Thursday, December 23, 2010

Wishing You Joy, Pride and a Spirit for Action

Dear Friends,

I wish all of you a joyous holiday season and a blessed New Year. This holiday letter is being posted both at Marion Conway – Nonprofit Consultant and The Grandma Chronicles.

The joy of grandparenting has been a major theme for me this year. Our grandson is now 18 months old and it is a total joy to watch him grow, discover and enjoy life. It really is quite inspirational. And so I enjoy writing about him at The Grandma Chronicles and “shouting out with joy” about all that is going on. It has been fun to watch him experience getting ready for Christmas from decorating to wrapping presents to watching the family room transformed with a Christmas tree and decorations everywhere. I was sort of surprised that the poinsettias by the fireplace went completely unnoticed.

Christmas is a time of reflection and of joy for me. It is a time to be thankful for all our blessings, for appreciating family and friends, and for sharing with others. I have turned down the lights in my office, lit candles in the window and am playing Christmas Chant. The soft light brings a still peace and I have left the hustle bustle of the day with grocery shopping and cooking for tomorrow and I am enjoying this quiet time to write this message.

This past year I have been so proud to be working in the nonprofit community. I’ve seen organizations make it through a rough time, look inside their soul and come out strong. I’ve seen Board and staff working hard and more thoughtfully to make a new path or stay steady on a firm one. Unfortunately layoffs and reduced pay have frequently been necessary at many of the places I worked with this year. The people impacted are in my thoughts and prayers this Christmas.

This year I continued to stay focused especially on smaller nonprofits but I did expand my reach attending two national conferences and presenting at one of them. It was totally wonderful to meet people in person that I have only known online and meeting in person has brought those relationships to a new level. Also, I have been asked to take on new kinds of projects for nonprofits and that has been a growth experience for me.

I look forward to the New Year and a recovering economy. This last couple of weeks our political leaders have shown a new ability to think independently and work together to compromise. None of us are entirely happy with everything, but it is uplifting to see action rather than inaction. It sets a good tone as we start a new year.

Last year I wished you all joy, pride and resilience. This year I wish you joy, pride and a spirit for action. I think that 2011 will be one where action will again be in vogue – a time for trying new ideas - taking new steps. I’m planning on it, and I hope you do too.

Here is the picture of my husband and me with our grandson, Zach that we sent with our Christmas cards.

And Zach alone - picture taken by my husband and used by his parents for their Chritmas card.

Happy Holidays,


Monday, December 13, 2010

Online Giving Study by Network for Good - Relationships and Timing

In my last blog article “Really Simple Year End Fundraising – Make it Good to the Last Drop" one of my suggestions was to send out a short email in the last week of December as a reminder about last minute gifts because New Year’s Eve is the biggest online giving day of the year. That is an important piece of marketing intelligence to have and today's article provides a bunch more marketing intelligence.

Network for Good and True Sense Marketing have just released the findings of a massive online giving study covering $381 million in online giving through Network for Good’s platform, including 3.6 million gifts to 66,470 different nonprofits from 2003-2009. The study has some interesting statistics about online giving. . including that 22% of all online giving through Network for Good takes place in the last two days of the year. That is just incredible.
But there is also information that we can use all year long…… Like online giving by day of the week and time of day.

64% of donors who give online give through a nonprofit’s own website versus through social media such as facebook or other portals such as guidestar. And donors who gave via charity websites started at the highest level and gave the most over time. Having a good website is an essential ingredient for increasing your online giving. If you are considering expanding your presence in social media – your first step should be to get your website in shape.

The major finding of this study is that relationships count online just like they do offline. The study data supports Network for Good’s product of branded giving versus their free generic giving process. The data is overwhelming - The loyalty factor for donors acquired through generic giving pages is 66.7% lower than for donors who give via charity-branded giving pages.

For small charities who are just beginning with online giving I usually recommend that they begin with a generic approach and then once their email list grows and their eNewsletters and website are well coordinated and updated, then they may be ready to switch to the paid branded service such as Network for Good’s branded product.

I suggest you download and read the whole report if you are interested in online giving.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Really Simple Real Year End Fundraising – Make it Good to the Last Drop

Does this sound familiar? It is December and your holiday campaign is well underway. The direct mail appeal has gone out and this year it was coordinated with a very nice eNewsletter. The email list is growing – still not as big as you’d like but it did grow in the last year. Your website now has donate now capability or it has a more established provider that people would actually recognize and trust versus that cheaper clunky one requiring three clicks to donate that you used last year. You’re feeling pretty good about the improvements you made this year and all that remains is to open the envelopes that come in and record donations in your database and pray that this year is better than last. Right? NOT!!

The most lucrative day of the year for online donations is…. guess….New Year’s Eve. Network for Good says that one third of all donations they receive in a year are in December. Large nonprofits know this and have their “real year end” marketing plans in the hopper. Will your small nonprofit be thought about on New Year’s Eve when last they heard from you was the middle of November? Are you on vacation during Christmas week and so you aren’t planning on doing any fundraising then? Now is the time to put all that new technology you’ve been working on to work for you.

Put your “Really Simple Real Year End” campaign together now and be ready to go during the last week of December. Here are a few ideas:

1. Update you website with Holiday news – Picture of holiday celebrations with people you serve, video of gifts being distributed to children, meals served to the homeless, puppies finding a new home, holiday theater performances, art shows, etc.

2. Provide an update on the needs you hope to fill in 2011 on your website. Make it short and concise – people are busy this time of year. Think bullet points.

3. Put these featured holiday messages on the homepage – not buried several clicks away.

4. If your donate now button is in an obscure place or too small to immediately get a reader’s attention, have your webmaster take care of that TODAY. And make sure the donate now button is on every page – your home page is not the only landing page.

5. Sign up and attend the Network for Good free webinar on December 7th - The Final Word on Year-End Fundraising: The 5 Things You Can Still Do to Boost Your December Income. Mark Rovner of Sea Change Strategies is the presenter so this is sure to be worthwhile.

6. Write some facebook updates with pictures now but post them in the week after Christmas – don’t be shy – post more than one. Showing up in your fans newsfeed in the week after Christmas is – as Martha Stewart would say – a good thing.

7. Send a brief email to everyone AFTER Christmas with a reminder that there is still time to make your 2010 donation and it’s the last chance to get a tax deduction this year. Reinforce you key message of what you want to accomplish in 2011 using the bullet points you developed for your website earlier. Have the donate now button prominent in you eNewsletter.

If you will be on vacation during Christmas week, prepare this eNewsletter early, save it as a draft in your email provider database and have it ready to go on December 26th or 27th.

