Friday, February 27, 2009

Let Michael Phelps Help Your Organization

Whew! It's a good thing I decided to make this a collaborative blog! I have been running like a crazy woman this week and couldn't possibly have written all this great content. Besides, it would uber boring if it were just me talking.

For instance, Sandy Rees, is a Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE), author of Fundraising Buffet and co-author of 7 Essential Steps to Raising Money By mail. She has contributed articles to Advancing Philanthropy, Inside Fundraising Success, and Mal Warwick's newsletter. She is the author of the blog Get Fully Funded and and contributes to Step-By-Step Fundraising. Below she gives sage advice about maintaining a good reputation because your donor dollars depend on it. Bunnie

Let Michael Phelps Help Your Organization

How can Michael Phelps help your nonprofit organization? He may not be able to visit your organization and draw in support, but there’s a good lesson you can learn from his recent negative publicity.

In case you missed it, Michael got in some trouble over a picture of him at a party, having perhaps too good of a time. Whether he’s guilty or not, lots of people have formed opinions and it has certainly tarnished his image and credibility.

I’ve preached for years that a nonprofit has its reputation and not much else. When you depend on donations from the community to support your good work, it only takes a little negative publicity to slow down the donations. Who can afford that in today’s economy? Whether it’s bad word-of-mouth from poor customer service or a full-blown media story that shows your organization in a negative light, it’s PR you don’t need and don’t want! And unfortunately, the public tends to listen to the media and believe the stories without seeking to verify the information or hear the other side.

So take a lesson from Michael: keep your nose clean! Make sure everything your organization does is above board and beyond reproach. Be transparent: be willing to share any information with the public. After all, you should have nothing to hide and lots of your organization’s information is public record anyway. The more willing you are to share information, the more trust you will build with donors and the community.

When you’re making a decision you aren’t sure about, use what I call the ‘Front Page Test.’ If the results of your decision were on the front page of the paper tomorrow, how would people react? What would your donors think? What would your Mother think? The answers to these questions should guide you toward making the right decision.

I remember a story several years ago about a food bank that had a rodent problem. Word got out and the media picked it up. It was not good for their reputation in the community! They had to do a good bit of damage control to do to rebuild trust. Seems like we hear stories regularly (unfortunately) of incidents at day care centers, and the way the media tends to focus on news like this there’s a good chance it will get picked up. Don’t think it won’t ever happen to you!

So, what would be the worst thing that could happen at your organization? Is there something that can be put in place to prevent it from happening? Have you thought through how to handle communications with the public in times of crisis? It’s really worth the time and effort to think through these questions.

Contact Sandy at

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Braving the Fast Lane on the Social Networking Infobahn

Buzz Harris, Executive Director of the Development Resource Center is a great guy with a great sense of humor! I know, everyone reading this blog is super-duper connected to the "Social Networking Infobahn" but in case you aren't, Buzz lays out a lot of options for getting connected. Bunnie

Braving the Fast Lane on the Social Networking Infobahn

by Buzz Harris,

Executive Director Development Resource Center

It’s Wednesday in the digital workplace. You’re a Luddite. An anxious Luddite. One of the office twentysomethings is in urgent monologue with you about “Web Two-Point-Oh.” Your digital footprint is “so 1995” and you need a “MyFace” account immediately! You’ve heard this before. You’ve read about it. And the kid is smart.

What’s a manager a shade greyer than the cybergeneration to do? First, don’t panic. Yes there is a new generation of marketing and communications tools out there: Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, LinkedIn, RSS feeds, and the fast-evolving Blog, among others. Your anxiety is natural. Society has hit one of those moments of rapid technological change when what was true for generations suddenly isn’t.

Nothing New Under the Sun

It’s 1439 all over again, and Johan Gutenberg’s printing press has all the scriveners in a tizzy! They’d just adjusted to pamphleteers flooding the streets with thousands of handbills (the blogs of their day) when Moveable Type 2.0 brought out newspapers. The post-medieval younger set was all over them.

So you’re driving an old Citro├źn 2C “Double Horse” down the Infobahn; how do you merge left? First decide why you want to. Are you looking to raise your organization’s profile?, attract donors?, recruit volunteers? We stress to our students that they shouldn’t jump in without knowing their goal(s).

Getting Started

Start with a blog (short for “Web Log”). It’s a place for posting documents, news analysis, activist alerts, newsletter articles, imbedded videos, and anything else you like. We call it “content,” and it’s key to your success. Your content should be useful, interesting, and updated at least two to three times a week. New blog material will keep your constituents interested and make them visit often. It should also be framed to move them toward your goal. Provide links in the text for people to volunteer or donate. Offer them the chance to register for an event or receive your e-newsletter. Draw them in. Choose a blog site with high traffic and high visibility and link to it directly from your home page. We recommend WordPress to our students.

