Thursday, August 30, 2012

How Does America Give?

There's been lots of attention in the philanthropy press recently about the Chronicle of Philanthropy's newly released study, How America Gives. It breaks down giving by state, city, religious and demographic group, etc.

I finally made the time to sit down today and read the Chronicle's report on its study (which was compiled using IRS and Bureau of Labor Statistics data from 2008, the most recent available year), and here are a few of the highlights that jumped out at me:

  • The top 5 most generous cities in America are Mormon strongholds or Bible-belt cities. In order, they are: Salt Lake City, Memphis, Birmingham, Nashville, and Atlanta. This confirms what we have known for a while - more religious people tend to give more. However...
  • When religious giving (giving to places of worship and religious causes) is not counted, the nationwide rankings change. "Some states in the Northeast would jump into the top 10 when secular gifts alone are counted. New York would vault from No. 18 to No. 2 in the rankings, and Pennsylvania would climb from No. 40 to No. 4."
  • Generally, the rich are not the most generous. Lower-income people tend to give a larger share of their discretionary income to charities. Those who make $50,000 - $75,000 give an average of 7.6%, while those who make more than $100,000 give an average of 4.2%.
  • Wealthy people who live in mixed income neighborhoods are more generous than wealthy people who live in wealthy zip codes. Fascinating! Put another way, the nation's most generous zip codes are not the wealthiest zip codes. Of the 1,000 zip codes whose residents give the biggest share of income to charity, only nine are among the nation's wealthiest 1,000 zip codes. So stop searching for donors only in the wealthy neighborhoods!
  • State tax credits and other incentives for charitable giving do increase giving.
  • Some nonprofits are focusing on courting donors overseas, where the impact of the recession is not being felt as strongly. Boston University, for example, has fundraisers traveling internationally, and approximately 20% of its early donations to a major capital campaign have come from overseas. Fundraisers are focusing on countries where new business growth is surging, such as the BRICS nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) and the Middle East.
  • (because I live in the Washington, DC metropolitan area) Prince George's County, MD, the wealthiest county in America with an African-American majority, has a higher share of donors than any other community in the Washington region. However, the total nonprofit revenue there is the lowest in the metropolitan region, in part because (1) there is a very strong tradition to church tithing, which means that some nonprofits don't get as big a piece of the pie, and (2) wealth in surrounding areas far exceeds that of PG County.
One of my biggest take-aways from this study is that organizations should start looking for generous people, not just wealthy people. Don't just look for donors in the richest neighborhoods, and don't focus on your current wealthy donors to the exclusion of less wealthy donors or prospects. Diversifying your donor pool will create more of a "hedge" to get you through the tough/lean times.

Lots more details (including how the Chronicle of Philanthropy compiled its data) can be found online at How America Gives.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Donor Giving Levels That Made Me Cheer

In the fundraising business, we're always trying to come up with creative ways to express donor levels. I'm so tired of:
  • Platinum
  • Gold
  • Silver
  • Bronze
  • Benefactors
  • Supporters
  • Friends

Oh, sorry, are you still here? I thought you might have fallen asleep, as I almost did. YAWN!

I recently went to a SpeakeasyDC event, and I was so thrilled to see the titles they assigned to their giving levels. Creative, related to the work that they do, and FUN, which reflects the fun spirit of the organization! Their donor levels are:
  • Bringing Down the House
  • Encore Performance
  • Standing Ovation
  • Hootin' & Hollerin'
  • Whistles & Cheers
  • Enthusiastic Applause
Here is SpeakeasyDC's Mission Statement: Through the art of autobiographical story performance, SpeakeasyDC gives voice to the authentic experience of ordinary people, builds community, and promotes understanding. We have a three-part mission: to produce high quality storytelling performances; provide ongoing storytelling training and performance opportunities to the public; and preserve the oral tradition in a way that speaks to and enriches contemporary life.

OK, I know that their mission statement sounds all serious and academic and stuff, but their storytelling events are REALLY fun! Some of my best laughs and most memorable experiences in DC.

As another example of their creativity - at the end of the event, they presented their outgoing chairperson with a thank you gift for her service. It was a T-shirt, with the organization's name on one side and "I'm Kind Of A Big Deal" on the other side. Love it!

Kuddos to SpeakeasyDC! You should check them out!

Monday, April 30, 2012

Things I'll never write in a proposal again...

