Monday, March 30, 2009

Keeping in Touch With Donors

Let's face it, you've got heavy competition out there for donor money. There are so many great causes and the donor pool is shrinking due to the times we live in. One of the most important things you can do is keep in touch with your donors. Let them know how much you appreciate their gift, let them know how their gift is being spent. Not an easy task, but Ephy Torenberg (pictured) and William Hewitt of DonorFirst, offer valuable advice on managing donor relations. Bunnie

Keeping in Touch With Donors

by Ephy Torenberg, CEO and William H. Hewitt, CMO

With nonprofit organizations struggling to maintain support levels in the wake of the financial collapse, we were reminded this week of the critical importance of donor retention by the release of the 2008 Study of High High-Worth Philanthropy sponsored by Bank of America. This analysis of attitudes and behavior among donors highlights that nearly 60% of households who stopped supporting a charitable organization attributed their decision to a lack of ‘connection’ with the charities.

The good news is that due to recent and dramatic shifts in the technology supporting charitable instruments such as donor advised funds (DAFs), organizations finally have tools available that support these critical engagement and retention needs. These changes are finally enabling charities to support the type of grantee engagement, family collaboration, and use-of-funds transparency that donors have been seeking for decades.

DAFs are playing a central role in helping to manage and direct the flow of billions of dollars of social capital from philanthropic families, and at even modest adoption rates these programs stand to capture and distribute funding totaling trillions of dollars over the next decade. Encouraging this growing flow of donors and charitable capital are an exciting array of features beginning to appear in DAF programs:


The donor’s ability to collaborate with family, foundation staff, advisors and grantee organizations, all within the environment of their personal DAF account, has been missing for generations. New technology enables donors to create an unlimited number of these mini-communities, with each focusing on a particular interest-area, grant program, or need, and ranging in size from two users to every user on a system. This powerful feature enables families to collaborate on grant initiatives, foundations to mobilize donors around cause centered events, and advisors to collaborate with multiple generations of family members.


Traditional DAF programs have failed to support feedback on use of funds, appreciation for gifts, and ongoing development efforts of the grantee. The latest DAF technology uses the grant process as an opportunity to build relationships between donors and grantees, and for the first time, supports the ability for grantees to respond back directly to the donor. Donors can focus on multi-year projects, condition future gifts to certain deliverables, participate actively with their charities, and establish new levels of engagement and collaboration with their grantees.

Multimedia Support

Charitable organizations are increasingly recognizing that it is possible to leverage photos, audio and video to help engage donors on a more personal, emotional level. In every context where a sponsoring foundation or grantee can communicate using text, the latest DAF technology supports communication using full multimedia (video and photo) formats. Grantees upload content, highlighting their efforts and populating the site with timely, relevant information.


The latest DAF programs present all of the information and functionality donors need in the form of a personalized user Dashboard. Users see which grantee groups they are subscribed to, news that is of interest to them, conversations, grant status, and account balance – across multiple charitable instruments. Each donor may be working with a development officer or advisor and the dashboard includes a prominent personal photo of key contacts making it easy for the donor to initiate contact. The dashboard puts everything a donor needs right at their fingertips.

Thanks to features like these which are helping foundations and nonprofits deliver higher levels of service than ever before, these organizations will finally be able to increase the engagement and affinity levels of their constituency, dramatically improve donor retention, and better mobilize their donor’s contributions for the right strategic causes.

The DonorFirst™ platform is a service of Crown Philanthropic Solutions, LLC

Contact Ephy or William at or 800-293-4061 x345

Friday, March 27, 2009

Effectively Involving Your Members in Your Organization's PR and Advocacy

Nonprofit Conversation is now being read in 27 countries! I have been concerned that our content is U.S. centric and have been doing some outreach to nonprofit/NGO leadership in other countries. It doesn't matter where you live, if you are engaged in nonprofit activities, the challenges are often quite the same. Below, Mark Buzan of Action Strategies (Canada) provides advice on effective public relations (PR) and advocacy. Mark is our first international contributor! Thanks Mark! Bunnie

Effectively Involving Your Members in Your Organization’s PR and Advocacy

by Mark Buzan, Principal, Action Strategies

The success of any nonprofit plan is hugely dependent on how it treats its public affairs. It comes in a variety of shapes and sizes, and has to get creative as sources for revenue are obviously different and harder to come by than traditional profit-making businesses. This said, knowing that your current and prospective members can help you get your message, mission, and needs out to the world at large, is absolutely crucial to the sustainability and future success of your nonprofit. So how do you go about treating your members and your key audiences so as to engage them in advancing your cause – particularly in public relations campaigns? This is important because the “holy grail” of grassroots campaigns occurs when other organizations and individuals become “evangelists” for the message you are promoting.

The same can be said of government relations campaigns and the benefit of utilizing tools that support grassroots campaigns that involve members and rally stakeholders to your cause. Increasingly, it is not enough to bring your issues to government. You have to demonstrate public support for your position. Your organization may be under public attack and need to publicly defend your practices and positions. You may want to shape the governments' policy agenda. To do that, supporters, members, employees, your industry’s customers and/or suppliers need to be mobilized!

More and more, the Internet can be used as a tool to rally support and advance your cause. In a networked society, organizations have no choice but to establish their positions in the online political marketplace. You go on-line to educate, motivate and organize citizens, opinion leaders and government decision-makers to take meaningful off line action. It's a new dimension for advocacy.

But, Internet advocacy and other outreach efforts are still a complement to traditional government relations activities. Communicating your views directly and personally to decision-makers should always be part of any on-going strategy. Below, is a list of some good ideas on how exactly to get your members involved in your nonprofit’s communications and advocacy.

