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What’s In a Name? May 13, 2013

Filed under: accountability,communications,individual donors,transparency — fundtimes @ 4:58 pm

Most people are familar with the quote, “…a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” But how many understand what this means or even where it came from? Channeling my inner nerd, I looked it up and found that it is from William Shakespeare’s play, Romeo and Juliet. Juliet says to Romeo,

“O, be some other name!

       What’s in a name? that which we call a rose

       By any other name would smell as sweet;

       So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d,

       Retain that dear perfection which he owes

       Without that title.”

In full context, Juliet proclaims to Romeo that his family name does not diminish who he is (aww). But can the same be said for nonprofits’ reputations who accept major gifts in return for donor naming rights?

Generally assigned to the private sector, naming rights is a financial transaction where a corporation purchases the right to name a facililty or other physical space (often as a long-term advertising strategy). Like a lot of for-profit tactics, naming rights have been adopted by nonprofits as a perk for major donors.

In an earlier post, I explored the need to properly vet potential donors. These same warnings can also be applied when considering whether or not to place a company’s or individual’s name on anything tied to your nonprofit. In this cash-strapped economy, the last thing a nonprofit needs is bad publicity. Below are a few tips to guide your nonprofit in considering whether or not to provide naming rights for major donors:

  • Is it Worth It? – As with any major decision, your nonprofit’s leadership should determine if it is even worth it to have naming rights as an option for major donors. The average nonprofit does not own a lot of property, if any. Rather, the decision to allow naming rights is prevalent among larger nonprofits like institutions of higher learning. Therefore, a quick inventory of your nonprofit’s size will determine the usefulness of implementing this fundraising strategy.
  • Investigate – In this age of information, it should be relatively easy to investigate a major donor’s reputation (Google, anyone?). If the internet proves unfruitful, you could also consider asking other nonprofits who have received donations about the quality of their interaction with a given donor.
  • Put It In Writing – If you decide to allow naming rights for major donors, then it is useful to create a policy that outlines the terms and expectations of this agreement. If your nonprofit receives money from foundations, this policy would be similar to the grant agreement that you sign upon notification of an award. Click here for an actual example of a naming rights policy.

What are your thoughts on donor naming rights? Would you consider implementing such a policy for your nonprofit? Why or why not?


Tell It Like It Is April 17, 2013

Filed under: communications,transparency — fundtimes @ 4:59 pm

Everyone loves a good story. Whether absorbed through the eyes or ears, we relish the details surrounding another’s circumstance (fictional or otherwise). Bad intentions aside, I believe that such stories work to eliminate the xenophobia we may have towards our neighbors. This is certainly good news for the nonprofit sector.

As you know, the charitable sector relies heavily on the generosity of individual donors, foundations and corporate programs for funding. But this generosity is predicated on the belief that a nonprofit is capable of improving the lives of our nation’s most vulnerable populations. Thus, the narrative surrounding your nonprofit’s impact has to be airtight when it comes to securing support from the philanthropic community.

Simon Sinek, renowned thought leader and author of the best-selling book “Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action”, recently shared this interesting tidbit:

“Stories are attempts to share our values and beliefs. Story telling is only worthwhile when it tells what we stand for, not what we do.”

So what does your nonprofit stand for? This question is typically answered by directing folks to your mission statement. But mission statements rarely get at the real-life examples of how a nonprofit impacts lives. This is when mastering the art of story telling becomes keenly useful in both cultivating and retaining donors.  Below are a few tips to help improve your communications:

  • Assess Impact – Throughout the years, I’ve noticed that folks only consider the impact of their work when it’s time to write the dreaded grant report. By then, there’s a mad scramble to get testimonials from the people you’ve served and your own memory of how effective that workshop was is more than hazy. To avoid this, get in the habit of interviewing your constituents immediately after an event. Ask a few of your clients to provide testimonials of how your program has helped them.  It is tempting to relay how great your nonprofit is when reporting to the larger community, but nothing seals this viewpoint better than hearing directly from those you serve.
  • Create Your Propaganda – Once you have enough data on how awesome your nonprofit is, consider how you might frame this information for mass consumption. Creating a one-page fact sheet of community issues and how your nonprofit is working to change them is a great way to start. Want to appeal to those who lean towards visuals? Consider creating a infographic detailing the impact of your organization or producing a short video of your staff at work. Whatever you decide, be sure that your audience has multiple ways to learn about what you do. If you’re not sure where to start, just ask me. I’m here to help.
  • Sell Your Story – Now that your story is coming together, how do you make sure the rest of the world knows how great your nonprofit is? Consider adding any material to your website and driving attention to it through your Twitter and Facebook accounts. If you feel awkward that you haven’t reached out to your email list since the last giving appeal, then now is the time to show them what you’ve been up to. And don’t let this be all about you. Invite the larger community to give you feedback on ways your organization could be of greater service.