Directing Traffic

Use other social networking tools to steer people to your blog. Set up a “cause” page for your group on Facebook and update it regularly with snippets of your blog content. Use links to bring them to the blog for the full text. The search function on Facebook lets you find people that your staff and board members already know and invite them to become “friends.” Your cause page can (and should) be set up to allow donations directly from Facebook users. If your organization is focused on music and the arts do the same thing on MySpace. If you have many business and professional contacts then create a group profile on LinkedIn.

Twitter is a communications system that allows users to send short messages that are accessible to its million-plus subscribers. You can post questions for feedback, put out news of new blog content, and report what your group is up to. People express their interest in your Twitter entries by becoming “followers” on your Twitter profile. RSS feeds (“Real Simple Syndication”) allow those who click on an icon to be notified via email or text message of new content on your site.

Remember, these digital outposts and communications tools are there to steer people to your blog. This is quite similar to good old-fashioned donor acquisition. Throw a net out into the digital sea and draw in those who are interested. Engage with them via your blog, email, invitations to events, etc. to bring them closer and create a relationship between them and your group. Get them invested.

Figure out your goal(s) for these tools, research existing content in each of them that relates to your group’s work, and jump in! To learn more see Beth Kanter’s informative blog.
Buzz Harris is the Executive Director of the Development Resource Center, whose mission is to teach the fundamentals of successful fundraising and governance to nonprofits and NGO’s. The DRC offers inexpensive, web-based distance-learning and in-person courses on fundraising and board service. This spring the DRC will begin offering a new class on social networking media for nonprofits. Buzz can be reached at

Friday, February 20, 2009

My Life As a Duck

I think passion is one of the most important characteristics anyone can have. It's contagious. When you surround yourself with passionate people, your own passion is fueled. But being passionate about something and doing it are two different things. There's plenty of people who will tell you what can't be done and there's plenty of people who are all thrust and no vector. Mike Lenhart had a vision and actually did something with it. His story and his nonprofit, Getting 2 Tri, are truly inspirational. Bunnie

Mike Lenhart with Jenny Hunt

Formed in 2006, The Getting2Tri Foundation (G2T) provides coaching, mentoring and training in the sports of swimming, cycling and running to physically-challenged individuals. Specifically, G2T addresses the needs of individuals with limb loss, paralysis and muscular or neurological disorders. G2T athletes range from single sport members entering their first race as part of a relay team, to seasoned triathletes competing in Kona at the Ironman World Championships. The backgrounds of physically-challenged athletes are just as varied as their goals, from wounded veterans to people with limb loss due to disease. For each athlete, G2T’s focus is the same: to get him or her onto the playing field, at whatever level is their personal best. In 2008, G2T provided more than 12,000 hours of coaching and training to its field of athletes who competed in more than 100 races during the season.

My Life As a Duck

by Mike Lenhart
Founder and President
The Getting2Tri Foundation, Inc.

I came across Bunnie’s blog site through the result of some social networking efforts. I subscribed to her blog which I found to be a great resource for non profit leaders. She contacted me soon after via email and asked if I’d be willing to share my “story” about creating my non profit organization, The Getting2Tri Foundation. It’s my pleasure to share some thoughts with others today. Let me warn you, if you’re looking for a text book answer on the key points of starting a non profit, then this will not be the read for you. There are tons of great answers on topics like setting up your board, choosing an executive director, how to handle the finances, et al, readily available elsewhere. Rather, my comments today are more off-the-cuff and are the results from many of the decisions I faced in the short three year’s of Getting2Tri’s existence. I’ve listed below the top 5 lessons I learned while starting up my non-profit organization.

Lesson 1: “Just do it”. I’ve never read any polls taken that compared the number of non profit leaders who were school trained in starting anything prior to dipping their toes into the water. My guess is that many are not trained but yet most have the entrepreneurial spirit. Like many, I sat around for a long time anxious about starting my organization. I am somewhat risk adverse and not a gambler. I live my life mostly conservatively. However, eventually I realized that if I felt so strongly about something, then why sit around waiting for the big nudge? It isn’t easy starting a non profit. It’s a huge leap of faith. I believe that regardless of your trust in a higher power, that we are all called to some degree of service. Many ,if not most of us, choose to ignore that calling and that’s okay. It’s not a choice for everyone. But I found that once I made the decision to start, I had more than enough momentum to get me going.

Lesson 2: “Stick it out”. Eventually, the momentum I suggest above will begin to slow down. Many of my friends began to question me. Some even abandoned me. And there are still many periods of loneliness where I question “why”. However, the rewards are worth the efforts. There’s a great quote by Theodore Roosevelt that says:

"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat."

To me, this reaffirms that it’s better to have tried and failed than to always wonder “what if”. One of the biggest lessons I learned early on was how to develop my foundation’s vision statement. Notice, I said “vision” and not “mission” statement. A vision statement says, when you slice it all away, what’s most important to your organization? Vision spells out passion, desire and core values. And it’s in those periods of doubt that I reach back to my organization’s vision statement to keep me focused on “sticking it out”.