Presto – by doing a few things in the next couple of weeks you can really give your Really Year End campaign a powerful boost and make it good to the last drop.

Please share you ideas in the comments and also let us know how successful your really year end campaign was.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A Wish List of Books for Nonprofit Folk

We have a tradition in our family for the day after Thanksgiving. We all have our Christmas wish list of books, CDs and DVDs and we go to as a group and I do a good deal of my Christmas shopping all at once. This year I have a longer list than usual because like lots of other people I have given up my newspaper subscription and so I have more time for books. It is always fun just to see what each of us wishes for - we all have very different tastes. Sometimes we just have an author or artist and we check to see if there is something new. I don’t buy everything on the lists, but I do get most of it. When we are done, everyone is exhausted (Online shopping isn’t supposed to be exhausting, I know) but there is also a quiet joy that some things we actually really want to have will be under the Christmas tree.

Last year I blogged about books you might want to give your nonprofit friends or put on your wish list for the holidays and this was one of my most read blog articles. So here is this year’s list – just in time for the holidays.

I’ve included books by authors who I know and I’ve heard them speak on the topic they have written about. Some of these books are on my Christmas list and then I hope to have them signed by the authors at the NTEN 2011 Nonprofit Technology Conference in March. I asked some of my friends on Linkedin to contribute to this list and they provided great suggestions. The result is not a long laundry list but rather an eclectic list providing choices ranging from downright practical to ones that will have you jump out of your chair with enthusiasm and inspiration. Actually I think there are a few that can do both. All of the books on this list have rave reviews at Amazon – Check them out for yourself.

At the end of this article there are links to Amazon for each of the books on this list.

Leadership and Innovation
The Power of Social Innovation: How Civic Entrepreneurs Ignite Community Networks for Good by Stephen Goldsmith - This book looks like an inspirational yet practical guide (Lots of case studies) to social innovation and creative ways for overcoming obstacles to change. Recommended by Jesse Wiley

Linchpin by Seth Godin - Seth Godin is the author of 10 best selling books and really a 21st century leadership guru. He used to be thought of as a marketing expert but his work has gone way beyond marketing. One reviewer sums up Linchpin this way - “This book breaks down every barrier we've built between ourselves and our greatness.” Recommended by Pamela Grow

Soul of a Citizen by Paul Loeb - Allison Jones says that Loeb “focuses on the importance of developing spiritual strength, living deliberately and thoughtfully, the challenges we face on that journey, and remembering why we got into nonprofit work in the first place.” The Amazon reviews are excellent on this book first published in hardcover in 1999 and released in paperback for the first time this year. Recommended by Allison Jones

The Nonprofit Marketing Guide: High-Impact, Low-Cost Ways to Build Support for Your Good Cause by Kivi Leroux Miller - This is the definitive resource for nonprofit marketing. It is a must have resource if you are interested in this topic.No one covers this topic better than Kivi - she was my favorite speaker at this year's NTC conference.  Recommended by Jesse Wiley and me

The Ask: How to Ask for Support for Your Nonprofit Cause, Creative Project, or Business Venture by Laura Fredricks: Laura is a well known expert in fundraising and this book appears to be thorough and if you’ll excuse the pun “right on the money.”  Recommended by Jesse Wiley

Developing Your Case for Support by Tim Seiler - This book will help you build a detailed case and case statement. There are exercise worksheets and a step by step process to follow. Looks like a winner to me. Recommended by Linda Lysakowski

Linda also is the author of The Development Plan - a best seller with AFP, and her newest book is Fundraising as a Career: What, Are You Crazy? Linda shares her expertise, provides solid guidance and will lead you in the right direction when it comes to anything to do with fundraising.

50 Asks in 50 Weeks by Amy Eisenstein – I had the privilege of hearing Amy deliver a workshop on this subject at the Charity Channel Summit in Saint Petersburg earlier this month. Amy gives great guidance for even a one person shop in choosing priorities and effectively completing 50 Asks in 50 Weeks. I walked away with a feeling that any development office could become more effective and focused by simply following Amy’s straightforward, no nonsense advice. Recommended by me.

The Handbook of Nonprofit Governance by BoardSource - This is a basic Boardsource reference book that is sometimes just what we need. Recommendation by Jesse Wiley

Nonprofit Technology and Social Media
The Networked Nonprofit: Connecting with Social Media to Drive Change by Beth Kanter and Allison Fine -  This book is one of the top books for nonprofits published this year and will for sure be on many wish lists. Nobody addresses this topic with such passion, knowledge and down to earth good advice as Beth and Allison. I had the pleasure of hearing Beth and Allison together at the NTC conference in Atlanta this year.  The room was overflowing with people standing and sitting in the aisles. Recommended by Jesse Wiley and me

The Idealware Field Guide to Software – Idealware is the consumer reports of nonprofit technology and the place to check out anything you want to know about technology for nonprofits. This handy, inexpensive field guide is a good first place to look for a high level overview of many nonprofit technology topics. Laura Quinn, co-author signed my copy at the NTC conference in Atlanta. Recommended by me.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

2010 High Net Worth Philanthropy Study and What It Means for Small Nonprofits

Through an ongoing research partnership with the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, the Bank of America and Merrill Lynch have sponsored their third extensive study of philanthropy by high net worth families. The study has lots of great information and provides comparison with the 2006 and 2008 studies so that we can see the trends. This series of studies are a major resource in understanding the philanthropic behavior of wealthy donors.

You can read a summary and download the full 75 page report here.

Framework and scope of the study
• More than 800 respondents throughout the United States with household income greater than $200,000 and/or net worth (excluding the value of their residence) of at least $1,000,000

• Average wealth of respondents was $10.7 million

• Respondents were asked about their giving for 2009

• Charitable giving by high net worth households to nonprofit organizations accounts for about two-thirds of all individual giving in the U.S.

Basic Highlights
• 98% of respondents donated to charity.
• 66% donated to same charities year after year
• Average giving dropped 35 percent from $83,034 in 2007 to $54,016 in 2009, after adjusting for inflation
• As reported in other studies for all donors, these respondents (64%) gave more to meet basic needs and for general operating support than they did in 2008. • When wealthy donors also volunteer they give significantly more.

Data that I Found Particularly Interesting
The most frequent categories that high wealth individuals gave to were:
  • Basic needs
  • Education
  • Arts
  • Religious
  • Health
Although the good news for basic needs categories is that the number of people giving is the highest, the more significant news is the bad news – this category has by far the lowest average gift. While the average gift to education and religious organizations is in the $10K - $13K range the average gift to basic needs organizations is under $3K. That is the challenge for these organizations and high net worth individuals – to learn how to raise the giving level. So although giving to basic needs is increasing while other formerly more popular categories is decreasing, there still is a great divide in giving levels among these categories.

