News, comments, resources, and more for nonprofits.
Our ONEplace Nonprofit Collection has this great little book: The Five Most Important Questions You Will Ever Ask About Your Organization, by Peter Drucker and others. It’s a quick read that makes a lasting impression. Questions two & three grabbed me: Who is our customer? and What does the customer value? Specific, well-supported answers to these questions could turn your organization around.
Nonprofits have many customers. The authors distinguished between our primary customers (the persons who lives are changed through our work) and our supporting customers (volunteers, members, partners, funders, employees, and others who must be satisfied). Our business is not to casually please everyone but to deeply please our target customers. So, the first job is to clearly define our target customers in great detail. This definition affects everything.
Next, ask What does the customer value? This may be the most important – but least often asked – question. The authors suggest beginning with your assumptions of what you believe your customers value. Next, gather customer input and then compare your assumptions with what the customers actually are saying, find the differences, and go on to assess your results. Do this for both primary and supporting customers.
It takes time and hard work, but it’s worth it. The reward comes in a greater focus on your mission, money-saving operational efficiencies, and greater value delivered to all of your customers.
Peter Drucker’s legacy of leadership development merged with the Frances Hesselbein Leadership Institute. Their mission is to strengthen and inspire the leadership of the social sector. Online at HesselbeinInstitute.org.
The Five Most Important Questions You Will Ever Ask About Your Organization
It is my honor and pleasure to greet you from my new post as director of ONEplace@kpl.
As I begin my tenure, allow me to add my voice to the many that showered gratitude on Bobbe Luce over the past few weeks. Under her leadership, ONEplace@kpl became an indispensible asset to many who serve nonprofits. Supported by a network of consultants, trainers, and others, Bobbe developed an effective mix of classes, webinars, roundtables and other resources that continue to equip nonprofit staff and boards to flourish. So, once again, “Thank you, Bobbe!”
I’ve spent my entire 15 years in Kalamazoo working for nonprofits, most recently with the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra. I look forward to working with you in this new capacity. In my spare time, I enjoy reading nonprofit leadership & management books. One of my favorite authors is Jim Collins. His newest release, Great by Choice, addresses the question: why do some companies thrive in uncertainty, even chaos, and others do not?
Using a comparison study method as he did in Good to Great, Collins demonstrates the value of strong values, consistently applied and the importance of a long-term approach to mission-driven work. As he nears the close of the book, he reiterates one of the main lessons from his previous work: “Greatness is not a function of circumstance. Greatness is largely a matter of conscious choice and discipline.”
What conscious choice has your organization made – what is its mission? Do you know it? Does everyone on the staff and board know it? Is it engraved on their hearts?
To succeed in times such as these – indeed, at any time – clarity of mission is the first imperative.
Jim Collins provides a Good to Great Diagnostic Tool that you may use to assess where your organization is on its journey to being great. When there are differences between businesses and nonprofit (social sector) organizations, he points these out. Find the tool at http://www.jimcollins.com/tools/diagnostic-tool.pdf
Great by Choice
“Is Your Nonprofit’s Website Media Friendly?” An interesting blog by this name dropped into my email box this week from NonprofitPR.org. They point out the need for nonprofits to help media staff: find you; learn about you; and believe in your credibility—FAST. They are always on a deadline, so the more you can help them, the better.
Especially in our changing media environment—with newspapers morphing to online publications, local radio and television sources moving to more ‘canned’ programming—nonprofits must help the remaining journalists any way we can. Websites are the perfect way, since they are available 24/7.
Answer these questions to learn if your website is ‘media-friendly’:
- Is your website easy to find? Or, do you have an obscure name or one that is too long or clever?
- Are your designated media contacts ‘front and center,’ with direct phone/email addresses?
- Is the content on your site current—regularly updated—and ‘real’ news-worthy news?
- Do you have a section showing previous media coverage you’ve had?