1. Fundraising: One of the most basic and fundamental ways to get your members involved in public relations is creating interactive and mutually beneficial fundraising opportunities and programs. Host an informational walk for a cause. People undoubtedly invite their non-member friends to join them for company. It all starts with one or two more people knowing about your cause, and if the fundraising event is one that they enjoy, they tell others, and so on and so on.

2. Internet: Though this may seem an overused topic in pr these days, it is one of the most effective means of getting your name and cause out there, quicker and to more people than you could ever do with non-internet advertising or pr. Start with an interesting and interactive website and draw members and non-members alike to your site by all means you can think of. Start a blog, involve yourself in relate topic forums, write articles online, and get your current members to do the same.

3. Keep Contact and Hold Attention: By valuing the network you may already have with your current members and clients, you can maximize their individual networks to voice your goals, initiatives, and needs more loudly and far-reaching. Send your members e-newsletters, postcards, and invite them to special events to keep them abreast of all of the exciting things you are doing with your nonprofit. By doing this, you not only keep them constantly engaged with your nonprofit’s presence, but also put yourself at the front of their thoughts when it comes to their casual and professional efforts for the pr and marketing of your nonprofit.

4. Coordinate how you & your members make their presentation to MPs: Last week, I attended an interesting panel discussion held by the CSAE. Three MPs from the Conservatives, Liberals, and NDP were present offering input that I have long advised NGO executives. First, have a steady balance between emotion and logic. As I alluded to in a previous post, Tough Economic Times and the Federal Budget, often non-profits come to legislators with a healthy dose of an argument that comes from the heart. The trouble is that is often not enough. There needs to be a solid reason as to why a proposal makes sense and fits into the the agenda of the government.

Also, when considering how to involve members into an advocacy campaign, the options also include sending them to meet various MPs. When doing so, often under a "On the Hill" campaign, make sure they are well prepared with briefing papers that have first been sent to the MPs in advance. Ask the attending member(s) to also bring a copy. Finally and above all, don't assume what an MP knows or doesn't know. Acting as if you know more on a given subject than an MP that may have come from a professional background in that field will only put them off. Assuming they know a given subject when in fact they don't will only frustrate both parties - your volunteer representative and the legislator.

Mark Buzan is Principal of Action Strategies, a Public Relations and Canadian Government Relations Consultancy for non-profits. Subscribe now to his Lobbying and PR tips newsletters at

Monday, March 23, 2009

Stephen K. Verret v. United States of America

I've said it before, I'll say it again, many Board Members of large and small nonprofits do not understand the full extent of their liability. As Stephen Tatum of Cantey Hanger, LLP, illustrates from a a recent Fifth Circuit case, officers of an organization are equally responsible for, among other things, tax liability. It's simply not good enough to "urge" the executive to do something, Board Members must follow through, ask for proof or even take matters into their own hands. Maybe it's time for a liability check-up for your organization? Bunnie

Stephen K. Verret v. United States of America

by Stephen Tatum, Attorney, Cantey Hanger, LLP

Doctor’s Hospital in Groves, Texas was a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization, the Board of Trustees of which were specified by the Hospital’s By-Laws as voluntary and unpaid members of the community. Stephen K. Verret was on the board for almost 26 years. From 1999 until his resignation in 2002, Verret served as Chair of the Hospital’s board.

In early 2001 and again at the end of 2001, the hospital’s executive director David Cottey told the board that the hospital had failed to pay withholding taxes. Funds were found to satisfy the first tax liability.

Other than urging Cottey to pay the taxes and initiating a search for his replacement, Verret and the board did nothing to see that the second tax delinquency was paid.

The IRS found Verret, Cottey and the Hospital’s Chief Financial Officer, Angela Massey, to be “responsible parties” under § 6672 of the Internal Revenue Code. Among other things, the IRS assessed a penalty against Verret totaling $407,097.66 (equaling the amount of unpaid taxes), plus interest in the amount of $1,821.00. Verret paid the penalty and brought this lawsuit to recover the money. The District Court granted the government’s summary judgment and the Fifth Circuit affirmed.[1]

Section 6672 of the Internal Revenue Code (“IRC”) imposes a penalty on any “person required to collect, truthfully account for, and pay over any tax . . .” If someone willfully fails to collect and pay a tax, a penalty equal to the amount of the unpaid tax, itself referred to as a “tax” is assessed on “persons” deemed responsible for paying the tax under the IRC. A “person” includes “an officer or employee of a corporation … who as such officer [or] employee . . . is under a duty” to account for, collect and pay the tax. Courts view the concept of “responsible person” very broadly.

Among other findings, the Court found the following facts to establish that Verret was a responsible person subject to liability for the Hospital’s unpaid payroll taxes.

· The Bylaws of the hospital provided that its Board had final responsibility for administration.

· The Executive Director was required to make reports to the Board regarding personnel, staff and budget matters at each Board meeting.

· After the first failure to pay withholding taxes, the Board received oral assurances by Cottey that taxes were paid.

· Verret instructed Cottey to pay the payroll taxes before he paid anyone else.

· Verret was frequently present at the hospital and spoke with Cottey almost every day.

· The Board could hire and fire employees, specifically Cottey.

· Verret had the authority to sign company checks.

Despite testimony from Hospital employees that the responsibility for tax payments lay with senior management, the trial court found that Verret was a responsible person along with Cottey and Massey.

Next, the District Court found Verret to have acted willfully after the first delinquency, “Verret failed to take responsible steps to ascertain whether the taxes had in fact been paid and to resolve any uncertainty regarding the issue.”[2]

Does this sound familiar? The alarming thing about this opinion is that with a few exceptions like the consulting contract, Verret’s activities are not much different from what any Board chair would do in these circumstances.

The Court’s reliance on the language of the bylaws is also of concern. My suspicion is that most bylaws place ultimate responsibility for the operation of any organization with a board of directors, which can delegate authority. Further, Board chairs are likely on most CEO’s phone call list at least once a week.

