Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Calling Minnesota Web Developers and Nonprofits

Mark Malmberg and the folks at Sierra Bravo are at it again! They are seeking Minnesota nonprofits and web developers for their third annual Nerdery Overnight Website Challenge. That's where they match web developers and deserving Minnesota nonprofits for a 24 hour complete overhaul of the nonprofits website--FREE of course.

See Using Nerdy Powers for Good from last February:

Go to

Mark is preparing an article for Nonprofit Conversation that I will post as soon as I receive it.

Now, how can we make this idea go global?

Happy Holidays! Bunnie

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


I’ve been collecting “bad nonprofit management” stories lately. They’ve come to me in various forms such as: word of mouth, direct telling and emails. I’ve let them rattle around in my brain hoping to divine a pattern and I think now that I’ve found the similarity. But first, let me tell you the stories.

Story #1: An office manager receives a call from her Executive Director. The Executive Director is away from the office at a board meeting. The E.D. informs her and another staff person that they will have to submit their resumes via fax to the E.D. (away from the office at the board meeting) in order to apply for a new position being created. It seems there are two positions being melded into one and both employees will now be in competition for the one position. But wait! It gets better. Not only will the office manager have to compete against her office mate, but the job will be posted to the general public and the office manager will be competing to save her job against any newcomers.

Fine, in this economy there are lots of tough decisions being made, people are being laid off, jobs are being combined, and that’s reality. However, did the E.D. have to inform the staff via a phone call? Additionally, what is with the exercise of having the office manager submit her resume or having the two employees compete against one another?

Story #2: I get an email from a young man asking for my opinion. It seems he sent an email to a vendor asking the vendor why a certain price was a bit high. He suggested that perhaps the vendor’s supervisor might be able to help bring the price down. Two weeks later the vendor called his supervisor complaining wildly about the email and swearing he would never work with this young man again. Next thing you know, the young man’s supervisor calls him on the carpet, giving him a reprimand and talking about termination.

The young man wrote me and asked if I thought his email was out of line. I read it several times and it seemed innocuous enough, however, I reminded him that email has a funny way of being open to interpretation; it is the recipient of the email that may load it with meaning beyond the sender’s intent. I suggested that he do what he can to sooth ruffled feathers, but be sure to have his resume up to date and make sure he had what I call “go to hell money.” (If you don’t know, that is money you have saved that allows you to step out of a bad situation; whether that situation is a relationship, a job or a landlord).

Story #3: Employees at a certain nonprofit have not had raises for two years. There’s nothing unusual about that in the current economy, many people are not receiving the raises or bonuses they received during the boom times and most employees are very understanding because they recognize that money is tight. However, in this scenario, the Executive Director decides it’s a great time to remodel the office. Walls are knocked down, walls are constructed. New carpet is laid, new furniture is purchased. Things are really spruced up to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars. Everything looks fresh and new and fabulous, but the employees are left feeling a bit pinched. None of them have received a raise in over two years, but money gets spent on an elaborate renovation. What is wrong with this picture?

Story #4: A very prestigious scientific organization holds a board members’ and funders’ reception, all the key employees are present, except the Executive Director. As time goes by, Board members are questioning staff, asking where the Executive Director could be. No one seems to know. Over an hour late, the Executive Director makes an entrance and it’s a dramatic one to say the least. She is not wearing a professional suit or even a tasteful dress, but instead, she is wearing a very mini-skirt, fish-net stockings and four inch spiked boots. There is a complete disconnect between her fashion decision and the staid organization she is representing. Needless to say, board members are not happy, the funders are a bit embarrassed and the staff is whispering and giggling. One might ask, given her generous six-figure salary, might the E.D. have hired a style advisor?

What do these stories have in common besides illustrating human foibles?

I say it’s lack of leadership. Leadership qualities, leadership traits, leadership training and maybe even leadership DNA. We all know people who are in leadership or management positions who shouldn’t be there. You’re thinking of them right now aren’t you? And I think there are an abundance of them in nonprofit management because nonprofits are often so personality driven versus performance driven. Further adding to nonprofit vulnerability is the culture of the volunteer nonprofit board.

What kind of leader would call an employee to inform them that their job was being eliminated and they needed to re-submit their resume in order to compete for a new position? That is a conversation you have in person and you certainly don’t need to require the submission of a resume, the employee has been working for you and if you don’t know their capabilities, then what are you doing at the helm? I think the tactic was an attempt to avoid an unpleasant in-person conversation and I certainly understand that impulse. However, that is what leaders do; they stiffen their spines and have unpleasant conversations, in person.