Lesson 3: “Be a quitter”. Surround yourself with quality people who understand your passion and can execute on your mission. Slowly “quit” the things that are piled high on your plate. I recently picked up the book “Ten Roads to Riches” by Ken Fisher. In one of the chapters, the author talks about knowing when to delegate. In other words, knowing when to quit. We are so engrained to be successful and never stop anything that we forget about the strength of delegated leadership. It is a difficult process to develop especially if you’re a person used to having his hands into all the decisions. Most non-profit organizations are heavily staffed with volunteers. Getting2Tri would not be nearly as successful without the initiative and leadership of many, many of our volunteers who understand the mission and use their unique skills to execute. I can’t do all aspects of the mission so I’ve had to learn the hard lesson of slowly “quitting” many of the tasks I had piled high on my own plate.

Lesson 4: The Three I’s: Be innovative, imaginative and intriguing. Has the economy dried up? You betcha. This is where leadership is forged. Like many of you, my foundation’s biggest challenge is raising money in a downward economy. My executive director and I share most of the fund-raising responsibilities. She concentrates on many of the traditional corporate “asks”; I focus on some of the more recent trends to make ourselves innovative, imaginative and intriguing. Serving both communities is important. Some recent trends that are working for us include: Creating a Ning community for knowledge sharing by our athletes, use of video as a means to dramatically demonstrate our mission execution, and the creation of viral campaigns and messaging on social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter . We try to have a continual steady flow of information to keep our mission in the forefront.

Lesson 5: “Adding that fifth ball to juggle”. There’s a great analogy given by a motivational speaker named Dan Thurmond. Dan tells a story about practicing juggling with four balls. He noticed that his 3-ball juggling got really good when he added a fourth ball even though he never mastered it with four balls. And it wasn’t until he added a fifth ball that his 4-ball juggling got better. Don’t lose my point I’m trying to make here. I’m not suggesting you add more to your plate. Remember, I commented earlier that we must become “quitters”. Rather, I am suggesting that when you think you can’t do something, just challenge yourself a little harder. You’ll be amazed at the progress. Trust me!

Finally, I’d like to close by saying that all these points, and the many I didn’t cover because I haven’t learned them yet, are nothing without a large dose of patience. If you’re considering entering the non profit space, perhaps starting up your own organization, then chances are you’re a dynamic visionary who has lots of great ideas. I think at one point, my vision list had about 30 projects on it. So there I was facing a huge ocean to boil and only a small BIC lighter and a couple pieces of dry kindling wood to make any sort of fire. It is always best to whittle down your projects to what matters most. (Go back to your vision statement.) Wanna know why most non profits take at least five years to get into a nice stride? Because it takes time!

I was extremely privileged to attend West Point for my undergraduate studies. While at West Point, my company of 120 cadets was Delta Company, First Regiment or more commonly called “D-1”. Our mascot was a duck. That’s right…a duck! Long before Aflac championed their branding, we were the D-1 Ducks. Many of us were embarrassed by the non-military appeal of a duck. We’d never seen a duck “charge that hill”. However, that embarrassment changed when our Tactical Officer told a gathering of D-1 leaders what it meant to be a duck. When you think about a duck on the water, he appears very calm and placid on the surface. But beneath it all, he is paddling like hell! I’ve carried that message throughout my professional career now nearly 20 years since graduating from West Point.

Always display the patience that shows you are calm above the surface. Beneath it all, paddle like hell and never loose site of your passion.

My sincere best of luck to you all!
Most respectfully,

Mike Lenhart

Contact Mike at

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Creating a Newsletter with Constant Contact – Tips and Tricks

I love how-to's! Practical information that gives me the best way to do something or de-mystifies a process. Jerri Barret, of the Anita Borg Institute, takes us through how to use Constant Contact to create a newsletter, step-by-step, and gives us practical work-arounds to potential glitches. Thanks Jerri! Bunnie

Creating a Newsletter with Constant Contact – Tips and Tricks
by Jerri Barrett, Director of Marketing
Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology

I’m writing this as I am concluding the creation of the first of two newsletters the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology (ABI) will publish in February 2009. To quickly summarize our process prior to layout, each week we have a staff meeting. In each staff meeting I poll our team on what items should be going into the two newsletters. The first one each month is very program focused, the second is more article and column rich – though we do give shorter relevant plugs for the programs. The staff contributes topics and commit to writing articles, and I usually write a few myself. When the articles are submitted I edit them in Microsoft Word. Lengthy articles are posted on our website ( and the first two paragraphs will appear in the newsletter with a link to the rest of the article.

Constant Contact is very intuitive. To get started each month I copy the previous month’s newsletter. This enables me to have a consistent look and feel to the newsletter. Other templates are available and you can customize them so no two newsletters look exactly the same. Then, I simply go through and delete the previous month’s articles, unless they are program related and need to simply be modified or updated. Once the newsletter is scrubbed, I begin to add the articles.