After spending the afternoon reviewing writing samples from a client, I am compiling a list of WORDS AND PHRASES THAT I'LL NEVER WRITE IN A PROPOSAL AGAIN. Here's what I've got so far:

Unique (it never is)
Innovative (it rarely is)
As well (always unnecessary)
In addition (as necessary as "as well")

 Do you have anything to add to the list?

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Bark if you love fundraising!

I was fortunate to attend one of the hottest fundraising events in DC this weekend: the Washington Humane Society's Fashion for Paws. Yes, that's right, this event combines high fashion, major fundraising, and... dogs. It's pretty incredible. The event was held at the National Building Museum, where I worked as an educator when I was in grad school. The building is STUNNING even on its own, and when they gussie it up for a fundraising event - wowza.

As a professional fundraiser, I'm not always such a huge fan of fundraising events. Many of them seem to gross a lot of money, but when you net out what was spent to put on the event, they don't earn nearly as much for the cause. Then, when you subtract out the value of the staff time that was spent on the event, many of them actually lose money! Even with these negative numbers, many organizations still hold their annual fundraisers because the community has come to expect it, because it raises awareness for their cause, etc. What struck me about Fashion for Paws is that they do so many things RIGHT, including:

* As lavish as the event was, they didn't pay for any of it. According to organizers, EVERYTHING at the event - decor, food, cocktails, clothes for the fashion show, swag, etc. - was donated.

* Cache - this is hard to quantify, and you can't really come up with a formula for creating it, but Fashion for Paws has it in spades. There is enormous cache around this event, and people really want to be there and support it. I don't know how many of them are hard core animal advocates, and how many of them are really committed to animal activism, but it doesn't really matter at the end of the day... the cause ultimately benefits.

* An army of fundraisers - this event raised $700,000 in one night! And the "fundraisers" weren't just folks like me - each person who walks in the fashion show (most of whom walk with their dogs - yes, you read that right) has to raise a minimum of $5000 in order to walk, and many of them raise more.

I don't know what sort of follow-up the Washington Humane Society does with people who attend the event, but I'd be curious about it. I often tell clients that the most important aspect of a fundraising event doesn't happen at the event itself, but in the weeks and months that follow. One of the best uses of a fundraising event is raising long-term "friends" of the organization. If someone only hears from an organization once per year, with an invitation to an event, that's a lost opportunity.

All that said - I found that my other, personal bias was emerging during the event, and when reflecting on it afterwards. While this event raised money for a VERY worthy cause, I couldn't help but wonder what good could have been done if some of that $700K had gone towards helping DC's abused and neglected CHILDREN, instead of animals. Sure, one could make the argument that other people give to help abused children, and this event is for animals, so it all evens out in the end. However, we know from giving statistics that it does not even out. Human service, or social service, groups receive the least amount of charitable donations. These are the groups that are providing food, shelter, counseling, etc. to some of the neediest people in our communities. Housing the chronically homeless, feeding the indigent elderly, counseling repeat drug addicts... it's not "pretty" stuff, but it's stuff that has a tremendous impact on our society. In addition, the government funding for social service agencies is drying up, which is why private donations are even more important. Social service agencies do not represent cute causes or a "feel good" causes, and they suffer in terms of donations as a consequence. I am a foster parent, so again, its my own bias - I would prioritize helping a foster child who has been abused or neglected.

I certainly don't think that the answer is for people to not support the Washington Humane Society - quite the contrary! I think our work as activists and fundraisers is to learn from, and be inspired by, the extraordinary job that the Washington Humane Society is doing with Fashion for Paws, and elevate the level of fundraising that is happening for lots of other important causes.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Should Charities Operate Like Businesses?

A November, 2011 article in the Wall Street Journal sparked all sorts of debate. The article, "Should Philanthropies Operate Like Businesses?", offered two different responses to that question:

So what should you expect of your charities? Businesslike efficiency? Or something more intangible, less-easily defined?

Charles R. Bronfman and Jeffrey R. Solomon, chairman and president, respectively, of the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies, favor businesslike thinking. Michael Edwards, a distinguished senior fellow at Demos, a social issues think tank, argues that social values should take precedence.

Last week, I went to a forum sponsored by the DC Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP-DC), that explored this question. The panelists were: Mike King, President and CEO, Volunteers of America; Catherine Meloy, President and CEO, Goodwill of Greater Washington; and, Pat Nicklin, EVP/COO, Partnership for Public Service. The panel was moderated by Paul Berry, Founder, Paul Berry & Associates (and a former newscaster in the DC area).