Board Chairs of not-for-profits should consider having bylaws and tax payment procedures audited if there is any doubt at all regarding dealing with the IRS. Otherwise, they may be rudely awakened with a tax bill.

[1] The single paragraph appellate court opinion largely adopted the trial court’s reasoning in Verret v. United States, 542 F. Supp. 2d 526 (E.D. Tex. 2008), so for purposes of looking more deeply into the potential for personal liability arising from board service, read the trial court’s opinion.
[2] i.e., Failing to ask for canceled checks to show that taxes had been paid.

Contact Stephen Tatum at

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Touch Their Lives, They'll Touch Your Heart

Years ago, while working on my graduate degree, I taught the elderly in convalescent care for a school district. The object was to provide mental stimulation and slow the progession of degeneration. There were eleven teachers in the program and we would rotate through the hospitals each year. We were required to follow a basic education curriculum (math, english, history, music, science, etc.) and eventually I wrote the guidebook for new teachers. I look back on that time with fond memories, it ranks as one of the most favorite jobs of my life.

I learned so much from those patient-students. I loved the stories they would tell of the roarding twenties or how they made it through the depression. I learned a great deal about death as I would report to work to find one of my students had died during the night and it was my job to deliver the news to the class. I have never known such appreciation for everything little thing I did.

Carrie Harnish of Bridging Communities, Inc. provides a description of the amazing programs for the elderly (and youth) in Southwest Detroit. On their website it says "Touch Their Lives, They'll Touch Your Heart." No truer words can ever be said about working with our elders. Bunnie

Bridging Communities, Inc.
by Carrie Harnish, Executive Director

Bridging Communities in Southwest Detroit serves the homebound elders and is rebuilding the community around them because we believe that the quality of life for an elder is directly related to the quality of their community. We use volunteer services to provide the pinnacle of compassionate, complete, and cost-effective service to assist an elder in remaining in the community of their choice while we additionally provide top-quality independent living facilities and community revitalization services for Southwest Detroit neighborhoods.
We believe that it requires a village to support an elder and offer services to support the entire lifespan and strengthen the village. Our programs are divided into the following manner:

Our eldercare program offers professional assessments for the elderly and utilizes the gifts and talents of volunteers from across Michigan to fulfill each identified need. Our services range from case management to volunteer services such as friendly visiting, supportive transportation, minor home repairs, and much, much more.

Our intergenerational program focuses on the circle of learning between the generations. By bringing elders together with young people, we are breaking down barriers. As a result of our programs, the elders are exhibiting less fear, while the young people are demonstrating greater amounts of respect as a result of learning life lessons from the elders.

Our community organizing work has strengthened the neighborhoods around the elders, allowing them to come out of their homes and interact with their neighbors, walk to the local markets, and be a part of the community again.

Our development program has built two affordable senior housing projects, the Pablo Davis Elder Living Center and Heritage Place at Magnolia and the twenty-four Springwells Village Townhomes with specialized services for grandparents raising their grandchildren. We also transform vacant properties into resident-owned homes, develop in-fill housing, and work to build an Intergenerational Center.

For twenty-nine years, we have led Detroit in creative collaboration and innovative programming to meet the needs of the elders and their surrounding neighborhoods. We are the leader in grass-roots, volunteer-based, home-bound eldercare in Detroit while working with the residents to create a community that one can live in for a lifetime.

BCI excels in utilizing the time and talents of volunteers. The challenges that we face come from decreasing funding for professional aging services with an increasing frail, aging, and significantly low-income population.

To contact Carrie, go to

Friday, March 20, 2009

Impromptu Fundraising Using Facebook

Yesterday, the New York Times reported a study that shows that online donors don't return to repeat donations. I'm not terribly surprised. The internet is a noisy place that requires extreme competition for attention. The article talked about using internet fundraising as a way to find donors, but then following up with those new donors in more traditional ways, such as direct mail.

Liz Bazini, Young Hadassah International Chair, illustrates how using your organization's cause page on Facebook, can lead to an instant fundraiser. Cause pages are great because you have an interested audience, people have to opt-in to a "cause" and those who opt-in are much more likely to respond to an appeal. As an additional bonus, Young Hadassah International gained 100 new Facebook members. Not bad for a day's work. Bunnie

Impromptu Fundraising Using Facebook

by Liz Bazini
Young Hadassah International Chair

Using Facebook Young Hadassah International (YHI) raised $2,500 in 48 hours for the Hadassah Medical Centre in Jerusalem.

The impromptu “event,” part of the “Help Hadassah Heal” campaign, was held in response to the significant decline in donations made to the organization due to the economic crisis. “Help Hadassah Heal” was launched on the Hadassah International January 2009 featuring podcasts from the Shlomo Mor-Yosef, Director General, Hadassah University Medical Center and the Hadassah National President Nancy Falchuk.

The virtual YHI Facebook fundraiser reached 1500 people; the majority of the money raised was in the form of $20 contributions. In addition, during the 48-hour period individuals changed their profile pictures to the YHI logo which increased exposure for the hospital and the fundraising organization. As a result, we now have over 100 new members of the Young Hadassah International Facebook Cause Group (

The money raised will benefit the much-needed renovations of Hadassah’s Pediatrics Department on Mount Scopus, and provide crucial state-of-the art diagnostic and treatment equipment to give the children the best care possible. Hadassah Hospital-Mount Scopus has a special history, as it was the region’s first modern medical facility when it opened in 1939. Today, the hospital serves both Arabs and Jews from the northern neighborhoods of Jerusalem, the surrounding towns and villages, the Palestinian Authority, as well as patients who come from all parts of the country.