Story #2 reminds me that often people think leadership is akin to parenting. Step out of line and not only will I “punish” you but I will threaten you with even more punishment. I also found a certain lack of loyalty in that story. One of the most important things a leader can do is be loyal to the people who work for him or her. If you aren’t willing to listen to your employee’s side of the story, consider what your employee was trying to do or accomplish (even if it was misguided), calmly counsel your employee on your expectations for behavior and external interaction, you shouldn’t be in management. Sure, sometimes people deserve to be fired for egregious behavior or lack of performance, but you can’t go into a knee-jerk reaction every time someone makes a complaint.

In the third instance there is a complete disconnect between the management and the employees’ health and welfare. There is also a lack of understanding of what builds loyalty from employees to the leadership. Going without raises or bonuses is something that employees will understand when times are lean. It is their loyalty to the organization that makes the situation less painful. However asking your employees to sacrifice for the good of the whole and then turning around and spending a great deal of money on something the employees view as frivolous, destroys loyalty and weakens morale.

The fourth example just shows bad judgment.

We lead by example. We use the tools of empathy, honesty, forthrightness and self-sacrifice in order to develop those traits in others. We do things to encourage the personal and professional growth of those around us. We exhibit loyalty to those who work for us and we carry ourselves with a modicum of decency. And while it is true that some people are born leaders, I believe that people can learn to be leaders and often that learning begins with introspection.

Ask yourself. “What kind of leader am I?”

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Freebie Corner!

A few weeks ago I announced a couple of great seminars being conducted free. Today the Freebie Corner special is a fabulous report on nonprofit "taglines," the "2009 Getting Attention Tagline Report." Nancy Schwartz at Getting Attention, has developed this fascinating report. What taglines work? What taglines lessen your impact? Is it time to change your tagline?

It is a shame that for most nonprofits marketing becomes an afterthought. Worse still, in slow economic times, the marketing budget is often the first to suffer. Nonprofits must think of themselves as a business, nonprofits are "selling" something. Whether that something is services, legislative representation, peer professional networking, continuing education, etc., there is a product to be sold and there are "customers" to be acquired.

This report is worth the download and it's worth sharing with your nonprofit management and board of directors. Bunnie

The 2009 Getting Attention Tagline Report

by Nancy Schwartz, Getting Attention

Nonprofits have a major branding problem in weak taglines. Taglines are the best way to succinctly convey nonprofits' value, but 7 in 10 nonprofits rate their taglines as poor or don't have one at all.

The just-released 2009 Getting Attention Nonprofit Tagline Report, based on 1,700 2009 tagline award entries and recent survey responses from 1,900 nonprofit communicators, shows that most nonprofits don’t have an organizational tagline that works to make their organizations’ value clear, and easy to remember and repeat.

A highly-effective nonprofit tagline model (and one of the 13 winners of the 2009 tagline awards) is "Because the earth needs a good lawyer" from Earthjustice. Earthjustice capitalizes on what people do understand–-that a lawyer protects rights–-and uses that framework to dramatically position its role and impact in the environmental movement. And it does so with humor. If your tagline makes people smile or light up, without stepping on your message, then you’ve made an emotional connection…Bravo.

A strong tagline complements your org's name to convey its unique value or impact with personality, passion and commitment. If you fail to make the most of your tagline, you throw that opportunity away.

Dig into this free updated guide to learn:

Why a Nonprofit’s Name Isn’t Enough

How a Strong Tagline Benefits Your Organization – Useful for developing support among colleagues and leadership

The 10 Have-Tos for Successful Taglines

Using Words that Work

The 7 Deadly Sins, 9 Snores and 5 Best Ways to Antagonize Your Audience – What not to do

Research, Create, Revise, Test, Repeat – The right steps to take to craft a potent tagline

Over 2,500 Nonprofit Tagline Examples to put to work for message brainstorming.

Download the 2009 Nonprofit Tagline Report here

Monday, December 14, 2009

Should Grants Be Your Only Source of Income?

Very interesting numbers Jenai Morehead, of The Foundation Consultants, provides on how nonprofit income is generated. Diversification is the key, in my opinion. Putting all your eggs in one basket is risky business. It's amazing that program services revenues lead the way. Look at your income and ask which income streams can be increased. Given that program service revenue is such a substantial part of nonprofit income, ask what your nonprofit is doing in that area. Thanks Jenai for the excellent breakdown! Bunnie

Should Grants Be the Only Source of Your Income?

by Jenai Morehead, The Foundation Consultants

Grants are wonderful. They assist in providing money that nonprofits need to serve their clients.

My first grant, many years ago was $1,000. We used it to buy bus tickets for our homeless clients. After the bus tickets were purchased the clients were happy and the grant was gone in no time. The program was run very well. We started making a good name for ourselves and exceeded our own expectations. Immediately, I saw that running a program meant that we were going to need more funds to sustain ourselves. Now what are we going to do?

