April 18, 2012

Earth Day Offers Visibility, Fun, Engagement

It's Earth Day this Sunday and National Volunteer Month for a few weeks more, so loads of associations and their member companies and professionals are organizing, educating, celebrating, volunteering, and just plain participating in this worldwide effort to bolster environmental conservation.

Here's a snapshot of what some are doing or already have done--and it's not too late to join in yourself!

Start by downloading the free Earth Day 2012 Toolkit , where you can also learn about and be inspired by "A Billion Acts of Green," the world's largest environmental service campaign. And if you're in DC, you may want to check out the massive party scene happening at the National Mall rally and concerts either in person or online (live-streaming at

Sounds like some more partying will go on over at the 2012 Mighty Kindness Earth Day Hootenanny on April 22 organized by the Kentucky Chiropractic Association. The fun is combined with a more serious purpose: promoting a new state license "Go Green with Chiropractic" plate that aims "to elevate the chiropractic industry and its environmentally friendly nature in Kentucky" and raise some money as well.

The Eco-Dentistry Association will host its first tweetchat for dental industry professionals and consumers worldwide "to discuss the essentials of a high-tech, wellness based, and successful green dental practice."

The American Bar Association's Section of Environment, Energy, and Resources (SEER) in sponsoring the One Million Trees Project-Right Tree for the Right Place at the Right Time nationwide public service project. Started in March 2009, the project "calls on ABA members to contribute to the goal of planting one million trees across the United States by 2014 - both by planting trees themselves and by contributing to the partnering tree organizations." It also is promoting nominations for the 2012 ABA Award for Excellence in Environmental, Energy, and Resources Stewardship.

Entertainment Cruises is partnering with the North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE) has partnered with Entertainment Cruises to offer an Earth Day brunch cruise to enjoy Washington, DC, views while learning from the NAAEE about green energy, environmental initiatives and its upcoming conference.

More than 1,000 volunteers of the Student Conservation Association (SCA) are engaging in 10 signature Earth Day projects from prairie re-vegetation to exotic plant species removal on public lands across the U.S. on April 14 and 21. These events have some powerful sponsors, including American Eagle Outfitters, ARAMARK, Dr Pepper Snapple Group, Exelon Foundation, Johnson Controls, Sony, and Southwest Airlines.

The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) has released the First Annual Report of the eCycling Leadership Initiative, which details how the consumer electronics industry has dramatically increased its recycling in 2011 and advanced the goals set by the eCycling Leadership Initiative (also called the Billion Pound Challenge). For instance, participants of the initiative arranged for the responsible recycling of 460 million pounds of consumer electronics, a 53% increase over the 300 million pounds recycled in 2010. The number of recycling drop-off locations for consumers also was bolstered from to nearly 7,500 from just over 5,000 a year ago. And CEA launched to educate consumers about eCycling and energy consumption. By entering a ZIP code, anyone can locate the closest responsible recycling opportunity sponsored by the CE industry and/or third-party certified recycler. The initiative aims to increase electronics recycling to one billion pounds annually by 2016 and providing transparent metrics on eCycling efforts. A billion pounds of unrecycled waste electronics would fill a 71,000-seat NFL stadium.

The American Medical Student Association and Medical Alumni Association at Temple University are planting seeds and preparing a "Medicinal and Edible Learning Garden" and education event to discuss natural medicinal remedies.

The National Parks and Recreation Association is urging people to take advantage of waived entrance fees at U.S. national parks from April 21 to April 29 during National Park Week. Download your free Owner's Guide to America's National Parks. I know a few associations that are planning staff picnics and hikes at local parks and Great Falls National Park in sync with this promotional event.

The New York City Association of Hotel Concierges (NYCAHC) and its affiliate members will celebrate MillionTreesNYC at a "Dig In for Earth Day" tree-planting event May 5 in partnership with Mayor Bloomberg and NYC Parks and New York Restoration Project. Since the program's inception in 2007, thousands of New Yorkers have helped plant over 400,000 trees, with NYCAHC planting more than 2,000 of them.

American Forests' easy online calculator and offsetting options make it easy to offset your home or car pollution (I offset my minivan's emissions for about $17 last year through AF). Earth Day Network also offers an eco-calculator.

Whatever you do, just consider doing something green this weekend and join your colleagues in making the planet a bit healthier for us all!

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October 26, 2011

Would your annual report ever sound like this?

My RSS feed from Wired magazine doesn't typically bear much relation to association management, but Maryn McKenna's summary of the latest report from the Independent Monitoring Board of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative caught my eye: "Scathing Report: Polio Eradication 'Not... Any Time Soon'."

Maryn writes that the report "is striking for its brutally frank and even frustrated tone." She later writes that the report "identifies problems that extend throughout the worldwide effort. The board is strikingly candid in asking pointed questions about them."

The nature of the report isn't exactly parallel to an association annual report, but I couldn't help but compare them. The truth, though, is they don't really compare at all. The association annual reports I've seen have typically been positive, light on genuine analysis, and rather dull. Anything but brutally frank.

This disparity could be a byproduct of vague missions and goals. Clearly, eradicating polio is a "big, hairy audacious goal." Bigger goal equals more room for failure, which an honest report will identify. But a vague goal, like "advancing the industry," means there's more room to be just as vague in assessing results.

The disparity could also result from who writes the report. In the case of the polio initiative, the report was written by an independent board convened specifically "to monitor and guide the progress" of initiative's strategic plan. In the case of most associations, an annual report is assembled by staff, possibly with involvement or sign-off of the board—two parties with a clear bias toward highlighting an association's success and downplaying its shortfalls. Perhaps a committee of at-large members tasked with authoring an annual report would offer more honest analysis.

Of course, the actual substance of the polio initiative report is disappointing, from a global-health perspective. But sugarcoating the lack of progress toward the initiative's goal would have been a disservice to the people dedicating their energy toward eradicating the disease and to those who still suffer from it. The report's honesty is exactly the kind of kick in the pants that can motivate people to fix problems, and it's exactly the kind of analysis that has to take place when measuring progress toward a mission, whatever it may be.

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April 22, 2011

Earth Day: A Chance at Relevancy

Earth Day can be a fraud, a feast, or a fizzle.

It can be a great rallying date around which to publicly re-enunciate your organization's commitment to sustainability and showcase actions you've taken that back it up, or it either can be dissed as a greenwashing exercise or simply ignore it.

But are the latter two options very smart business choices with all of the studies showing the growing influence of eco-conscious consumers, the heightened watchfulness of media and citizen journalists, and the myriad hard data that have emerged about the positive ROI of a well-planned social responsibility strategy that syncs with organizational mission and core competencies?

If that kind of strategy sounds time-intensive to chart, it can be. However, it takes effort to plan any strategy, so I don't think that concern should be seen as much more than an excuse, especially when this approach jives so well with most our community's common goals of operating efficiently, attracting and retaining talent, holding tight to our budgets, bolstering innovation, engaging members, and building brand value.

It's heartening to see the many press releases from nonprofits and associations today as they urge members and consumers to switch to paper-free bill paying, plant a tree, volunteer, recycle, insulate, and more.

Less heartening is that so many associations are silent today. I promise you that no matter what industry or profession your group represents, your members--maybe not all of them, but certainly a growing percentage--are indeed moving toward greater sustainability. This is a chance for your association to be relevant. This is a chance to show value in a new way. There are serious opportunities here for any organization of any size in any location (you'll find some examples at to help members strengthen their businesses and professions.

So celebrate Earth Day today. Acknowledge it with authenticity. Tell staff, members, and others what you already are doing to help lighten your environmental footprint (that kind of self-audit is the first step anyway), and ask them what else you could be doing.

You may find the sustainability journey to be an enlightening road to greater relevancy.


March 13, 2011

Responding to the Japan Earthquake and Tsunami is one of a growing number of companies that are partnering with nonprofits and associations to help raise funds via their websites for disaster relief agencies such as Save the Children, Architecture for Humanity, Doctors Without Borders, and the American Red Cross in response to the record 8.9-magnitude earthquake and resulting tsunami that hit March 11. The Japanese Red Cross has been assessing damage, activating volunteers, and communicating with emergency response organizations overseas that have hundreds of volunteer professionals on standby.

Charity Navigator has issued a tipsheet to help donors avoid charity scams related to the disaster, as well as a list of organizations already involved in relief efforts.

You'll also find a serendipitous article in the February issue of Associations Now titled "How Your Organization Can Help with Disaster Relief" that talks about the process four associations went through to be ready with member volunteers, a crisis communications plan, and other resources that may be urgently needed anytime worldwide.


March 4, 2011

Lessons Learned on Sustaining Momentum and Navigating Change in Times of Transition

Given the ups and downs in the economy in recent years, many philanthropic and charitable organizations changed their funding priorities, reflecting the world's changing landscape. Small organizations, particularly nonprofits, have been forced into a Darwinian competition of sorts, fighting to survive on scarce resources and sustain programs with limited assets and investment.

As a young professional working on a grant-funded program in a small nonprofit, my experience has been filled with challenges. One of the toughest things in my career was receiving news that we wouldn't have follow-on funding to continue the implementation of our planning efforts. When a colleague at the start of a newly funded grant project asked me for advice—not only on secrets to our successes but tales of our failures—I was compelled to share a few nuggets and lessons learned with others.

Here are a few tips to guide those struggling to maintain morale and momentum in times of transition. Consider the following:

  • Keep expectations realistic. Keep in mind that funding priorities and organizational goals change. Some of the best planning goes without full consideration of circumstance. While contingency and sustainability planning are always included in the thinking and strategic process, know that surprises are possible.
  • Communicate. It is important to maintain a dialogue with any funders, but make sure that the project staff, partners, and stakeholders are talking with each other. Communication is essential to creating a healthy environment. It allows for all parties to build trust and create a neutral, trusted atmosphere for idea exchange. It is also helpful to converse with others working in your particular space. Be willing to ask questions and share information. The key to your success and avoiding common mistakes lies in the lessons learned from others. This has become positively encouraged and simple in the era of social networking. Tap into your network and get support from others.
  • Be flexible. When change happens, embrace it and adapt with it. You've become adept at clearly articulating programmatic/organizational needs, strategies, and demand for why the project will make a difference. Using this model, make this case for yourself as a valuable team member and contributor. As the business strategy changes, consider your own growth and expand your perspectives; this is an opportunity for you to become an active change agent and a catalyst for innovation.  
  • Maintain balance. It may be a natural inclination to fully immerse yourself in the job and lose focus of you. While it is important to work harder in such circumstances, it is not necessary to work longer. You may be forced to make some sacrifices, but keep in mind that your personal development is just as important as your professional development. Keep your interpersonal relationships on track by alerting people of your situation. They may be a valuable resource and able to offer advice or ideas. Put an emphasis on achieving success not only on the job but in your personal life as well.

Tia Abner is program coordinator, global health informatics partnership for American Medical Informatics Association in Bethesda, Maryland. She serves on ASAE's Young Association Executives Committee.

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January 14, 2011

Haiti: Where And What Are Associations Still Doing?

The first Haiti earthquake anniversary this week has prompted myriad progress reports from the many associations and nonprofits who responded with volunteers, professional guidance, money, and resources. With almost 500 projects and 80 major NGOs doing on-the-ground work in the devastated region, it's easy to get confused about who's doing what as our community continues to respond to the crisis.

Luckily, this week also marks the release of a helpful free tool that aims to foster partnerships among nonprofits and associations, "strengthen corporate and NGO relationships, and increase transparency and accountability." It's called the Haiti Aid Map, and it's a who's-doing-what-where map with snapshots of projects and their coordinating groups. Created by InterAction in partnership with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Business Civic Leadership Center, it was funded by FedEx, a master of organization and mapping.

I encourage you to refer to it, whether you have ongoing projects there or not, because so many of your peers are making a difference in that challenging zone, and you may find something that would inspire your organization to get involved as well.

Meanwhile, here are a couple of things that associations are doing right here in the U.S. that are improving life in Haiti. If you're mostly interested in philanthropic giving, perhaps some of their projects will prompt you to write a supportive check.

The American Library Association (ALA), for instance, has distributed $25,000 to clear and prepare land and complete designs for one of three libraries it plans to rebuild and equip through its Haiti Library Relief Fund . Its needs a lot more money, though--just one library will cost an estimated $325,000-$350,000 to rebuild and equip.

The Haiti-inspired partnership between the American Dental Association's Division of Global Affairs and Health Volunteers Overseas has focused on raising $300,000 through an innovative Adopt-a-Practice program to rebuild 30 dental practices, almost one-third of all dental health facilities in the region. ADA also has developed an International Disaster Assistance Volunteer Inventory based on a survey for members interested in volunteering in the aftermath of an international natural disaster.

The American Bar Association Center on Children and the Law, in collaboration with the ABA Family Law Section and Section of Litigation, and the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys, hosted a free webinar on "How Attorneys and State Court Judges Can Aid in Finalizing Adoptions for Haitian Children Now in the U.S" and is offering its materials for free downloads to anyone interested.

Also, for the record, as a result of such outreach work, many organizations also have found that they've galvanized members, boosted innovation, and added meaningful value to their brand and membership offerings. Please accept my personal congratulations for your efforts and commitment. I've heard astonishing stories of what your members and staffers are doing even a year after the earthquake.


September 9, 2010

Does 9/11 Still Resonate as a Community Service Draw for Members?

Yes, based on the number of press releases and website announcements popping up this week. The 9/11 National Day of Service appears to still rally members at a wide range of associations and nonprofits that have been strengthening their volunteer programs in general, not just during observance of the anniversary of those terrible attacks.

Among the most visible are AARP, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Business Civil Leadership Council, United Way and, the largest teen volunteer organization--all partners with MyGoodDeed Inc. The latter is the official organizer of 9/11 memorial activities along with the Corporation for National and Community Service.

AARP, for instance, announced today that its Create The Good arm is launching a new campaign "aimed at raising awareness about social responsibility and community service." The campaign focuses on sharing stories about members' volunteer experiences in hope of inspiring others to offer their own talents and time to the less fortunate. Members can share these stories via an easy online form at AARP's Create the Good website and tap into tools to help them find other places and ways they might volunteer.

I think that finding ways to publicly share and promote the positive experiences of member volunteers is a great idea. It's a shame that so many volunteer match-up programs or association-sponsored give-back events don't allow people to talk afterwards about what the experience meant to them or the impact they saw their efforts have on others.

And using such a painful day in our history to create positive change does more than just generate warm fuzzies about your association as coordinator of such efforts. It also boosts engagement with your organization, connects people to others with similar values, and helps meet the changing expectations of members (especially young members) about the need for business to be doing something bigger than just focusing on their own industry or profession.

I hope you'll consider joining the 9/11 tribute efforts, many of which have already started and continue through early next week. Please consider posting in the comment area on this blog, if you'd like to share your own experience. We'd love to hear about it!


August 31, 2010

Rebranding: Lessons for the Rest of Us

I remember when March of Dimes kicked off its new branding several years ago, so it was interesting to read the terrific article in this month's Chronicle of Philanthropy that shows which media vehicles worked and which failed in terms of accomplishing the organization's many specific goals for the campaign. You can read more about the following three lessons learned in "March of Dimes' Evolution in Online Fundraising:"
1) The vetting and targeting of influential and "advocate bloggers" was worth it.
2) The purchase of online ads placed near popular search engine words and terms took creativity and smarts, in my opinion.
3) The failure of a popular web video that was "cool" but didn't get the right job done shows that tracking and reflection can reveal false assumptions and prevent future marketing mistakes.

Kudos to the organization for their candor about the campaign. We all benefit from sharing such insider information.


Three Cool Takeaways from the LA Community Legacy Projects

Wow, we just finished tallying up the total Annual Meeting attendee participation and results from our Community Connections projects, and the numbers blasted previous "legacy project" metrics to smithereens!

The projects--ranging from a 5K fun run to local tours to bike-building and toiletry-kit/school supply stuffing--brought together 487 volunteers and resulted in 125 bikes, several massive boxes of stuffed school backpacks, and more than $17,000--all for the nonprofit Midnight Mission! In previous years, ASAE averaged about 15 volunteers, who would all arrive to donate time on the Saturday before the conference started. Obviously, we've finally found the right formula that will make giving back to the host community fun, accessible, and high-impact.

