to deliver on promises.’

On the other hand, a high level of donor satisfaction with the customer service they receive from a charity’s staff drives donation levels and repeat gifts. The higher the satisfaction, the more likely the donor is to give again and again.

Donors want:

  • To know what makes the nonprofit qualified and competent to utilize their money to best advantage
  • To know what is done with their money; who is served and to what outcomes
  • To build a relationship with the organization beyond giving money
  • To express their own identify through their gifts

Regular, sustained giving is based on trust, commitment, satisfaction, and identification. Basing your donor-relations activities on excellent customer service, getting to know what is important to your donors, and learning how they want to engage with your organization will reduce defections and build greater lifetime value for your organization.

A win-win for all!!


Effective Fundraising for Nonprofits

Fundraising Ethics: How Do You Guard Your Donors’ Privacy?

WealthEngine, the Association of Fundraising Professionals, and APRA (a fundraising research organization) presented a webinar recently called ‘Fundraising Intelligence.’ They discussed the legal and ethical practices we, as nonprofits, must comply with and honor as we work with donors’ personal information. Each organization has privacy standards, ethical standards, and a Donor Bill of Rights.

With all of the public information about donors and potential donors, what makes their profile at your organization confidential is that it IS a ‘profile’...a custom, formatted profile IS highly confidential.

The rise of the internet has made it more important than ever to verify information and have policies and procedures covering who, why, when, and what is shared internally (staff and board) and with volunteer fundraisers. Here are ‘best practices’ cited in the webinar:

  • Recognize everyone in fund development is responsible for collecting and securing donor/prospect information;
  • Set parameters for collecting and using data and information
  • Make sure sources are reliable; confirm data/information from multiple sources
  • Set policies that define what information is confidential or ‘privileged’ in donor/prospect profiles; review policies often, especially as any new person is permitted access
  • Define who has access to donor/prospect profiles; have everyone with access sign a confidentiality statement; do not disclose confidential information to unauthorized parties
  • Be sure donor/prospect profiles and confidential information are under lock and key; electronic files are password protected; and, old/unused documents are shredded
  • Be sure privileged information isn’t shared in casual conversations or where unauthorized individuals can overhear it
  • Don’t transmit any documents as Word files (use PDFs), or by fax or email
  • Recognize all donor/prospect information is the property of the organization creating the profile and not to be shared with any other outside person or organization
  • Include information in profiles that the donor/prospect will enhance your relationship; donors/prospects have the right to access to their file upon request so don’t include information they wouldn’t want to see there

It’s all about relationships with our donors and prospects. “Respect the privacy of prospects/donors: use information gathered through cultivation in a way that only enhances the relationship with the prospect/donor and your organization.”


ONEplace Resources

Copyright is the Law

In this day of open access to all types of information on the Internet, wikileaks, etc, the subject of copyright protection is often misunderstood, ignored, or forgotten. However, copyright laws are ‘alive and well’ and actively protecting published and unpublished original works of many kinds.

This issue came to the forefront recently when we learned that ONEplace workshop participants re-created a copyright protected document received as an educational handout. Even though not required, the document was clearly marked with © notations which were overlooked when it was re-designed to improve its appearance. They were asked to immediately destroy the illegal documents.

There are legal, ‘fair use’ provisions in the law that allow certain specific, non-commercial uses of copyrighted materials: “the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright.”

In seeking the best, most current, resources for ONEplace workshops, copyright-protected materials are often used as part of the curriculum for “teaching, scholarship, or research” purposes. We are now reminding participants when materials are © protected and how they may legally be used, along with advising appropriate use of all copyright-protected materials.

Read the Complete version of the U.S. Copyright Law(

Download the Copyright Basics guidePDF


U.S. Copyright Law

Pitch Your Story by Phone

In an interesting article in the MNA Links entitled, “Pitch Your Story by Phone,” the writers, Community Media Workshop, suggests nonprofits “pitch” or verbally tell the stories they want to see published by phoning reporters and editors. Thus, bypassing the old system of submitting a press release and crossing your fingers that it will catch someone’s attention.

The article points out that with all the media noise, “phone calls humanize and personalize your stories.” The article lists some helpful tips to make the process easier:

  • Call at the right time
  • Be Prepared
  • Make calls in front of a computer
  • Be persistent but don’t be a pest
  • Offer to do more to make their job easier
  • Be pleasant and upbeat, not frantic, moralistic, or nagging

To read the complete article, click on the link above or drop by ONEplace and pick up a copy of MNA Links at no charge. If you are already an MNA member, you can read the latest issue along with archived issues at the MNA Links webpage.

In addition, the Community Media Works website has an informative video on, “People to Pitch.”

People To Pitch: Burt Constable, Daily Herald from Community Media Workshop on Vimeo.

Has this tactic worked for you? If you’ve had success with phone “pitches,” how does it compare with more traditional electronic submission by website or email? If you have another method of getting your stories heard, please share your success with others and leave a comment.