This is a challenge that many nonprofits face every year they are in business. While grants are an excellent source of income they cannot be your only source of funding. Even in a good economy grants are finicky and cannot be guaranteed. You should plan to have other sources of income that line up with your purpose.

The Urban Institute ( puts out a variety of annual reports that give us information about where public non-profits get their money:

• In 2007, public charities reported over $1.4 trillion in total revenues and nearly $1.3 trillion in total expenses. (Source: The Urban Institute, National Center for Charitable Statistics, Core Files 2007)

• Of the nearly $1.4 trillion in total revenues, 22 percent came from contributions, gifts and grants and 67 percent came from program service revenues, which include government fees and contracts. The remaining 11 percent came from "other" sources including dues, rental income, special event income, and gains or losses from goods sold. (Source: The Urban Institute, National Center for Charitable Statistics, Core Files 2007).

Contributions and gifts are usually comprised of the money or items from private donors who are the people that support you with cash, clothing, cars, furniture or art. Grants are primarily cash given by foundations, government or corporate entities to support your nonprofit activities.

Program Service Revenues are services which your clients must pay for. An example may be lower rates for counseling services.

Income from Government fees and Contracts cover areas in which your non-profit earns income while performing a service for a city, state or federal government entity. Many nonprofit educational institutions raise funds through work in the areas of research or training.

An example of raising funds through Dues is your local YMCA. The YMCA provides a service to the community and raises income from its child care services, fitness club and health classes.

Rental Income is a source for nonprofits who specialize in low-income housing in which the tenant pays rent according to federal income guidelines.

Special Event income is raised at occasions like Christmas galas, banquets, marathons and walks such as “Breast Cancer Walks.”

Gains and Losses from goods sold is income generated from nonprofits who sell used/donated items such as Goodwill or Salvation Army. The gains from these sales are then used to support their mission and goals.

In contemplating fundraising, make a list of all of your resources and use them wisely. For example: You may have a lot of volunteers; sometimes utility companies or local governments need to get the word out on programs and changes in laws that affect their regions. This might be the perfect opportunity to get creative with your resources. Find niches that are not served. Leave no rock unturned.

Be relentless in your search for opportunities that will be win-win matches for your nonprofit.

Be careful to work within your non-profit mission and purpose. The last thing you want to do is to cause the income you raise to be taxable by doing activities that have nothing to do with your nonprofit mission. If you have questions about income generated from your charitable activity contact the IRS charitable division and find out their guidelines.

Above all, have fun doing your fundraising activities and always keep focused on the people you are helping with the funds you are raising.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

A Value Menu for Your Non-Profit

More than anything else, when it comes to fundraising, you've got to think like your donors. Besides their charitable giving to causes they believe in, what is their "bottom line?" Adam Miller makes some interesting observations and brings up a point: how many nonprofit CEO's or board members really understand how tax laws work? That's a question for your next board meeting! Bunnie

A Value Menu for Your Non-Profit
Connecting with donors to improve their bottom line… and yours.

by Adam Miller

I love watching folks order from the value menu at fast food restaurants. Fast food chains are competing for business in a difficult economy. They are promoting the value of their food and calling hungry customers to action. I believe they are on to something; it seems like more and more folks are piecing together meals that can be paid for with spare change.

How are you adding value for your key donors? How are you calling them to action? Most key donors are already passionate about your organization. They are already giving and they don’t need a sales pitch. Instead, you may be able to sweeten the deal and build a relationship by presenting them with a menu of options that will add value.

You can do this by understanding how your donors are taxed and working with them to give more effectively. If you save them money by allowing them to give more to your organization, you have succeeded. Their finances are better because they did something they were passionate about.

Understand charitable donations. Folks give in different ways and from different sources. Here are a few basics on charitable giving:

Checkbook Philanthropy. When a donor writes a check, they are using after tax income to support your organization. If you are a tax-deductible organization they will receive a deduction at the end of the year which will reduce taxable income… maybe! In order for this to help, your donors must itemize on their tax return. According to the IRS, only about 36% of tax returns for individuals and families are itemized.

Appreciating appreciated assets. In this economy, it is difficult to discuss assets that have gained in value. This sort of conversation with donors at the end of 2008 may have gotten you laughed out of the room. Despite how things feel in this economy, many Americans still have securities and real estate that has appreciated. If they were to sell these assets they would owe capital gains on the appreciation. If your donor bought stock at $1 per share and sells at $10 per share, she owes capital gains tax on the $9 of taxable gains. However, if she were to gift that $10 stock to your organization, she gets a deduction for the entire $10. Remember, she only paid $1. As icing on the cake for your donor, she no longer owes the capital gains tax because she made the charitable contribution. Your donor supported your organization, got a full deduction, and did not have to pay the tax on capital gains. She has saved money.

Let them leave a legacy. What would happen if your largest, most consistent donor passed away tomorrow? How would it affect your budget? If your donors are passionate enough to offer support during life, perhaps they would be equally passionate about supporting your organization after they are gone.