In 2007 those “managing or selling a business” and “currently working” had the highest average gifts. But both have significantly dropped and those who are “retired” had the highest average gift in 2009.

How Donors Give – Cash is still king but nonprofits need to be cognizant of changing trends. 94% said they made a donation with a check in 2009 but only 78% said they plan to do so in the future. 41% said they plan to donate with a credit card and 33% said they plan to donate online. Respondents could make multiple choices. (Marion’s two cents – It is a bad idea for nonprofits to fret over the small percentage charge for paying by credit cards and online. We need to accept this as the preference for some donors. People want to make their donations in the same way they pay their bills. So – GET OVER IT!)

73% say they have a strategy for their giving and 61% say there are two or more people involved in the decision making. 85% say they instruct their children in philanthropic values and this manifests itself in a variety of ways. More than 70 percent of wealthy families have family traditions of involving children/younger relatives in charitable giving. Providing an opportunity for children – including adult children – to learn about the impact of their philanthropy may be a frontier for smaller locally based organizations to explore.

75% say that their personal experience with an organization influenced their giving. This really confirms how important it is to get a potential wealthy donor to come through your door. This can be a particularly tough challenge for small urban based charities but one that they should not overlook. Having events where people “visit your home” rather than a suburban catering hall may be something to look at.
  Top reasons that motivate giving: Moved at how gift can make a difference (72%) and giving to an organization that is efficient (71%). An interesting piece of data in this category is “Being Asked” dropped from 48% in 2008 to 31% in 2010. So the lesson here is it isn’t enough to just ask – you better be prepared to say how their gift will make a difference.

Why Wealthy Donors Stop Donating - In 2009, almost all households stopped giving to at least one organization that they previously supported. The top four reasons cited for why they stopped giving to a particular charity last year included:
59% Too frequent solicitation/organization asked for inappropriate amount
34% Decided to support other causes
29% Household circumstances changed
29% Organization changed leadership or activities

A couple of lessons here - Frequently we are coached to not “leave money on the table” and make sure you ask for enough. Be careful in this area and make sure you know what you are doing. Also, when you have a change in leadership, take care to introduce the new person and develop confidence in their leadership.

There are lots more so download and read the whole study.  Let’s discuss it - please leave your comments on the study here.
This article provides some key highlights and data analysis that is of particular interest to me. And as always – comes with my own commentary. Since many of the organizations I work with are small to medium sized and locally based my highlights and comments are those that I think are most pertinent for them.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Accountability, Accounting, Risk….What’s a Board Member and ED to Know

My nonprofit consulting work has specific focus on the following areas:
• Strategic Planning
• Board and Leadership Development
• Technology, Online Giving and Social Media for Nonprofits
• Nonprofit Hiring for Executive Positions

But….I get asked about a much wider range of nonprofit issues. Now that nonprofits have made it through their first 990 with the new govern ance questions they are looking even more seriously at accounting and accountability issues.  I am not an accountant and when I took a graduate course in accounting I learned how much more complicated it was than I had thought.

This article has some resources that are worth checking out if you are interested in these topics. These are not resources for accountants – these are resources written for us “lay people” who need to know something at the policy and “what are the right questions to ask” level.

Principles of Governance Guide and Workbook
Independent Sector and BoardSource collaborated on development of this thorough resource for nonprofits. There are 33 principles in four major categories and information and activities for Board learning are provided for each one. The categories are: Legal Compliance and Public Disclosure, Effective Governance, Strong Financial Oversight and Responsible Fundraising. The materials are availe at each organization’s website.

BoardSource really is the premier resource for nonprofit governance and financial issues. I’ve recommended Financial Responsibilities of Nonprofit Boards by Andrew Lang as a good resource on this subject.

Blue Avocado
Formerly The Board Café, Blue Avocado is a free newsletter and besides the Board Café general articles it features Financial and Strategy and Human Resources sections. I have personally found this extremely useful and learned such important facts as the difference between a financial “audit and a “review” and when each is required which can mean thousands of dollars in savings for a small nonprofit.

Gene Takagi is a California nonprofit attorney and writes authoritatively about governance, financial and legal issues the the Nonprofit Law blog.

Kate Barr, Executive Director of the Nonprofit Assistance Fund writes an excellent blog about financial and leadership issues at their blog.

Centers for Nonprofit Management
These centers usually have good basic and state specific information. New Jersey’s Center for Nonprofits provides lots of information written in clear English, workshops and webinars. They have one on risk management that is important for Boards to know more about than they frequently do.

Accounting Firms with a Nonprofit Specialty
I have a relationship with two local accounting firms that provide nonprofit seminars, symposiums, an executive director roundtable, nonprofit newsletters and nonprofit specific accounting articles on their websites. When asked an accounting question I check out these resources to see if there is a good reference I can pass on. I subscribe to Grant Thornton’s nonprofit newsletter and check their website for resource material too. They also have workshops in New York on a regular basis.  I have learned a lot about nonprofit finance by people asking me questions and doing a little research to give them a resource.
If you are in a nonprofit leadership position – whether Board or Staff you really cannot be a “complete blank” of knowledge in this area. These resources are meant for YOU. They are not the detailed stuff the accountants know but they provide the knowledge you need to make knowledgeable decisions and ask the right questions. Start checking some out…today!

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

September is a Good Time to Attend a Workshop!

This month I am presenting two workshops and registration is still open for both of them. Here are the details:

Social Media for Nonprofits
Somerset County Library, Bridgewater, NJ
September 15, 2010
9:30 AM to 1 PM
Sponsored by Partnership in Philanthropy

• Overview of how nonprofits can use online social networking including Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Flickr and YouTube
• How to "listen online" and use what you learn to become more effective in your online strategies
• How to increase traffic to, and get more mileage out of your website.
• What tools are right for you?
• What are reasonable goals for your online presence?
• How do you measure success?
To register:
Call: Joyce Wackenhut at PIP - 973-701-9810

Strategic Planning for Nonprofits
Volunteer Center of Bergen County
64 Passaic St., Hackensack, NJ 07601
September 29, 2010
9:30 AM – 12:30 PM
This course covers everything you need to know about strategic planning for your organization: what it is, why you should do it, processes, timeframes, budgets, and implementation. A must for any organization that is embarking on the planning process – it’s your plan before the plan!
To register:
Call: 201-489-9454

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Guidestar’s Report on the Economy– A Wake Up Call not Just All Gloom

Guidestar has released the report of their June 2010 survey on the effects of the economy on the Nonprofit sector and the findings should provide a wake up call when we look past all the numbers. There were over 7000 respondents to this survey across a wide variety of size and types of organizations. Here are the highlights:

As is usually the case as funding for nonprofits declines the demand for services has increased. The impact of this trend is most serious this year in mental health and crisis interventions. The exception – as was the case reported in other studies in 2009 – are charities providing food and nutrition services. Although their demand has skyrocketed, their funding has actually increased. Just today I was talking with a nonprofit in this field whose demand and services have tripled in the last few years.