Here are three cool takeaways that seem to be making the difference:

1. We added far more options. Indeed, the 5K run early on the second day of the meeting hit its limit of 100 sign-ups weeks before folks started landing at LAX airport. Eager tradeshow participants turned a wrench, steadied some screws, and did whatever else was needed to help build the first 100 bikes in the Milwaukee, Travel Portland, and Pittsburgh booths at the Expo. The remaining 25 bikes and all of the backpacks and toiletry kits were completed on Tuesday, the final day of the event. Offering multiple opportunities, pricing, and time commitments ensured that almost all attendees could do at least something to give back....

2. Which led to a happy meet-up between volunteers and the actual recipients of our efforts--the families served by Midnight Mission! Boy, if you could have seen those kids' smiles, and the energy with which they zoomed around the room on their sparkling bikes--well, that will be a strong and positive memory for everyone there. Think those folks will volunteer again? Oh, yeah. They know first-hand that they made a difference in a child's life--and plenty of parents were there to add their warm thanks as well. The same was true on the Saturday when more than 400 people were fed by our attendees at Midnight Mission. Lesson: Try to ensure face-to-face exchanges with the constituency your legacy projects are serving. And lose the polish--focus the exchange on the homeless, the hungry, or the other vulnerable people being helped by your attendees.

3. We learned that our business partners could be real leaders when it comes to good citizenship, and they can teach us a few things in this regard. The Industry Partners group of ASAE was a driving force behind several of the legacy events, such as the bike-building, and others on the tradeshow floor--such as Virginia Beach CVB with its book collection for Midnight Mission, and Rosen Hotels with its continuing donation drive for Haiti earthquake relief--came up with their own ways to help others. Thank you all!

One final point: Chris Wood, director of social responsibility and coordinator of so many of these legacy projects, and the director of Midnight Mission were so inspired by the impact of our attendees that they are working on a case study guide that will 1) help standardize the process of ASAE-charity legacy projects, 2) develop a sample case study that Midnight Mission can use to guide other associations meeting in Los Angeles, and 3) capture the lessons learned by our 2010 experience.

Again, thank you to each of the 487 people who ran, walked, gave time and money, got their hands dirty with bike grease, brought shampoo and soap, and more!

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August 19, 2010

What motivates employees?

A number of people now leaving for ASAE & The Center's Annual Conference & Expo in Los Angeles Aug 20-24 may be hoping to learn about ways to recruit, retain, and motivate staff. A new article in Knowledge@Whartoncontains the results of a fascinating series of studies about whether ranking workers (and, in particular, sharing that rank with the employee) would inspire good performers to greater heights and poor performers to buckle down.

Short answer: no. The worker rock star began slacking off, while the loser workers became discouraged but--although companies apparently hoped otherwise--generally didn't quit their jobs to move on.

After reading the article, I wondered how old the workers were. Would age affect this result?

I had recently listened to the September issue of Success magazine's CD, which shares interviews with 3-4 leaders of interest to entrepreneurs and small business owners. Featured was a terrific conversation with three inspiring and insightful Millennial leaders of the nonprofit Invisible Children.

Invisible Children aims to prevent child soldiering, the kidnapping of youngsters by rebel tribes in Northern Uganda for use as horrific "soldiers" in their battle against the government. The nonprofit, born out of a documentary filmed by student 20-somethings, has been remarkably successful at raising political attention to the problem and engaging supporters of all ages to their cause. (See here for a short video of its Schools to Schools program.).

One quote really stuck with me. The interviewer asked the trio what companies and organizations can do to attract, retain, and motivate Millennial workers. "Millennials value the impossible," one answered. They'll "work like crazy" and are "extremely passionate," but they want to have fun doing it, and they are attracted to projects, causes, and programs that are trying "to do things never done before." They also want their organizations to think beyond themselves and to take their role as a global citizen seriously, the leaders said.

I'm hoping that conference attendees will keep an open mind and the reality check provided by these three brave nonprofit founders as discussions begin again on worker "reward" systems in associations.

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August 12, 2010

Giving Away Success

I love Success magazine for entrepreneurs and small-business owners, especially the accompanying audio CD that features three to four interviews with leaders from various industries. I always glean great information relevant to our sector as well, and the September issue is no exception, because it carries a series about giving--why and how businesses should give, why folks in the top positions should adopt a public giving culture, and why some of the highest impact giving has nothing to do with money.

This is refreshing in light of the major publicity given this week to the laudable efforts of Warren Buffett and Bill Gates to convince billionaires to pledge at least half of their wealth to charitable causes in life or upon their death. If the wealth of the 40+ billionaires who have signed on holds true, that means a staggering flow of more than $200 billion into the nonprofit community--and the dynamic duo are far from done.

The pieces in Success had nothing to do with giving of such mind-boggling personal wealth. Indeed, Success publisher and CD moderator Darren Hardy lists 10 "non-monetary tithes" that business leaders could give, ranging from "knowledge tithing" and "mentoring tithing," to "ear tithing" (listening) and "space tithing" (donating the use of an office or meeting room to a nonprofit for events or a satellite office).

The list reminded me of the latest book from Loews Hotels CEO & Chairman Jonathan Tisch, Citizen You: Doing Your Part to Change the World, in which Tisch urges everyone in every field at every level to become "citizen professionals." He defines that term as a professional in, say, architecture who also applies his or her work skills and knowledge to projects and organizations that better their community and beyond.

In my April interview, Tisch echoes Hardy in urging businesses and the organizations representing these trades and professions to talk more specifically about giving. "My hope is that the leaders of many, many associations are willing to have this conversation with their members, ... because the needs are out there, and the reality is that we have so many challenges as a society, if we could use the strength and vision that associations in our country possess--just the sheer horsepower of the men and women who belong to these associations--we could do a lot for this country."

Tisch went on to say that, like Buffett, people seem hungry to do something positive, and they're looking to their workplaces to meet that desire. "Over the years when I've been involved in so many associations," Tisch says, "I have seen people at conventions want to do more. I have seen them ask for more information [about what to do]. When you look back over the past 18 months--one of the most difficult financial periods our nation has ever been through--we've come out of it with a sense of the fragility of our economic system ..., but now that we're coming to a better place, we also have a greater understanding of what we need to do to preserve the pillars of our economy and to try to do more. People are expressing the need to have a roadmap to help them do more."

I'm hoping, like Hardy, Tisch, and likely Buffett, that association leaders are willing to "ask for directions" that let them create that giving roadmap with their boards, members, and customers. At the very least, consider GPSing your own giving route drawing on a full range of "tithing" options.

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February 13, 2010

Winter Olympics Organizers Offer Free Toolkit on Creating Sustainable Events

In anticipation of the next weeks’ of avid TV watching of the Winter Olympics in Canada, I visited the official website in search of potential tools, ideas, and takeaways for association event and meeting planners.

I’m pleased to find that groups involved in sporting events and fundraisers (think golf tournaments, walk- and bike-a-thons, team-building field days, etc.) can download a free Sustainable Sport and Event Toolkit ( created by the Vancouver Organising Committee for the 2010 Olympics and Paralympic Winter Games (VANOC) in partnership with the Switzerland-based International Academy of Sports Science and Technology. Topics covered include community and supply chain involvement, transportation, and venue management.

The nine-piece how-to toolkit—aimed at organizers/sponsors of both large and small events--is one of the many social legacy projects completed or underway by organizers and attendees of this month’s Olympics, which kicked off in grand style February 12.

Organizers have spent seven years developing and executing actions and policies aimed at lightening the event’s wide environmental footprint, ensuring an ethical and inclusive competition, and leaving behind a positive social legacy. You’ll find highlights at

However, a summary of 12 of their major initiatives ( provides association meeting planners and

Continue reading "Winter Olympics Organizers Offer Free Toolkit on Creating Sustainable Events " »

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January 19, 2010

Earthquake Response Efforts Continue

To everyone who has been sending press releases and e-mails about what their organization is doing to respond to the Haiti earthquake disaster, I send you a big thank-you! To avoid weighing down Acronym with the latest updates, all responses are being posted in the commentary section of my earlier blog posts down below. I encourage you to continue emailing me news at Thanks again for all you are doing!


January 13, 2010

Associations, Nonprofits Begin Haitian Earthquake Response

As they have so many times in the past, associations and nonprofits around the world are moving rapidly to help the hard-hit communities in and near the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince, after a severe earthquake measuring 7.0 quake apparently flattened much of the area late January 12.

With communications impaired, electricity out, and roads blocked by fallen debris from collapsed buildings and homes, organizations were struggling both to track down local staff and members, and to assess how best to assist the densely populated, impoverished region that appears devastated.

Here’s a round-up of some association and nonprofit efforts and news underway:

Within hours of the quake, local Haitian teams of the nonprofit Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières were reporting that damage to their Port-au-Prince medical center and other facilities is “significant” as are injuries to staff, patients, and incoming residents. Additional staff are being deployed immediately.

World Vision International, a nonprofit that helps the poor, said on its Web site that staff in Haiti are trying to assess the damage and configure a response plan, but some workers are struggling just to leave their building because of aftershocks and damage that continue to send walls and building materials into the streets.

The American Red Cross, World Vision International, Oxfam, numerous faith-based relief services, and myriad other disaster relief charities have already set up emergency funds—many of them linked to mobile phone text giving--and e-mailed urgent donation appeals to millions of supporters.

Save the Children’s Ian Rodgers, who was in Haiti at the time of the earthquake, quickly became the eyes and ears for many media around the globe stymied by the lack of working communication technology and lack of access to the area.

Social media is again playing a riveting role in revealing the extent of the disaster, as well as the types of real-time decision-making occuring onsite and in offices far afield by nonprofit staff and government officials. Twitter updates from charities, federal and international agencies, and others have been running throughout the night as news and photos have slowly leaked out. While no association-uploaded videos related to humanitarian efforts is on YouTube yet, several groups expressed hope they would soon have footage or videotaped interviews to post shortly.

Many professional and trade associations have created global disaster relief funds in the past 10 years and are likely to tap them now, saying they want first to see what primary needs emerge.

Expressing fears about safety, shifting needs, and inadequate information from the hit region, none of the aid charities are accepting outside volunteers at the moment while the groups try to get their own trained staff onsite. Indeed, some are trying to get staff and members out of the Port-au-Prince area while aftershocks remain so strong.


December 1, 2009

Holiday giving trend info, Cyber Monday tie-ins

Many association board meetings are going on this month, and two frequent questions asked of staff are, “What are the end-of-year giving trends right now, and what donor behavior do you expect in the next year?” They also want more thorough details of how any proposed budgets are changing to reflect those expectations, especially in terms of first-quarter cash flow, when giving by individuals traditionally drops dramatically.

I’ve written before about giving trends and am happy to share the result of the latest survey out today by the American Red Cross. It finds that 90 percent of Americans plan to donate to charity this holiday season, with 62 percent planning to give more than $25, and 25 percent saying they’ll give more than $100, despite the economic downturn. In the really good news department, 40 percent are “talking with others about donating to charity instead of buying them a gift.”

“Eighty percent said that, if asked, they would be happy to make a donation to charity instead of buying a gift for someone,” reports the American Red Cross.

Nonprofits and associations have been extremely concerned about the expected diminishing of end-of-year donations, and I’ve been hearing both good and terrible numbers from a wide range of folks within our sectors. However, a Red Cross survey in November finds that although one-third of respondents said they are cutting back on gift spending, parties (31%), holiday décor (40%), and travel (44%), only 20 percent are sending out fewer charity checks, and 17 percent plan to spend more. This is impressive considering that the survey also revealed that one in four people had their salary or hours cut back, 14 percent were suffering a job layoff, and 41 percent had lost money in the stock market.

To help boost their fundraising opportunities, a number of nonprofits and associations leveraged yersterday’s “Cyber Monday” technology buying spree among bargain-hunting consumers to pitch online charitable giving. With online giving at an all-time high, association development staff appear to be shaping their virtual giving pitches to sync with a day when millions of Americans already have gift-giving on their minds. It would be interesting to learn whether these strategies have worked. Anyone willing to share their results is welcome to post here.


November 3, 2009

Gearing Up for the Season of (Mobile) Giving

The Halloween candy hasn’t even been eaten yet, and I’m already seeing what I think will be a tidal wave of holiday-season community service outreach and philanthropic activities by a wide range of associations and nonprofits. In the spirit of the upcoming season and because everyone likes to know what their colleagues are up to, I’m going to make an effort to post occasional short lists with links to more details of some of the most creative or highest impact projects and partnerships.

For now, I’ll just share what one nonprofit is doing to address a fundraising issue that becomes especially crucial during the end-of-year giving cycle—enabling trusted, simple, and convenient donations directly from mobile phones. The Mobile Giving Foundation (MGF) has just announced a partnership with major mobile providers such as Verizon Wireless and AT&T to assist 350-plus charities with mobile giving campaigns. The program has generated more than $1 million in 18 months and is expected to grow rapidly, according to the foundation. A Canadian version of the initiative also has launched.

The foundation also has gone the next step: developing a broader partnership strategy to create a "mobile giving channel, whereby consumers can text a keyword that corresponds to a specific nonprofit or charitable cause to a designated short code. Afterward, a micro-donation of $5 or $10 is made and processed.” The wireless service companies tally donations via their regular monthly billing process and forward the funds to MGF, which passes 100% of them to the designated charities.

MGF has worked with almost every U.S. and Canadian wireless service provider to design “clear standards” that “provide a quality user experience and a trusted source of donor engagement for nonprofits." That experience includes offering donors various “information opt-in-based text alert packages … to help the donor maintain visibility to the causes they support.”

Thanks to a process redesign and technology innovations that dramatically accelerated campaign launch processes, the foundation now launches 20 campaigns per week and is currently supporting more than 400 campaigns with price points of either $5 or $10.

Response rates vary wildly from 1.5% to 63%, depending on “the cause, celebrity endorsement, co-branding affiliations, and related marketing efforts,” says the foundation.

Here’s a list of current charity partners and the Standards for Participation in case your organization would like to participate.


October 23, 2009

Re-envisioning volunteer management programs

Loads of associations and nonprofits are participating in Make a Difference Day this Sunday, showcasing just how responsive organizations and their members have been to President Obama’s National Call for Service and passage of the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act.
A look at the numbers shows that neighborhood engagement levels have risen sharply since 2007, with a 31 percent increase in the number of people who worked with neighbors to fix a community problem, according to the Corporation for National and Community Service. And Points of Light Foundation CEO Michelle Nunn isn’t alone in her viewpoint that the past year indicates a “change in the course of civic responsibility in our nation.”

As a result, though, high-quality volunteer management has never been more important. That means associations and nonprofits should be rethinking their longtime volunteer management processes, training, and communications to best leverage this influx of new talent and enthusiasm.

I’m thinking of my own volunteer and philanthropic experiences with certain nonprofits. They weren’t always pleasant, and I’d estimate that I only did one-off projects for about half of them because they just weren’t particularly memorable, fun, or fulfilling enough to warrant my loyalty, even if the overall mission of the organization was laudable. With so many great causes, why would I want to stick with a group that couldn’t get its act together to articulate why my efforts or knowledge would make a particular difference?

I like that I’m seeing more organizations turn to social media to build real-time communities of volunteers so they can share their experiences and ideas with others. Facebook “parties” celebrating a successful service day, for instance, are great fun to relish afterward. Tweeting to other volunteers at a similar event elsewhere can be a hoot when it gets competitive about who is picking up the most trash, stuffing the most food boxes, or collecting the most used clothing. And Flickr is a fun way to tell a feel-good story through images and brief captions.

I urge you, as more people than ever agree to come help you out with everything from service days to fundraising, to spend some time looking at your volunteer management programs with fresh eyes. Share what changes you’re making, please. Are you surveying volunteers more often? Offering more flexible service opportunities? Developing richer profiles of volunteers so you can better tap into free talent? Gathering evaluation data to track satisfaction and engagement levels? Boosting your training? Clarifying the value proposition both to the volunteer and to the recipient/beneficiary?