What are some other ways you share what your nonprofit stands for?


Looking a Gift Horse in the Mouth November 13, 2012

Have you ever considered turning down a donation?  This may seem like a strange question in today’s economy, but knowing the answer may impact your bottom line in more ways than one.


In my first job as a fundraiser, I was introduced to the wonderful world of grantmakers.  Channeling my inner nerd, I would often research the history behind the formation of a philanthropic institution, paying careful attention to the ways in which wealth was accumulated.  I came across foundations who built their endowments through a variety of means; some of which would be viewed as highly unethical these days.   In an era where information is readily accessible (I dare you to google yourself), I wonder how many nonprofits consider the source of  funding prospects?  Turns out The Real News Network (TRNN) does.


TRNN considers themselves to be “…a television news and documentary network focused on providing independent and uncompromising journalism.”  To this end, they do not accept government or corporate funding choosing to solely raise money through the individual donations of their viewers.  This mantra is even boldly placed at the top of their website.  Now this may seem like an unimportant detail to most.  But for a donor looking to ensure that their money is given to an organization that will truly advance independent media, this promise may be the sticking point needed for them to write that check for years to come.


So how do you determine the need to vet donations to your nonprofit? Below are a few points to consider:

  • Ethics Outweigh Need: If your organization is committed to promoting a specific ideology (think: marriage equality), then it makes sense to scrutinize funding prospects (despite their tasty sandwiches, approaching Chick-Fil-A is not a good look). Let’s face it, nobody likes a hypocrite.
  • Need Outweighs Ethics: If your nonprofit works to address the physical needs of people (think: homeless shelter), then the beliefs of a potential donor or institution may be less of an issue (you will approach Chick-Fil-A because darn it, people have to eat).
  • It’s All Filthy Lucre: Perhaps the source of donations is simply a non-issue for your organization.  You may find it impossible to fully separate your nonprofit from money gained through the promotion of unfavorable beliefs or unethical business ventures.  All you know is that there are folks in your community that rely on your organization to help them overcome life’s biggest challenges.  To quote Eleanor Roosevelt, “Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift. That’s why we call it ‘The Present’.”


What do you think of vetting donor prospects? Is it worth the investigation?


Right Reporting November 1, 2011

Filed under: accountability,evaluation,foundations,transparency — fundtimes @ 2:18 pm

Fall is in the air!  As most of us near the end of our fiscal year, we might feel inclined to kick back, grab that medium hazelnut coffee from Dunkin’ Donuts (I’m not picky), and stare into space about all the days we have off in the next few months.  Will we finally take that ski trip or opt for a staycation?  The options are endless.

But, as you know, reality always rears its ugly face.  Because while you were daydreaming about Aspen, up popped an email from the XX Foundation reminding you of that final grant report that’s due in two weeks.  Not only did you forget about this deadline, but you failed to ask your program staff to start gathering the data you need to evaluate this grant’s impact on the population you serve.

————————<feel free to bang head here>—————————-

Once you’re done sobbing in a fetal position, look at this as a lesson learned on the importance of grants management.  Sure it’s great to be uber-savvy about cultivating foundation prospects, writing compelling proposals, and thanking your donors.  Yet, if you fail to report back to your supporters in a timely fashion, you risk cutting future funding off at the kneecaps.