Adding articles is probably the one area that is the most troublesome in Constant Contact. If you cut and paste articles out of Microsoft Word, the article frequently loses its formatting. It is best to take your word article and cut and paste it into Notepad then copy from there into Constant Contact. It’s an extra step but can save a lot of formatting time. You also need to go in and manually enter each link in an article which can be time consuming. Be sure to frequently save your work as you continue, Constant Contact will log you out automatically if there is no activity and your work will be lost.

Once the articles are laid out and the formatting is set, I go back and review the articles to see if an image would be appropriate. Images have to be small in size and in .jpg format – you upload an image into Constant Contact, determine what size it should be and insert it into the article.

The final stop is the arrangement of the articles on the page. You simply drag and drop the articles on the page until you the flow and order you want. In Constant Contact what you see is what you get. Then you create the table of contents. The table of contents does not automatically populate – you need to click on it and manually type in the title of each article. This is helpful if you have a lot of long titles – you can truncate them as needed. You always have to remember to update the table of contents before distribution – changes in the order of the articles changes the TOC and you want to be sure to double check it each time.

Once I’m satisfied the newsletter is “done”, I preview it and send preview copies to all of my contributing writers. It’s important for them to provide further proofreading and make sure the articles are accurate and the links are pointing where they should.

I make all the changes and once we’re done it’s time to schedule the newsletter distribution. First who does the newsletter go to? We are continuously updating our distribution lists for the newsletter from multiple sources – our newsletter registration site, our event registrations, and emails. Those are uploaded to constant contact from an excel spreadsheet – a quick process that takes about 5 minutes. ABI has a strict no spamming policy so we only add names of people who have agreed to receive our newsletter.

The final step is scheduling – I pick the date and time for the newsletter to go out and schedule it. The newsletter will be sent automatically without further intervention. The email out of office notices all come to my mailbox while bounce backs are recorded by Constant Contact’s reporting function.

Once the newsletter is out I wait 3-4 days then I go online to check the reports on that newsletter. I see how many newsletters were sent, how many were opened and which articles were clicked on. This is part of our monthly tracking and provides insight into what types of articles and programs are of interest to our readers. So what’s our number 1 click through month after month? Our column, Ask Jo, which is written by a professional coach – Jo Miller, the CEO of Women’s Leadership Coaching (

The advantages of Constant Contact overall is it is relatively inexpensive, easy to update and easy to use. A newsletter (excluding article writing) can be created in less than a day (including editing rounds). The primary disadvantages are the occasional glitches in the software – you may find yourself challenged in formatting for no apparent reason. The best work around – save and log out and log back in. And when push comes to shove delete an article and reload it into the software.

One final comment, in my last guest post I mentioned the Communities Manager for the Anita Borg Institute. I wanted to acknowledge the excellent work done by BJ Wishinsky in this role. As I write this BJ is working on new strategies to create new communities for the Anita Borg Institute.

Contact Jerri at

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

No research budget? Consider Facebook

In the "why didn't I think of that" category, Erik Evans (Public Relations and Web Information) of the Sons of Norway talks about using Facebook as a virtual focus group. Sure I think of Facebook as a great way to network and keep in touch with friends, but using it to keep constant contact with the pulse of your membership is a great idea! Bunnie

No Research Budget? Consider Facebook

by Erik Evans
Public Relations and Web Information
Sons of Norway

Are you in need of customer/member input? Are you at a point where your non-profit's growth is dependant on the opinions of the people you serve? Are considering an information campaign to change the public's perception of your non-profit? Are you trying to figure out how to accomplish any of these things without a formal budget or enough staff to devote to them?

One word (maybe two depending on whether you're a type A personality or not): Facebook.

For those who have never used it, Facebook is a social networking site where individuals create profiles and build networks of friends. More importantly, it also offers users the opportunity to join common interest groups that relate to everything from social causes to specific companies and employers. Therein lay the potential for non-profits.

If you've never checked to see if there is a group dedicated to your non-profit, you may be missing out on a wealth of unsolicited, unedited information/opinions/feedback from the very audience you serve (which could be priceless to your decision-making process). You see, in most Facebook groups there are message boards where members can create discussion threads on a variety of topics related to the group. Within these message boards you have vocal supporters, opinion leaders, dissatisfied customers and everything in between. What's important to know is that these are exactly the kind of people you'd want to recruit if you were conducting focus-group-based research.

Since those of us in the non-profit field are expected to do more for less as often as possible, these Facebook groups offer a unique opportunity to gather opinions and perceptions at no cost. There are a number of member-created groups dedicated to the non-profit I work for and I often find myself reading the user's comments, looking for trends in opinion, potential threats of misperception or misinformation and above all learning about what's important to our members. Other times, if I'm trying to get a feel for how our members will react to certain topics or issues, I'll post a question to all the group members on the message board. Often, this will elicit a number of responses, and it's like having a virtual focus group. The results are often very illuminating and always informative.