When these children are first admitted to the hospital, families from diverse backgrounds oftentimes do not appreciate the common bonds that unite them. As contact between Arab and Jewish families increases, there is a gradual dissipation of the pervasive suspicion, fear, and hostility. In time, one family goes down to the cafeteria for coffee and brings back snacks for the other families. As parents from opposite sides of the divide come to know one another as individuals, perspectives gradually begin to change and stereotypes blur. To one another, they are now only parents of sick children, battling a common enemy—disease.

Today, the Pediatrics Department has an annual occupancy of well over 100%, reaching 150% in winter months. The needed renovation and expansion will:

• Reduce the number of children in a room

• Allow parents to stay with their child overnight

• Provide consultation rooms for parents and medical staff

• Add staff and seminar meeting rooms

• Provide for the purchase of advanced medical equipment

The mission of YHI is to build awareness and generate long term support among young adults for the Hadassah Medical Centre which impacts medical care globally. Serving the Middle East, the Hadassah Medical Centre is a pioneering university hospital that provides cutting-edge research and healthcare without discrimination. Its global outreach ranges from offering aid to African communities to being first on the scene at natural disasters.

The men and women who comprise YHI organize fundraising events and promote networking among likeminded people. YHI chapters include Argentina, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, The Netherlands and the United Kingdom. To learn more visit

Monday, March 16, 2009

Effecting Change Now: Stimulating Your Organization with Green Technology

At my home, our energy bill has risen 75% this year and Baltimore Gas and Electric (BGE) says it will be raising rates another 50% by summer. There's a lot of politics surrounding these outrageous increases that I'll save for some juicy Op-Ed pieces. Suffice it to say, I HATE giving the electric company any more money than I have to. So we've begun a campaign of unplugging everything that is not in use. Our TV, our computers, our microwave, etc. It got me thinking, what are nonprofits to do as energy rates soar? How can nonprofits that have "green" policies go beyond simply recycling paper or using nontoxic toners?

Lisa Voldeng writes an inspiring article on how nonprofits can realize their green dreams. By way of introduction, Lisa was voted one of the the "Top 25 Women in Technology" by ZDnet and one of the "Top 10 Media Thinkers of the 21st Century" by Nikkei Electronics. Lisa Voldeng is an industry analyst and CEO of Sugarlab Corp. Bunnie

Effecting Change Now: Stimulating Your Organization with Green

By Lisa Voldeng

There is no obstacle that can stand in the way of millions of voices calling for change. In the week of President Obama's inauguration, his words a noble call to us all to rise to meet the best in ourselves, many of us are wondering, but how do I tangibly effect change in my own life? Or in my own organization?

President Obama built his campaign on the promise of economic stimulus and aggressive support for green technologies. Recently, he selected alternative energy supporter and Nobel-prize winning physicist Steven Chu to head the Department of Energy. He's loading his guns and locking his economic stimulus package. He's poised to begin executing his gleaming mission. Are we ready to execute ours?

The realities of the current economy are daunting. We have organizational goals to meet, and smaller budgets with which to meet them. Nonprofits and businesses are closing. People are losing jobs and homes. And amidst all this, our planet is increasingly evidencing the specter of radical climate change. The need for change is breathing hot in our faces, yet the challenges we face seem insurmountable.

As Confucius said, A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. If so, then what tangible solutions are available, that can help us directly impact change in our organizations now? Help us effectively meet our goals while lowering our costs, and reducing our environmental impact?

The functional area where organizations can most effectively and immediately cut costs and positively impact environmental change, is IT. For example, using powerful, low-cost desktop virtualization tools, you can reduce your IT maintenance and support costs by up to 80% - while also reducing electricity usage and electronic waste by up to 90%.

Desktop virtualization technologies leverage the unused computing power of a single computer, creating an efficient alternative to traditional desktop-per-user computing. I've evaluated many companies hawking products in this space of late, and the one I've been most impressed with, is Userful ( Putting it plainly, Userful doesn't talk. They just walk. In an age where rampant over-rhetoric still rules the virtualization marketplace, those who let their demonstrated commitment to serving their customers and impacting organizational change speak for itself - speak the loudest of all.

Userful's PC sharing and virtualization technology turns one computer into 10; allowing up to 10 users to work on a single computer by simply attaching extra monitors, mice and keyboards. It delivers full PC performance including full-screen streaming video for a fraction of the cost of using a PC-per-user solution. Userful also enables users to manage and monitor their desktops through a central administrative web site, allowing them to control their desktops from a simple web-browser, and generating significant savings in administrative tools.

Because of the radical reduction in electricity and electronic waste (up to 90%), Userful's solutions are immediately eco-friendly. For example, a recent deployment in South Africa - which delivered 2,205 virtualized desktops to 105 South African schools using only 315 computers - saves the equivalent of over 4000 tonnes of CO2 emissions; the equivalent of taking 700 cars off the road. And with over 30,000 desktops successfully deployed in nonprofits, governments, schools, libraries, businesses and military in over 100 countries, Userful's virtualization tools are a proven market leader.

Perhaps change begins with a simple intention. And renewal begins when a simple intention becomes a single step, multiplied. With Obama's call to us all to be the change we wish to see - and his strong commitment to stimulating the economy and supporting green technologies - companies like Userful are well-prepared to help organizations who also embrace the call to change, to lead the way.

Contact Lisa at

How Can Smaller Non-profits Better Use Technology?

20 years ago I founded a small nonprofit. It wasn't easy. I used the computer at my church since I didn't own one. I enlisted my children to stuff envelopes. I created the newsletter on a Brother electronic typewriter. And I spent $80 of my own money to get a Post Office box. There was that incident where I accidentally erased the Wordperfect file that had all the members and donors information on it and I went home, sat at my kitchen table and cried. Luckily I had the hard copy record but it took me hours and hours to re-create the file. I certainly could have used something like ClubExpress back in the day. Dan Ehrmann, President of ClubExpress, saw the need of small nonprofits without sophisticated IT departments to manage their information, renew members and maintain their data and he figured out a way to meet it. Bunnie

How Can Smaller Non-profits Better Use Technology?