Make a Difference Day seems like a good time to ask yourself if you really are making as much of a difference as you and your volunteers could be.


October 13, 2009

Tough economy prompts nonprofit to try weird-but-wow raffle

Whoa—just when you think you’ve heard of almost every type of fundraiser in the world, something comes along that gives you pause. This time it’s by a youth service nonprofit called World Youth Empowerment, which has created what it calls a “Mega House Raffle.” Winner of its grand prize can select “any property for sale within the state of California up to a value of $3 million.” Oh, and it includes $200,000 in furnishings and a new Bentley Continental GT car.

“But what about gift taxes?” you might sigh. Nada. The prize is tax-free, resulting in a total prize package worth more than $4 million. No need for a West Coast home? Take $2 mil instead. Yeah, that’s what makes this raffle fundraiser the largest in America to date, according to WYE. And just to keep it more exciting, only 60,000 tickets at $150 each will be sold, starting October 15.

According to WYE Executive Director Charlie Smith, the poor economy with its deep funding cuts in the public sector and drop in private giving is forcing nonprofits to seek “non-traditional means of fundraising. We chose a charitable raffle, but needed to make it large, unique and exceptional to distinguish it from other raffles. With valuable assistance from our private benefactors, we created the Mega House Raffle that certainly qualifies in all respects." He hopes to raise $9 million from ticket sales.

The prize drawing is on March 22, 2010, but WYE is giving away hundreds of smaller prizes in 16 early-bird drawings. I’ll be interested to hear whether Smith meets his fundraising goal, but in the meantime, I’d also like to hear what other out-there types of fundraising is going on in the nonprofit community. Any original twists on long-time favorites such as auctions, raffles, cause marketing, events, whatever?

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September 3, 2009

Nonprofits Unite for Census Accuracy

I’m reading a lot of anxious press releases and articles within the association/nonprofit communities about boosting participation in the U.S. 2010 census process, as fiscally stressed organizations unite to battle perception hurdles that could depress census tallies and lead to fewer federal funds for states and their social programs. Currently, the federal government distributes almost $400 billion annually to states and localities.

In Illinois, for instance, an alliance of 60 nonprofits and 10 state foundations has formed the nation’s largest response to date--a $1.2-million “Count Me In” campaign to improve participation in the tallies of often-missed populations, such as immigrants, minorities, and low-income residents. The coalition has determined that for each person not counted in Illinois, the state loses $12,000 during the next decade.

Organizers are using a wide variety of new and traditional engagement and education tools to convince people to complete their census document. Among them are celebrity text messages for Latino youth, door-knocking brigades to immigrant communities, social media strategies, special events, and outreach materials for churches, barber shops, and beauty salons in heavily African-American neighborhoods.

If you’re interested in learning more about or joining the efforts, go to the U.S. Census Bureau site for National Partners; you can also find a massive list of associations and nonprofits already signed up (PDF).


September 1, 2009

Using Social Media Volunteers Creatively

While I was reading about the National Business Travel Association’s recent updates to the NBTA Corporate Social Responsibility Toolkit and its offsetting of carbon emissions of its August 2009 conference, I saw that—a popular nonprofit that arranges and advocates offsets for organizations—was advertising for “social media volunteers.” Rather than the usual request that members who use social media serve as viral marketers, volunteers were being invited to “help set the record straight about offsets,” because “there’s a lot of misinformation on offsets in social media.”

I like that whole concept of virtual volunteers with multiple purposes, and though it seems obvious to add this concept to an association’s array of volunteer opportunities, I haven’t seen many other organizations that do so. Okay, maybe they have easily downloadable widgets and logos, but an actual specific purpose like serving as a rapid-response team member for misinformation? Not really.

What other ways could social media volunteers be actively engaged? I'm talking about a real strategy, one integrating into your overall volunteer management strategy and practices. Are you offering enough options for volunteers to leverage these tools in ways that appeal to them, not just to address our needs? Have you thought about holding a tweetfest, for instance, on getting your message out? Do you have ideas on whether or how Facebook users could, as a group, be galvanized into a new type of volunteer corps? Who else is using social media volunteers who may have "lessons learned" and advice?


August 25, 2009

Volunteer Technology Help for Nonprofits

Need help with a tech problem or strategy? Join the thousands of nonprofits that have already posted “wish lists” for pro bono help with IT, web design, programming, blogging, and other technology needs in hope of attracting interest among the thousands of technology volunteers worldwide who are being matched up with organizations during the first “Mozilla Service Week” September 14-21.

The massive community service project is the result of a partnership with and Mozilla (the organization behind the Firefox browser). Go to if you want to be a tech volunteer yourself or want to post a tech need for your association or nonprofit.

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August 24, 2009

Facebook fundraising: Feeding America shows good taste

Using social media for fundraising—it was a topic that sparked a lot of conversation among associations and nonprofits during last week’s Annual Meeting in Toronto, with everyone wanting to know which organizations have had luck, which have not and why, and which campaigns are underway as pilots.

A few first-adopter organizations always spring to mind when I hear someone ask the how-do-I-do-this question, including the nonprofit Feeding America (formerly Second Harvest), which has such a creative array of supporters that it is always on the forefront of innovative fundraising techniques and events.

Its latest endeavor is on Facebook and involves the unusual duo of Hellmann’s and Best Foods Mayonnaise with musician Billy Ray Cyrus in a “virtual Sandwich Swap ‘n Share” program to celebrate the upcoming new school year and “childhood rituals” like trading lunchbox munchies.

The fundraiser is fun and trendy. For each sandwich created on the company’s Facebook page, Hellmann's and Best Foods donates seven lunches to Feeding America and enters the participant in a sweepstakes for a $250 grocery gift certificate. And here’s the viral part: For every friend on Facebook that the participant shares a sandwich with, Hellmann's donates seven more lunches—up to 700,000 lunches total. Someone even wins a trip backstage at a Cyrus concert to officially swap sandwiches with the famous father-of-Miley.


Feeding America and Hellmann’s are quick to explain that seven lunches equals a dollar donation to the charity. But by using Facebook to engage customers and charitable supporters in a feel-good fundraiser that virtually uses its product (a fundraiser that doesn’t cost the customer a dime, by the way), the company and its brand gain much more buzz and recognition than they would by simply writing a $100,000 check to Feeding America, as does the charity.

Fundraising with social media tools takes a lot of thought and planning, but the results can further cement relationships with major donors, engrain your brand in new places, excite your supporters, and generate media interest. And if you raise some money in the process, well, hooray!


August 21, 2009

Associations/nonprofits turn to iPhone apps as latest viral tool

I’m seeing more and more associations and nonprofits developing their own iPhone apps to create a mobile forum to educate and engage members and stakeholders. Some apps are for the organization overall and appear most often distributed free through the iTunes App store, such as that of the American Heart Association, the American Red Cross, and, most recently, the American Humane Association.

Their primary purposes differ. The app for the American Red Cross encourages emergency preparedness, provides on-the-spot CPR guidance, gives emergency updates, and provides easy donation opportunities.

The American Humane Association’s “Be Humane!” app also provides breaking news and donation options through PayPal, but it adds has a brief organizational video, legislative updates, and a wide range of images and program tie-ins. Its Houston, Texas, components/chapter also has its own app on iTunes.

The American Heart Association app fosters self-tracking of heart-friendly activities such as healthy eating and exercise, health news, and event calendars, among other topics.
Whether members will take to these apps, increase their loyalty to the organization as a result of greater engagement, donate more, volunteer, or act in other positive ways that strengthen the association or nonprofit is still a bit early to tell in most cases. But I’m interested in hearing from other organizations that have gone this route. What types of numbers have you been tracking in this regard? What’s been your feedback? What would you advise others who are considering this tool? How focused has your purpose for the app been?


August 13, 2009

Free Guide Available on "Making Work Work"

Despite two phone calls from newly laid off association professionals this morning, I’m encouraged to read that the nonprofit Families and Work Institute’s free, downloadable 2009 Guide to Bold New Ideas for Making Work Work concludes that 81% of U.S. employers are maintaining and 13% are increasing the work flexibility they offer employees. Only 6% acknowledge reduced flexibility.

"In fact, many report they are using flexibility as a tool to manage through the recession," according to FWI.

How? You’ll find an easy-to-search summary of 260 of the creative programs and policies of 260 employers organized by geography, industry, and innovative practice—each of whom a 2008 Alfred P. Sloan Award for Business Excellence in Workplace Flexibility.

Aside from a steady expansion of telecommuting-telework programs to help employees reduce commuting costs, other recession-friendly practices are

- Giving employees four Fridays off in the summer in lieu of raises the organization cannot afford
- Creating funds to support their own employees or others in the community who are suffering during the recession
- Giving employees the option to take unlimited, unpaid personal time off during the downturn, while keeping full medical benefits and the right to return to their jobs
- Allowing employees greater scheduling flexibility if their spouse has lost a job or seen their hours reduced and the family needs to make changes
- Creating flex year and flex career programs
- Creating workflow coordinators to monitor overwork and developing wellness scorecards to promote wellness

"The employers in Bold New Ideas present a roadmap to creating successful workplaces in a down economy," says Ellen Galinsky, president and co-founder of FWI and lead editor of the guide. "We hope these examples will provide ideas to employers around the country for their own programs, and help employees identify progressive organizations in their region -- or become internal advocates for change."

The new guide also shares insights from the latest annual National Study of the Changing Workforce, which includes shifting attitudes toward work and lifestyle choices. Basically, we workers continue to feel "deprived," especially of time to spend with important people in our lives. Three-fourths of responding employees say they don’t have enough time for their children--a 9% increase since 1992. Spouses don’t fare much better; 61% of workers (up 11% in 15 years) complain about the lack of time for significant others.

Thus, few would be surprised to read that 39% of employees report that flexibility is extremely or very important in their decision to accept a job or not. However, even to those currently employed, 86% rank flexibility as extremely or very important.

That is overwhelming. So why then, do only half of U.S. employees "strongly agree" that they currently have the flexibility needed to manage work and personal life successfully? Read the guide for clues and to learn more about how and whether organizations are including workers in questions around flexible workplaces.

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August 6, 2009

Fundraising in a “Flatter World”

Joanne Fritz, who writes for the nonprofit section of, expresses enthusiasm for a new book of interest to associations and nonprofits that are re-examining fundraising techniques in the new economy.

Building on Thomas Friedman’s best-selling book, The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century, author Jon Duschinsky explores the effect of such increased global connectedness on philanthropy in his new book, Philanthropy in a Flat World: Inspiration Through Globalization (Wiley, 2009). His four-step process for how nonprofits should adjust to a flatter world economy is succinctly summarized in the Fritz review.

“Nonprofits have been slow to catch on to the survival techniques of a flat world,” she writes. “Philanthropy in a Flat World is a quick read that might just help your organization transition from a 20th-century organization to one that can flourish in the 21st century.“

Friedman, by the way, is essentially crowdsourcing “Chapter 18” of his next version of The World Is Flat. You can watch the experiment in action—and even participate—on his site.


July 29, 2009

Decline in Charitable Donations Continues

The latest survey of 2,279 nonprofits by GuideStar shows that charitable contributions between March and May 2009 continue to drop for 52% of respondents, with 8% noting that they may close because of financial problems. The results are similar to those of the same periods in 2008 and in October 2008 through February 2009.

Twenty-nine percent of nonprofits report that donations stayed level, while 18% say they received more donations during March to May 2009.

Bob Ottenhoff, GuideStar's president and CEO, calls the latest trends “both a ‘glass is half full’ and ‘glass is half empty’ scenario.” He is especially concerned that “participants' comments indicate that their organizations are stretched to the limit … and 58% report that demand for their services has increased."

You can download the free report here.


July 23, 2009

Takin’ It to the Streets

Anyone glued to the Tour de France cycling race during the past two weeks may have seen one of the coolest, newest message delivery systems developed in a long time: Chalkbotting. The Nike Livestrong Chalkbot looks like a streetsweeping machine but instead of cleaning up, it neatly sprays down yellow chalk messages—100,000 in all--onto the thousands of miles of streets that comprise the Tour de France route.

The technique, praised by the Word of Mouth Marketing Association and highlighted in Adverblog and other forums, has created tremendous buzz among the millions of fans watching the race on TV and the Internet. Superstar Lance Armstrong’s Livestrong Foundation has been showcased in particular, since Nike is a major sponsor of Lance and his mission.

The fun is that anyone worldwide can participate: The process collects 40-character “messages of inspiration and support” cancer regarding living from anyone via text or a web site, and then you spend the rest of the time trying to read the road during cycling coverage to see if you catch your message live. When submitting your short message, you’re cleverly shown what your message will look like on the road, and the site is rigged to send you an email when your message is indeed sprayed, so you know exactly on which days to search.

In addition to messages by individuals, countless nonprofits—particularly, cancer-oriented charities, since the campaign aims to raise awareness of cancer-related issues--have made sure their members are engaging with this unprecedented tool, so viewers are seeing an array of nonprofit names, slogans, URLs, etc. You can also follow the fun at Chalkbot’s Twitter stream.

Naturally, Livestrong remains the most popular, though, and you also can join the 1.5 million followers of the Twitter stream by the Man himself, Lance Armstrong, at, as he tweets about the Chalkbot, his foundation (he speaks daily with the foundation’s executive director), the tour, the media, and more. You’ll also find an article in a future Associations Now about what kind of boost in donations and awareness was generated by Armstrong’s participation in the tour.


July 17, 2009

A $12-Billion Partnership Opportunity?

I’ve been monitoring what appears to be a steady increase in the number, scope, and creativity of partnerships between associations/nonprofits and academia in the past five years. In some cases, the alliances aim to provide more meat and accessibility to association certifications; others want to co-brand their education programs with the prestige of universities or research institutions. Still more are trying to pilot new relationships and share both risk and resources with academics of similar mindset and goals.

While aligning with the likes of Penn State University and the University of Michigan is wonderful for some associations, I’ve seen far fewer partnerships with community colleges, despite their massive jump in popularity in recent years. After the announcement this week of President Obama’s new American Graduation Initiative, however, it may be just the right time for that to change.

The underlying goal of this $12-billion, 10-year investment is to educate, retrain, and graduate five million adults and young adults with “the skills and knowledge necessary to compete for the jobs of the future,” say Obama. Federal research has already estimated that “one-third of the fastest-growing occupations will require an associate's degree or a postsecondary vocational certificate.”

Obama’s announcement names community colleges as a primary vehicle toward accomplishing such a goal, noting the colleges “could build partnerships with businesses and the workforce investment system to create career pathways where workers can earn new credentials and promotions step-by-step, worksite education programs [that] build basic skills,” and internships and job placements that are “curriculum-coordinated.”

Couldn’t you envision how associations might help with these three areas? Professional and trade organizations know first-hand what skills and knowledge are needed to build the most successful careers within their sectors; why not offer to help shape the new curricula that must emerge? Why not offer as part of students’ coursework, or even as a graduation requirement, the new-economy-oriented professional certifications already developed (or underway) by an association? That’s what the National Association of Home Builders and Perdue University have done with NAHB’s Green Builder certification, for instance.

And couldn’t you see how associations and a community college could jointly target the largest companies in their fields to host onsite training of employees, as continuing education credit or for certification points?

And what of internships and job placements? Might associations find a new role as a clearinghouse for internships in their fields, a one-stop-shop for community college students and others seeking a foothold in the sector? A possible author of internship best practices designed to create positive learning experiences that build genuine enthusiasm in students and retrained adults for a career in that field or trade?

Finally, the new initiative also enables development of an “online skills laboratory” that relies on educational software to help “students learn more in less time than they would with traditional classroom instruction alone” and to extend “learning opportunities to rural areas or working adults who need to fit their coursework around families and jobs.” Obama envisions “open online courses … developed by teams of experts in content knowledge, pedagogy, and technology and made available for modification, adaptation, and sharing.” Government agencies, including the Departments of Defense, Education, and Labor, would work with each other and others to develop such courses and “rigorously analyze” the quality of their results as well.