The sources of decline in funding are widespread and the breakdown is:

67% Individual giving – both fewer and reduced level of giving
40% Smaller foundation grants and corporate gifts
20% Government grants smaller and foundation grants discontinued
10% Government – grants discontinued and contracts smaller

In addition organizations that depend largely on government contracts are experiencing serious cash flow problems as payments are delayed and funding levels are being cut. My home state of New Jersey was singled out as one where nonprofits are expecting major cuts in funding.

So how are nonprofits coping with this gloomy picture? Here are the actions they are taking:

58% Reduction in services
50% Salary freeze
38% Layoffs
30% Hiring freeze
23% Reduction in benefits
21% Reduction in salary
12% Merger with another organization
32% Increase use of volunteers

In 2009 Paul Light predicted that the downturn in the economy could cause 100,000 nonprofits to fail and that mergers were an alternative that many should seek. Since then many people have been surprised that there haven’t been more mergers. As the recession lingers, many individuals are realizing that things are definitely not going back to the way they were and that they must personally retool, perhaps work in a new industry or acquire new skills and many need to adjust to a lower income even if they have a job.

This is true for nonprofits too. It is one thing to reduce services and staff for survival. That is happening. But more nonprofits need to really “retool.” It is time to think strategically. What should we be doing differently? Are there more efficient approaches? Are there opportunities to collaborate and enhance our services while cutting costs? How many nonprofit program spaces have significant amounts of time when the space isn’t used? How many competing services could be merged and enhanced while operating at lower cost? Hpw many programs need to have some new life breathe into them and updated to attract a new following? What about social entrepreneurship? What about starting for profit businesses to support the nonprofit services?

Let’s not let these kind of reports just be a confirmation of gloom. Let’s take them as a wake up call.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

A Creative Way to Nurture a Blog

This month Kivi LeRoux Miller is hosting the Nonprofit Blog Carnival at her blog – The Nonprofit Marketing Guide. The theme is “Creative Ideas You Can Make Your Own.” This is a great topic and I can’t wait to see the ideas in the roundup post at the end of the month. Here is my idea that you can make your own.

I love blogging and always recommend starting a blog in my social media workshops for nonprofits. I am fully prepared for the looks which say “Go on to the next topic, I don’t have time for that” or “I don’t have enough to write about to have a blog.” Well here is a simple painless way to have a blog and keep it current and interesting.

Marion’s simple recipe for posting up to 7 times a month:
1 post: Executive Director writes on “industry” news and trends and advocacy issues related to your mission. Use a graphic to compliment the article. You can search a word or phrase in the Creative Commons section on Flickr for a free photo or graphic.

1 post: Program Director writes about a program event or just about what’s happening in one of your programs. Make sure you include a picture – anecdotal articles on your blog really contribute to telling your story.

1 post: Development Director writes an article related to fundraising –about a current campaign, an event or whatever is relevant. Compliment with a picture or graphic.

Wordless Wednesday - - This is popular with the mommy bloggers. Every Wednesday post a picture with a caption – no article necessary. This sort of approach – having a predictable pattern will cause people to come back on a regular basis.

So there you have it. This is an easy, painless way to have an active and varied blog and all you need is three people willing to write one article a month to make it happen. At this point in my workshops I always have some people making copious notes and some people looking at me thinking about it. I always hope some of them are thinking blogging isn’t such an off the wall idea anymore.

Think about it – and be creative in how you can make it happen!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Creating a Juicy Blog for Nonprofits

This month, Britt Bravo at the Have Fun, Do Good blog is hosting the Nonprofit Blog Carnival. The way the carnival works is a blogger volunteers to host the carnival and puts out a call for bloggers to submit articles on a particular subject. Britt, whose blog title tells us squarely that she thinks doing good and having fun belong together has chosen “How to Create a Juicy Nonprofit Blog” as the carnival topic. How fitting. So here’s my two cents:

When I talk with nonprofits about starting a blog we always start by talking about what the objectives of the blog will be. The answers usually cover things such as advocacy, education, get information out about what we do, fundraising, etc. No one has ever told me that they want to have a juicy blog.” But if they had they would probably be the one with the most successful blog. In my workshops I use a great slide originated by Chris Garrett which says we should blog about the overlapped area of what you know and what readers want.

This is the juicy midsection. The dictionary provided this definition of juicy: “thirst quenching.” Writing a blog should be fun – I know it is for me – and not a “going to the dentist” experience. (Right now I apologize to my dentist friends.) One of the basic tenants of good blogging is that it is personal – written from a particular individual’s point of view. How many of us check the reviews on Amazon before purchasing a book. We value that personal opinion of another person we don’t even know sometimes more than the professional, well thought out words the publisher has provided on the dust jacket. (Is it really a dust jacket if you read it online?) Don’t let your blog read like pablum on a dust jacket.

We all know the importance of storytelling for nonprofits but how many of us do it well? Good storytelling is really juicy. We can “taste” the pain and the joy. It quenches our thirst. This can most effectively be done in a blog from the perspective of individuals. Why is Law and Order so successful after all these years and on so many TV channels all the time. Its opening lines….”This is their story” ……. They don’t feature a lot of blood and gore or fancy sets or costumes. We are captivated by the story and the turns it takes as the story unfolds. And we always come back for more or are willing to watch the same story over again.

Here are some basic tips to get into having a “juicy blog.”

1. Lively Bio (Maybe even a little bit juicy) - Whether you have one or more bloggers have their personal bio – not just professional credentials in the sidebar. Include details like that they have three cats and are a soccer fan. A picture of the person who is writing helps us connect with them. If you have multiple bloggers, each article should be signed by the author.

2. Content - This is the most important aspect of your blog. Don’t just talk about your organization. That can be boring and repetitive. Sorry, but it's true. Write about your cause on a larger scale and what is happening elsewhere. Invite guest bloggers. Don’t be predictable.

3. Pictures and graphics - ALWAYS use pictures and/or graphics in your articles. Almost ALL of us connect better on a visual level.

