Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Simple Tools for Finding In-kind Donations

Looking for new office furniture? Desperate to upgrade your software? Need art supplies for your children's activities? Hoping to spruce up your landscaping? Trying to cut costs from your annual budget? Here are some simple, practical suggestions for finding donations that are either free or very inexpensive:
  • Post a wish list: This is one of the easiest and most effective ways to solicit in-kind donations. Simply post a list of all the things you need on your website, newsletter, and printed brochures. You might be surprised at what you get - folks often recycle items that are perfectly workable and practically new. Be specific about your needs, and find a way to thank people while gently and kindly declining donations that do not fit your specifications.
  • Check out Tech Soup: This nonprofit offers free and/or discounted technology products and information to other nonprofits. This includes articles, blogs, and free webinars as well as more than 400 products from donor partners including Microsoft, Adobe, Cisco, Intuit, and Symantec:  http://home.techsoup.org/pages/default.aspx
  • Register with Good360: Good360 donates new products like office furniture to nonprofit agencies from the corporations that manufacture them. First you register, then search for the products you need - or you can submit a wish list. Just note that you will be required to pay any shipping costs:  http://good360.org/
  • Sign up with Ireuse: Ireuse is another online resource, this one offering used office furniture for free to registered nonprofits. The furniture comes from for-profit businesses that are upgrading:  http://www.ireuse.com/site/
  • Post on Craigslist: Search to see if the item you need is available through Craigslist. Or you can post your own specific request at no charge. Make sure to provide contact information and a link to your website so folks know who you are and what you do:  http://sfbay.craigslist.org/
  • Ask at your local Thrift Store: Often, small local thrift stores will keep an eye out for specific merchandise for community-based nonprofits - and give them to you for free or for a discounted price. This is an especially good resource for art and craft supplies.
  • Build relationships with local businesses: Shop locally - and once or twice a year, ask those businesses to give back to you with a specified in-kind donation. If you are a membership organization, this can a way for them to join. Be sure to acknowledge these donations publicly through your website, member lists, and newsletters.
Just a couple of final notes: send formal thank-you letters when you receive in-kind donations, and be sure to include the total value of in-kind donations in your annual fiscal reports.These strategies can help build donor relationships and financial sustainability.  Good luck, and happy shopping!

Monday, January 2, 2012

Navigating Nonprofit Budgets

Do your eyes glass over when fiscal reports are reviewed? Do the numbers seem impenetrable? Are you afraid to ask questions for fear of looking stupid? You are not alone; it's a common condition for nonprofit board and staff members who are much more comfortable discussing programs than budgets. Yet it is your professional obligation as staff - and your legal responsibility as a board member - to exercise prudent financial oversight of your nonprofit organization.

Here are some basic but important questions you should be asking about your agency's budget:

  • How does it compare to last year? Look for significant changes in both revenue and expenses (either up or down). Find out whether these changes are situational, or indicative of trends for the future.
  • Does it match up with your current projected budget? Check to see if you are meeting your targets and if not, ask why.
  • Are revenue projections realistic? You need to know whether the revenue indicated in your budget represents funds already committed, funds pending, or pie-in-the-sky hopefulness.
  • Have you budgeted for facility and/or technology maintenance and upgrade? It is essential to plan for ongoing maintenance and upgrade for both technology (computers, phones, copy machines, websites) and facility - or you can be hit with big unexpected expenses.
  • Are you facing any significant changes in either revenue or expense within the next 1-3 years? Do you have any time-limited grants that are providing basic funding for core programs, operating expenses, or staff? Will any long-time staff be leaving in the near future? Don't wait until the last minute to plan and budget for big transitions.
  • Are salaries and benefits in line with similar organizations in your area? If they are too high, funders and donors will be unhappy. If they are too low, you may have difficulty maintaining competent staff, and you could be faced with significant upgrade costs when there is a staff turnover. Take the time to do your research; the Northern California Nonprofit Compensation and Benefit Survey is a great resource: http://www.ncg.org/s_ncg/doc.asp?CID=11346&DID=46405
  • Are your fundraisers really raising funds? Too often, nonprofits fail to do accurate accounting of annual fundraisers. Don't hang onto a long-time fundraising event out of either nostalgia or inertia. Look at a detailed budget for each fundraiser that includes costs for staff time and facility expenses as well as direct expenses.

Make sure that your agency fiscal reports are presented transparently, in layman's language that everyone can understand. This should include a narrative report as well as spread sheets that include the most recently completed fiscal year, a current to-date accounting, and the current year's projected budget. Find a format that works for you and your board, insist on sufficient time ask all the questions you need answered, and don't be afraid to ask them.