Continue reading "A $12-Billion Partnership Opportunity? " »

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July 16, 2009

Free Good Governance Workbook Available

A free downloadable workbook, “The Principles Workbook: Steering Your Board toward Good Governance and Ethical Practice,” is now available from coauthors BoardSource and Independent Sector. The publication aims to “help the nonprofit community meet its commitment to upholding the highest standards of accountability -- and do so in a cost-effective way.”

The workbook enables nonprofit boards and staff to “evaluate themselves on key principles of legal compliance and public disclosure, effective governance, and strong financial oversight and then develop action plans based on those evaluations.”

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July 15, 2009

Designers Respond to Obama Request for Community Service

In a terrific example of using strategic social responsibility to create positive change and strengthen organizations, AIGA—a professional design association—has activated its membership to respond to a special invitation from the White House and National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) to help promote and document public service opportunities in their communities during the “United We Serve” initiative. The latter is a summer of community involvement culminating in a National Day of Service and Remembrance on September 11, 2009.

Specifically, the Obama administration hopes that designers will “visually promote local opportunities for community service and then create a visual record of the results.”

The association is thrilled with the invitation, viewing this project as an excellent alignment of member skills, organizational mission, and public interest. It is urging members to search the community service project section of for local charitable opportunities and then to collaborate with project organizers on posters, brochures, Web vehicles, and more to visually promote it.

Participating members are urged to upload photos of their efforts to Flickr using the tag “designserves,” and AIGA is gathering these examples for a fall slideshow for association members and the public.

“Designers should be involved as citizens and as designers. Each designer has the ability to move others by making stories visible and capturing the community experience,” says AIGA Executive Director Richard Grefé.

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July 1, 2009

Kiwanis Brainstorm with Members, Others on Next Big Challenge

With so much bad economic news around, it’s especially wonderful when you see an organization staying laser-focused on its mission and, in fact, searching for greater opportunities to impact both their members and the world.

Such is the case with news that Kiwanis International is seeking a major new challenge and wants input on what it should be. In addition to tapping its 8,000 clubs in 70 nations, Kiwanis is inviting any organization and individual to propose a project “to become the global service organization’s second worldwide service initiative” to “make a positive difference in the world by helping children in need.” The request comes because Kiwanis has nearly succeeded in accomplishing its first global challenge: protecting children from iodine deficiency disorders. Working with partner UNICEF since 1994, the organization estimates “the number of households consuming iodized salt has jumped from 20% in 1990 to more than 70% today.”

Proposals for the new worldwide service challenge are due by Oct. 1, 2009. For a list of project criteria and more information, visit Kiwanis will announce its final choice in June 2010 during 95th annual convention.


June 4, 2009

Is National Geographic Society’s Social Media Strategy Helping Their Image?

The Word-of-Mouth Marketing Association is pointing members to an excellent analysis of the National Geographic Society’s social media strategy. Evaluated by Lisa Braziel of a company called Ignite Social Media, the extensive piece highlights the best takeaways for other organizations, such as wise use of those little tabs on Facebook pages. It’s interesting reading and a fair critique for folks seeking great models to consider.


March 30, 2009

Chapter websites and donors: Food for thought

When I started reading today's Alertbox column from Jakob Nielsen, I definitely wasn't expecting it to touch on component relations. (Nielsen, for those of you not familiar with his work, is a web usability expert and researcher; if you have any involvement with your organization's website or online presence, I highly recommend his columns.)

Today's Alertbox focuses on a study Nielsen's group did to discover how to design nonprofit websites to encourage donations ... pretty important for any organization that is partially or largely donor-supported. It didn't surprise me that Nielsen's research showed that many of the nonprofits studied had poor usability for donors--so many websites (not just nonprofits) have terrible usability issues. But I was fascinated by the study's implications for nonprofits and associations with chapters or components.

According to Nielsen, the subjects of this study indicated that, when making a decision to donate, the number 2 most important factor in their decision was the organization's presence in their own community. (Number 1 was the organization's mission, goals, objectives, and work, not surprisingly.)

However, the column says, "the worst user experience erosion in this study was caused by heinous integration of local chapters with the higher-level organization. As mentioned above, users wanted information about a non-profit's activities in their communities, but the experience of actually visiting local chapter websites was stunning. Typically, such sites looked completely different than the master sites ..."

In other words, the fact that the chapter websites looked nothing like the national website was causing visitors not to donate--because they weren't clear on whether the organization was really involved in their local community or not.

If you work for a chapter or component, does your website look like your national's website, or do they look different? Nationals, do your chapters have a continuity of look and feel among their websites and yours? How do you think such consistency or lack thereof impacts your donor or stakeholder community?

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March 5, 2009

Proposed Charity Impact Criteria Prompts Vehement Debate

The National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy’s new report, “Criteria for Philanthropy at Its Best,” has set off lively debate within the nonprofit community about the group’s proposed set of benchmarks for charities’ effectiveness. While NCRP Executive Director Aaron Dorfman says the report aims to foster conversations about “standards of excellence in charitable giving,” the Alliance for Charitable Reform—a project of the Philanthropy Roundtable—warns that the benchmarks “have nothing to do with measuring effectiveness. In fact, the natural consequence of these benchmarks will be to reduce the scope and diversity of the foundation sector to one that serves a more narrow set of highly politicized interests.”

The group also is worried that the benchmarks will be “distracting” for the sector at a time when they must stay focused on responding to dramatically increased public needs for assistance in light of a weak economy.

"On average, foundation assets have dropped 20%-40%, and The New York Times reports an unusual number of charities filing for bankruptcy. It is incomprehensible that the NCRP is proposing criteria that could further ravage the charitable sector," says Sue Santa, senior vice president for public policy, The Philanthropy Roundtable.

NCRP, meanwhile, says its research shows that grantmakers “are not delivering as much social benefit as they could” and notes that more than 120 nonprofit leaders and foundations have already endorsed the criteria.

"What we offer foundations are reasonable principles and attainable goals," explains Niki Jagpal, research and policy director at NCRP and primary author of the report. "It's important for foundations to know that some of their peers already are paving the way for the rest of the sector."

To hear more about this conversation, visit and

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February 24, 2009

Nonprofits Identify $10.6 Billion “Shovel-ready” Infrastructure Projects

In addition to state and local government projects, “America’s 1.4 million private nonprofit organizations also have significant ‘shovel-ready’ infrastructure projects that have been put on hold due to the credit crisis,” starts a survey analysis at John Hopkins University’s Center for Civil Society Studies. “Indeed, nonprofits have long faced special barriers in generating investment capital due to their nonprofit status and their inability to access the equity markets, and the current credit crisis has simply added to their woes.”

More than 1,835 organizations responded to the survey, identifying an impressive $10.6 million of “shovel-ready but stalled” infrastructure projects that they hope will move forward with recovery support from the U.S. economic stimulus package signed last week. Almost 40% of respondents acknowledged that they had delayed at least one infrastructure project due to the weak economy.

The study is a joint project of the center, Alliance for Children and Families, American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging, American Association of Museums, Community Action Partnership, League of American Orchestras, Lutheran Services in America, Michigan Nonprofit Association, National Council of Nonprofits, and United Neighborhood Centers of America.


February 12, 2009

Resources Regarding Closure of a 501(c)3 Foundation

We received a recent request to our Knowledge Center about the ramifications of dissolving an association’s 501(c)3 subsidiary such as a foundation. It coincided with a discussion I’d had recently with two fundraisers who said they were struggling to generate revenues for their associations and had “all but given up” on raising money for their subsidiary foundation as well.

Obviously, the Internal Revenue Service has a number of guiding documents about closing down a charity, including “Dissolving a 501(c)3”, IRS Rev. Proc. 82-2, "Life Cycle of a Private Foundation," and "Termination of Private Foundation Status."

If you subscribe to The Chronicle of Philanthropy, you can access a June 1, 2006, article called “Engineering a Foundation’s Demise,” or if you receive Trusts & Estates, you can look up the more recent article June 2008 article, “Breaking Up Is (Not So) Hard To Do.”


New Study Shows Sustainable Organizations Faring Better in Poor Economy

I’m hearing an avalanche of “greening” stories from association and nonprofit professionals who are either eager to leverage the frequent cost savings, increased efficiency, and positive brand-building of such efforts, or are already seeing tremendous return on investment for such actions.

It seems that anecdotes and solid data about associations and other businesses saving serious amounts of money through their efforts to become more eco-friendly in their IT operations, publishing, direct mailing/fundraising, and other functional areas are starting to spread more rapidly now that the economy has been sinking.

Still, some leaders who may not have much experience in creating sustainable value may be tempted to push the pause button on their organization’s social responsibility initiatives. They may want to think twice. A new study by the consulting firm A.T. Kearney finds that “companies committed to corporate sustainability practices during this [economic] slowdown are achieving above-average performance in the financial markets. … So before tossing out those sustainability practices and initiatives, it might be wise to first determine the real value of the efforts—especially the possible rewards for staying the course.”


February 11, 2009

Half a Million Micro-Nonprofits Could Lose Federal Tax Exemption by May 2010

GuideStar is reporting that 500,000 nonprofits could lose their tax-exempt status in May 2010, if they haven’t yet filed the required Internal Revenue Service Form 990-N and continue to not do so for several more years. 2008 was the first year when this specific set of small nonprofits—groups that didn’t meet the income threshold for filing an IRS Form 990 “or its variants”—were required to file a new IRS form, according to the Pension Protection Act of 2006.

“Nonprofits whose exemptions are revoked will suddenly be required to pay federal income taxes -- and subject to financial penalties if they fail to do so. Hundreds of thousands of charities … could find them themselves no longer eligible to accept tax-deductible contributions,” Guidestar states. “Nonprofits that wish to have their exemptions reinstated will be required to re-apply to the IRS for tax-exempt status, a process that can take several months.”

"If you volunteer with, work for, or give to a smaller nonprofit, make sure its leaders know about the 990-N,” urges Bob Ottenhoff, GuideStar president and CEO. "… Smaller nonprofits make up as much as three-quarters of the nonprofit sector. They are the local animal rescue societies, the neighborhood groups that tutor elementary school students, the all-volunteer organizations that drive cancer patients to chemotherapy. Collectively they have a tremendous impact, and society will be the poorer if these organizations lose their federal tax exemptions.”


February 10, 2009

Some Nonprofits Report Record Number of Volunteer Inquiries

A number of major nonprofits are reporting a large surge in new volunteers for community-based projects in an apparent response to President Barack Obama’s National Call for Service. The latest is Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, which credits Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama for an impressive 25% increase in volunteers during its annual Mentoring Month in January—a new record.

In January 2009, nearly 32,000 Americans inquired about becoming Big Brothers Big Sisters mentors compared to just over 25,000 last year. A recent national advertisement featured the president endorsing National Mentoring Month, while the First Lady had been encouraging Americans to “consider mentoring at-risk children for ongoing service.”


February 6, 2009

Nonprofit Appointees to New Presidential Partnership Program Announced

Nonprofit leaders from a diversity of organizations continue to be tapped as President Barack Obama begins selecting members for his new President’s Advisory Council at the freshly created White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. The office “will work on behalf of Americans committed to improving their communities, no matter their religious or political beliefs.”

The group, composed of religious and secular leaders and scholars from different backgrounds, also will be “a resource for nonprofits and community organizations, both secular and faith-based, looking for ways to make a bigger impact in their communities, learn their obligations under the law, cut through red tape, and make the most of what the federal government has to offer.”

Obama signed the executive order establishing the 25-member office Thursday, February 5; only 15 had been publicly announced by today.

“There is a force for good greater than government,” Obama said in a White House press release. ”It is an expression of faith, this yearning to give back, this hungering for a purpose larger than our own, that reveals itself not simply in places of worship, but in senior centers and shelters, schools and hospitals, and any place an American decides."

Appointed to lead the office is Joshua DuBois, a former associate pastor and Obama advisor during the president’s Senate days; DuBois also served as Obama’s campaign director of religious affairs. All appointees will serve a one-year term.

Working in tandem with the president’s Cabinet secretaries and 11 government agencies, the Office of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships will focus on four priorities: “making community groups an integral part of America’s economic recovery;” serving as “one voice among several in the administration that will look at how we support women and children, address teenage pregnancy, and reduce the need for abortion;” supporting “fathers who stand by their families….,” and working “with the National Security Council to foster interfaith dialogue with leaders and scholars around the world.”

In addition to forming the new office, the Executive Order also sought to add “a new mechanism for the Executive Director of the Office to work through the White House Counsel to seek the advice of the Attorney General on difficult legal and constitutional issues.”

Among the council members are Judith Vredenburgh, president and CEO, Big Brothers/Big Sisters of America; Richard Stearns, President, World Vision; Fred Davie, President, Public/Private Ventures; Rabbi David Saperstein, director & counsel, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism; Father Larry Snyder, President, Catholic Charities USA; and Eboo Patel, founder/executive director, Interfaith Youth Corps.


January 30, 2009

Another nonprofit coughs up the money for Super Bowl ad

Add one more nonprofit-sponsored Super Bowl ad to the mix expected this Sunday: ClearWay Minnesota‘s "Cash Register." The spot, which will air only in Minneapolis, Duluth, and Rochester before going statewide in Minnesota, emphasizes, "We all pay the price for tobacco." We won’t know whether the anti-tobacco ad keeps its promise of being "fast-paced" and "provocative" until game time, but folks outside of Minnesota can see it January 30 at The spot kicks off a campaign that includes a Web site and print, online, and bus ads.


Super Bowl Is Super Time for Associations to Show They’ve Got Game

Only days away, the Super Bowl match-up between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Arizona Cardinals has provided a welcome chance for an eclectic assortment of associations and nonprofits to rack up some big points with the public. You wouldn’t think a football game would have impact much beyond sports associations and maybe some snack-food, pizza-making, beer-selling trade organizations, but here are just a few of the creative activities and news related to Super Sunday that I’ve seen, starting with the most obvious:

--It’s all about the ads, really, isn’t it? You’ve probably heard, read, and laughed about the big PepsiCo commercial, which has garnered rave reviews from countless associations involved in representing people with disabilities, such as the National Association of the Deaf. For those few who don’t know what I’m talking about despite extensive press coverage, PepsiCo has created a funny 60-second ad called “Bob’s House” that is based on a longtime joke amongst the hearing-impaired. I won’t ruin the punch line, but you can already watch it on Pepsi’s “Ads” section on its Web site. Apparently, while most companies keep Bowl ads top secret, Pepsi—whose employee network EnAble created the silent, captioned ad—decided a pre-release was well worth the fabulous publicity. Look for the ad to air in the pre-game coverage.

--And who will be critiquing these $2-million pitches? Aside from you, of course. The San Francisco Chapter of the American Marketing Association continues its tradition of hosting an animated panel session of ad experts for a post-game thumbs up-down session to determine “which ads made an impact on our national psyche.” This year’s melee is titled “Super Bowl XLIII—Buzz or Bust in a Down Economy.”

--And what about the food? Myriad trade associations are tying in their products and services, ranging from the National Pasta Association with its Game Day manicotti enchilada recipe to the National Retailers Association, whose annual survey determines the estimated viewership (167 million adults or 73.3% this year) and its impressive monetary outlay ($57.27 each on food, merchandise, team apparel, electronics, and even furniture).

--And don’t forget the halftime possibility of getting off that couch and actually tossing a ball. The National Football League and the American Heart Association have teamed up for “NFL Play 60,” a “Super Bowl Challenge to inspire Tampa Bay students to get the recommended 60 minutes of daily physical activity — in school and at home — and help middle schools become places that encourage physically active lifestyles year-round.” The campaign provided curriculum resources and materials to teachers to promote the program during the pre-game hysteria. You also might recall that AHA ran an amusing 30-second Super Bowl ad in 2007 called “You Gotta Have Heart”. The ad is running online now as part of Spike TV’s “Top 25 Super Bowl Ads” feature.

--But did ya have to bring in the lawyers? Apparently. Members of the Christian Law Association were involved in that messy business of the past few years in which the NFL threatened to prosecute churches that used the event for fellowship purposes by showing the big game in their facilities, rather than in a personal home. This year, though, the NFL relented and created special regulations around such events, which are shared in a video on the CLA site.

Now let’s kick off!


January 15, 2009

Obama as nonprofit leader?