4. Get your readers involved – Include questions that encourage comments. Readers comments truly enhance the value of your blog. Even if it isn’t all “You are wonderful” feedback. Run a poll and have a box with your top ranked articles.

5. Promote the next installment and related posts – Is the article one in a series? Leave hints about what aspects of the subject will be addressed in future posts. Ask readers what else they would like you to write about a topic.

6. Link! Link! Link! – Link to other related articles both on your blog and other blogs. Links to other blogs will be appreciated by both your readers and the other bloggers.

7. Predictable pattern – Sort of “Law and Order format style. Feature a particular topic every Friday. The Geraldine Dodge Foundation’s blog

has “Poetry Fridays” and features poets on Friday blog articles. Some bloggers post only a picture on Wednesday participating in the “Wordless Wednesday” phenomena. This causes people to come back to see what is happening with a particular pattern of interest to them.

Most of all, enjoy blogging! If you enjoy it, that will shine through. And if you approach it as a required task, that will shine through too.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

A Nonprofit Accounting Update and a Remarkable Social Entrepreneurship Story – All in the Same Post!

Last week I attended the latest in a series of seminars for nonprofits offered by Sax, Macy, Fromm, an accounting firm in Clifton, NJ. For the last couple of years, Todd Polyniak has talked about how to deal with the current economy – sometimes a challenging subject. The theme last week was more upbeat and entitled “There is a Tomorrow.”

Todd began with financial nonprofit updates. At the recent AICPA conference an IRS official said that they had increased their staffing dedicated to exempt organizations and planned ramped up auditing of randomly selected nonprofits. They would be especially focused on organizations less than five years old and on payroll – not just 990s. Hmmm... I'll be advising a few agencies on this one.

He reviewed plans that the New Jersey government has including limiting the pay for top executives for nonprofit organizations receiving state contracts on a sliding scale and changes from a level of service to a fee for service payment format. This will require more administration for billing.

Todd also commented on these three issues:
•Changes in auditing standards will require increased sampling
•Disclosure requirements for NJ Unrelated Business Taxes on financial statements
•Nationwide uptick in fraud as nonprofits have cutback and there is less oversight and controls in place.

By the time Todd was done with this I was sure ready for the more upbeat part of the program – I think everyone else was too – even the accountants. Here are Peg and Frank Brady celebrating receiving The Purpose Prize.

Todd interviewed, Frank and Peg Brady, a truly remarkable couple who founded Medical Missions for Children. After retiring from a successful career that involved a great deal of international travel, Frank was not ready for a life of playing golf. He and Peg talked about what to do over the kitchen table, and Medicial Missions for Children (MMC) was born. Frank built on the memory of his own childhood, when a “new,experimental” drug not yet used on children saved his life. He gave away his age by revealing it was penicillin. MMC uses technology to have doctors in the United States diagnose children literally all over the world, and train local doctors to treat children with disease. Over 40,000 children have been helped with this global telemedicine and teaching network. You can see how proud and dedicated Frank and Peg are when they talk about the work of MMC.

Frank used his Roledex at first to raise funds. Next they turned to traditional fundraising approaches. But they soon found out that events are way too much work for the funds they earned. Now that is something we can all identify with.

Frank then founded a completely separate for profit business with the proceeds going to Medical Missions for Children. MMC Worldwide has some interesting businesses but the most fascinating for me is a joint venture with St. Joseph’s Hospital, Paterson, NJ and the city of Paterson to build a Hyatt Hotel on Saint Joseph’s property with the operating proceeds to fund MMC. This project will be a win-win-win for all the partners.

I haven’t written about social entrepreneurship before, but I am becoming increasingly convinced that nonprofits should be pursuing profit making businesses as an avenue to sustainability and growth. The days of government funding may have peaked but demand for services has not peaked. We still want to grow our organizations and make them better. Frank and Peg Brady, and the road they have taken with MMC provide a valuable example for us.

Thanks again Sax, Macy, Fromm for providing an informative and thought provoking program.


Friday, June 18, 2010

Spending Too Much Time on Your Website and E-News?

Kivi Leroux Miller, who blogs at Nonprofit Communications, is the author of the newly released book, The Nonprofit Marketing Guide: High-Impact, Low-Cost Ways to Build Support for Your Good Cause.

Kivi is stopping by my blog today on her virtual book tour with a guest post and a drawing for book buyers. Purchase the book today, Friday, June 18, and forward the receipt to and you’ll be entered into a drawing for a free review of your website for social media readiness by me (Marion).

The book is a hands-on survival guide for small nonprofits and communications departments of one, and includes an entire section on doing it yourself without doing yourself in, with many time-saving tips. In this guest post, Kivi offers some advice on saving time on your website updates and e-newsletters.

Nonprofits love all the benefits that email newsletters and websites provide: they are fast, affordable ways to stay in touch with supporters. The only problem is that producing and updating them regularly can be anything but fast. Some nonprofit communicators report spending the equivalent of several days per month on a monthly e-newsletter and monthly website updates. In most cases, that’s way too much time.

Here are three tips to help you reduce the amount of time you spend producing a monthly e-newsletter and website update. These tips require some planning upfront, but once you have these systems in place, you should be able to reduce the time you spend each month on these tasks to about one day’s work.

1. Minimize design time by using templates. Don’t waste a bunch of time fretting about where to put the pictures, what colors and fonts to use, etc. For your website, use a content management system (CMS) with a template. CMSs make updating your site very fast and easy because you update text and pictures without mucking around with the site design. My favorite CMS is Wordpress, but there are many open-source (free) and paid solutions available.

Use a simple, clean template for your email newsletter. It should have a consistent look from issue to issue. Don’t try to make your e-newsletter look like your website. An e-newsletter design with one main column and one sidebar column is fine. Right-justify photos in the main column and wrap text around them. Your email newsletter service provider should have many templates to pick from, or you can have a web designer create a simple template for you (the html code in an email newsletter is the same code that websites use).

2. Shorten your email newsletter. Most nonprofit e-newsletters are simply too long. People just don’t read emails that require them to scroll, scroll, and scroll some more. Try to keep your e-newsletter to under 1,000 words. A single-topic, focused newsletter of 500 words is even better, because it’s more likely to be read. Shorter newsletters mean you have less to write, which saves you time!

3. Streamline your review and decisionmaking process. The back-and-forth, back-and-forth is enough to drive anyone crazy and eats up too much time. Streamline your content creation and approval process with three documents:

An editorial calendar that says what you are going to write about and when. For a monthly newsletter, try to forecast 3-6 months at a time. This minimizes (and hopefully eliminates) all the wrangling at deadline time about what to include. Coordinate your website updates with your e-news content so you can use much of the same writing, with minor tweaks, in both places.