Dan Ehrmann
President, ClubExpress

In the US alone, there are more than 500,000 smaller membership-based organizations with fewer than 5000 members. Every one of us belongs to three or four such groups, whether it’s a running club, a mother’s playgroup, a local chamber of commerce, a fraternity or alumni club, your homeowner’s association, a professional or trade group, or your community Rotary club.

Most of these clubs and associations are run by volunteers who work within limited budgets, sometimes only a couple of thousand dollars per year. They face continual challenges managing memberships and renewals, organizing events, communicating with members and raising funds to support programming. Very few clubs spend time growing the organization because they spent all the available time running the organization. A small group of officers face problems attracting other volunteers to take time from a busy schedule to work on club activities which are often boring and mundane (for example, stuffing envelopes). Expertise is always a problem; not every group has an experienced web designer or accountant on the membership roster, and few have the resources to hire professionals.

The typical club has a membership database in Excel, mailing labels in Word, a static web site, and a printed newsletter. Few have an interactive web site although almost everybody wants one. They charge between $25 and $100 per year for membership, with few other sources of funds. When the group’s board members change, the new team often struggles to ensure continuity as data and files are transferred from one person/computer to another. And what happens when the membership director is on vacation and others need to get access to this data, or his computer dies and the club discovers that there is no current backup?

ClubExpress was designed to solve these problems. ClubExpress is an Internet-based platform for club and association management which was designed specifically for smaller clubs with a limited budget and where the people who run the club are not professional web designers.

ClubExpress starts with your club website and the tools to build and maintain the site. If you know how to use a word-processor, you can pick up ClubExpress very quickly; no programming experience is required. ClubExpress includes all of the tools needed to build web pages, upload photos and documents, and configure an event calendar, committees, interest groups, surveys, discussion forums and a storefront to sell club merchandise through the site.

Your association’s membership database is securely built into the website and every member has their own username and password to login and update their own information in the database. New members can sign up through the website and the system automatically handles renewals and expirations. The website includes areas for the public, for members-only and for adminstrators. ClubExpress supports family and business memberships with multiple people under one account, and the platform also supports chapters, districts and regions for larger clubs with multiple locations.

ClubExpress includes credit-card processing for memberships, event registrations (for both members and non-members), donations, and storefront purchases, with the funds deposited directly into your bank account. Or an administrator can record check or cash payments. ClubExpress includes multiple levels of security and we automatically handle backups, web hosting, email accounts and Internet access. So now your data is securely and reliably available at any time to any authorized user, which also really helps with continuity.

The platform includes a full suite of administration tools to run the organization. More than 120 reports and 20 data exports are built in, most with extensive filtering capabilities. Most importantly, there is no advertising and clubs own their data at all times.

ClubExpress charges a one-time setup fee and a low monthly fee based on the number of members in your organization. There is no long-term contract so you can cancel at any time. And this fee includes unlimited support for admins and members! If your members have a problem logging in, renewing their memberships, registering for an event, updating their profile or making a payment, they can call us.

ClubExpress has been in business for more than 5 years. Hundreds of clubs and associations use the system to manage their complete front-office and back-office, allowing the board to focus their energies on the three things that every membership-based non-profit cares about: 1) how to reduce the time you spend managing the group so you can spend more time focused on the mission; 2) how to create a richer experience for current members to increase retention; and 3) how to attract new people, building membership and strengthening the vitality of the association.

For more information, visit
Or call (866) 457-2582

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Board Members and Responsibility

I sensed the frustration in her email. A nonprofit Executive Director telling me that she was lucky if she could get three to four of her Board Members to contribute any money to the organization or sign the “conflict of interest statement.”

Sound familiar?

It does to me because I have seen it in person. They love to come to the meetings. They love to create new policies and programs. They love to tell the Executive Director how to do his/her job. And then, they completely forget those nasty little legal and fiduciary responsibilities.

Let us review. Board Members, it is incumbent upon you to contribute to the organization with your time, your loyalty and your money. Otherwise, don’t serve on a Board. Volunteer yourself to another noble task.

This takes me back to my church upbringing. What happens in church every Sunday? The plate gets passed around, sometimes twice or more in one service. Call it an offering or a tithe, most people who attend church (or other religious services) understand that if you want the church to keep going you have to support it with donations. I find that people who care about something deeply will open up their wallets because they understand that nothing runs on good will and happy wishes.

I also understand that for some people, being on a Board is a status symbol, something to tell their friends about or put on a resume. But that’s not what it’s about, it’s not just warming up a seat or finding a new social circle, it’s about committing to the organization’s current welfare and future well-being.

Many years ago a friend of mine served on an AIDS services Board. One of the requirements of serving on the Board was that he had to contribute $1,500. He either could go out into the community and raise that money or write a check from his personal bank account to the organization. It didn’t matter, as long as he was walking in the door with $1,500. I thought it was brilliant and there are certainly many organizations that require Board Members to make substantial donations, but for every one of those there are thousands more that don’t make contributing money a requirement and because they don’t, the Board Members don’t offer donations.

I will be writing a piece on Bylaws soon, but I would like to suggest that nonprofits incorporate Board giving into their Bylaws. Maybe it’s a set amount that gets changed from time to time or it’s a phrase like “Board Members are required to contribute financially to the organization.” I’m not sure and certainly would love people to send me any language they have in their Bylaws regarding Board Member financial contributions.

Some say, and I agree, that raising money is the number one duty of any Board Member. If you are an Executive Director, ask yourself right now, how much money has your Board raised? If you are a Board Member, ask yourself right now, how much money have you raised or contributed out of pocket?

