Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Foreign Money and Political Activity - 3 Things Associations Must Know

While this article may seem a bit esoteric for the average nonprofit, I felt it important in that it highlights the kind of political activity in which a nonprofit may or may not participate.  At some point I may ask Ron Jacobs, author of this article, to provide a primer for 501 (c) (3) organizations on what kinds of activity they can participate in  during an election cycle.  Suffice it to say that if you are a nonprofit director, you need to familiarize yourself with the law regarding lobbying and campaigns, even what you might consider harmless publications, communications and internal messaging, when it comes to candidates, campaigns and elections.  Bunnie

Foreign Money and Political Activity - 3 Things Associations Must Know 
by Ron Jacobs, Venable LLP

Since the Supreme Court held earlier this year that the First Amendment allows corporations and associations to play a more direct role in the election process, attacks on such participation are on the rise. Whether an association has foreign members or affiliates has now become another front for those attacks, so associations must be prepared to defend themselves.

For example, the Obama administration and its allies recently have attacked the US Chamber for using “foreign money” in its political activities. The charge appears to be based on the premise that the Chamber raises funds from foreign affiliates. The Chamber has denied these allegations, saying that it has procedures in place to segregate funds from foreign sources and that all of its political activity is funded from domestic sources.

Associations can learn three valuable things from this experience:

1. Associations involved in political activity should be aware of the ban on foreign funds being used to influence federal, state, or local elections. Thus, even though associations may fund messages expressly advocating the election or defeat of candidates using their general funds, they may not raise such funds from foreign entities.

2. To be certain that associations are complying with these rules, they should implement accounting procedures to segregate foreign funds from those funds used for political activities. In addition, employees should be trained on the policies and procedures used to segregate the funds; records should be kept showing such training.

3. Even with such procedures in place, political adversaries may try to make an issue of an association’s foreign sources of revenue (as evidenced by the attacks on the Chamber based solely on the fact that the Chamber accepts foreign funds). Thus, associations should be ready to respond to such attacks and be prepared to defend against a complaint filed with the Federal Election Commission. Although an association’s records showing the segregation of foreign money are not public, they should be kept in an easy to understand format should the FEC launch an investigation.

It is hard to defend against spurious allegations of comingling foreign funds, but proper record-keeping and segregation procedures can blunt the attack and help the association defend a possible FEC investigation.

Ron Jacobs heads Venable’s political law practice. Contact him at RMJacobs@Venable.com or 202-344-8215.

This article originally appeared in the October 14, 2010 edition of Association TRENDS.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Building a Prospective Member Database

Building a Prospective Member Database
by Bunnie Riedel, Host of Nonprofit Conversation

I recently received a question from a reader regarding how to build a prospective membership database.  It seems the organization did not keep good records and he was trying to sort it out.  But he also wondered how they could get prospect names for potential membership.  If you just don’t have a very good prospect list, there are several things you can do to get started.

Buy a list from a similar organization.

In this instance, the organization was a small community historical museum.  I would look at similar kinds of organizations in the community, such as the other types of museums.  Are there other types of historical “societies” in the community, such as Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), railroad societies, antique car clubs, genealogy clubs, etc?  Any group, association or organization that may have an interest in history.  Can you buy a list of their members?  In instances where like minded organizations already have established lists, there is often “list sharing” that goes on.  

Some organizations might be hesitant to turn over their lists, feeling somewhat territorial or afraid of losing members to the other organization.  I understand that fear, however, I know from practical experience that cross pollinization of organizations has the opposite effect.  Between two or three or more organizations that sell or trade lists, memberships or donations actually increase.  For example, I support a horse rescue farm and my husband supports the local humane society.  Our goal is exactly the same, to help do what we can to alleviate animal suffering and encourage animal adoption.  It would never occur to us to choose one or the other, we think both are important. 
Partner with a similar organization.

Host an event at your organization for the members of another organization.  Think of the example of the historical museum.  What if they host the annual meeting for the members of the railroad society or the antique car club?  They will have accomplished a couple of things, first they will have built good will with the other organization, becoming real “partners” with them and they’ll have gotten all those members into their museum. 

