Tuesday, January 2, 2018

What Worked, What Didn't: Evaluating Your Fundraising

Your fall fundraising campaign is done; you've taken your holiday break. Now, pat yourself on the back, take a deep breath, and schedule time to analyze what worked and what didn't.

Here are some things to scrutinize:
  • Total amount raised: Did it increase, decrease or remain the same? How does it compare to the past five years? Did you meet your goal?
  • Number of donors: Ditto.
  • Donation amounts: How many folks increased their donations? How many decreased or remained the same? A gift chart is a helpful aid to visualize your results; it should look like a pyramid, with larger numbers of small donors at the bottom, big donors at the top.
  • Donor retention rate: What percentage of last year's donors gave again? The average rate is around 50%. Did you do better or worse? Any ideas why?
  • New donors: Were you successful in cultivating new donors? Did their numbers/dollars exceed those who did not return?
  • Lapsed donors: Did you do a specific appeal to lapsed donors? Did lapsed donors return? 
  • Ways of giving: Are folks giving online, or by check? Through your website or Facebook or email appeals forwarded by Board members? Do you have a monthly giving program (if not, you should), and is it growing? How much was unrestricted (i.e. available to fund ongoing operating expenses)?
  • Appeal response: Which appeals raised the most money? Look at emails, letters, phone calls. Consider timing - did you get a better response around Thanksgiving or at year's end? Consider messaging - was there a particular email that delivered? Did folks respond more to photos and/or videos? What was the content of the words/visuals that evoked the best response?
  • Thank you letters: Were thank you letters (or emails or postcards) sent out to every donor, whether for $5 or $1,000? Were they sent within ten days of receipt?
  • Donor demographics: Do your donors represent a diverse mix of ethnicity, age, geography, and economic backgrounds?Are your volunteers making contributions?
  • Staff report card: Did everyone on staff contribute in some capacity, whether by making asks or designing emails or sending out thank you letters?
  • Board report card:  Did every Board member make a donation that was significant for them? Did your Board members make all their asks? Who got more responses? Take some time to talk with those who were successful, find out what worked for them, and have them share their insights with your Board.
Next, analyze this information in brainstorming sessions with both your staff and your Board. After that, document everything. Be sure to add any information you have gathered about significant donors to your database including how much and when they gave, whether they wish to remain anonymous, specific comments they made, and who solicited their donations. Finally, use this information to create your 2018 fundraising calendar and plan.

And then you start all over again, older and hopefully wiser, raising the money you need to continue your good work in this new year.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Death, Taxes, Politics, Religion & Nonprofits

How can we count the ways that the Republican tax plan is bad for nonprofits and for our country? Here’s how:

Charitable giving is likely to decrease: The plan doubles the standard deduction. Experts predict this would cause a $14 billion decline in giving because the number of Americans who itemize their deductions and take a write off for their gifts would decrease precipitously.

Contributions from rich people will dominate: The plan focuses on increasing rewards for charitable giving aimed at rich people, rather than all income levels. Those who still itemize would get an even bigger charitable deduction (up from 50 to 60%), while the repeal of the estate tax leaves even more dollars for the well-to-do. The charitable deduction would become a tax benefit that specifically privileges the rich, and allows them to become the biggest voice in determining the focus of the nonprofit sector.

Churches will have license to become vehicles for politicking without accountability: All nonprofits can already speak out about political, social, and moral issues; repealing the Johnson Amendment would expand this to endorsement of partisan political candidates. Churches are 501(c)(3) nonprofits with a special dispensation; they don’t have to file IRS form 990. This means that donations made to churches for partisan political purposes would be both tax-deductible and anonymous. Note that 4,200 faith leaders, 5,500 nonprofit organizations, and 103 religious organizations have told Congress they oppose the repeal of current law.

Barriers between church and state will be eroded: The loudest voices in support of the repeal of the Johnson Amendment are Christian nationalists who believe our laws should be specifically guided by their very conservative Christian principles, movie towards a theocratic state. Full disclosure: I am not a Christian, and this view scares the neck out of me.

Nonprofits will be politicized: Nonprofits would be allowed to endorse and support political candidates, while still keeping their tax-exempt status. Political parties, candidates and wealthy donors could use tax-exempt organizations as tools or pressure them for endorsements. Consider this: Roy Moore’s charitable foundation (Foundation for Moral Law) has been actively promoting his candidacy. But the focus of nonprofits should be on doing good work in the community based on their charitable missions, not entering into our charged and divided political discourse.

I hope you will continue to press your congressional representatives to these dangerous consequences of the tax plan.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Some Reflections on Tzedakah (a.k.a Charity - Sort of)

I’m writing this in the middle of the Jewish High Holidays – ten complex, intense and powerful days that start with Rosh Hashonah and end with Yom Kippur. The concept of Tzedakah is part of the big three of the High Holidays, along with t’shuvah (repentance) and t’filah (prayer), and it is central to Jewish law and liturgy.

A cursory search for a definition of the word yields “giving charitable contributions.” But that’s not really accurate. The root word (tzedek) literally means justice, fairness, righteous behavior. And tzedakah is decidedly not considered a matter of generosity; it is an obligation. It’s something you are required to do. You are required to help both Jews and gentiles. You are required to help those in need, even if you yourself are in need. You are required to seek justice.

This biblical imperative was the basis for all kinds of voluntary societies to care for the ill, for newlyweds, for travelers, for preparing and burying the dead; for the Jewish law that farmers are required to leave aside crops for the landless; for organizations that provided interest-free loans; for the tzedakah box kept in the town square to collect money for good causes.

The Jewish National Fund revolutionized Jewish giving in 1904 by providing small tins (pushkes) for Jewish families to collect spare change at home, with a focus on supporting Jewish institutions and the state of Israel. These days, the parameters have expanded beyond local, ethnic and religious issues -- to support for nonprofit organizations that promote peace, environmental causes, social justice, equal rights, and a two-state solution in Israel and Palestine.

The Jewish sage Maimonides famously delineated the eight “ladders” of tzedakah, from the least meritorious to most. The bottom two are giving begrudgingly, and giving less than you should or could but doing it cheerfully. I do love the idea of cheerful giving; and note that a new neurological study just found that generosity literally makes you feel happy. The next two up: giving after being asked and giving without being asked. This would indeed be a great time to make an unsolicited contribution for a good cause, whether that be hurricane relief or support for immigrants. The top two: being a completely anonymous donor followed by giving that enables the recipient to become self-reliant. My definition of a self-reliant nonprofit is one with diverse income sources including robust ongoing support from Individual donors at all levels - one that exercises prudent fiscal management, builds relationships, communicates regularly, reaches out widely, and always sends prompt well-written thank you notes. And what these nonprofits need are unrestricted gifts for those not so sexy but essential ongoing operating expenses that make the work possible. 

In this time of great reflection and turbulence, I am using these ten days of awe not only to make amends, to resolve to be a better friend and parent and grandparent, but also to re-dedicate myself to supporting those causes I hold dear, both as a Jew and as an American citizen, with words and deeds and dollars.