There are many ways to go about this. It can be as simple as adding your organization as a beneficiary on an investment account. Some donors opt to create charitable trusts, donor advised funds, or participate in charitable foundations. These options offer flexibility and can allow donors to receive a deduction now, remove assets from their estate, and support your mission long term.

Don’t get overwhelmed, get help. You are probably a bit concerned at this point, feeling like your role in the organization just got bigger. There is good news: you don’t need to know everything about taxes, deductions and charitable giving to be effective. Instead, consider partnering with folks who are passionate about your organization, and who know their stuff when it comes to taxes. Seek out financial advisors, accountants, and attorneys, partnering with them to educate donors. You may find a few of these professionals are already a part of your donor base.

Tax laws are constantly changing but professionals in your community can keep you ‘in the know’. Ask these folks to look for tax changes that may benefit your organization and act as a call to action for donors. Use each opportunity to present a newsworthy new addition to a robust value menu.

You are beginning to look like a super-hero. You are connecting with folks that are passionate about your organization and you are adding value by saving them money. Congratulations!

Adam is a Candidate for CFP® certification, a trusted fiduciary and fee-only financial planner at Elderado Financial. He works passionately to help families pay less in taxes and give more to the people and organizations they care about.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Making of “I am a Technical Woman”

I always enjoy having Jerri Barrett write for Nonprofit Conversation. She brings great insight on how to use, really use, technology to advance one's nonprofit. In addition to other things I do, I also do media distribution for government agencies and nonprofits. I get videos placed on hundreds of Public, Educational and Government (PEG) access television channels around the country. The videos air for free and that air time is worth millions of dollars to my clients.

I can't tell you how many government agencies and nonprofits have videos sitting on their shelves and aren't distributing them. What good is it to produce a video for internal consumption? Jerri tells you how to make your video go "viral." Enjoy. Bunnie

The Making of “I am a Technical Woman”

By Jerri Barrett, Vice President of Marketing, Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology

Two years ago (2007) I attended my very first Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing (GHC), which is put on by my non profit – the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology. It being only my second week on the job I was amazed by the incredible diversity of the women present at the conference – young and old, all races, and representing over 23 countries and almost all 50 states that year. But what really captured my attention was how happy everyone was. This was a technical conference, with a strong professional development component, but a technical conference nonetheless. Why was everyone so happy? My marketing mind at that moment told me that I needed to find a way to capture this feeling.

Months later as we were planning the 2008 GHC I proposed the idea of a video booth with a professional film crew. We needed professionals because the previous year’s team of volunteers and staff had accidentally overloaded and fried the inside of our video camera. We did get our footage but much of it was grainy or too dark to use. The film crew happened, thanks to a sponsorship by SAP, and we made a plan. Everyone that the film crew interviewed we captured saying I am a technical woman.

Once we completed editing all the footage we had over 99 instances of women saying I am a Technical Woman, computer scientist, etc and we had men saying I support Technical Women. Finally the video was completed.

The next step was the challenge. we had created this simple video and we wanted as many people in the world see it as possible. So I created a multi stage launch plan for the video involving both traditional media through our public relations firm and our communities (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter). Once I’d shown the video to my colleagues it was agreed that it would be shown at the 2009 GHC on the morning of the first keynote session. Most of our attendees would be gathered in the room to see the Keynote speaker. Simultaneously a number of things would happen:

The video would be introduced and shown to the audience of 1600 women. In the introduction to the video, I encouraged everyone in the audience to twitter about the video and direct people to our website where it could be viewed. The video was launched on Youtube and embedded in our website. A press release was launched as the video was being shown with a link to the video embedded in it. The press release and link were posted on Linked In and Facebook the same day. Teachers attending a K12 Workshop hosted by Anita Borg Institute, CSTA and The University of Phoenix all received DVDs of the video. On our website we offered downloadable versions of the video so that people wanting to show it at a conference wouldn’t have to stream it.

The results have been amazing:

1. The video has been viewed over 6850 times on Youtube.
2. The video has been downloaded from our website over 217 times to over 26 countries
3. When we launched the video over 700 people twittered about it in the hour after it was shown.
4. Over 40 different bloggers shared the video on their sites in the first month after launch
5. Numerous friends of ABI posted a link to the video on their facebook page.
6. The video has been shown at conferences in Japan and Australia.
7. The video is being shown in classrooms across the country.

My favorite outcome was from a co-worker who sent her 7 year old to school with the video. The response back from the second graders – I didn’t know that technical women could be so cool.

The question now is – how do you define a viral video? For me the definition is whether it is having an impact and people are sharing the video. In both cases that is a definite yes.

So please watch the video and let me know what you think about it. And be sure to show it to your daughters.