President-elect Barack Obama continues to tap leaders from the association and nonprofit sectors for key appointments and advice during his move to the White House and the start of an aggressive plan to boost the faltering economy, address a range of social and environmental ills, and strengthen the ability of Americans to respond to his national call to service.

Obama announced Tuesday that he was appointing William Corr, executive director of the well-known nonprofit Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, to the number two position at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Long a part of efforts by the Obama transition team to examine the inner workings and impact of that important health agency, Corr will now serve within the latter under yet-to-be-confirmed former Sen. Tom Daschle.

A partial list of members on an Obama transition team of nonprofit representatives from philanthropic and nonprofit organizations appeared in a mid-November 2008 article in the Chronicle of Philanthropy. Now, the number of people Obama is inviting to slide from that group into the actual structure of federal entities continues to grow as the swearing-in ceremony on Tuesday nears.

In addition, The Los Angeles Times has a short article about an “unprecedented step” under consideration by Obama’s political staff: creating a permanent “service organization that would use the vast corps of its grassroots campaign supporters.” The nonprofit may be independent but run from within the Democratic Party’s structure, says the article. Its focus, according to an unnamed Times source, would be natural disaster assistance.

“The prospect of a president being able to guide a service or relief agency outside the framework of his government is a unique development,” writes reporter Peter Wallsten. Read more about the controversy that this proposal is already generating.

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January 9, 2009

Associations, Nonprofits Organizing Around Inauguration and “National Call to Service”

Associations and nonprofits galore are an important part of preparations for the upcoming presidential inauguration and surrounding activities and excitement January 20. In particular, a diversity of organizations, ranging from the American Association of State Colleges and Universities to the Student Conservation Association, are offering volunteer opportunities for the expected “record number” of people inspired to begin responding to President-elect Barack Obama’s “call to service.”

Many of those service projects will be held specifically on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday just one day before Obama’s swearing-in ceremony, and Obama and his family, as well as that of Vice President-elect Joe Biden, are already scheduled to volunteer in the Washington, DC, area that day as well.

To ease any confusion about how and where to volunteer, thousands of association and nonprofit service projects are being added to a new web site,, under joint construction by the Inauguration Committee and a federal agency known for some odd reason as the Corporation for National and Community Service.

"Service is a solution to some of our toughest challenges, and service is needed now more than ever," says Nicola Goren, Acting CEO of the Corporation. "…. As Americans make their New Year's resolutions, we hope volunteering will be at the top of the list, starting on the King holiday and lasting throughout the year."

Thanks to the National Association of Broadcasters, you’ll be able to hear public service ads emphasizing the importance of community service via the voices of Dr. King and Isaac Newton Farris, Jr., CEO and president of the King Center, on more than 4,000 radio stations. The association is sponsoring a unique "radio roadblock" when stations are encouraged to air the spot on January 15, Dr. King's birthday. You may also hear from any of the hundreds of “Ambassadors of Service,” which include well-known nonprofit leaders, sports and entertainment celebrities, and others.

Want yet more info? Visit Facebook, where the company and its charity arm, Facebook Causes, are encouraging users to volunteer or organize their own service projects in tribute to the holiday and inauguration celebrations. Another good resource is the King Day of Service Web site, which has how-to promotional materials for nonprofits and a new "do it yourself" action guide.

Special kudos go to the seven national organizations that are leading mobilization efforts for “the King Day of Service.” According to a press release, the groups--the Points of Light Institute, The Corps Network, North Carolina Campus Compact, Youth Service America, Service for Peace, Campus Kitchens, and the National Alliance of Faith and Justice--have brought on more than 130 subgrantees to carry out projects.


December 18, 2008

Impact Versus Overhead: Charity Navigator Concedes the Question

Charity Navigator, one of the largest, most influential Web sites that evaluate nonprofits, has announced that it is developing a process by which it will rate the “outcome measurement” of a nonprofit, as well as its financial and efficiency status, the latter of which has caused controversy among nonprofit leaders.

President & CEO Ken Berger, in his December 8 message, wrote, “I believe this is a significant turning point in the ongoing development and improvement of our rating system. Once we add outcome measurement to our tool, we will be able to give you a good overall picture of not just the financial efficiency and capacity, but also a sense of the end results of the good works of the charities you care about.”

Berger doesn’t have a date yet for when the new measurement will be ready, but I suspect nonprofit leaders will be watching carefully, since many have complained that simply looking at the ratio of administrative overhead to program expenditures is misleading, that the bottom line should be whether the group is effective at accomplishing its mission or not.

Granted, measuring social outcome, for instance, can be very difficult, but groups such as Kaboom and Share Our Strength have found ways to do so and/or are piloting new types of gathering “metrics with meaning.”

The news should also cheer many small nonprofits, some of which carry considerable debt that looks grim on paper but remains manageable while the organization expands or responds to various crises in their mission efforts. Examining impact helps these organizations compete better among the ratings systems for diminishing donor dollars.

This move by Charity Navigator may finally be an acknowlegement that assisting donors in their quest to connect with organizations of true positive impact versus just organizations with low overhead is what so many people want most.

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December 2, 2008

Resources for Thriving in a Down Economy has a list of nine helpful articles and sites to help nonprofit leaders weather the down economy. Registration (free) is required at some of them.


October 27, 2008

Getting Your Materials Into Schools

For a nice example of a nonprofit’s Web site for educators, visit Heifer International's latest rollout. Increasingly, nonprofits are setting up entire multimedia Web sites for the nation’s cash-strapped teachers in search of new resources, tools, lesson plans and classroom projects.

While some of the sites seem pretty shallow in terms of what they offer, others are creative, fun and useful. Trends I’m seeing include the following:

- More short, downloadable videos (thanks mostly to YouTube)

- More hands-on projects rather just straight reading

- More diversity in which grades or ages are targeted

- More diversity in languages—(Spanish is the most obvious, but also Vietnamese, Chinese, French and Arabic.)

- More effort to integrate multimedia elements into the tool or resource, such as downloadable podcasts and mini-dramas

- More effort to obtain feedback from educators about the quality of the materials and whether they will use them (I’m starting see ratings systems on educational materials, for instance.)

- More effort to depict a multicultural society—through photos, slang, and careful word choice

To learn more about how to get your nonprofit’s materials into America’s locally run schools, read “Becoming Teacher’s Pet”.

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October 24, 2008

Twitter as a Fundraising Tool

Although I recently posted about the increased popularity of personal giving through text messaging, I’d like to add a short update about Twitter, the hot microblogging social media tool that has captured the imaginations and texting fingers of primarily young professionals.

The New York Times has an article today about the Salvation Army’s efforts to expand its trademark “red kettle campaign” online, a move it started making three years ago with early texting donation drives and easy, click-on-the-bucket online giving at its Web site.

This year, the nonprofit is making an even greater virtual push, increasing its Facebook exposure, offering personal Web fundraising pages, and other interactive self-fundraising features, the article explains. Of particular interest, though, is the Salvation Army’s piloting of a Twitter-based campaign that provides brief, real-time updates on the progress of the red kettle campaign, again inviting folks to give on the spot via their cell phones.

I don’t know of any other associations using Twitter specifically for a fundraising campaign, but I’d like to hear from any who are experimenting with this vehicle. Please post here or email me at

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New Tool for Youth Voter Registration Campaigners

Is your organization involved in a voter registration campaign focused on 18- to 24-year-olds? Another tool has just emerged to help. Justice Through Music Project, a DC-based nonprofit working toward greater youth registration and political involvement, is offering thousands of copies of an ultra-cool "Rock Your Rights" DVD to associations and nonprofits to help inspire youth to get-out-and-vote in November. The DVD features more than 25 famous bands and musicians who urge young people to register, vote, talk about issues, and get involved.

For three years, JTMP has been interviewing bands and musicians—from The Indigo Girls to O.A.R. to Dar Williams--to get their opinion on issues such as voting, war, civil rights, equal rights, and free speech. “The responses are unscripted and many times surprising and provocative,” says a spokesperson. “Young people listen to bands and musicians more than authority figures, and musicians inspire youth to take part in the election process.”

The DVD also combines those celebrity interviews with Q&As with college students on their home campuses.

JTMP especially wants voter outreach organizations, especially in "swing states" and "battleground states," to contact them for free DVDs, so they will have another resource to accelerate efforts to get young people into the voting booth.


October 23, 2008

Kicking Butt: The New Organizational Model?

I’ve been reading a lot about how social movements start, stall, or succeed. Apparently, it’s an inexact art, making success a challenge to duplicate. An effort that caught my eye recently, though, made television history last month.

Many of you may have seen or even participated in the September 5 Stand Up to Cancer (SU2C; telethon on all three television networks, XM radio, and elsewhere. While the cause is certainly laudable, and the amount raised ($100 MILLION) in the mere three months since the organization’s launch in June 2008 and its telethon is breathtaking, I was especially interested in how this young organization planned to tackle a massive social problem on which hundreds of nonprofits already focus. And how would it convince people that what its leaders had in mind differentiated them dramatically from all other cancer-focused nonprofits?

First, SU2C is a radical bid to suppress barriers among multiple health, science, and technology sectors and build an entirely new space in which leading professionals collaborate and take risks. This aims to blow up the “let’s all get along and just work better together” niceties in favor of “Dream Teams” rallied around a kick-butt attitude of “We’re not leaving this war room until we solve this sucker!”

Second, it has a heavy-hitting leadership team. SU2C's leadership team ranges from a cancer surviver who also is a seasoned TV executive producer; the ever-popular Katie Couric; and reps from numerous powerful foundations, nonprofits, and research institutions. Cancer has touched each of them personally in some manner, making them incredibly determined, knowledgeable, and impatient for progress (hence, the sparks for innovation).

Third, they’re smart enough to know they’re still not smart enough to get to their goal: a cure for cancer as fast as possible. As a result, they allied themselves with the American Association for Cancer Research, which will rely on advice from a scientific advisory committee to vet proposed research projects and allocate the $100 mil to accelerate almost-there breakthroughs and speed new therapies to patients.

Fourth, the leadership team leveraged their considerable social networks in a big way, bringing in the kind of major donors that cause envy among us all--AARP, Bloomberg Philanthropies, Alliance for Global Good, and the Milken Family Foundation, for instance—and then convinced an unprecedented number of media partners—from online powerhouses like WebMD, Facebook, and AOL to ye ole traditional Hearst Corporation and The New York Times Company—to help jumpstart “a new movement.” It didn’t hurt that more than 100 celebrities also leapt on board.

We’ll have to see how and whether this “movement” does thrive to the grand-scale level of other well-recognized movements and whether it does indeed mark a tidal shift in cancer research and treatment, but the dramatic early days show great promise that may inspire others working to build a movement of our own. Maybe a wildly new bring-it-on attitude and fearlessness truly are the secret ingredients.


October 22, 2008

Presidential Candidates Speak on Work-Life Issues

Sick leave. Child care. Eldercare. Health care. You can now tap into notes from several conference calls about work-life issues with policy leaders from the presidential campaigns of Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain. Hosted in September by the nonprofit Families and Work Institute (FWI), the calls incorporated questions posed by business leaders in the work-life field and enabled business and community leaders nationwide to listen in.

"We consider it very significant that both campaigns have taken work-life issues seriously," says Ellen Galinsky. "This is the first ever Presidential campaign in which both nominees have formally articulated their positions in this arena.”

Among the questions addressed were the following:

- What are the work and family life issues the candidate feels are most important to address?

- What is the candidate's position on workplace flexibility? What are the roles of the government, employers and employees in providing workplace flexibility?

- Should the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) be changed and, if so, in what ways? Should it be paid? By whom? Should sick leave be established and paid? By whom and for whom?

- How would the candidate address issues of the time famine that so many employees experience?

- How does each candidate plan to address the impact of the gas crisis on commuting employees?

- How can work life issues help address the spiraling cost of health care?

- What if anything, does either party plan to do to support the 45% of employees taking care of our growing elderly population?


October 20, 2008

Associations Step in to Help with U.S. Financial Crisis

While just about every association or nonprofit in America is concerned about the expected impact of the U.S. economic meltdown and federal bailout efforts, some organizations are doing much more than worry. As they have historically whenever a national crisis has arisen, associations are creatively drawing on their expertise and resources to help others weather the financial storm. Here are a few examples:

Staffing company executives from across the U.S. will provide résumé and interviewing advice to help strengthen the job-searching skills of residents in San Diego, California, October 22 during Staffing World 2008, the American Staffing Association annual convention and expo. The day of giving back to the conference's host city marks the first large-scale corporate social responsibility project in the organization’s history. Attendees expect to serve hundreds of local professionals seeking help in finding new jobs and careers.

The Financial Planning Association hosted two special conference calls for members last week to “address the financial crisis and how to best serve clients during this turbulent time.” It also developed an online resource center for them, archived the conference calls for 24/7 online access, urged members to reach out to each other in the association’s discussion areas, pulled together online education sessions about “managing client emotions” and holding difficult conversations, and analyzed details of the bailout legislation. It also released results of a new consumer survey that shows “how critical the pairing of a professional financial planner and the creation of a comprehensive financial plan can be to an individual’s long-term financial success” and urged members to use it to help frightened investors find guidance.

The American Bankers Association and thousands of volunteer bankers joined with students nationwide to celebrate its sixth “Get Smart About Credit Day” October 16 to provide “a credit reality check” and explain how to use credit responsibly. According to Laura Fisher, ABA Education Foundation director, “We are in the midst of a national teachable moment on credit use, and bankers are seizing this opportunity to educate future generations…. This is a tough time for everyone, but it’s not the time to let up on financial education.” Volunteers also encouraged parents to use the opportunity to talk to their children about smart use of credit and money management, and to download a free A.C.T. Credit Pledge (A=Assess your debt. C=Check your credit report for errors.T=Take the information and create a plan.)

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October 17, 2008

Thanking Supporters in a Memorable Way

I just got an amazing e-mail from that contains a smart sample we all could mimic—a thank-you to supporters and the link to an incredibly moving short YouTube video about how a new $500,00 grant will be spent.

The video spokesperson is the person who actually nominated the charity—not a professional staffer or media spokesperson. came in second out of 1,190 nominees (an amazing 20,650 people voted for it) in the much-publicized American Express Members Project competition. Can you imagine having a supporter or member who speaks from the heart like this? How powerful.

And wouldn’t you know, the Alzheimer’s Association, which won FIRST place in the competition, did a similar thing.

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October 7, 2008

Getting Creative with Corporate Donors

In anticipation of expected decreased giving during the upcoming all-important end-of-year quarter, some nonprofit leaders are turning to their business partners and corporate donors for extra help—and surprisingly, many are getting it.

Some corporations are using the opportunity to come up with fresh ways to financially support community-based organizations while simultaneously generating new business value for themselves such as stronger branding and database building.

The latest example comes from three small community nonprofits--Big City Mountaineers, Continental Divide Trail Alliance, and the Outdoor Industries Women's Coalition. The trio are beneficiaries of a targeted new campaign called “Give a Warm Fuzzy, Get a Warm Fuzzy,” which includes a limited-run charity fundraising portal opened by the W.L. Gore & Associates corporation from October 1 to December 15, 2008.

The company, known for its GORE-TEX fabric innovations, has been concerned about the survivability of some of its favorite outdoor charities and wanted to go beyond a simple philanthropic gift to build a stronger giving base for the groups to tap long-term. It also wanted to engage its community-minded customers in a fun way to donate even in hard times. And, of course, it wanted to educate consumers about a new product line.

The answer came in the form of a fundraising portal that could “raise awareness and support for three respected outdoor charities that could suffer during the existing tough economic times, when charitable giving is likely to decrease.” The portal works somewhat differently than many others run for nonprofits.

Once visitors register on the site (there’s that database building benefit!), Gore donates on their behalf to one of the three charities. Visitors also can earn "points" for their preferred charity by “playing an educational game, inviting friends to join, and/or by donating $10, $20, or $25 directly.” The charity attracting the highest points will receive the largest percentage donation from Gore in December, and donors also can win free warm and fuzzy products.