However, I would caution, if you do decide to give this a try you need to maintain a high level of credibility. Do not hide the fact that you are employed by the non-profit that is the subject of the group, do not simply troll for information and, above all, add value to the discussions. Remember, these boards are a two way street and if you just throw out a question and then remove yourself entirely from the discussion, members won't want to participate. Be ready to answer questions or to contribute to the conversation sometimes, and always show that you are taking the members comments seriously. Doing so will increase the quality of information you derive and make for a great experience for everyone involved.

To learn more about using social media as a non-profit resource, contact Erik Evans at

Monday, February 16, 2009

It's Never Good to Play With the Tax-Man

Nonprofits throughout the United States are in audit season, getting ready for their 990 filings in May. This time of year always reminds me of a nonprofit I interviewed with a few years ago.

Being the kind of due diligence gal that I am, before the interview I asked for three years of audited financial statements. Financial statements give you a good snapshot of the organization such as: where the revenue comes from; what programs cost; how much is spent on administration vs. program; are there problem areas or could there be belt tightening; etc. I hope there are no potential executive directors out there that would take a job without looking at the financials. Even if the organization is in financial difficulty, you need to know that so you can intelligently decide whether or not to take the position.

I didn’t get audited statements, instead I got Quickbooks Profit and Loss statements. A part of me thought maybe the board members didn’t understand what I was asking for and I could make it clear during the course of the interview.

The interview itself went swimmingly until we turned to the subject of finance. I again, politely requested three years of audited financials. At that point I was told by the board chair that the organization, that had been in existence for over fifteen years, had never had an audit conducted. I was a bit surprised and I think I said something like “You might want to consider having an audit done.” I mentioned that it didn’t necessarily have to be every year but perhaps at least every two or three years.

I brought up Sarbanes-Oxley, the law that had been passed after the Enron scandal that was supposed to bring transparency to a corporation’s financial operations. A result of that law is that nonprofits now have stricter standards that they have to meet, such as setting up audit committees and getting audits. I was summarily told that they didn’t believe Sarbanes-Oxley required audits, it just suggested audits.

Still curious as to why there was such resistance to having an audit, I said something like “Well what about your funders or potential grantmakers?” I was told that they had never had a problem since their large donors were businesses they dealt with regularly.

Realizing I was getting nowhere, I moved on to a line item that I had questions about. That item was a type of commission they had set up with equipment suppliers, in other words, when those suppliers sold equipment as a direct result of being present at their conference or through advertising in their newsletter, the organization would receive a modest commission on the sale.
The Treasurer then informed me that they preferred not to call them commissions, but rather donations as they didn’t want to have to pay Unrelated Business Income Taxes or UBIT.

I have no clue what expression must have swept across my face, I’m sure it was odd, since I immediately visualized my having to sign a 990 that had false information in it. I stopped asking questions about the financial statement and began wrapping up the interview with “Thank you so much for your time, it was great to meet you,” or something like that.

The next day I called and removed myself from the running. It wasn’t so much that their shady practices made me nervous as it was I sensed a complete unwillingness to clean up their behavior and a resistance to my advice.

Whatever you do nonprofits, don’t play fast and loose with the Internal Revenue Service, it ain’t a good idea. There are consequences that include loss of your exemption, heavy penalties and even jail for the person who signs the 990. In simple parlance, falsifying a tax return is fraud.

While audits can make some nervous, there's nothing like getting a clean management letter. You can proudly take that to funders and members as your report card that you are managing the organization with care and responsibility. I know that smaller organizations often don’t feel they have the money to be audited every year, but certainly should make sure they have the money to be audited every couple of years. It is also highly recommended that you set up an audit committee, even if it’s only three people, just to make sure that money is being accounted for correctly and that the organization’s finances are transparent.

Managing a nonprofit, whether as the chief officer or board member, requires ethical practices and stewardship. After all, people give their money charitably in the belief that their money will be well spent.


contact Bunnie at

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Community Fundraisers: When Your Donors Approach You With Ideas To Raise Money

My conversation with Lon started a bit differently, we were talking about technology and then I learned about the Community Fundraisers created by donors. Wow! What nonprofit wouldn't want a dedicated corps of people spontaneously offering to do events for it? Great ideas! Bunnie

Community Fundraisers: When Your Donors Approach You With Ideas To Raise Money

By Lon S. Cohen, Director of Communications
The ALS Association Greater New York Chapter

Some of our more successful fundraising enterprises last year were the ones that our donors created and produced themselves. Interestingly, many people approach us about a fully formulated idea that they plan to implement on their own. We’ve had a bunch of people run marathons in memory of a relative who died from ALS, a few Golf Outings, a few dinners at local restaurants, happy hours, one Manhattan art auction and a lemonade stand. Some people go as far as establishing their own web pages and collecting donations through one of a number of create-your-own fundraising sites to run their event, though we do offer the ability to accept donations online through our own systems, if needed.