A style guide that outlines decisions about the type of articles you’ll include, word use (what you call certain things, how you describe them), abbreviations, fonts, colors, etc. This forces everyone to agree ahead of time on decisions that will remain constant from issue to issue, so you aren’t correcting the same mistakes over and over.

A simple decision flow chart to outline who does what, and how long it should take. For example, if the communications director writes the newsletter, the program staff get two business days to provide comments. Communications director produces a second draft, which goes to the executive director (or whoever has final approval) for another two business days. Final changes are made and it’s out the door.

For more time-saving tips, pick up a copy of The Nonprofit Marketing Guide: High-Impact, Low-Cost Ways to Build Support for Your Good Cause. Remember, get your copy today and email it to to win a free website consultation!

Thanks Kivi for sharing your expertise with us. I used your tips on my own eNewsletter and it was my best one ever. You can sign up for my eNewsletter in the sidebar.

Marion's eNewsletter

Monday, June 14, 2010

Giving USA 2010 Report– No Surprises and My Assessments per Social Media and Corporate Giving

The Giving USA 2010 Report was released last week and it doesn’t have any surprises. Many smaller studies conducted throughout 2009 found similar results. But it is the largest and most statistically intense report on this subject so it is considered the “Bible” for Giving data in the United States. The report is develped at the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University – a major nonprofit research and educational center.

You can read and download the Executive summary here

You can order the full report and presentation charts here
Here are some highlights:
Total charitable giving fell 3.6 percent in 2009 to an estimated $303.75 billion. This is the steepest decline in current dollar terms since Giving USA began its annual reports in 1956.

Remarkably, Individual giving only fell .4% and corporate giving actually increased 5.5% but charitable bequests and foundation giving had large declines to make this overall picture.

Giving to international causes, human services, health, environment and animal welfare organizations increased.

Giving to foundations, public sector benefit organizations (ex. United Way, Jewish federations), education and the arts organizations decreased.

That’s the objective data. Giving USA also has Topical Digests on subcategories which will provide more in-depth analysis about trends and what all this means.

My Assessments
I can’t help noticing that the categories that are increasing are for the most part those that are making use of social media and new ways of building relationships with donors rather than those who are relying on doing things the way they always have. They should take a look at what happened to the newspaper industry and wake up about updating their approach to donors.

Although I was surprised and happy to see that corporate donations are on the rise, I do have some concerns about corporate giving. Corporations are getting smarter and more strategic about their giving and forming partnerships with large national organizations. There is a move away from small, locally based nonprofits through giving such as matching gift funds.

Small organizations should not get too excited about the increase in corporate giving - I don’t think they will see it in their numbers. Rather than looking to large corporations small organizations should be looking to partner with local businesses – using the same model as large nonprofits but on a smaller scale.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Board Retreats – Part 3: An Sample Board Retreat from Soup to Nuts

This is the last in a three part series on Board retreats. In the last two posts I discussed the importance of planning, choosing a theme, goals and measure of success and provided a model for working with a facilitator. Each Board is unique and what works best for a Board retreat has to be customized. Today, especially for smaller organizations, the retreats are frequently shorter and they need to be focused to get the most out of them.

A Sample Board Retreat –from Planning to Closing
Background: This is an active Board with broad expertise. However, last year a well respected Executive Director left and there was an Interim Executive Director (ED) for nine months. The new ED does not yet have ties to the community so his ability to attract new Board members is not as robust as it is expected it will be in the future. The Board has lost four members in this time frame and they want to make a special effort to attract new members. It was decided to invite potential new members to a Board retreat as part of the recruitment plan.
Purpose and Goals: The purpose of the retreat is Board Development and Recruitment. It will be a successful retreat if 4 invitees join the Board and all Board members get involved in Board working committees to further the goal of the nonprofit.
Pre-planning: The committee includes the ED, the Board vice president who also chairs the governance committee, another Board member who is on the governance committee and the facilitator.
The committee wants to put its best foot forward for new members while still having the retreat be useful to existing members. The facilitator ensures that a variety of activities are used to keep the participants engaged in the retreat.
Advance work: Each Board member has been asked to bring potential new Board members to the retreat. A list of skills particularly desired has been provided – but invitations do not need to be limited to candidates with these skills. The retreat will be held at a nearby University alumni club.

The Retreat packets for the prospective members include a background brochure on the organization and a Board Application. Board members have been encouraged in advance to discuss why they like being on this Board and joining the board with new members during dinner. The group activity prior to dinner will stimulate the discussion.

Retreat Agenda

The Retreat will begin on Friday at 5 PM with wine and cheese and conclude at 9 PM.

During Reception:
•Welcome – Board President
•Highlights of Recent Accomplishments
-A short video used with funders and service club presentations, etc
Retreat Program
•Presentation of Board Role and Responsibilities with Q&A - Facilitator
•Group Activity – Facilitator
-The facilitator starts the ball rolling by throwing a squishy ball to an experienced Board member and asking him to describe his personal experience with the mission of the organization. She then throws the ball to the next person. Prospective members describe what they hope their involvement may be. (I’m always surprised at the interesting connections some prospective new people have with the organization.)
-The facilitator posts key phrases from each remark on a flip chart and summarizes the many ways people contribute to the mission through Board service. (The facilitator plays an important role in making sure everyone’s comments are appreciated.)
•Goals for Coming Year – ED
•Breakout Group Discussions – facilitated by retreat planning members
-How Board working committees can support the goals
•Boarding of Breakout Group Feedback - Facilitator
•Next Steps – Facilitator
-Assignments made to working committees
•Closing Remarks – Board President or Vice President
-Thank Yous and Encouragement for Next Steps
-Requests prospective members to fill out the Board application
•Retreat Feedback - Facilitator requests forms be completed

The Executive Director contacts each person that they would like to invite to be on the Board and offers to meet, give a tour, etc. Close the deal and follow by-laws for election to the Board.
Prepare a schedule of working committee reports for Board meetings.

The first two articles in this series:
Board Retreats - Part 1: Why Have One, Themes and Planning

Board Retreats - Part 2: Working with a Facilitator and a Planning Checklist

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Board Retreats - Part 2: Working with a Facilitator and a Planning Checklist

This is Part 2 of a three part series on planning a Board retreat. On Monday, I discussed why you should have one, popular themes for retreats and a planning overview. You can read that article here.