You can easily capture the attendee’s names and contact information by hosting a raffle or drawing and having them write down their contact information and put it in bowl.  This is something you see all the time at trade shows, vendors raffling away gifts to those who leave their business cards.  

Look at affiliation benefits.  Here the museum offers a discount to members of the railroad society on tickets or gift shop purchases.  Perhaps you create a coupon that they have to fill out with their contact information in order to get the discount.  Or you provide cross membership benefits “If you become a member of the railroad society you will receive a year’s membership in the historical museum for half price,” or vice-versa.

Host a conference together.  Or offer discounts on your conference to their members and again, vice-versa.

Trade advertising in each other’s newsletters or on your website.  If online, make sure the click-through includes a sign up form.

Buy a table or a booth at similar organizations’ conferences or meetings.  Make sure you’re giving something away, even if it’s a discount coupon. Again, capture those names by hosting a raffle or drawing. 

Enlist those already affiliated with your organization.

I love “member-get-a-member” campaigns.  That’s when you ask your members to bring in new members.  If you sweeten the pot, say offer a premium for every member they bring in or offer a contest with a really great grand prize, your success will be better.  

Has everyone on your board turned over their address list yet?  They should.  Or at the very least, they should send a letter to their friends and colleagues asking them to join or support your organization.  I would provide your board members with the sample letter, outside and return envelopes.


There are a lot of great minds out there that read this blog.  Please post your suggestions and comments below.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Facebook and Twitter Safety: How to Protect Yourself and Your Computer

 About a month ago one of my Facebook "friends" had her Facebook account hacked and it sent out bogus messages to all of her friends, including me.  Today I was on the phone with a woman who complained her screen was blinking and she thought she had a virus.  Even though I religiously check my virus software, I am constantly concerned about catching a computer virus from surfing the net, exchanging emails or Facebooking.  Your nonprofit Facebook or Twitter account can be hacked, do as Don McCombie suggests in this article, protect your yourself and your nonprofit!  Bunnie

Facebook and Twitter Safety:  How to Protect Yourself and Your Computer
By Don McCombie, NoWorriesIT.Net

fb.pngA virus that hit Facebook hard in 2009 is unfortunately back: the Koobface virus. Koobface, (an anagram of 'Facebook') infected computers will send a message to the user's Facebook friends suggesting a video or website to click on. Once clicked, the virus infects that computer and sends itself to that user's Facebook friend list. To make matters worse, Koobface is also now turning up on Twitter.

 twitter.pngAlso in 2009, many Facebook users were sent messages containing links to an application which would reveal who their top Facebook friends were. Rumors quickly spread that the application was a virus, dubbed the “Facebook Fan Check Virus”. Shortly after, numerous fixes and virus removal tools cropped up that allegedly removed the Fan Check virus. After an investigation by Facebook, it was determined that the Fan Check application was not a virus, but almost all of the applications to remove it were.

To protect yourself these and other malicious social media viruses, take the following precautions:

1. Make sure your antivirus software is up to date and functioning properly. Most anti-virus programs are updated almost continuously in response to new viruses and spyware. Having a current anti-virus program is essential to staying protected.

2. Use the latest version of whatever web browser you prefer. Like the anti-virus software above, new versions of a web browser will roll out in response to a known vulnerability. If there is a more recent version of your preferred web browser, use it. 

3. Don't click on links from 'friends' if the content or wording doesn't seem like something that friend would send. Almost all of the malware that infects social media sites replicate themselves by sending themselves out through the user’s address book. So even though the message may indeed be from your friend’s account, it may not be from your friend at all.

The good news is that Twitter is now scanning for viruses and browsers are using new tools to check URL's against those on a black list which will prevent redirecting users to fake and unsafe sites. Facebook also has its own Security Fan Page (http://www.facebook.com/security) where followers can learn about the latest in social media safety.

Don McCombie is the owner of NoWorriesIT.Net, a network support and security company located in Westminster, MD. Don has been keeping business networks safe from viruses, spyware and hackers for over 15 years. He can be reached at 410.751.7650, or visit the website at www.noworriesit.net.