The nonprofits are thrilled not only with the expected revenues but with the opportunity to expand the reach of their own message. "We appreciate being part of this new Gore initiative," says Josh Shusko, executive director of the Continental Trail Divide Alliance. "We love having the opportunity to showcase the quality work that results from the support of outdoor enthusiasts. Having a community dedicated to their passion for the outdoors keeps our mission alive on a daily basis.”


September 16, 2008

Elections Spur Association-Nonprofit Voter Registration Campaigns

New voter registration campaigns by trade and professional associations are leading to what seems to be a trend toward increased partnering with 501c3 nonprofits. The latest crossed my desk yesterday with the announcement that the League of Women Voters of the United States (LWVUS) and National Head Start Association (NHSA) will jointly register voters at local Head Start facilities from coast to coast. As part of the nonpartisan effort, NHSA also will promote League educational content on its Web site.

The partnership also reflects greater interest in registering traditionally underrepresented populations of potential voters.

"We are particularly proud that this partnership will help fulfill our mission of encouraging a truly representative voting public, and that it will bring together Americans of all backgrounds to stand up for our democracy in this important election year," says National League of Women Voters President Mary Wilson.

Unlike some of the other c6-c3 partnerships related to the upcoming elections, this latest marriage is the result of a new provision in the reauthorized Head Start Act signed into law in December 2007. The specific provision allows "nonpartisan organizations" (such as LWVUS) to use Head Start facilities "during hours of operation ... to increase the number of eligible citizens who register to vote in elections for Federal office."

This provision of the amended Head Start Act is consistent with the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (commonly known as the "Motor Voter Registration Act"), in which Congress recognized the importance of increasing access to voter registration opportunities to low-income populations that have historically been disenfranchised, by mandating registration opportunities in locations accessible to disenfranchised populations.


August 31, 2008

Associations Responding to Hurricane Gustav Threat

As always, I am proud to report that many associations have already sprung into action in response to the serious threat of Hurricane Gustav, now a Category 4 hurricane heading toward New Orleans, and the potential threat of Tropical Storm Hannah coming toward the Florida coast. Here are some of the actions associations are already taking:

· The Air Transit Association of America (ATA) has released a statement explaining evacuation processes for residents in the New Orleans area. You can read it here.

· The Humane Association, American Red Cross, Salvation Army, local and national food banks, and numerous faith-based community organizations have partnered in Nashville, Tennessee, to open shelters, distribute meals, and support evacuees from the hurricane.

· The American Red Cross is urging people in the potentially affected areas to register themselves its new Safe and Well Web site at, or call a loved one and ask them to register you. This online tool helps families and individuals notify loved ones that they are safe during an emergency. You also can read and link to the organization’s advice to evacuating families by going here.

· The Texas Society of Certified Public Accountants is urging people in the affected areas to “financially prepare” for the hurricane, using its tip list, which includes the need for having plentiful cash on hand, documenting household goods and valuables, and gathering important documents.

· The National Association for Amateur Radio (ham radio folks) has developed guidelines for potential volunteers interested in responding to the hurricane emergency, warning them not to “self-deploy” and noting that the International Radio Emergency Support Coalition has been relaying reports online since Friday.

· The Texas Hotel & Lodging Association sent an alert to members last Thursday, repeating a local government estimate that 45,000 evacuees could arrive if Gustav hits Louisiana. Local restaurant associations and members have been stocking up as well.

· Social media also is coming into significant play in terms of sharing storm information, relaying community/government emergency operations, organizing nonprofit relief and assistance responses, checking on association members, monitoring local chapters/components, and rallying volunteers on standby.

· Bossier City Firefighters Association is working with the International Association of Fire Fighters to find housing for IAFF members evacuating the area. Like the response to Hurricane Katrina three years ago, many local associations have turned to their national associations and leaders for help—and emergency housing is just one such request. Others I’ve seen relate to transportation advice, pet care in the region, and reinforcing communication strategies.

· The National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) is actively tracking the storms on the Hurricane Preparedness section of its web site and has the latest NOAA and other weather updates, the status of various airports, an emergency preparedness checklist, and many more resources available to help members and the public stay abreast of rapidly changing weather conditions.

· Various electrical power associations are urging the public and businesses in the potential hurricane zones to review their virtual brochures on preparing for power outages and surges as a result of poor weather. Here’s one example from Coast Electric Power Association.

· A number of associations also are encouraging members to access the Federal Emergency Management Administration’s (FEMA) Hurricane Preparedness page, which contains emergency plans for businesses and families, emergency supply lists, and background on hurricanes in general.

Thanks, y’all, for once again stepping up to make a real difference in the lives of both your members and the larger public. Please know that ASAE & The Center stand ready to assist you in your efforts!

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August 29, 2008

Nonprofits, Associations Rallying Around 9/11 Day of Service

So many associations and nonprofits are considering or expanding their employee volunteer programs that I thought I’d share when many are doing all of this community giveback: on 9/11, in honor of the victims of the terrorist attacks on the United States in 2001. They’ve heard about a growing initiative called that wants to designate 9/11 as an annual national day of charitable service.

The effort got a big boost today when ServiceNation, a new coalition of more than 600 nonprofit organizations, backed the idea, and the President’s Council on Service and Civic Participation added its official support. Even presidential candidates Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain are in on deal, agreeing both to appear in a forum on civic engagement on 9/11 in New York and to suspend nasty campaign ads and indeed all campaigning for that day.

Since its 2003 founding by friends and family of 9/11 victims, has attracted involvement by a range of prominent leaders from the nonprofit, corporate, and government sectors. These include Habitat for Humanity, American Red Cross, Citizen Corps, Youth Service America, Points of Light & Hands on Network, and every major 9/11 family and support organization. Last year, more than 300,000 good deeds were posted on the Web site by participants from every state and 150 different countries and territories.

And, honestly, if you’re have a blue moment when all that is bad in the world seems overwhelming, you’ll certainly get a lift from perusing even a few of the thousands of posts, which capture through personal stories the details and spirit of volunteerism in America today. You’ll feel better, I promise.

That personalization and easy interaction are among the strength’s of the organization’s Web site. It invites visitors to “plant a cause tree” that allows logging (no pun intended) and tracking of “good deeds” you or your organization have done for the community, planting of a “cause garden” to identify your pet causes to others, and use of free social media outreach tools to “grow your garden” with the addition of invited friends, find-like-minded-friends opportunities, and even a personal blog.

You can meet up with those pals and make new ones if you decide to join the expected 500 delegates from nonprofit organizations who will be advocating for positive social change and increased volunteerism during a September 11-12 summit on national service, parts of which will be televised to encourage a larger nationwide discussion. The New York City event, hosted by ServiceNation and its many nonprofit members, is being co-chaired by Caroline Kennedy and Alma Powell.


August 17, 2008

Honest Words about Diversity--for a Change

I've lost count of how many diversity programs I've attended in my career, but I thought this morning's General Session on "Looking Through the Lens of Others" was especially terrific. Here are some samples I valued:

--Nadira Hira, the impressive 20-something journalist for Fortune, is an articulate mouthpiece for young and younger workers. Her advice: "Be authentic. Don't try to pretend you're diverse when you're not." In other words, forget the BS.

--Doug Klein, executive director of the Association for Conflict Resolution, noted that the reason race or ethnic-based professional and trade organizations still exist is "because there's a need not being met" by the broader association in that profession or trade.

I immediately recalled a conversation I had with--of all people--actor Louis Gossett Jr. backstage at the last Nation’s Capital Distinguished Speakers Series. He had told me about the evolution of racism from a black professional's perspective, and I had asked him if the time had finally come for the association community to make a commitment to facilitate mergers of broad-based associations with similar niche groups grounded in race or gender as well as the profession or trade, such as the Society of Professional Journalists with the National Association of Black Journalists.

The actor, who founded and actively guides a New Orleans-based foundation to help at-risk youths, said no. He urged associations to instead focus on youth--the next generation of workers--rather than try to overcome the prejudices of the current workforce, which he said was essentially fruitless. Klein's comment today seemed to reiterate those conclusions on an organizational level.

--The always-blunt, always-superb Patti Digh laments that "people aren't focused on retention at all. They just want to 'get 'em in the door.' This lack of "diversity succession planning" was raised at ASAE & The Center's last diversity forum. Basically, no one knows how to do it or even what such a plan looks like. Perhaps that's a project or research idea for our Diversity Committee or for a select task force.

--Co-moderator Cokie Roberts noted, "At some point we have to be the token," but then that representative should "bring others in." That implies a responsibility, not a choice, on the part of the, say, female executive about actively attracting other smart, accomplished women into the organization.

I have mixed feelings on that. I think we should do what we can to attract all smart, accomplished people to our association IF that organization is best set up to leverage their talents and knowledge for the benefit of the members. I'm uncomfortable screening candidates primarily because they look like me or share a cultural commonality. That said, I'm likely to be a more successful recruiter within those desired demographics because of that reality. Comments? I need to think about this more.

A "Say what?" moment: Patti was called by a company that said its white employees were putting nooses on the lockers of black employees. Patti said she could design an intervention, etc. The response? "We're thinking of a two-hour training session."

Quotables from the General Session:

"We talk about diversity as an end in itself, not what that brings us.... Diversity is not a problem to be fixed.... We've damned ourselves in this country by being too PC [politically correct]. You can't know if you're talking to yourself only." --Patti Digh

"We're afraid of [diversity], even though we know it's good for us."--consultant Steve Hanamura

"Powerful" and "moving"--just some of the high praise I heard about the "Peer Perspectives" video clips of diverse association executives.

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August 13, 2008

How High-Impact Nonprofits Measure Success

In an environment where “excellence” is a top business goal, it’s unusual to read that the “good-enough” organization may trump everyone in terms of actual positive impact. But that’s one of the key underpinnings to the research captured by Leslie Crutchfield and coauthor Heather McLeod Grant in Forces for Good: The Six Practices of High-Impact Nonprofits (John Wiley & Sons, 2008), who will speak Monday morning at the ASAE & The Center’s Annual Meeting.

Crutchfield hastens to explain the “good enough” statement: “We mean that every nonprofit has to be able to raise money and develop diverse revenue streams, attract and retain top talent, and do all the things any organization needs to survive…. But even if you’re excellent at doing all those things, it’s not enough to have the greatest amount of impact. What we’re saying is that we think internal excellence is admirable and something to strive for, but it’s not going to get you the social change that you’re looking for if you’re looking to be a great nonprofit…. You have to do that and be excellent outside the four walls of your institution, and do things beyond just the internal metrics.

I asked her whether redefining greatness means eschewing less meaningful metrics such as overhead-to-program ratios, those annoying ratios so beloved by charity rating Web sites and organizations. If so, that could be pretty tough, since the public increasingly uses these ratings to determine their donation choices, and it’s not like foundation folks and corporate philanthropy officers aren’t monitoring to them, too. And then there are the nonprofit/association leaders themselves—they’re keenly aware of those metrics, too, so are we talking about a major mindshift?

“Absolutely,” Crutchfield responds. “There’s important information in the conventional metrics. Let’s take the classic one—the overhead-to-program ratio. That’s where a donor or board member or volunteer can look at a nonprofit and say, ‘Okay, how much percentage-wise does a nonprofit spend on the development office and marketing versus actually feeding the hungry?’ Our point is that some organizations can look very lean and efficient--they can have that less-than-10% ratio--but if you look at the overall results, how many lives are they saving? How many people are they feeding? If you look at the outcomes, often the efficiency ratios don’t really line up with the organizations achieving the greatest outcomes.”

That statement may be just what some leaders need to take to their boards and donors to start a discussion about “real success,” piloting new metrics processes, and moving away from traditional measurements that diminish and distract from the true bottom line: positive, long-term change.

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July 22, 2008

Two Board and Change Management Resources

Nonprofit commentator and educator Michael Gilbert of Nonprofit Online News always has relevant news and interesting analyses, but I especially wanted to pass along two resources he shares in his latest issue.

First, a helpful, free online brochure titled “People Don’t Hate Change; They Hate How You’re Trying to Change Them” by corporate strategist and change consultant Michael T. Kanazawa of Dissero Partners. Gilbert agrees with Kanazawa’s research conclusion that, contrary to popular belief, people hate organizational change programs rather than change itself. In fact, some data show success rates of "strategy execution and corporate change programs” as just 33%. I’m interested in whether other association professionals who read the 13-page brochure can offer suggestions for making change programs more effective.

The second resource Gilbert shares, and one I’d run into already, is a tips-based article from Guidestar’s excellent e-newsletter, “No-Ask Fundraising: Six High-Impact Jobs for Board Members.” Based on Gail Perry’s 2007 book, Fired Up Fundraising: Turn Board Passion into Action (John Wiley & Sons Inc.), these six suggestions might serve as fodder to start a senior staff conversation on the role of the board in fundraising or even a roundtable with board members themselves.

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July 16, 2008

Giving Back Through a Community Day of Service

For the kazillionth time in the past two months, I’ve run into questions or requests from associations and nonprofits interested in exploring or organizing a “Community Day of Service.” Here’s the short version of my answers:

Yes, loads of associations are now doing this—and many have been doing them for years.

Yes, some do not spend a whole day on the event. You can always start with a half-day of service or even, as one association does, an “hour of power” (members sign up to donate at least one hour per month of free phone counseling).

Yes, many days of service are scheduled next to annual meetings, conferences, or events. Attendees and local host cities do a wide range of volunteering on such days, everything from mentoring local students to improving public facilities to bagging food for the hungry. New Orleans, in particular, appears to be the focus of the most service days and legacy gifts from organizations meeting there.

Yes, examples abound. Here are a few:

- NTEN: The Nonprofit Technology Network, an organization of nonprofit technology professionals, organized a Day of Service in March 2008 that included free strategy consulting services for 27 nonprofits, as well as installing a wireless network at a community center. See how they set it up here.

- Volunteers of America’s Day of Service in June 2008 involved restoring a local high school and church with its 350 volunteers “to help rebuild parts of St. Bernard Parish that remain devastated by Hurricane Katrina.”

- Myriad state legal associations host community service days targeting everyone from immigrants to needy senior citizens to nonprofit organizations.

- Many athletic, health, and fitness associations have long histories of a Day of Service. For instance, this year, more than 2,500 people in the National Basketball Association united in June to build houses and playgrounds, and to clean up schools and neighborhoods in New Orleans. You’ll find more info and some cool videos here.

For advice on organizing and partnering for a Day of Service, visit and read past the Martin Luther King Day of Service sections to the bulleted lists of tips.

Yes, information is out there about ways to identify and reduce possible legal liabilities associated with “doing good.” Tyra Hilliard, CMP, an assistant professor in the Event and Meeting Management Program at The George Washington University, spoke at ASAE & The Center’s 2008 Springtime about this topic, as she has at several other association meetings. This good article summarizes her recent MPI presentation, including her plea not to back away from community service projects and her description of laws and measures that reduce potential legal risks associated with such activities.

Yes, an ever-growing list of corporations, from Wal-Mart to Marriott International, have conducted a Day of Service that involves thousands, even tens of thousands, of employees with great success and results. In the latest issue of the Journal of Association Leadership (summer 2008), which just mailed, I describe how three corporations—United Parcel Service (UPS), Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, and Motorola—use social responsibility as major drivers within their businesses. One element of that strategy? An international Day of Service for employees. Check it out, especially the one by UPS. Sorry, it’s not online yet, but it will be shortly, and I’ll include the link then for non-subscribers.


July 9, 2008

Mobile Web Site Aims to Serve Two Billion People

Although associations are notoriously reticent to take new risks, I’ve been collecting stories and examples of organizations and nonprofits that could be considered incubators or that have “Skunkworks” projects underway. The latest to join this pioneering group is the San Diego-based Autism Research Institute, which announced today that it has launched a mobile Internet Web site specifically for users of mobile devices and mobile phones.

According to a press release, the site emerged “in response to consumers’ desire for ‘practical’ mobile content” and is the first mobile Web site by a national autism nonprofit.

"There are almost two billion mobile Internet users today, and we're tailoring our organization's services to better serve those needs," says Director Steve Edelson. In addition, more people have mobile phones with Internet access than computers with online access, the group notes.