Pitch Your Story by Phone

Plan to Communicate in 2011

Have you created a communication plan for the coming year? If not, now is a good time. According to a report done by the Nonprofit Marketing Guide on 2011 Nonprofit Communication Trends, only 34% of nonprofits have a written and board approved 2011 communication plan in place. Creating a communication plan opens up opportunities and creates synergies between your organizational marketing, fundraising, and promotional efforts. Creating a clear purpose and direction for communicating with stakeholders will allow your organization to speak with one voice and strengthen your image to the public and to your constituents.

Tackling a communication plan is a process similar to strategic planning, it is done in phases. Here are four online resources specifically designed to walk nonprofits through the communication planning process.

Books written about communication plans are rich resources offering more details and breadth on the subject. Recommended books include:

If your nonprofit doesn’t have internal skill to write a plan, hiring a consultant is an option. The ONEplace Consultant & Trainer Directory includes consultants who specialize in communication, marketing, and branding.

If you have experience writing your own communication plan, or working with a consultant, please share your experience along with any helpful tips and/or advice.


Consultants and Trainers Directory

Significant COSA Changes Coming Soon

Michigan's Charitable Solicitations Act (COSA) was substantially amended in December, 2010. The amendments take effect on March 31, 2011.

The changes effect nonprofits of all sizes. Please learn integrate them into your operation by the effective date. Penalties for violations are steep.

Some of the significant changes made by the amendments are:

1. A charitable organization will be exempt from registering under the Act if all of its fundraising will be conducted by volunteers and it expects to receive less than $25,000 per year in contributions through their efforts. This is an increase from the current level of $8,000 per year. An organization will still have to register if it will use paid staff or a professional fundraiser to raise any amount of donations.

2. Nonprofits will now "register" with the Michigan Attorney General to solicit donations, instead of being licensed by the Attorney General to solicit donations. The registration will be good for a period of 19 months, instead of the current 12 months.

3. The law lists a number of activities that are prohibited. Many of these are targeted against misrepresentations. However, one prohibits a person from soliciting a contribution on behalf of a charitable organization that is not registered. A violation of any of these prohibitions could result in a civil fine of up to $10,000 for each violation.

4. The amendments also list certain actions that are punishable as crimes as either a misdemeanor or a felony. Misdemeanors are subject to up to 6 months in prison or a fine of up to $5,000, while felonies are punishable by imprisonment of up to 5 years and a fine of not more than $20,000. It is a misdemeanor if a person knowingly solicits or operates as a charitable organization in Michigan and the charitable organization is not registered with the Attorney General.

5. The amendments allow local County prosecutors to prosecute persons who have committed acts that are misdemeanors or felonies. This takes the burden off the Attorney General to prosecute these cases. This might result in greater enforcement of the Act and criminal prosecution of smaller infractions.

A few sections of the Act were not amended and these do not appear in the bill that was passed in December. To understand the entire Act, you will need to look at both the current law(pdf) and the amendments and insert the amendments into the current law, where applicable.

Our thanks to Leo Goddeyne, attorney with Miller Canfield, for this summary of important changes effecting nonprofit fundraising in Michigan.



“Celebrate what you want to see more of.” ~ Thomas J. Peters

December 15 was a special day for the nonprofit sector in Kalamazoo County! Over 100 nonprofit executives, foundation representatives, board members, and community leaders gathered to honor and celebrate accomplishments of 2010 before a New Year starts in a couple weeks.

The first-ever celebration was sponsored and hosted by ONEplace at the Kalamazoo Public Library. Consultants & Trainers Network (also sponsored by ONEplace) members helped host the fun and engaging event. The room sustained a gentle roar of excitement for over two hours as people re-connected with colleagues from across the community and met new ones. People commented on the diversity of nonprofits and supporters in the room.

A video looped throughout the morning, showing the depth and breadth of the nonprofit sector through photos and statistics from a wide array of local organizations: health & human services agencies; educational institutions; governmental units; arts, culture, & humanities organizations; environmental organizations; youth development organizations; faith-based organizations; business associations; nonprofit-support organizations; foundations; and, more.

As director of ONEplace, I commented briefly on the level of services provided despite the current economy which are enormous and ever-generous. Basic needs providers are challenged to meet demands while often reducing their own budgets. Educators at all levels continue supporting new, innovative ways to improve student outcomes and employee performance while ‘tightening their belts.’ Arts, cultural, humanitarian, and civic organizations continue supporting Kalamazoo County’s quality of life with fewer dollars. Working together with our business and governmental sectors, the nonprofit sector assures the very fabric of our community continues to thrive.

It’s important to step back, pause, and reflect on how special Kalamazoo County is and “celebrate what we want to see more of.” The Nonprofit Sector Celebration did just that.



ONEplace Celebration