Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Three Simple Fundraising Tips: Bequests, Brokerage Accounts & IRAs

Bequests, brokerage accounts and IRA contributions: all of these are important tools to include in your fundraising kit. Here’s some basic information about each, including how they are affected by the new tax law:

Bequests: Bequests are a simple, easy, and common form of charitable giving (8% of total annual giving, and 90% of planned gifts). All a donor has to do is add a clause in their will or trust, designating a specific amount of money (or stocks, bonds, assets) to be given to your nonprofit. Your nonprofit doesn’t have to have a complicated planned giving strategy, or a designated legal advisor, or a big marketing plan. All you have you to do is actively encourage people to consider a bequest to your nonprofit – on your website, brochures, enewsletters – as well as in personal meetings with supporters. Start building a list of folks who have done so, give the group a catchy moniker, and post the list (with permission) on your walls and website. Ask them to publicly share a personal story about why they chose to do so.  And note that bequests come for all kinds of people (not just the obviously well-to-do) - often as a surprise, from long time donors who have given small gifts over time, and whom you may not have even met.

Brokerage accounts: Many Boomers may not be to make significant cash donations, but as their parents pass on, they are quite likely to inherit appreciated stocks. Under the new tax law, folks who donate appreciated stocks, bonds or other assets to a charity will continue to be able to avoid all capital gains tax - regardless of whether or not the donor is able to itemize. To facilitate these gifts, your nonprofit needs to have a brokerage account (my recommendation: Schwab is the easiest and best option). It takes some doing to set it up, but there's no cost, and once the paperwork is in place you are ready to go. Be sure to make it clear on your donation page that you welcome gifts of stock, and that it's easy to do.

IRA Rollover Contributions: Folks who are 70 1/2 or older and have an IRA can make a charitable donation (of up to $100,000) directly from their IRA accounts. It's easy - and, similar to gifts of stock, can be done whether or not the donor is itemizing. Plus the amount of the distribution will be excluded from their taxable income, yielding a much better bottom line on returns; as well, these donations will count towards the annual required minimum distribution.

None of these tips are instant money-makers: we're just talking basic, long-term strategies, all of of them simple and well worth pursuing. You just need to make a decision to move forward and let folks know about these opportunities to support your good work.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Fundraising in Fractured Times

Chaos on the national level along with uncertainty about the impact of the tax bill and the future of our democracy have made these anxious times for nonprofits. Sometimes it feels like you can’t get a break from crazy tweets and jaw-dropping headlines and national tragedies.

And yet, you still need to raise money for your work. So here are five fundamental principles to keep in mind.

1) Fundraising is a year-round project. It’s not just about one big fundraising campaign, or one gala event; you need to be asking folks many times, in many ways, to contribute to your organization. This includes making several appeals throughout the year via email, website, snail mail, Facebook, and personal contacts. It includes having a website that is easily navigable, well designed, and drives visitors to your donor page.

2) Every staff member is a piece of the fundraising puzzle. Although there may be one key staff member who has the main responsibility for fundraising, everyone should be knowledgeable about your strategies, able to make a quick elevator speech about your mission and the value of your work, focused on making positive connections with clients and donors, and ready to hand out remit envelopes. Most important: every Executive Director needs to fundraise, in particular through individual contacts with significant donors. This should be written into their job descriptions, and a focus in every performance review.

3) Everyone on your Board bears responsibility for fundraising. Yes, I know that most Board members resist direct asks, and would rather spend hours planning a fundraiser than one hour meeting with a donor. So you have to make it clear in your Board job description and orientation that fundraising is a key responsibility and what your expectations are. You have to provide training (not once, but regularly).

4) Fundraising is driven by organizational data. You can’t fundraise effectively and strategically without a well-constructed and comprehensive database. If you have one that’s not working for you, find a better one. You should have comprehensive information at your fingertips about each donor – when they have given, why, how much, how they like to be contacted. And you should be able to segment lists for focused appeals.