Let’s say you have the kind of organization that requires some grassroots community involvement on the Board. Sometimes in those instances you will have Board Members without a lot of resources but you feel their presence is important. Teach those Board Members how to fundraise. Give them an opportunity to go out into the community, tell your story and yes, pass the plate. Everybody, even in this economy, has a few dollars to put in the plate.

If asking your Board Members to contribute is uncomfortable, get the ones who do contribute to do the “ask.” It’s a lot easier if a fellow Board Member says “I’ve made a thousand dollar donation and I’m hoping you will match that,” than to be the Executive Director doing the begging.

As to the other part of her email about Board Members not signing the “conflict of interest statement,” definitely include that in the Bylaws. Every Board Member must sign the conflict of interest statement or they can’t serve on the Board. There, I’ve made it simple.

No one is entitled to be on a nonprofit organization’s Board of Directors. Every Board Member must remember that they are a “servant-leader,” serving on the Board to serve the organization. And the first order of that service is to ensure that the organization has the money it needs to fulfill its mission. That saying, “Charity starts at home” means that charity begins right here with me and with you and with every single person involved in the nonprofit.

Conversation With Ana-Marie Jones of CARD (Collaborating Agencies Responding to Disaster)

I sent a request to Help A Reporter Out, that asked several questions, Ana-Marie Jones responded to the interview. CARD, Collaborating Agencies Responding to Disaster (Oakland, CA) provides emergency preparedness and disaster response resources for nonprofits and community agencies serving people with special needs. Is that an amazing mission or what?

Like every nonprofit Executive Director, Ana-Marie has a wishlist of things she would love to do or have in order to maximize the effectiveness of her agency. Enjoy! Bunnie Riedel

How are nonprofits using/re-thinking use of technology/telecommunications in this bad economy?

At my agency -- CARD: Collaborating Agencies Responding to Disasters -- we are bumping up our use of technology. We are in the process of converting our website to more of a blog format, so that we can add widgets and such, and update it quickly and easily. We have made sure all employees can text each other quickly. We will be offering more classes and presentations online.

Are there things you won't, can't do? Things you wish you could do but don't have the money to do?

Oh yes! I would LOVE to have the funds to give every person on my team a laptop with Internet access, so that we could do tele-meetings with zero hassle. Would LOVE ultra-lightweight video equipment so we could get serious about capturing our classes and audience reactions -- and we could be publishing it on the Internet. We would also love to have the real-time polling system, where audience members are polled and the results are immediately tabulated and displayed as part of a displayed PowerPoint presentation. If the technology Gods smiled upon us, we'd surely have an online, interactive repository of our classes, trainings, tools and materials.

Is technology (social media, SEO, blogging, video blogging) helping you?

Social media is helping, though we haven't had the time or money to invest properly in this. But even having just a toe in waters of social media -- using StumbleUpon, Plaxo and LinkedIn -- has been quite helpful.

If your nonprofits use of the latest technology were a car, what make/model would it be?

Probably a 2001 Prius, with some dents and custom modifications.

Contact Ana-Marie at

Monday, March 9, 2009

Ideas That Work--Donor Relations

When it comes to fundraising, there are two schools of thought. One, just throw enough spaghetti at the wall, something will stick. Two, be precise and work smart. Lawrence Henze lays out the second (and more effective) approach. Read his article and then take a few minutes to take inventory, are you spaghetti or are you working smart? Bunnie

Ideas That Work--Donor Relations

by Lawrence Henze
Managing Director of Target Analytics

Regardless of the state of the economy, I find that the majority of colleges, universities, and nonprofit organizations I interact with do not have an accurate reading on the number of communications initiated by them with each of their constituency groups in any given year. Are you able to answer that question, not just for areas of your own responsibility, but for the institution as a whole? Is it not reasonable to assume that the relationship any individual has with the organization is impacted by the entirety of the messaging he or she receives?

There are many historical reasons that explain why we don’t look at the length and breadth of our donor communications. These include but are not limited to:

1. A narrow view of donor relations focusing on communications directly related to fundraising efforts

2. A siloed approach to the structure of our development operations which encourages compartmentalized communication plans

3. The willingness to not account for, or even seek, the donor’s opinions of all of our communication streams

I am frequently bombarded by three, four, or five direct mail contacts per month from organizations I support with my gifts, particularly during peak fundraising months, such as October or November. I wonder if anyone in that organization is aware of that number, or is interested in knowing what I think of the frequency of these contacts?

My thoughts rest on simple solutions the organization could employ:

1. Determine and chart the average number of contacts — direct mail, telephone, and email — the different constituents receive from your organization each month for the entire year. Move outside your own area of operations to view the entirety of its communications stream from your organization as a whole

2. Analyze the content and purposes of each communication and chart accordingly (for example, cultivation, solicitation, information, or recognition)

3. Identify areas in which these communications overlap, looking for opportunities to consolidate or eliminate individual pieces

4. Ask your donors, through surveys via email, direct mail, or the telephone, which communications they value, as well as those that are not personally important to them

5. Implement a communication plan reflecting the donor’s wishes

Remember that knowledge is both powerful and enabling, and the insights your donors and prospect share with you create opportunities for stronger relationships. Do not assume that an individual’s request to receive fewer communications is a sign of declining interest in your organization. It is equally, if not more, likely to be a thoughtful response indicating the elements of your mission that are of particular interest, thus defining that person as a better prospect. In the end, fewer touch points may create a more meaningful relationship, particularly if you communicate your interest in being more cost effective.

Finally, special events often serve a dual purpose of building donor relationships and ongoing fundraising. During a recession, you may want to think twice about introducing new special events, particularly those of the “gala” genre. And take a look at ongoing events as well to ensure that these activities are successfully addressing stated goals. For example, if the primary purposes of your annual ‘Harvest Ball’ are to cultivate and solicit major donor prospects, and if you observe little post-event staff interaction with attendees, it may be time for a makeover.