Among the content are reformatted major papers and studies from the group’s Web site, autism treatment information, advice for parents, and answers to frequently asked questions. The group is especially keen to promote its Autism Treatment Evaluation Checklist (ATEC) to parents and specialists. The tool helps “evaluate cognitive, communication, sensory, and social skills--as well as the physical health--of individuals on the autism spectrum” and can now be completed on a mobile phone and forwarded to a physician for review.

I’ll be interested to call back this group in a year to see what the uptake has been and whether the investment was worth it. If you know of other organizations that have deliberately developed incubator projects, please post them here or e-mail me offline at


July 7, 2008

Listening and Loyalty

Sean O’Driscoll, general manager of community support and MVP for Microsoft, has a helpful blog called Community Group Therapy with a recent post about top takeaways from recent social media workshops he has been giving. Among his points are that “features are not user experiences,” that consensus is just a “nice to have” in terms of cross-functional participation, and that “‘participating in the conversation’ is hollow advice for a large” organization.

I found interesting O’Driscoll’s differentiation between listening systems (feedback + organizational understanding + responsive action + communication about that action back to the feedback giver=listening) versus hearing systems (feedback + responsive action, no communication to original feedback giver).

It immediately reminded me of a recent brand advocacy study by ExpoTV that found “55% of consumers want an ongoing dialogue with brands.” The firm concluded that “the willingness of a company to engage with consumers directly impacts loyalty and can even lead to increased purchase intent. In fact, 89% of respondents would feel more loyal to brands that invited them to participate in a feedback group, and 92% of those who have a positive experience communicating with a brand will recommend purchasing a product from that brand to someone they know.”

Also interesting is that almost 50% of respondents “expressed a desire to share their ideas on new products and services” and to communicate about brand efforts to “improve existing products and share positive experiences.”

Researchers said that news is especially encouraging for smaller, perhaps newer brands or brands entering new areas because consumers were just as keen to communicate with less-familiar brand.

I wondered, not for the first time, if associations are as good at dialoguing with and listening to customers and members as many seem to assume. I’m talking about metrics beyond the speed with which an individual receives a response back from a staffer, beyond the murky satisfaction ratings of members, who rarely are asked to judge feedback quality in specific. Have we set up processes and cultural norms to ensure good listening or just good hearing? And do staffers and leaders understand the importance of that difference to the potential levels of loyalty within our members?

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June 18, 2008

Soft Economy Affecting Fundraising Auctions

I’m seeing lots of nonprofit and association fundraising auctions going on right now, especially in kinship with annual meetings. Therefore, I was concerned to read the results of a new survey of 255 online charity auction managers, 22% of whom reported a drop in funds raised between January and April compared to last year, and nearly all of whom “are bracing themselves for an even tougher nonprofit fundraising environment” in the coming months.

The survey, conducted by the firm cMarket, found that auction managers are having a harder time obtaining items (68%), convincing auction participants to raise bids (32%) and attend auction galas (21%), and demonstrating “tangible marketing benefits” to corporate sponsors and commercial item donors (39%).

Analysts say that even nonprofits that did well with their auctions were reporting “some softness, particularly on the supply side in terms of item donations and acquisition.”

"In this environment auction committees are well advised to revisit their assumption around their goals and what is attainable," says Jon Carson, CEO of cMarket. "If you plan on matching last year’s goal or even beating it, you may need to think about what you'll do differently [since] the headwinds appear to be much stronger this year."

In response, online auction managers reported that they would try some different approaches next year:

- 62% will “start the process of getting items earlier.
- 35% will use the Internet more.
- 31% will gather items with higher price tags.
- 16% will recruit additional lower priced items “to appeal to more people.”

Some nonprofits also plan to use more social networking sites to grow their contact lists, as well as to do more personal asking instead of mass mailings or e-mail blasts. Others said they would work harder to develop more creative packages such as unique experiences, rather than slower-selling items such as art and collectibles.


Free Gas for Good Volunteers

Aware that the challenging economy is slowing charitable donations in some areas, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) is offering its citizen fundraisers a trendy incentive—free gas cards and a chance to win a free vacation for four to Orlando, Florida. Clearly, the organization wants to help ensure that these important individual moneymakers are doing their best to raise money from their participation in the group’s annual Light The Night Walk this fall.

Light The Night walkers who fundraise online via personal Web pages provided by LLS can earn $50 worth of free gas for every $500 they raise during July and August. For every $250 raised, they will receive $15 in gas cards.

Says Nancy Klein, LLS chief marketing and revenue officer, "The goal of finding cures and helping patients is a great motivator, in and of itself. But with gas prices so high this summer, LLS saw this 'Save at the Pump' promotion as a great added incentive to do something good and get something good!"

Not every nonprofit whatever-a-thon offers incentives to volunteer fundraisers, but those that do appear to have grown their incentive programs to impressive levels, because the revenues raised by these a-thons are so large and vital. LLS’s incentive program, for instance, goes way beyond a tank of gas or T-shirt, though. Folks who raise more than $10,000 get a 26-inch LCD high-definition TV or GPS unit or $500 e-Store card. For fewer amounts, fundraisers can get digital cameras, camcorders, portable DVD players, printers, radios, and more.

This will probably be an unpopular opinion, but personally, I question the effectiveness—and more importantly, the message sent—with all of this giving-to-get. Does this really focus attention on the true message of such an event—finding a cure or solving a serious social problem?

To me, it seems counter to the core values behind why people volunteer. I’ve never heard, for instance, of someone anxious to walk 20 miles just for a DVD player or, ironically, to fill up their cars. Maybe it’s time to re-examine such incentive programs to consider other ways to reward excellent fundraisers that respond more basically to the core values of both the nonprofit and the volunteer. Anyone for sending a teddy bear to a lymphoma patient if you raise $200, for instance?

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May 19, 2008

New Outreach Strategies Strive to Relieve Hunger

America's Second Harvest, the largest U.S. hunger relief nonprofit, has developed an unusual public and policy maker awareness tool—a week-long photo essay—to “spotlight the many faces of hunger in America.” The daily images depict one of the 25 million Americans who depend on a local food bank to survive. The vehicle sought to push Congress and the White House to pass the revised Farm Bill; legislators did so May 14, but a presidential veto was expected at press time.

The virtual photo essay appeared right after Stamp Out Hunger!, the nation’s largest single-day food drive, which was organized May 10 by the National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC). The group partners with the Campbell Soup Company, healthcare organizations, local food groups, and many other community-based organizations and businesses to pull off the massive effort.

Like America’s Second Harvest, NALC tried some new public awareness and engagement tools this year in the 10,000-plus cities and towns holding food drives. While the 16-year-old campaign has generated more than 836 million pounds of food, campaign leaders were especially focused on increasing donations in 2008 because of the jump in demand for food bank assistance and a drop in food donations, especially at this time of year.

To break last year’s distribution record of 70.7 million pounds of food, NALC is trying to leverage some surprising findings it discovered after last year’s drive and to introduce new engagement experiments:

(1) Giving doubled or even tripled when people were given a simple plastic bag with the postcard. In Florida, for instance, the Publix food chain donated more than 8 million plastic bags, and the pounds of food donated are “big numbers,” says an NALC spokesperson. “We found tremendous success in areas that put out plastic bags…. People seemed to react more to a bag than a postcard. You can’t miss it. You save it, look at it, get a guilt trip, and then fill it.”

(2) NALC took more advantage of the massive public relations power of lead partner Campbell Soup, which increased the number of announcement postcards to 124 million, developed a TV public service announcement that features the Harlem Globetrotters, ran special coupons and dozens of full-page advertisements in newspapers and magazines, and placed notices on Web sites. It also helped produce inflatable soup cans and yard signs for NALC sites.

(3) While NALC always produces a video of some kind, the latest 10-minute DVD, “The NALC Food Drive: Making America a Better Place,” includes an original song about the drive, “Feed the Nation,” written by a local letter carrier. A major rollout of the new logo incorporates the organization’s name and the highly recognized Stamp Out Hunger slogan. The logo has been put on everything from t-shirts to posters.

Continue reading "New Outreach Strategies Strive to Relieve Hunger" »


May 15, 2008

Anyone Need Closed Captioning on Their Videos?

VITAC, a provider of closed captioning and other accessible media services, is launching a “CaptionsON” awareness campaign that includes providing up to 150 hours of pro-bono captioning service to nonprofit organizations who respond between now and June 8, 2008. Given that the lengths of videos vary, the company projects that 600 to 1,300 videos could be captioned.

"This is a wonderful opportunity for nonprofit organizations nationwide to ensure that their audiovisual material, intended for general audiences or their clients, students, or employees, is accessible through captions," noted Bobbie Beth Scoggins, President of the National Association of the Deaf (NAD), which also administers the Described and Captioned Media Program (DCMP) and co-founded the Coalition of Organizations for Accessible Technology (COAT). "CaptionsON will have a positive and profound impact on the deaf and hard of hearing and hearing communities alike."

Visit the CaptionsON site for details.


April 24, 2008

Volunteer Screening Procedures: Too Lenient?

Are we associations and nonprofits so grateful for volunteers of almost any ilk that we don’t ask too many questions? Apparently. According to a new report by the National Center for Victims of Crime titled “Who's Lending a Hand? A National Survey of Nonprofit Volunteer Screening Practices,” one in three American nonprofit does no background checking of volunteers, while almost one in eight (12%) doesn’t screen volunteers for anything.

The center, a major advocacy organization for crime victims, was using the survey to identify characteristics of organizations that do “regularly screen volunteers, the screening methods used, and the role of these screening results in organizational decision making.” As of 2006, 61 million U.S. residents volunteer. It’s not surprising then that of the surveyed organizations that do screen, almost half reported that they had uncovered "inappropriate" volunteers through that process.

Reasons given for not screening volunteers included concerns about cost, usefulness, and potentially offending volunteers. Those issues should pale in the face of a recent audit of 3.7 million background screenings in the past five years that found “more than 189,000 individuals with at least one criminal conviction had tried to volunteer or work for a nonprofit organization. Of those, more than 2,700 were registered sex offenders.”

But your organization does screen, you say? Check that you’re not among these “troubling gaps” revealed by the national center survey:

- 22% of screening nonprofits don’t call references.
- 25% of screening organizations don’t conduct any type of background check.
- 66% of organizations that do background checks don’t check fingerprint databases, which the center says is “the most reliable form of criminal background check.”

Bottom line? Here are the center’s top four recommendations for associations and nonprofits:

1. “Consistently and comprehensively screen volunteers, particularly if they will work directly with clients or have access to sensitive client information.
2. “Include in-person interviews, personal and professional reference checks, and national criminal background checks of names and, if possible, fingerprints.
3. “Check state databases, such as child and adult protective services, in states where volunteers have lived.
4. “Decide which histories will disqualify volunteers, screen for such histories, and re-screen at regular intervals.”

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April 21, 2008

The Power of Unlikely Partnerships

I thought someone had spiked my iced tea when I first spotted the most unlikely of duos teamed in the same advertisement--the Revs. Pat Robertson and Al Sharpton. That they were relaxing on a couch along a Virginia beach, chatting about their shared view of the need to take care of the planet, was even more bewildering. Welcome to the attention-getting prowess of the recently launched "We" campaign, a project of Al Gore’s nonprofit Alliance for Climate Protection.

The unusual ad, part of a call-to-action series titled "Unlikely Alliances," has been garnering attention since it began running April 10. Soon to come is the second ad, which stars House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) promoting united action on climate change.

Calling itself "unprecedented in scale for a public policy issue," the We campaign depicts the critical roles of both partnerships and leadership in combating a large-scale world problem. Foremost in its messaging is that those roles require impatiently pushing aside the sometimes radical differences, whether politics, religion, or whatever, that prevent people from focusing solely on a single cause: addressing global warming.

Clearly, the alliance has a broad definition of what and who is a leader today, with parameters set well beyond the political and academic arenas in its quest to sign up 10 million "climate activists" in the next three years. While it has reached out to predictable leaders in the conservation movement (National Audubon Society and myriad others), it also has targeted youth and emerging community leaders via partnerships with the Girl Scouts of America and an aggressive social media campaign that leverages the viral nature of mobile technology, Facebook, and MySpace in particular.

In addition, the We campaign has successfully wooed often-underrated leading labor organizers, such as the United Steelworkers union. The latter made headlines only weeks ago when it launched its own "unlikely alliance" with the Sierra Club to create the "Blue Green Alliance" and national Green Jobs for America campaign.

I’ve been writing and learning a lot about partnerships as I research case studies for ASAE & The Center’s Social Responsibility and Philanthropic/Nonprofit initiatives. The newswires and newspapers are crowded with the latest stories of corporations turning to nonprofits as strategic partners, rather than strictly charities. Less common, though, is breaking news of innovative corporate-association partnerships or unique professional-trade association alliances.
That will need to change if we as a sector are going to spearhead the types of social, economic, and environmental initiatives that we expect to emerge from ASAE & The Center’s Global Summit on Social Responsibility April 30-May 2. WE—as individual leaders, organizations, industries and professions--must be the ones waving aside perceived barriers, biases, assumptions, and fears that keep us from proffering a hand to potential partners and redefining leadership in ways that accelerate progress.

"If enough of us demand action from our leaders," states Gingrich in the We ad, "we can spark the innovation we need." And I find that, however unlikely, I agree with him.


April 8, 2008

Preparing for Super-size Donations: When You Make the Top 100 Million

What do you do to prepare for what will likely be a mega-million-dollar fundraising event and media circus? Have a party! A bunch of them actually, among other tools designed to make the most of this remarkable opportunity.

To back up, Children’s Defense Fund (CDF) is one of the spectacularly lucky nonprofit beneficiaries of the estimated $75 million to $100 million raised during tonight’s much-hyped American Idol: Idol Gives Back television extravaganza, which airs on FOX Wednesday night from 7:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time. The event aims to “raise awareness of and benefit various U.S. and international charities” (most of which serve children and families), and among the myriad celebrities and musicians featured will be actress and CDF board member Reese Witherspoon. The show also runs video footage of one of CDF’s Freedom Schools sites in New Orleans.

Witherspoon “will show the millions of American Idol viewers that every step we take to improve the lives of children improves the lives of all of us. As CDF turns 35 this year, we could not ask for a better birthday gift!” enthuses organization leaders.

In anticipation of the media and donor spotlight, CDF has created an Idol-oriented frequently-asked-questions page on its Web site and crafted a “watch party” toolkit and “party central” virtual list of the happy get-togethers. The toolkit includes questions that allow viewers to “participate in a discussion of the state of America's children and ways that together, we can takes steps to not only improve the lives of children, but improve the lives of all of us.”

CDF remembered to include several important elements to its new FAQ: three easy ways to “give” to the organization other than a credit card number (“Become a Fan of the CDF on Facebook!”), and reassurance and an address for more-cautious donors who prefer to send checks rather than give online, the primary donation vehicle used tonight.

Other nonprofit beneficiaries in 2008 include the Global Fund, Malaria No More, Children's Health Fund, Save the Children, and Make It Right, actor Brad Pitt's campaign to help New Orleans recover from Hurricane Katrina.


March 27, 2008

What Would You Do With $20 Million Bucks?

Gasp. “Wow!” “Are you serious?”That’s got to be the reaction of staff at the 103-year-old National Audubon Society this week as news spreads of its largest grant ever: $20 million over five years from Toyota. That’s the kind of chunk o’ change that can fundamentally alter how an organization operates—even a big one like Audubon. So how does an organization keep the deliverables required by a monster grant from overshadowing and dominating the workload of its staff—or does it?

In 1995 Audubon took the unusual approach of writing a strategic plan with a 25-year timeline, rather than the usual three to 10 years. From the plan emerged three mandates: re-focusing its then-disparate programs on its core mission of conserving birds and their related wildlife and habitats, expanding educational programs that emphasize the interconnectedness of healthy ecosystems and humans, and upgrading—through more funding and resources--Audubon’s unique but dissatisfied grassroots network to become the group’s top eco-advocacy tool.

I love that the plan doesn’t flinch from Audubon’s internal and external problems, acknowledging such problems as corrosive in-fighting, off-the-menu programming that strays from core competencies, and the need for a “manageable number of campaigns” and more partnerships. This is 34 pages of “stop the madness” laid out raw, a near starting over with everything on the table and everyone pulling up a chair. Even new accountability mechanisms are apparent in the revised governance and operational provisions. I found the plan to be excellent, thoughtful reading.