Here are my somewhat stream-of-consciousness notes from that forum:

* One of the key differences between businesses and nonprofits is SPEED. Nonprofits are good at innovation, but they are not good at decision making. They are too democratic, and this can impact the speed at which people are hired, new programs are implemented, etc.
* Businesses are students of other businesses - they study their competitors, and then they change.
* What do you do when funders want input into the programs they are funding? While it's easy to say no, that's not appropriate, one panelist noted, "If they're paying for the dance, you gotta dance with them."
* Nonprofits are not always good at firing staff who are not performing well. (see slow decision making bullet point, above). But, if we keep someone on staff who isn't working out, we are wasting donated money.
* Nonprofits have to make time for R&D while developing multiple income streams.
* People used to say they didn't want to give to Goodwill because it's too big. Now, they want to give to Goodwill because of how it's run, i.e. it's a trustworthy organization. Trend of affiliating with the organization (Goodwill) and not the client population or the cause.
* Nonprofits need to do a better job of developing meaningful metrics, e.g. don't just count the number of meals you served in a month or year, but find ways to quantify how you changed lives because of those meals.

What are your thoughts? Should charities run like businesses?

I think there are business principles that charities can, and should, adopt. However, when your "bottom line" is changing lives, not earning profits, I don't think you can entirely run like a business. For example, one panelist said: How can you tell a parent of a severely disabled child that you won't serve that child because it's simply too expensive to offer services to that level of disability; that the cost-benefit analysis doesn't make sense?

What are your thoughts? Should charities run like businesses?

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Homeless as Wi-Fi hotspots

People are in a LATHER about this!

Marketer Under Fire for Using Homeless as Wi-Fi Hotspots

I do like the idea of creating an opportunity at SXSW for local homeless people to interact with SXSW participants.

Would people be as upset about this if the homeless people were paid more than $20 per day?

Would people be as upset about this if it was local college students, instead of homeless people?

For those of you who went to SXSW, what say you?

Monday, March 12, 2012

Happy 100th Birthday, Girl Souts

Happy 100th Birthday, Girl Scouts! I loved my time as a Brownie and Girl Scout. Troop meetings at the church next to our elementary school, competing in the Troop Talent Show, selling cookies, doing community service, and BADGES! Oh how I loved my badges, and wanted to earn more and more of them (my determination emerged at an early age...) I remember the paperback book that had the available badges in them - there was a picture of the badge and then a list of all of the things you had to do to earn it. I'm so happy that my young nieces are carrying on the family Scouting tradition!

As an adult working in the nonprofit arena, I can say that Girl Scouts has one of my favorite mission statements:

Girl Scouting builds girls of courage, confidence, and character, who make the world a better place.

I mean, really... How could you say it any better than that?

I posed a question on my Twitter feed today: What could I do to make my client meetings more like Girl Scout meetings this week? Give out Girl Scout cookies? Do craft projects? Award badges for new skills? Tempting, tempting...

Monday, February 27, 2012

Technology for Good

The February 23rd issue of the Chronicle of Philanthropy has a great section on Technology for Good. They highlight people who are using technology and/or social media in creative way to solve problems. I was especially intrigued by:

John Nesbit and Medic Mobile - he created a mobile phone app that helps improve health care in poor regions in Africa and Asia (in places, for example, where some health workers spent days walking between patients and doctors to convey information).

Rebecca Manson and All Hands Volunteers
- she started a nonprofit that uses social networking sites, cloud storage, and more than 200 volunteers to help restore personal photos that were damaged and nearly destroyed during last year's tsunami in Japan.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

I love my Right Brain Business Plan

It's the business plan for the rest of us!

I'm once again honored to be highlighted on the Right Brain Business Plan web site.

I created my Right Brain Business Plan this year (bottom) on the beaches of Tulum, Mexico.

Last year's plan was "hatched" in Moorea, French Polynesia, a.k.a. Tahiti (top).

I think Jennifer Lee is a genius and has created an amazing resource. You should check it out!

Friday, January 06, 2012

It's more fun to do it as a group...

The Washington Post's On Giving section has an article describing Giving Circles, which are pooled donation funds that choose various causes to support. Some giving circles are more complicated, with lots of rules, guidelines, and minimum gifts per member, while others are more informal gatherings of friends. Giving circles can be a great way to maximize your charitable giving - getting more "bang for your charitable buck" while having meaningful conversations about your values, priorities, and interests. Have you taken part in a giving circle?