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