The Toyota grant reflects just how hard Audubon has “worked the plan” by launching what Audubon calls “TogetherGreen:”

(1) Innovation Grants to fund dozens of annual on-the-ground conservation projects—many of them pilot approaches (plan: increased flexibility, decentralization, local component engagement, core mission focus);

(2) Conservation Fellowships for 200 emerging eco-leaders who can engage diverse audiences (building stronger component management and leadership), and

(3) Volunteer Days at the community-based Audubon Centers (local focus, component engagement, showcasing facilities born from the strategic plan).

Will the money and the efforts it funds allow Audubon to stay focused on its 2020 goals? From the outside, it looks like this enviable news marks a solid step in the nonprofit’s makeover.


March 7, 2008

Interesting juxtaposition

Sixty-two percent of Americans believe the typical nonprofit spends more than is reasonable on overhead expenses (according to an Ellison Research survey of 1,007 U.S. adults). But a Meyer Foundation study of 6,000 “next-generation leaders”—staffers of all ages who have committed to the nonprofit sector and who are actively developing the skills needed to hold management positions—found significant concerns about salary and compensation.

When those future leaders consider spending the rest of their careers in the nonprofit field, the following percentages of respondents said that

• I will not make enough money to retire comfortably: 48%
• I will not make enough money to support a family: 37%
• I will not make enough money to pay off all debt in a reasonable time frame: 24%

These studies are both aimed at the philanthropic community, but I've seen similar concerns coming from professional society members too, especially when the industry the society represents falls upon hard times. What can we do to educate donors, members, and stakeholders so that they can understand the difference between investing in the future of a nonprofit or association and wasting money on unneeded overhead expenses? (With the caveat that we as staff should always be on the lookout to cut unnecessary overhead, like any business would?)

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January 29, 2008

Have a Heart: Wear Red This Friday!

As if Fridays aren’t great enough, this Friday has the extra good element of being the American Heart Association’s popular National Wear Red Day. We’re talking red dresses, blouses, pins, lipstick, handbags, ties, socks, whatever. Thousands of organizations, cities and individuals nationwide are signing up to wear red and/or give $5 (with organizations often matching employee donations) to help raise awareness and boost prevention of the number-one killer of women: heart disease.

I especially like the tools that the association has developed to promote this major element of the Go Red for Women campaign, which is celebrating its five-year anniversary: a Brown Bag Goes Red Powerpoint for staff lunches, a downloadable guide and newsletter, a save-the-date e-mail reminder for staff and members, a free DVD toolkit, a tax receipt, memorial or tribute cards, and posters.

Consider participating in this fun, easy and important activity to help bring an end to a disease that affects so many. Doing something good can be mighty attractive.


January 24, 2008

The Super Bowl: Are Associations Ready to Get in the Game?

What does the Super Bowl have to do with associations and nonprofits? You’d be surprised. Almost 90 millions Americans are expected to watch the Patriots-Giants game February 3, so I’m hearing buzz about the involvement—current and past—of associations in everything from cool messaging for lucky ticket-holders (Mothers Against Drunk Driving and cab wraps), to those super-popular, ultra-expensive TV ads (let me get out my list).

Recently, for instance, I ran into online speculation about whether any of this year’s $2.7-million, 30-second ads either from old-timers (Federal Express, Pepsi, Gatorade, etc.) or newer-comers (, Victoria’s Secret) would prove as controversial to associations and nonprofits as in 2007.

Last year, the National Restaurant Association was noisily unhappy when a “demeaning” Nationwide ad depicted singer-now-more-famous-for-short-marriage-to-Brittany-Spears Kevin Federline as a fast food cook fondly recalling his glory days as a rap singer. The post-airing ruckus about Federline’s apparent unhappiness with a fast food career upped the online viewing of Nationwide’s ad by an estimated 12%, according to market researchers, and has piqued interest in the company’s advert this year.

Likewise, America’s beloved Snickers bar got in trouble when its marketers created a Super Bowl ad that the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation accused of promoting prejudice and violence against gays. In the ad, two mechanics sharing the candy bar accidentally kiss and then “try to distance themselves from any perception of being gay by ‘doing something manly,’" said HRC in a press release. In addition, one of the three alternative endings to the commercial shown on the Snickers Web site depicted the men “violently attacking one another – which sends a dangerous message to the public condoning violence against gay Americans.” Parent company Mars Inc. pulled the entire campaign the day after the game.

And, finally, who can forget the General Motors ads with that appealingly pathetic factory robot that was fired from its job for making a mistake? The resulting “suicide” via a leap off a bridge in a dream sequence sparked immediate reaction from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, which was furious about the “inap­propriate” use of “depression and suicide as a way to sell cars.” Surveys showed that the public appeared to agree the nonprofit.

Click here for a fascinating free abstract from an article published in “Measuring Word of Mouth Vol. 3” by the Word of Mouth Marketing Association that further details the influence of controversy in building brand awareness via Super Bowl ads.

This year, nonprofits and associations might have greater concerns because of the increasing sophistication of marketers, who now create elaborate and engaging cross-media campaigns aimed at building excitement and brand awareness well before kick-off time. According to Peter Hershberg, managing partner, Reprise Media, “Unlike many lost in the previous years, marketers are expected to finally use search and social media sites to capitalize on the excitement and brand awareness generated by their ads in the big game.”

Continue reading "The Super Bowl: Are Associations Ready to Get in the Game? " »


January 15, 2008

The Woman Behind Bill Gates Gets Out Front

The world finally gets a glimpse of the most powerful woman in philanthropy today—Melinda Gates—in a first-time interview appearing in the January 7, 2008, issue of Fortune. At age 43, she’s been a wife for 14 years, a mother for 11, and a co-leader of one of the world’s most powerful philanthropic entities—the $47-billion Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation--for just seven. But don’t underestimate her. Her story reveals her as tough, energetic, nurturing, determined and, surprisingly, often successful in her quest for normalcy despite the billions. I strongly suggest you give it a skim at least.

Some of the most interesting tidbits from the piece are as follows:

--Melinda says the couple decides on major ($40 million or more) grant requests by asking two questions: Which problems affect the most people? And which have been neglected in the past?

--“Stay focused” was the only advice given them by Warren Buffett after he donated $3.4 billion and promised to pass along 9 million Berkshire Hathaway B shares (now worth $41 billion) as well.

--Although the Gates Foundation and its accomplishments are formidable, Melinda believes much more is possible through strategic partnerships with other major foundations and companies. Their most successful? The GAVI Alliance (formerly the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization) and its distribution of vaccines to 138 million children in 70 poor nations. Their least successful? Education reform in their own community. Melinda says they have learned from their failures and have shifted tactics to try again.

--Bill once gave $50 million toward fixing New York City schools. The city commissioner in charge of directing that money successfully? Joel Klein, the guy who headed the federal antitrust case against Microsoft 10 years ago.

--Both Bill and Melinda are avid puzzle makers. Maybe that’s why they’re so willing to take a big-picture approach to complex world problems and then establish a strategy for resolving them one piece at a time!

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January 11, 2008

When a Charity Screws Up

I was having tea with three friends recently, and we started talking about the charities we most support and the types of relationships we’ve developed with them. We each had long-term ties to at least three charities, not counting our religious institutions, but we were not happy.

After we shared our initial passions for certain causes, we started exchanging stories of the times when these charities had let us down—calls that went unanswered for weeks or never, promises to send materials that don’t arrive, wrong contact information, direct mail appeals sent within days of each other, and clueless staff.

I recalled a time when I told one nonprofit that our family was willing to spend up to $2,500 to help one of our sponsor children who had “aged out” of the nonprofit’s program and gone to technical school. We wanted to pay the tuition. We never heard back from the charity—and I called three times! Staff who promised to “check into it” never responded.

Same with an idea that I pitched whereby all of us sponsors of poor children in the same small South American village would meet online to talk about the possibility of a larger group donation to the school, which had no athletic equipment or playground. I’d have been disappointed but would have lived with it with no hard feelings had the group simply said no. But the group didn’t say that. A staffer would hear me out and murmur politely and supportively that he/she would talk to a supervisor and then….nothing. Four times this happened.

My friends’ all had similar stories of frustration and brick walls, yet all of admitted that we continue to donate to these groups, even volunteer occasionally. We sighed that we truly want to help solve Problem A or assist Person B, so our desire overrides the “hassles” of dealing with some of these charities, many of which are well-respected, well-known “leaders” in their field.

So if that’s the kind of treatment that donors are getting from “leaders,” what’s happening in the smaller ranks? Is the “leadership”—great donor servicing, motivated and helpful staff, a culture of real follow-through, materials that actually share information on how the organization is measuring its impact—actually more likely found within small, lesser-known nonprofits? Have the big boys gotten so big that it has become okay to be rude, incompetent or egotistical? Maybe some of those folks are reveling in the recent studies that show individual giving is higher than ever, so they don’t think they have to work as hard to attract those dollars.

I have no idea, but I can tell nonprofit leaders this: Don’t assume we individual donors—the ones responsible for the vast majority of your revenues—will stick around forever. Competition among nonprofits has grown, and it’s rare that I can’t find another charity whose mission matches that of my current irritating recipient. Donors are becoming more educated than ever about charities, and they’re starting to hold them accountable in new ways. It doesn’t take much more than a few clicks anymore to find who is competing to serve the underprivileged, fight pollution or “lead” in any number of the efforts to better the world.

After tea, I got an e-mail from one of the attendees—our talk had made her decide to abandon a charity she had supported for more than 20 years. She had already found a replacement and was excited by her move. Meanwhile, I had mixed feelings—sadness that a charity with such a worthy cause had blown it, and joy that a friend had found fulfillment in another nonprofit’s effort.

When was the last time you or your nonprofit sister organization got serious about donor satisfaction? And I’m talking about something beyond those quickie e-surveys. I’m thinking focus groups, one-on-one donor “check-ups,” donor coaching and more. Think about it, because as a donor, I am.

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December 13, 2007

The Power of a Dog-gone Good Story

Wells Jones, CEO of the much-lauded Guide Dog Foundation, is a great storyteller. That's not a label many nonprofit leaders work hard for, but Wells has found that stories can get you places that appeals letters and political allies cannot: into people's wallet, mind and heart.

I was interviewing him recently after our Key Philanthropic Organizations Committee (KPOC) meeting, having already talked to him once before about his foundation's successful revision of its governance practices. We had spent a good chunk of the KPOC meeting talking about leadership, organizational excellence and the differences and synergies between our Seven Measures of Success book and a new publication, Forces for Good: The Six Practices of High-Impact Nonprofits, by Leslie Crutchfield and Heather McLeod Grant.

We were all intrigued by the differences in data about leadership between these two books and even Good to Great's Jim Collins, who had been involved with both publications. One thing none of these books did, though, was explore in any real depth the types of communication techniques that great organizatonal leaders routinely find most effective: compelling storytelling.

So I asked Wells how he created the storytelling culture that is so apparent on his Web site and how his staff and volunteers collect and use those powerful anecdotes to show the real impact of the organization. You can read his responses in the profile department of ASAE & The Center's new philanthropic Web section, but in the meantime I wanted to share what he said was his favorite program-related story.

"This story relates to a Marine who lost both of his arms in Iraq above the elbow, so he wears two prosthetic arms," Wells said. "And he also has some balance issues. We trained one of our dogs to work with him to help provide balance, fetch items and do various tasks that the Marine needs to get done.

"So he’s outdoors with his dog one day, and they are having down time--he’s playing Frisbee with his dog--and when he throws the Frisbee, the dog brings it back, like all of our dogs do. But then one time when he throws the Frisbee, one of his arms goes with it. The dog goes over and looks at the Frisbee and then looks at the arm, looks at the Frisbee and looks at the arm. Finally, he makes up his mind and grabs the arm, which he takes back to the Marine. And the Marine is laughing really hard about this, thinking, 'What fun!' but then he realizes what the dog just did: The dog made a decision that his owner had to have the arm first before he could bring the Frisbee back. It’s a wonderful, wonderful story."

Now ask him to tell you the one about the two old-time war vets who have raised half a million bucks in just a few months....


October 24, 2007

Tips for Dealing with Staff Distress about the California Wildlifes

The American Psychological Association has published five tips to help people handle their distress about the Southern California wildfires. These may be helpful to distribute to staff or, at least, your human resources department.


Associations Pitch in to Help Southern California Fire Victims

We have learned of many associations that have stepped up to offer expertise, volunteers, donations and even temporary housing to the hundreds of thousands of displaced wildlife victims in Southern California. As in past catastrophes, associations are finding creative ways to apply their skills, imagination and members to addressing this crisis. You’ll find a growing list of examples on the ASAE & The Center site, and we encourage you to let us know of others. Thank you all!

Let me mention two partnering associations in particular: the San Diego Education Association (SDEA) and California Teachers Association (CTA). Despite limited operations, SDEA staff and members has "overwhelmed" the group with offers of help when it called for volunteer tutors, donations, childcare and coordination help for families sheltering at Qualcomm Stadium and a local high school. The association also is housing numerous displaced educators at its offices, auditorium and meeting spaces.

CTA, meanwhile, is helping coordinate and is urging displaced members to tap into its “CTA Disaster Fund." Established years ago, the fund offers emergency grants of up to $1,500, with an additional $1,500 grant possible. Monies come from voluntary contributions by CTA members and periodic fundraising drives. The FACT Foundation provides administrative services.

For a model disaster assistance resource for members, visit CTA’s disaster resources page


October 11, 2007


I just finished reading a shattering novel for young adults called Sold (Hyperion, 2006) about a Nepalese girl who is sold into prostitution. While attending the recent National Book Festival in Washington, DC, I was compelled to buy the story after hearing its best-selling author--investigative journalist Patricia McCormick--share her emotional experiences from a month spent researching the child sex trade in Nepal and India. Bear with me while I explain the relevance to associations and their business partners.

During the Q&A, I asked McCormick both if she still communicated with the girls and women who described their horrific existences to her, and if she had been moved to activism by her findings. She affirmed both, noting that part of her earnings go to nonprofits that fight child trafficking.

More important than money, though, has been the simple fact that, despite post-trip trauma, she managed to write the book at all. Further, it just won the prestigious Quill Award for Best Teen/Young Adult Book, which will raise the visibility of this under-publicized social atrocity even more.

Association executives may not feel particularly connected to child trafficking as a business issue. But some of our sector’s largest industries—such as tourism organizations concerned that this crime is often conducted in hotels--are among the leaders working to stop the abuse. In addition, since associations hold events in many cities and nations that have become major centers for child trafficking—India, Korea, Thailand, San Diego, London, Sydney and New York, for instance—the problem has grown more relevant.

McCormick’s story of Lakshmi, the 13-year-old main character from an impoverished family, depicts a tale similar to that of millions of children ages 10-18 who are trafficked for sex annually in what has become a multi-billion-dollar business. Brazil alone is home to 500,000 child prostitutes ages 10-17, with some as young as six, according to UNICEF.

The author’s Web site links to some association efforts, including an international Code of Conduct for the Protection of Children from Sexual Exploitation in Travel and Tourism” project by the World Tourism Organization and nonprofit End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes (ECPAT).

Created in 1998, the code outlines six conduct criteria based on the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights and the UN Convention on the Rights of Children. It also helpfully includes model language that associations can add to contracts with global suppliers of everything from accommodations to tours.

Members of the Code Steering Committee include the International Hotel and Restaurant Association, Federation of International Youth Travel Organizations and Tour Operators’ Initiative for Sustainable Tourism Development, among others. In August 2007, the group helped gather support for 21 congressional leaders who sent letters to CEOs of the four largest U.S. hotel chains, urging them to sign the code. To date, two of them—Choice Hotels and Starwood—have responded with interest in the code, and Hilton Hotels noted that its soon-to-be-issued Global Code of Conduct “will specifically address issues of child exploitation.” Regent International Hotels and Radisson are among the 50 companies that have already signed.

Here’s hoping that other associations and industry partners “get” Sold.

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