- Do you have experts on your staff or board who media can trust on topics the media may be researching or seeking when ‘news hits’? Include short bios of your experts.
By helping media find you, learn about you, and reach out to you when they need to, your nonprofit will gain excellent PR and be seen as a community authority and resource far beyond the media.
The NonprofitPR.org blog is produced by Shoestring Creative Group, a source of free samples, ideas, blogs, and more. Check them out.
Is Your Nonprofit’s Website Media Friendly?
Mark Grimm recently presented an AFP webinar on the financial impacts of compelling messages. He says your communication has to show impact in less than 15 seconds! The way to do that is through simple, clear, precise language. He suggests achieving clear messages by ‘peeling the onion,’ over and over, until the focus is on core benefits to the reader (potential donor). The focus has to be on the reader, not the writer and his/her perspective from within the organization.
“You are proving to the donor you are making the change in the world the donor wants to pay for.” ~~Robbe Healy, Farr Healy Consulting
Clarity is the Issue
- Simplicity: uncluttered; no jargon
- Precise: no extra words; only what is important
- Benefits, not services/programs: what the organization really delivers to everyday people
- Prove it: select data that ‘tell the benefit story’
- Emotion and reason: use testimonials related to the top three impact areas
- Human face: connect with the reader with eye-catching visuals
By writing with clarity, (potential) donors are more easily drawn into your message, mission, and impact—and, more likely to find what they want to pay for. Once donors invest in your organization, thank them and ask why they gave a gift. Simple, yet so seldom done. Their answers will help build relationships and further clarify your next message.
ONEplace presented an Association of Fundraising Professionals webinar this week, in which Sandy Rees, CFRE, provided a system for sustainable fundraising that can be implemented at nonprofits of all sizes and lifecycle stages.
Her system includes seven basic steps and several planning tools to assure a structured, balanced approach.
Step 1: Make fundraising a priority.
Step 2: Understand why people give.
Step 3: Identify the best donor prospect.
Step 4: Tell your story.
Step 5: Plan how and when will you ask for a gift.
Step 6: Acknowledge the gift and build relationships.
Step 7: Evaluate success.
Sounds a lot like other fundraising advice, right? Sandy’s model spells out what each of the steps means, and how to put each into action in a methodical, approachable way using a number of planning charts. Detailed, written planning is the difference in her model.
Her website has a wealth of practical resources and tips, including: a free CD for beginning fundraisers, videos, an eNews, books and CD sets, and blogs.
Hope you find some helpful information to set you on the path to ‘getting fully funded.’
Get Fully Funded
New Year blogs from four respected leadership authors/consultants came into my email box last week. Each addresses five items (why five?) related to leadership they recommend for action in 2012.
While these authors write primarily for business audiences, their advice is just as appropriate to nonprofit staff and volunteers.
Follow the links for their complete comments.
Dorie Clark covers her “going to stop cold turkey” list:
- Responding like a trained monkey
- Mindless traditions
- Reading annoying things
- Work that’s not worth it
- Making things more complicated than they should be
Mike Myatt shares his personal priorities for the year, and he includes a bonus item (#6).
- Family: if you are struggling with work/life balance, choose family
- White space: clearing your mind to be and act only in the present
- Listen: stop talking and listen
- Unlearn: be willing to learn and change opinions and actions
- Engage: it’s not about you, it’s about the people you serve and lead
- (Bonus) Read: few things impact your thought life more than reading
John Coleman and Bill George recommend actions for aspiring Gen X and Millennial professionals to prepare for challenges of leadership roles:
- Find a trustworthy mentor
- Form a leadership development group
- Volunteer in a civic or service organization
- Work in or travel to one new country
- Ask more questions than you answer
Leadership Tips for 2012
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 (http://www.irs.gov/newsroom/article/0,,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.
- 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.
- To deduct a charitable contribution, you must file Form 1040 and itemize deductions on Schedule A.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 http://www.irs.gov or by calling 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).
IRS Tax Tip 2011-57
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!
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
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