Thursday, June 1, 2017

Seven Ways to Energize and Engage Your Supporters

Okay - so you're asking folks for donations. But are you also asking them to get actively involved? Here are seven ways you can invite them to participate:
  • Ask them for feedback. Send out a survey, soliciting suggestions about your programs and services. Invite comments through an organizational blog. Hold an open public forum. Have personal meetings with key donors and stakeholders. Thank them for their feedback, incorporate ideas that make sense (asking them to help out as you do so!), and quietly discard those completely off-the-wall suggestions.
  • Get them to follow you on social media. Include Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat - wherever your organization has a presence. And be sure to ask them to share your posts with their networks.
  • Ask them to take an action. Right now, people really want to feel they are doing something to make a difference. Ask them to sign a petition, forward an email, and/or make a phone call about an important issue that is consonant with your mission. If you're an arts organization, ask them to support funding for the NEA. If you serve kids, ask them to support funding for afterschool programs. If yours is an environmental agency or you work with immigrants, there are so many bills out there to oppose. And everyone can be urging Members of Congress to uphold the Johnson Amendment.
  • Invite them to volunteer. Are you publicizing volunteer opportunities on your website and enewslettersIf not, start now. Take the time to brainstorm ways you can incorporate volunteers. This could be assisting with senior programs, making phone calls, maintaining your outdoor space, selling refreshments at an event. Schedule an annual volunteer day with lunch provided, and take photos to post on your website.
  • Solicit their expertise. Do you need some advice about personnel issues? Help proofreading? Someone with technical know-how who can evaluate your website? The answers to a couple of quick legal questions? There are lots of retired folks out there who are happy to help nonprofits; you just have to ask.
  • Ask them to join a committee. One of the best ways to get folks involved is through an ad hoc committee - one with a specific focus and a short time frame. Could be a fundraising campaign, brainstorming about programs, or a review of your policy manual.
  • Invite them join your board. Everyone who volunteers time and expertise is a potential new board member. Keep a list, stay in touch, and if they are the right fit, ask them to join.
Volunteering is fun - it makes people feel good. And volunteers are more likely to make charitable gifts, because they feel personally invested. Plus you're broadening your networks, lightening your staff load, and strengthening your organizational capacity. It's a win-win.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Nonprofits in Trump Land: So Many Questions

There are so many questions about the impact of these complicated political times on the nonprofit sector:

Re the relationship between government and nonprofits:
  • Will this administration discard the nonprofit/government partnership forged in the 1960's to provide direct federal funding for social services? There has long been a push/pull between conservatives who believe the less government the better (and the only good nonprofit is a religious one) vs. progressives who feel government has a moral imperative to support social services. Right now the balance looks to be tipping conservative.
Re the impact of new government policies on clients and communities:
  • How can those who serve immigrant populations find the resources to address pressing issues while being mindful of the risks for those populations and at the same time just what they normally do? There is tremendous fear in the immigrant community  - this means that nonprofits need to be cautious and discreet, as well as respond to whatever is the current crisis. This means more work for your already underpaid and overworked staff.
Re nonprofit finances and fundraising:
  • How would the proposed loss of funding for NPR, NEA, and NEH impact the sector and the nation? These agencies receive a minuscule amount of federal funds but support programs that serve rural, suburban, and urban communities throughout the country.
  • What will be the impact if funding is slashed for government programs that provide legal aid, food, health services, afterschool programs, environmental protection, and financial assistance for low-income folks? There will be tremendous pressure to maintain these programs - but no secure funding.
  • Will foundations that fund arts and community organizations prioritize political advocacy and decrease support? It's already happening. So your focus needs to be on increasing individual contributions big and small, encouraging monthly contributions, and winning back lapsed donors.
  • After streamlining services and budgets following the 2008 recession, will nonprofits survive another round that could be even more severe? Every nonprofit in the country rolled up its sleeves, upped its fundraising game, slashed budgets, and became more strategic back then - because they had to. There's not much left to cut. But note that agencies completely dependent on one primary source of funds, whether from the government or foundations, fared the worst. Hopefully, you learned that putting all your funding eggs in one basket is a recipe for disaster.
  • How will big national campaigns impact charitable giving to smaller nonprofits? Donations to the ACLU have increase 8,000%, and 1,000% for Planned Parenthood. Yet smaller organizations have also experienced donor bumps. And it is my experience that donors are capable of thinking both big and small, and being very loyal to organizations they care about. 
And now for our last question:
  • How can your organization make itself heard over the din of petitions and requests for money, and make the case that your nonprofit still matters? You do it the same way you always have - by staying in touch regularly and authentically, building relationships with donors, writing those thank you letters, and using every means at your disposal to reach out to your community for support.

Friday, March 31, 2017

The Johnson Amendment: Religion, Politics & Nonprofits

I just signed a community letter from the National Council of Nonprofits opposing the repeal of the Johnson Amendment. And I'd like to urge you to do so as well.

This is an issue that hasn't risen to the top of the tweet and media chart. I'm guessing most of you don't even know what the Johnson Amendment is. But it's vitally important to the health of the nonprofit sector and to our preservation of the line between church and state.

Here's a basic summary: the Johnson Amendment states that in exchange for the privilege of tax-exempt status (along with the ability to receive tax-deductible contributions), 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations including religious congregations and foundations cannot participate in "any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office." This amendment was proposed by Senator Lyndon Johnson in 1954, apparently to squelch groups in his home state that opposed him.

President Trump has emphatically stated that he wants to "get rid of and totally destroy the Johnson Amendment and allow our representatives of faith to speak freely and without fear of retribution." He also said this could be his "greatest contribution to Christianity."

Public support has come from folks in the religious community who want their ordained religious leaders to be able to endorse partisan political candidates from the pulpit. Their rationale is that this is a First Amendment right.

But - the federal tax code already allows these organizations and their leaders to engage in public discourse. Nonpartisan voter education activities, church-organized voter registration drives, issue guides for voters, and sermons about social and political issues are all allowed. Religious leaders have shaped public debate since our nation's founding using these tools, advocating from both left and right (from civil rights to abortion). What the amendment does prohibit is campaign intervention - endorsing or opposing candidates for public office, publishing and distributing statements for or against them, and using tax-deductible resources to support partisan political activities.

So is this about free speech? Nope. The real objective is to allow wealthy donors like the Koch brothers to make tax-exempt contributions for partisan political purposes - and remain completely anonymous. Religious and nonprofit organizations would become central in the world of money and politics. This would be contrary to all the values I hold dear about the nonprofit sector and about American democracy.

I urge you to support the integrity of the nonprofit sector by signing this letter at And let your Congressional representatives know where you stand; despite Trump's promise to destroy the Johnson Amendment, he can't actually do it on his own - it's a law, and only Congress can repeal it. The nonprofit community needs to be a place where we can work together in a nonpartisan way to make this world a better place.