Part 1 of this series has been very well received and garnered comments on the blog, the LinkedIn Boardsource group and facebook. Many of the comments reinforce the importance of:
· Building relationships and a team that works well together
· Planning the retreat program well
· Taking the time to focus on goals and mission
· Having a good facilitator

Today’s post discusses planning with a facilitator and provides a checklist for retreat planning. Check back on Friday for a sample retreat outline for two different retreats.

Planning Your Board Retreat with a Facilitator
Each organization will work differently with a facilitator. I like to form a retreat planning team to work with that includes the Executive Director, Board Retreat Chair and 1 or 2 other people. We start by discussing the retreat theme and goals and go from there. Together we develop the retreat outline and share the pre-planning tasks. We then also share responsibilities during the retreat.

The Board and Staff members often participate in these ways:
· Give opening and closing remarks
· Make presentations
· Lead a recognition segment
· Lead breakout group discussion
· Assist in group activities
· Handle all logistics – (Location, food, equipment)

The services provided by a facilitator will vary. Think about which services you are interested in before interviewing facilitators. Here are some services that facilitators may provide:
-Retreat agenda*
-Program design
-Pre-Retreat planning with organization’s retreat team
-Retreat facilitation
-Choice of presentation topics related to the retreat theme
-Board self assessment
-Strategic planning exercises
-Customized retreat feedback questionnaire and results summary
-Suggested follow-up approaches for action
-Summary of boarded materials in word document

*I always provide two agendas: One just has a title and list of topics for all participants and the “annotated agenda” for the retreat team. This one has time frames and names of each person responsible next to each activity listed. It may also have some “coaching” clues.

Each retreat is unique in its goals, its time frame for the retreat and participation by retreat team and all Board members. The key to a successful retreat is in considering all of this in the planning and having an engaged retreat team.

The Retreat Leadership Team Checklist
In addition to the issues discussed above there are a lot of nitty gritty details that go into having a successful retreat. Responsibilities that need to be completed include:

· Select a comfortable retreat location (e.g. community center, corporate training center, spiritual retreat center, local college)
· Decide on the room layout and size requirements
· Develop detailed retreat schedule with time frames for all segments including meals and socializing)
· Assign responsibility for each segment
· Develop presentation materials
· Develop/select group exercises
· Develop questions and assign facilitators for breakout groups
· Arrange for materials needed (e.g. flipcharts, markers, projector)
· Develop list of action items for follow up
· Create a summary document of all the flip charts. (This is the
permanent record of ideas and follow-up items.)
· Engage the board in committees and projects based on the action items

Define success up front and then make sure that your program is geared toward inspiring action and results once the retreat is long over. Check back on Friday for a couple of examples.

In yesterday's post I provided information about a couple of resources that you could buy. There is also an excellent resource available at BoardSource for free. The e-book, To Go Forward, Retreat! by Sandra Hughes provides a brief, concise overview and worksheets.

If you don't mind a bit of self promotion - I love facilitating Board retreats and the feedback I get suggests that I am very good at it. If you are looking for a facilitator - lets talk.


Monday, May 24, 2010

Board Retreats - Part 1: Why Have One, Themes and Planning

This week I plan to make several posts about Planning a Board Retreat. This is Part 1 in the series. It has been a while since I have written about this subject but quite a number of people arrive at this blog because they have searched on the topic. It's time for an update.

Why Have a Retreat?
A Board Retreat is the prime opportunity to discuss a matter of importance in-depth and without the normal Board business that gobbles up almost all meetings. Another essential part of board retreats is having the time and structure for building relationships. Boards are teams and people on teams must have respectful and trustful relationships with each other in order to work well together and make effective decisions.

Today many Boards may have reduced economic resources and taking the time to refocus on priorities will be time well spent.

The only thing worse for a Board member than a Board meeting that wastes their time is a Board Retreat that is a waste of time. It is important for a Board Retreat to be well planned for it to be successful. Here are some planning tips to help make your retreat a success.

Choosing the Retreat Theme
What will be the theme for your Board Retreat? Each Board has different needs and each year brings new issues that should be addressed. Decide what is most important for your Board to take the extra time for and then design your retreat around that theme. Some popular themes include:
•Board Development
-Developing Fundraising Expertise
•Strategic Planning
•Making Changes to Adjust to Economic Conditions
•Planning for a Major/Critical Issue (ex. Next ED, Building Plan)
•Team Development
•Plan for Major Anniversaries
•Develop the Board/Staff Relationship

Planning Questions and Activities
Start the planning for your retreat by asking these questions. What do you hope to accomplish by having the retreat and what will success look like? Later in the week I will provide two sample retreat outlines for very different retreats.

The program should be designed to keep the group’s interest and focus for an extended period of time. Board Members want to contribute to the outcome of a retreat. They do not want to just be talked at or participate in activities without a purpose. Make the most of a variety of techniques and keep them all tied to the theme of your retreat. Recommended techniques include:
•Pre-Retreat Materials - These can spark interest in participating in the retreat but they can also create a bunch of “Regrets.” Think this through before you send 100 pages of pre-retreat reading to Board members.
•Icebreakers – The best ones will have a relationship to the theme or the mission of the organization.
•Group Activities – Activities designed to build teamwork work well.
•Breakout Groups – This is the time for thoughtful discussion. Have retreat committee members facilitate the breakout groups so that the discussion stays on target.
•Presentations - This provides opportunity for learning and knowledge building about the organization, serving on Boards or the “industry” that the organization is in.
•Appreciative Inquiry – AI is a change management model that provides a positive approach to addressing change and has a variety of techniques that can be used. There are lots of books on this subject.
•Facilitation – Facilitated discussion and activities can help your retreat go smoothly.

When designing the activities keep these ideas in mind:
•Focus on your retreat goals
•Seek consensus
•Develop recommendations that will turn into action
•Wrap up should include your Next Steps action plan

How Long Should the Retreat Be Anyway?
It used to be common for nonprofit Board Retreats to be on Friday night and all day Saturday. But on every retreat I have been at in the last several years with this design the feedback always says make it one day. More retreat facilitation requests I get today are for a one day retreat. Another popular format is starting at 1 PM with a light lunch and concluding with dinner at 7 PM. This format works especially if there is a single objective/focus for the retreat. But I truly discourage half day events that do not include a meal as they seem to take on the aura of a “regular” Board meeting and don’t allow for the crucial team building which make Board retreats effective.

Later in the week I will discuss planning your Board retreat with a facilitator, provide a Board Retreat leadership checklist and two sample retreat outlines for very different retreats. Check back on Wednesday for Part 2.

This material may be published as a chapter in a book later this year. I hope you'll provide me some feedback in the comments so that my material is the best it can be.