5) Fundraising is about personal connection. But the bottom line is that all the data in the world does not replace the value of authentic human connection. This starts with what happens when folks walk into your facility or office, with how they are treated on the phone, with how quickly and well you respond to their emails. And it continues into personal notes on letters, prompt thank yous, donor appreciation events, personal phone calls, house meetings, and one-on-one meetings in which you listen, engage, ask for feedback, and solicit donations.


I know there’s been a lot of chatter out there about increased competition for funds, because there are so many embattled good causes. But I’ve heard that chatter over and over throughout the years, through recessions and political crises and hurricanes and earthquakes. And yet, the nonprofit sector has survived and persisted and raised money. You will too - you just need keep on fundraising.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Some Things You Should Know About the NRA

The NRA is a nonprofit – but it’s complicated. It’s classified as a 501(c)(4) under U.S. tax law. It has several 501(c)(3) charitable subsidiaries (NRA Civil Rights Defense Fund, NRA Foundation Inc., NRA Special Contribution Fund, Friends of NRA Foundation, and NRA Freedom Action Foundation) plus a 527 Political Action Committee (NRA Political Victory Fund). Each subsidiary is controlled in varying degrees by the parent organization—from shared board members to control of leadership positions.

IRS basics: A 501(c)(4) organization is allowed to engage in political lobbying and advocacy including supporting or opposing candidates, but this must be related to the group’s primary mission and cannot be its main activity. Note that 501(c)(3)s are specifically prohibited from participating in partisan campaigns. Both are exempt from paying income and property taxes; only donations to 50(c)(3)s are tax-deductible. Political action organizations (including PACs as well as mainstream political parties) are classified as 527s; these groups actively influence elections and policy debates at all levels of government.

The NRA’s nonprofit mission: To protect and defend the Constitution; to promote public safety; to train people in the safe handling of small arms; to foster and promote the shooting sports; and to promote hunter safety.

By-laws: NRA by-laws state the organization is not affiliated with any arms or ammunition manufacturer nor with any business that deals in guns or ammunition.

The NRA’s long-lost past: The NRA has been around since 1871. For a century it was a marksmanship, hunting, and conservation group. In 1934, NRA President Karl Frederick stated: "I do not believe in the general promiscuous toting of guns. I think it should be sharply restricted and only under licenses.” Its original application for 501(c(3) status in 1938 was denied; ten years later, it was granted 501(c(4) status.

Some famous NRA members: William Taft, Theodore Roosevelt, Hunter Thompson, Dwight Eisenhower, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon, Donald Trump, Timothy McVeigh, Charlton Heston, Ulysses S. Grant, Tom Selleck, Whoopi Goldberg, and Sarah Palin.

The big change: In 1975,a change in leadership moved the NRA from social club to an ideological political movement. They became the masters of messaging, pushing a definition of the Second Amendment that left out the link between a "well-regulated militia" and the right to bear arms. The NRA endorsed a presidential candidate for the first time in 1980, backing Ronald Reagan. Since 2005, millions of gun industry dollars have been donated through NRA sponsor programs, along with revenue from industry ads in its many publications. Various gun companies and publications also donate portions of sales directly to the NRA.

And now: Today, the lobbying arm is one of the most powerful in the country, with a virtual stranglehold on politicians. For the 2016 elections, the NRA spent $51,854,687 - more than any other political nonprofit in the country. Thirty million of this went to support Donald Trump.

IRS enforcement: Critics claim the NRA's tax exemption should be taken away because it spends more time and money on politics than it does on charitable purposes. Perhaps you're wondering where the IRS is on all of this. And the answer is - nowhere. There is no actual formula that defines the legal balance between political and charitable activity. Plus the controversy over supposed IRS bias against nonprofits espousing right-learning causes resulted in significant cutbacks in both funding and oversight.

And right now: Student activist Emma Gonzales has more Twitter followers than Donald TrumpIt feels like we are at a critical moment in which we might actually be able to challenge the NRA's tactics, and push sensible gun control legislation. I'll be making my calls, and showing up, and marching - hoping you'll be there with me.