The best part is that they do most or all the work for us. What we do is provide them with informational material if they need it, promotion by putting the event up on our calendars, our website, our social networking sites, our blog and into our email newsletter. If the event is big enough, I also build a page or a mini-site for their event on a special section of our website called Community Fundraisers. This helps promote their efforts, puts their name in "lights" so to speak as a thank you and also encourages others to do the same by example. We also commit staff to attend the function as visitors, for moral support or as full fledged volunteers. I have personally spent afternoons riding around a golf course photographing golfers, signing up people for auctions and serving drinks—anything to help them, help us!

So far it's worked fantastically. Since last year our community fundraisers—which I define as money raising events produced by others for the benefit of our organization—have increased dramatically, raising literally hundreds of thousands of dollars. It benefits us greatly in that the grassroots are helping raise awareness and money without our need to divert too much needed resources from our larger organization events like the six Walks to Defeat ALS that we hold every year and our Annual Lou Gehrig Sports Awards banquet dinner. More importantly, these volunteers are more than happy to do it for us.

In most but not all of the cases a venue donates their space and time to our cause. In as much as it is possible, organizers of these events try to get everything else donated, including drinks, food, auction items, etc. Sometimes when overhead is costly, the fundraisers can get things at cost in the very least. If not, someone may be willing to pick up the tab for certain things as their way of donating to the event.

Most of the time, organizers find the experience very rewarding and continue to host fundraisers annually, although a larger, more ambitious event can be exhausting for the promoter. We also find that the most successful events are the ones that people do much of the planning well in advance and have commitments in place from venues, donors and attendees even before announcing it to the public. For individuals to put on an event we suggest they start small and make it something fun that they would like doing anyway, like these marathons and happy hours. My best advice for potential community fundraisers is not to get in over your head with a hugely ambitious plan as that may lead to frustration and really divert from the good intentions of the original idea.

Contact Lon at the ALS Association

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

"If You Want to Lead People, You Must Get Behind Them." Why is This Important?

I was sent an email introducing me to Dante Chestnut. In it, was his philosophy of leadership, a philosophy to which I have always subscribed. Sometimes I think we need more servant leaders like Mr. Chestnut.

A businessman, entrepreneur (music business) and social activist, Dante splits his time between his passions, such as The CHILL Program, (Creating Hope I Love Life) and D.A.N.T.E. (Doing Anything Necessary To Educate-to help the fight against illiteracy and violence) and a partnership program with his wife Shannon Chestnut with the S.W.A.G.G (Strong Women Accomplishing Greater Goals); as well as working to end violence in communities and keep trade, sports programs as well as music and liberal arts in schools across the country.

If You Want to Lead People, You Must Get Behind Them. Why is This Important?
by Dante Chestnut

Today, there's a litany of people who want to be leaders, but often forget the key element of being a great leader, is to first be a great follower. Growing up in Mobile Alabama (Prichard) as a child, we had leaders in the community that I looked up to such as my pastor, the late Rev. Fred L. Sanderson from Mt. Carmel Missionary Baptist Church He always encouraged us to be the best at whatever we set our minds to. His faith in us, support, and personal actions exemplified what a great leader should be.

This is why I share my past experiences, positive energy, and kind words; to help give people the extra push they need to reach their highest possible level of success. Many people, as children and young adults, didn't have that loving family support they needed early on to build themselves up as confident role models or leaders. I feel I was commissioned from birth to help strengthen our nation as a man first and as a humanitarian, music and entertainment executive second.

Morale is one of the key components in building any type of lucrative organization. What team will strive for success if they don't feel they have a leader who not only believes in the mission at hand, but also supports them in all of their efforts? Many of us have sadly experienced the feeling of working hard for the benefit of a project, only to face a situation where the leader of the project simply never took the time to listen. Worse yet, is to have your hard work and ability questioned. Nothing will stagnate a person's ambition and drive more than to feel that you don't empathize or understand what they, as your employee, are going through.

As CEO of my companies, I enjoy standing behind my staff, roster of artists and the team, instead of concentrating on being in the front lines. This helps build integrity, confidence, and a deep passion for what they enjoy most. True you can refer to me as a leader of my flock, but our company motto is, "We create stars and keep them shining together". While any great leader must garner the respect that comes from that earned leadership role, I believe you also have to establish that you aren't afraid to roll up your sleeves and get down in the trenches when the situation calls for it.

The key factors in being able to support any team are trust and communication. You won't be able to truly defend the actions of any member of your team unless you have a clear understanding of not only that person, but their views on the task at hand. When a trustworthy team has been assembled, and you take the time to really get a clear understanding of who it is that you have working with you, it's simply that much easier to confidently stand behind them when it is required.

When thinking about the expression, "If you want to lead people, you must get behind them" remember this: No one wants to feel a lack of support or that their talents are not recognized. If we follow the Golden Rule in business, as well as in life, and just "Do unto others as you would have done to you," in the long run you will experience a much more fulfilling and a stress free working environment for everyone involved.