In all honesty, my personal and professional bias is that most events lose focus over time. Recession or not, it is a worthwhile undertaking to annually review each event to ensure that its original goals and objectives are being met. Are you seeing growth in annual and major giving from event attendees, or doesn’t their giving match the event fee?

Perhaps this is a topic worthy of its own paper for another time.
Find Blackbaud at

Friday, March 6, 2009

Green Building for Nonprofits

Jeff Carroll is conducting workshops in Maryland on green building for nonprofits. Often, nonprofits feel compelled to be good natural resouce stewards. Many social mission driven organizations are assessing their operations and writing green policy. Jeff gives us food for thought, not just for the how, but for the why of going green. Bunnie

Green Building for Nonprofits

by Jeff Carroll
Business Development Officer/Preconstruction Project Manager
Gardiner & Gardiner, General Contractors LLC

Finally, it’s cool to be an environmentalist. What was once relegated to the “nut and berry” crowd is finally moving into the mainstream. While it may be in to be green, there remains a significant level of mystery and misunderstanding around the popular subject. I’d like to spend a little virtual paper and ink and provide a definition for green thinking, especially as it pertains to capital improvements and why NPO’s should care…maybe even more than most.

Taking a lead from the US Green Building Coucil, being green is not just about the environment. There is a triple bottom line to green: social responsibility, financial responsibility and environmental responsibility. The Baltimore Sustainability Commission captures it as People, Planet and Prosperity in their vision for a sustainable city. When you think about it, nothing is truly sustainable if it is not simultaneously socially, financially and environmentally sustainable.

If our practice is socially undermining then that practice cannot continue unchecked. Government, or market forces or social hostility will ultimately discontinue the practice. Look at the general abuse of labor through the industrial age. It was not sustainable.

The same argument can be made for financial sustainability. My perspective may be decidedly American, but the basic premise is transferable. If it cannot be profitable, the venture cannot be sustained. One of the great myths shrouding the green building industry concerns the economic feasibility of green practice. The fact is, if it is not financially sustainable, it won’t be around for long.

The final output is environmental. If you spend more than you make, eventually you will run out of money. The same is true of our environment. If we render useless or consume resources faster than they can be renewed, we will eventually run out of resources. If we become dependent on resources that are not renewable then eventually we will exhaust that resource and cripple our operational capacity. That’s not rocket science, but it does require an honest level of concern for our own and future generations to take purposeful action.

For some of you, a commitment to green practice is a given. The tough part comes when NPO’s on limited budget (and that is almost always the case) have to pay a premium to be green. In another blog I could make the case for green based on economics, but is there an equally if not more compelling reason? Why should every NPO care about green practices as it impacts their next capital project? Here’s what makes sense to me.

Why do NPO’s exist? They exist to fulfill a mission. Why would an NPO build a building or engage is a major capital improvement? To advance the mission of the organization in a way that requires a building. If the NPO could execute its program without the expense of a building it would do it and put the money into program. So, the building is for the advancement of the mission. A building can fulfill that demand functionally but it can also fulfill it intrinsically.

The very nature of an NPO is to achieve efficiencies beyond the reach of government. The NPO’s maintain social responsibility beyond the scope of private industry. Perhaps most important, the nonprofit sector is the active conscience of society. Within the ranks of NPO’s we find people committed to human services, the environment, the arts, education, economic development, and religous programs. Each is to some degree inclusive of the other and committed to bringing good to the society it inhabits. How can organizations committed to social, economic, and environmental responsibility, build buildings that are counter productive to that message and vision?

Making sure that the NPO’s next capital improvement is green is consistent with efficiency and social responsibility. It will strengthen the NPO’s message, and add to the NPO’s credibility. Maybe one for the nicest side benefits in the current atmosphere is a green capital project creates opportunity for additional funding. A green building intrinsically advances the mission of the organization.There’s a lot more to say, but maybe this is a good place to begin the discussion.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Tokbox Free Conferencing--How Andrew Jackson University Makes it Work

I caught a Twitter by Don Kassner, in which he was singing the praises of Tokbox and I wanted to learn more. Distance learning has come a long way over the last few years. So too has "teleconferencing." Being able to see people makes a difference in communication because facial expression gives a context that voical intonation cannot do alone. Interesting stuff. Bunnie

Tokbox Free Conferencing--How Andrew Jackson University Makes it Work

by Don Kassner
President and Chief Operating Officer
Andrew Jackson University, Inc

In late 2007, Andrew Jackson University was looking for a tool that could help us with our motto: Take Education AnywhereTM. We wanted to connect with our students in a way that personalized the distance education model.Then serendipity took over. An article appeared in Tech Crunch that desecribed a small start-up company based in San Francisco that was using wbecams to connect people for free. The company – Tokbox – allows users access to a web based interface allowing users to video call each other.

When we first saw this tool, we found an immediate application – exam proctoring. Our distance education students had to find proctors in order to take their exams. In many cases, they had to go to a library or testing center in order to take their exam. This is very disruptive to their schedule and is the antithesis of what distance education should be – flexible, on your time and your scheduleIn fact, one of our students said to me – “Don, the exams are rough. I can do all my coursework from my kitchen table, but when it’s time for my exams – precisely at my period of highest stress – I have to go somewhere else. It is a hassle.” Well, along came Tokbox and voila – a solution.

As of today, almost 80% of Andrew Jackson University students take their exams from their kitchen table. Andrew Jackson University has combined the Tokbox interface with some other technologies and has created a service called ProctorU that solves the proctoring problems.