Here are a couple of resources that you can get at Amazon on this subject.

Monday, May 10, 2010

IRS Crackdown on Nonprofit Organizations that Haven’t Filed 990s Is at Critical Stage

The IRS is about to implement for the first time revocation of 501(c)3 status for up to 400,000 registered nonprofits. The first round of revocations will begin May 17, 2010. If your tax exemption status is revoked, the only way to reinstate it will be to reapply. This can easily cost over $1000 with application and attorney, accountant or consultant fees.

501(c)3 organizations must file a Form 990 every year with the IRS. The number of registered nonprofits was growing dramatically and many never really became active organizations or filed a 990 with the IRS as required by law. The IRS would like to increase its oversight of nonprofits but first it wanted to rid its roles of what it considered nonexistent organizations. So in 2006 a law was passed which stipulates that if an organization does not file as required for three consecutive years, it automatically loses its tax-exempt status.

The IRS started out with about a million registered charities that could lose their 501c(3) status. Over the last three years they have set up a process to make it simple for small and startup organizations to file and they have aggressively tried to let nonprofits know that they MUST meet this requirement or their 501(c)3 status will be revoked.

Even if you don’t have any income and the organization does not have to pay taxes you do have to file a 990 form with the IRS. For small organizations with gross receipts of less than $25,000 you simply have to file an ePostcard. Organizations with an income of less than $500,000 can file a 990EZ form and those with greater incomes must file the more comprehensive 990 form.

What will happen if you lose your 501(c)3 status:
The organization must file income tax returns and pay income tax, and its contributors will not be able to deduct their donations.

You may not be entitled to other important exemptions including property tax and sales tax in your state.

You may not be eligible for grants from the government and foundations

Guidestar will be updated, as announced, to show your change in tax exempt status

There are a couple of important resources available that you can check where your organization stands right now.

The Urban Institute National Center for Charitable Statistics has developed a simple tool to find out if you may need to file. I tried this database and simply put in a zip code and all of the organizations in jeopardy came up. I was glad to see that an organization I worked with in January had filed their ePostcard and was not on this list.

Urban Institute National Center for Charitable Statistics

The IRS has a clear, concise statement on this issue and all of the information that you need to file the correct form:
Automatic Revocation for Not Filing Annual Return or Notice

A Guidestar news release states that the IRS will give a six month reprieve by not sending out revocation letters until 2011 but I was not able to find that information on the IRS website.

Bottom line: THIS IS IMPORTANT. I checked several zip codes and was surprised at the organizations on the IRS hit list. Most were small, locally based, all volunteer organizations. Whoever is running them may have NO idea about all of this. If you are associated with a local PTA, parents sports boosters association or other small local nonprofit, take these steps NOW:

1.Check the database to see if your organization is on the list.....If it is:

2. Go to the IRS site and based on your organizations gross receipts, figure out which form you must fill out.

3. Fill out and file the correct form now... the clock is ticking fast......!!!

If this article was of help to you, please leave a comment. I’d like to know if my readers are interested in this type of information.


Sunday, May 09, 2010

Happy Mother's Day - A Gift That Will Help a Mother in Need from Charity Water

Happy Mother's Day to all the mothers and grandmothers out there. I don't usually post on or about Mother's Day on this blog. But I was just scanning through Twitter, commenting on Betty White doing such a great job on SNL last night, and I came across a Tweet from Charity Water with a link to Mother's Day cards.

There is still time to send one of these ecards to the Mother who has everything. For a $20 or $100 donation you can help provide the gift of water to a mother and her family.  There are incredibly beautiful cards featuring mothers helped by water that just shout "the gift of life."

Go directly to the page to order your card now.


Thursday, April 29, 2010

Thought Provoking Grantmaking Ideas from the Council on Foundations Annual Conference

The Council on Foundations has just completed their annual conference in Denver and thanks to Kris Putnam-Walkerly there is an excellent set of articles on the conference at her Philanthropy411 blog. Kris put together this year’s team of bloggers and they are a diverse and distinguished group of “reporter/commentators.” And yes they provide both the objective reporting of what was said and their own commentary on the content. I have been reading all of the blog posts and I find them both informative and thought provoking. I suggest you head over to Philanthrophy411 and check out all the posts too.

Before the conference, Kris asked a LinkedIn group, “What Do You Want To Learn From the Council on Foundations Conference?” and posted some of the responses on her blog including mine:

“Something I’d like to read about is trends in grantmaking. I think that there are two trends in opposite directions…It seems that some foundations are becoming more demanding – more complicated grant applications, increased evaluation requirements and less money to grant. Other foundations seem to be streamlining with less red tape, using the generic online application, allowing staff to make some grants rather than just the Board opening the opportunity for grants throughout the year rather than once or twice. Is there anything to this? I’d like to hear about it.”

The three themes for the conference were: Social Innovation, Social Change, and Social Justice. And there was a lot of discussion touching on the topics I raised. Here are some highlights:

-Speakers challenging grantmakers to make longer term commitments to social change which takes a lot longer than a 3 year grant cycle
-Discussion about commitment to and value of advocacy and not just service delivery
-Speakers encouraging grantmakers to take more risk and not be so enamored with “safe, easy to measure” projects

Rebecca Arno
reported this about evaluation at a panel on social justice:

“The crowd revved up as conversation turned to the current philanthropic fascination with metrics. Naidoo fanned the flames with observations about philanthropy’s “cultural infection with business values”…but Deepak Bhargava of the Center for Community Change reminded us that a lot of well-intentioned mediocrity passes itself off as social justice, so some kinds of metrics are needed. One of my favorite observations on the metrics front came from Eboo Patel of Interfaith Youth Core, who said that they envision their outcomes “not as Monets, but as detailed Polaroids.” Rice noted that if philanthropists would put up the kind of money needed to accomplish the appropriate strategies, she could provide metrics. But in the absence of a large enough investment, metrics can be a distraction.”

There you have it - There is a wide spectrum of opinions about evaluation - even among foundations.

Paul Connolly noted that in the “change versus charity” debate discussion a popular theme was that “too many philanthropic dollars were devoted to transactional direct service delivery and not enough were for advocacy to support transformative change.” I agree with Paul's assessment that its charity AND change that is most effectve. They are not in conflict – each works best in concert with the other.

Geoffrey Canada from Harlem Children’s Zone was the speaker at the closing plenary and I’m sure that his remarks encouraging foundations to take risks with innovative ideas was an excellent topper for the conference.

Thanks, Kris - and all the bloggers - for bringing us this great coverage.