Monday, February 9, 2009

The Care and Feeding of New Board Members

It is harder than ever to find good board members. People are so busy and have so many obligations. The search for new board members should begin with each of the existing board members. Who do they know? Who do they do business with or with whom do they socialize? You can also go out to other nonprofits and send them a request for nominees. Club and membership associations (like Rotary, Lions, Chambers of Commerce) are particularly good for getting the word out about your board member search.

I prefer to think about the “type” of board talent that's needed and then conducting a search based on that. Do you need a business person? Or perhaps someone from the religious community? How about someone who is extremely high-tech? Or maybe you really need an attorney on the board. Deliberate planning for the type of board talent will help ensure that your board is diverse and each member brings something to the table.

Once you’ve found those potential board members, carefully and thoroughly interview them. I helped an organization conduct a start-up board search, we received many applications from some terrific candidates. One candidate looked great on paper, but when she came for the interview she was an angry, angry person. She actually tried to deliberately intimidate the other board members in an effort to show how tough she was. Once she was done with the interview and left the room, we all collectively breathed a sigh of relief. Yes, she was that scary!

The board interview process is very much like the job interview process. It's the time to determine if the potential board member is a good fit and it’s the time to make sure the nominee completely understands the duties and responsibilities of being on the board. How much time will be required of the board member? How many committees does the board member have to sit on? What is the fundraising obligation?

Here’s where I think a lot of nonprofits fall down on the job; not conducting board training for new board members at the very first opportunity. Somehow (and don’t ask me how) broad assumptions are made that the new board member just automatically understands nonprofit governance or even understands nonprofits. Just because a new board member was once president of the local PTA doesn’t mean they know the first thing about nonprofit management and the fiduciary requirements of board members.

One resource I've used for new board member training is from Dan Cain at Cain Consulting (; it is the "Board Team Handbook." It really lays out what the responsibilities of board members are, discusses ethics, provides simple to follow parliamentary procedure, advises new board members how to behave, etc. Dan Cain has a lot of products for nonprofits on his website, I highly recommend you go to it. I am one heck of a writer and have written tons and tons of training manuals on various topics, but I could never outdo what Dan Cain has done with the Board Team Handbook, it is excellent!

It's important to have one established board member as a mentor to orient a new board member. That should be a permanent position, the “New Board Member Training Coach” or whatever you choose to call it. The Coach should walk the new board member through all the important documents of the organization, such as: the bylaws; personnel manual; the strategic plan; etc. The Coach should also spend some time on the activities and programs of the organization: When is the conference? What kind of legislative activity does the organization do? How many chapters are there? Who is the chapter leadership? How often does the journal get published? What is the scholarship fund?

The more the new board member knows about the organization, the more engaged they will become. Searching for new, qualified and talented board members is labor intensive and once you’ve done that search it’s really important to make sure you give new board members every opportunity to succeed.

You can reach Bunnie Riedel at

Friday, February 6, 2009

Using Nerdy Powers for Good

Does it get any better than this? Website development company, Sierra Bravo, selects 12 nonprofits and teams them up with website developers for an overnight website development challenge! Which makes me wonder how many other Sierra Bravos are out there...

Using Nerdy Powers for Good

by Mark Malmberg
Sierra Bravo Communication Manager

Remember when Ed McMahon would show up at peoples’ doorsteps to tell them they’d hit the jackpot? I got to be like him a couple days ago, minus the camera crew and big cardboard check. My “McMahon” moment graced its recipients via email.

A couple days ago I had the unique pleasure of telling 12 nonprofits that they’d soon have a team of 10 dedicated web development professionals at their service for 24 hours. In a row. At the reasonable rate of a good night’s sleep.

Before you think I’m some eccentric philanthropist type, I’ll come clean. I just happen to work for a web development company with an embarrassment of riches when it comes to having web nerds who make no distinction between work and play. This is just one reason why Sierra Bravo created the “Overnight Website Challenge.”

At last year’s inaugural Overnight Website Challenge, volunteer web developers donated well over 2,000 hours of professional services to 11 nonprofits – with a real-world street value of about a quarter-million dollars. Check out some of nonprofit video testimonials here.

Fast forward to the last day of this month, Saturday morning, when 12 Minnesota nonprofits are about to see their economic outlook improve overnight as 120 volunteer web pros lose sleep building 12 websites. As the 24-hour countdown begins, nonprofits will meet development teams – otherwise perfect strangers – for the first time, unburdened by budget constraints.

Anyway, my recent Ed McMahon moment was shared with these nonprofits:

Access Press
Athletes Committed to Educating Students
Battered Women’s Legal Advocacy Project
Caring for Kids Initiative
District 202
Friends of Fort Snelling
Global Citizens Network
Hopkins Minnetonka Family Resource Center
Karen Wyckoff Rein In Sarcoma Foundation
Resource Center of the Americas
Students Today, Leaders Forever
YEA Corps

“Picking the top 12 out of 46 eligible nonprofits was tough – all do good work and all are deserving of this opportunity,” said Sierra Bravo Overnight Website Challenge judge Dan Grigsby, founder of multiple startups and tech community organizer. “It’s amazing to see what 120 web developers can accomplish in 24 hours.”