However, as good as that solution is – our experience with Tokbox didn’t end there. The video mail functionality is now part of our education model. Because Tokbox is so easy to use, and only requires the purchase of an inexpensive webcam, we rolled out a program where all of our faculty offer video feedback directly to students. At least 10 to 12 times a course, faculty record a two to three minute video with feedback on how the students are progressing through their course. This feedback loop has created a unique and powerful experience for the student and has made the online educational experience at Andrew Jackson University among the best in the world.

But it hasn’t ended there. Tokbox also has a feature that allows multiple people to collaborate on a live video conference. As a result, we are able to hold most of our conference calls using the video conferencing tools. This has significantly improved the experience. It is very powerful to be able to see the person you’re speaking with, even if they are located halfway across the country…..and the price is right – it is free. Yes, FREE!!

The web conferencing tools Tokbox has developed are very good – although there are some limitations. Tokbox claims to be able to support an unlimited number of users but recommends groups of twenty-five or less. We have found a better limit is about 8 to 10 users. It gets difficult to manage a call with more users than that and seems as if internet bandwidth might be an issue.

However, Andrew Jackson University is pleased to have a formal partnership with Tokbox and we have been a consistent user of their service since late 2007. We’ve seen the service improve dramatically over time and we have a tremendous amount of confidence in their ability to make the service better every day – plus they receive their funding from the same people who funded You Tube.So – go to and start today.

As for us, Andrew Jackson University is a privately held college located in Birmingham, Alabama. Our eleven degree programs are offered 100% online. The university is accredited by the Distance Education and Training Council, a nationally recognized accrediting association approved by the U.S. Department of Education and by CHEA. The university prides itself as providing the best education at the lowest price – which it achieves through its unique sponsored tuition program. Check us out at or go to

Contact Don at

Monday, March 2, 2009

Negotiating With Hotels: Now is a Great Time!

Amidst all the bad news of this economy, there is a silver lining for nonprofits who host conferences. Hotels have found their income off as executive travel budgets and meetings have been cut back. Now is an excellent time to negotiate with hotels to get a great room rate, concessions on meals and extra services.

I am a big fan of planning years in advance. But the timing of your conference planning will depend on how large your organization is and how many people attend your annual or bi-annual conferences. If you have over 200 people attend your conferences on a regular basis, then negotiating hotel contracts three even four years in advance can work to your advantage. You can lock in rates now for a conference three years from now, so even if hotel business picks up, you can get bargain basement rates for the future at this year’s prices.

If you’re unsure how the economy will affect conference attendance, do a members’ survey. Are your members’ travel budgets being reduced or eliminated? What is the likelihood they will attend your conference in 2010 or 2011? It’s important to get a sense of what your members’ circumstances are so that you don’t overbook room nights and get stuck with a penalty.

The first stop to negotiation success is to work closely with the convention and visitors bureau. What have they heard about hotels in their city? The CVB’s can do the initial shopping and save you loads of time. Send them your conference needs, attendance records and agenda and let them pick out the hotels that fit your requirements. How many breakout rooms do you need? How large should the general meeting or banquet space be? Do you have to have a hotel that is unionized? Do you need space for a trade show? CVB’s can also give you a schedule of special events happening during the dates of your conference and ideas for how you can leverage them for your members.

Speaking of dates for your conference, if you have some flexibility you will save lots of money for yourself and your members. Weather, time of year, and location can all drive room prices up and certainly can drive airline prices through the roof. For instance, Washington, D.C. is very busy in the spring and summer with tourists and special events. Tampa is very busy in the winter but fairly quiet in the summer. A late October conference in D.C. or a mid-summer conference in Tampa, will allow you to negotiate excellent room rates. (Yes, I know it’s hot in Tampa in July but nearly every hotel in Tampa has a huge swimming pool and face it, most people attending conferences spend most of their time in the hotel anyway).

Don’t be afraid to “play” hotels off one another. If one hotel offers you lower room rates, go back to the others and ask them to beat the price. It also helps if you do a little intel. Check out the CVB calendar to see what conferences will be in town, if it looks slow, you will have an advantage.

And it’s not just room rates. Meals are huge bargaining chips. If you know for a fact that your organization spends $40,000 on meals (including breaks, refreshments, etc.) tell the hotel you will guarantee them a minimum of $35,000 in meals. I’ve had hotels stop in their tracks when I gave them a meal guarantee and instantly concede to what I wanted in room rates. Hotels make BIG money on their meals and breaks. Regardless of what you spend, give the hotel a meal guarantee, you will see that it makes a difference.

As for meals, I always under estimate banquet meals. Hotels will make 10% more than you requested and not every conference attendee will attend the banquet, even if they have paid for the meal. This underestimation keeps me from getting stuck with paying for meals nobody ate and I have never been comfortable with throwing away food.

You have to commit to a minimum number of room nights and sometimes that’s scary because if you don’t reach that number (or typically 90% of that number) your organization will have to pay for the rooms you booked, out of your pocket, as a penalty. This doesn’t have to be an art. Go back to previous year’s conferences and see what your room nights were. Here again, it’s better to under book rather than over book. You can usually add room nights as you get closer to the conference, but you can’t deduct room nights.

Also, never, ever, ever, ever…pay for meeting rooms! Hotels will sometimes suggest that there is a charge for meeting rooms. Unless you are just meeting at the hotel and you are not bringing them meals and room nights, then you will have to pay for the meeting room. But, if you are bringing their hotel paying customers, do not fall for paying for meeting rooms. Those rooms are the enticement of the hotel to get you to bring your conference to them. Ergo: FREE.

Always keep in mind, the staff at the hotel you are negotiating with are “salespeople.” They have to sell those rooms and facilities, in fact, they are anxious to sell those rooms and facilities. Remember that when you walk in the door, you are potentially bringing a lot of business to the hotel and you are helping the hotel keep its doors open.

Happy negotiating! Bunnie

Contact Bunnie Riedel at