Other selection judges:
· Christine Durand, Communication Director, Minnesota Council of Nonprofits
· Robert Stephens, Founder, Geek Squad
· Chris Wiggins, Creative Director, Fallon

These same judges will award bragging rights to one team at the end of the 24-hour event. That’s right, bragging rights – that’s the grand prize – a far cry from the aforementioned big cardboard check from Ed McMahon.

So who, you ask, would volunteer for a gig with such strange hours and no pay? Most of Sierra Bravo’s web development staff and folks from ad and design agencies we work with though our Partner Program. The rest are well-meaning insomniacs from the interactive community at large. From this deep pool of web development talent, we cherry-picked these teams of volunteers.

Sierra Bravo’s Overnight Website Challenge is supported by New Horizons of Minnesota, which donates computer training to each nonprofit, and VISI, which gives each nonprofit a year of free web hosting. Our 24-hour marathon meeting of the needy/nerdy is fed through donations from Buffalo Wild Wings, Bruegger’s, Chipotle, and Umbria Pizza, and Peace Coffee and Red Bull kicks in when the midnight oil flickers out.

Every party – and every person – involved in this event shows up to simply do what they do best – particularly the nonprofits. And when you consider the collective impact these nonprofits make in our community, losing some sleep to help them work smarter online – and further their mission – seems like a wise investment.

Like I said, we have our reasons.

“Sierra Bravo is committed to this event as long as there are good nonprofits whose websites could be better, powered by nerds,” said Luke Bucklin, president of Sierra Bravo.

And with that, we look forward to many, many more Ed McMahon moments. And as Sierra Bravo continues to partner with ad, design and marketing agencies in markets beyond our Twin Cities’ Nerdery, perhaps our Overnight Website Challenge will one day be at your doorstep.

Mark Malmberg, Sierra Bravo Communiction Manager, email Mark at

Monday, February 2, 2009

Old Media: Yes, It’s Still Relevant

We’ve had a couple of posts regarding “new” media. Wonderful advice on how to build SEO rankings and using social media sites to connect and engage. There will be more discussion on this blog as I have asked a range of nonprofit managers and advisors to weigh in on how they are using technology, especially in this down economy.

For a moment, I want to turn attention to “old” media and it’s relevancy. Every time a new way to communicate has come along, people have heralded the death of the incumbent technology. Radio would displace newspapers. T.V. would replace radio or T.V. would replace the movies. The internet would replace everything. Social networking would make in-person conferences obsolete. The truth is we add tools to our battery of communication, but we don’t necessarily get rid of the old tools altogether or we integrate the new with the old to create an even more robust platform.

At the core of old communication is building relationships between your organization and those who would pay attention to them. That requires a good list of T.V., newspaper, periodical and radio reporters. It requires making sure you are always pitching them what they can use, and being straight to the point about it. It also requires developing a relationship over a long period of time until you or your organization become the one they turn to for an opinion, quote or contacts.

There was a very expensive daily industry publication (the kind where the subscription is $3,000 per year) with which I developed an important relationship. I started by inviting the editor to one of our conferences and followed up by having an in-person meeting with him and a few staff. I made sure they got every press release we sent out. It didn’t take long until I was being called on a regular basis to comment on an issue or a story. And given this publication ended up on the desks of staffers on Capitol Hill, our having a presence in it was a coup.

And while new media, especially the blogosphere, has enhanced print publications, the concept is the same. Organizations now require a good list of reputable, reliable bloggers to get their message out and organizations need to develop relationships with bloggers in the same old way, personally and one at a time.

If you don’t have a list of old media reporters and writers, get one. If your organization is strictly local, that shouldn’t be too hard. If your organization is national in scope, there are companies that will sell you a list. The bloggers require a bit more work because you have to go looking for them and sometimes you don’t always find their contact information readily available.

If you’re tired of waiting for T.V. to discover your organization, I have the perfect solution. There are literally thousands of Public, Educational and Government access television stations in this country. These stations are filled with local producers and loads of talk shows. Contact your local stations and ask for producer contacts; who might do the kind of public affairs show that will fit well with your organization? How can you become a guest on that show? Larger organizations with more capacity invest the $15,000 to $20,000 to produce a thirty minute segment and then distribute them to access stations all over the country. One of my clients, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, has programming on addiction out on 457 access channels nationwide. Each of these channels air the programming an average of 12 times per month. The return to the federal government is now over $10 million per year in free airtime. Access channels are always looking for content and nonprofit organizations have plenty of content.

I love all the new ways we can communicate, there are so many new tools that are changing the way nonprofits do business and how they get their unique stories out. But, while we celebrate the amazing world of cyberspace, we must never forget the power of old media, the necessity of the well-written press release and imperative of forming solid relationships with those work in it.

So...what does your media list look like?