So what are some sure-fire ways to ensure that the grant reporting process is as satisfying as the day you received the grant award letter?  Check out my top three tips below:

  • Track Deadlines.  Ok, so this first tip isn’t that mind-blowing.  But it has to be said because the solution to never missing a grant reporting deadline is, well, to write it down.  Love online reminders? Consider using the ‘tasks’ function in Microsoft Outlook.  Think paper and pen work best?  Place sticky notes across your desk.  The best way to keep track of your grant report deadlines is really up to you.  The main thing is to pick a tool that helps you to remember these important dates so you’re not stuck panicking at the 11th hour.
  • Monitor Milestones. Chronicling your program accomplishments is incredibly important.  That is, this process provides tangible proof that your nonprofit is effectively meeting its mission.  Not only is this good fodder in which to high five your colleagues, but it is often required in proving to your foundation supporters that their money was put to good use.  Membership organizations like the Nonprofit Technology Network offer incredible (and sometimes free) resources on how to create a “data-driven” culture in your office.
  • Make It a Company Affair.  I once attended a workshop on individual donors where the presenter asked who was responsible for raising money in an office.  Responses ranged from the development staff to the board to that of the executive director.  The answer?  Everyone.  From the person who answers the phone to the one who processes payroll, all staff must have a spirit of accountability in ensuring that potential and existing supporters experience the best interaction possible with the nonprofit.  The same is true when it comes to reporting on a grant.  Development must work with program staff to make sure the appropriate data is collected in advance of a reporting deadline.  This includes frequent check-ins between the two departments as the day-to-day workload can often take precedence over data collection.

Now it’s your turn.  How does your nonprofit manage the grant reporting process?


Tales From the Funding Side May 6, 2011

Filed under: foundations,transparency,Uncategorized — fundtimes @ 1:29 am

The “overachiever” in me wants to always understand the entire process of things.  Not only do I like to eat (my family can attest to that), but I want to understand the seasonings that are combined to create a magnificent dish.  The same is true with my love of all things fundraising.  Dedicating my professional career to fundraising is only one way that I show my support for building the capacity of nonprofits.  What you may not know (if you haven’t read my “About” section, shame on you) is that I have moonlighted as a volunteer grant reviewer.  The things that I’ve learned from this process are enough to prompt you to want to take me out to dinner to hear all about it.

But never mind that.

This month’s post is dedicated to sharing the top four grant writing strategies that will make  a  program officer want to commit a “philanthropic drive-by” on your behalf (i.e., slide past your office with grant check in hand).

  • Understand the Process. Before you put pen to paper (or finger to keyboard), it’s important to review the entire Request for Proposal (RFP) or application guidelines.  Taking time to do this ensures that you gather all of the necessary information in order to effectively respond to each section of the application.
  • Grading on a Rubric. The strength of your application will likely be assessed using a scoring rubric.  While you won’t necessarily have access to the scoring rubric or know how many points each section is worth, it is important to thoroughly answer each and every grant question.  Which takes me to my next point…          
  • Don’t Curb Your Enthusiasm. When reviewing grant applications, there were many applicants that omitted the requested information.  They cynic in me likened this to laziness on the part of the writer.  Was the applicant tired of writing about their program or did they in fact, not have an answer to the question?  I can’t say, but it definitely impacted my decision to move their application forward.
  • Less is More.  It can be tempting to want to describe each and every detail of your program in a grant application, but don’t.  As a volunteer grant reviewer, I was tasked with scoring between five and ten applications.  That may not sound like a lot, but when you consider that each was about 10 pages long, the process turned out to be rather lengthy.  The first thing I learned in my “Introduction to Grant Writing” class in graduate school was to sum it up.  Mastering the art of succinct sentences is critical in keeping a grant reviewer or program officer interested in reading about your work.

Have you ever volunteered as a grant reviewer or worked as a program officer?  What other bits of advice would you add about the review process?


Party For a Purpose March 7, 2011

When was the last time you partied for a purpose?  And by purpose, I don’t mean “I-wish-I-could-play-in-the-sandbox-but-I’m-too-old-so-the-bar-will-do.”  I mean, when was the last time you attended an event that was mutually beneficial for you AND someone else?  I hope that it is with this frame of mind that you and your colleagues will consider hosting a fundraising event for your nonprofit this year!

Fundraising events are an effective strategy for both cultivating existing and prospective donors.  Not only are attendees able to learn more about your organization, but the event allows you to personally interact with individuals who share your organization’s worldview.  And this is not just a great strategy to schmooze individual donors.  Local businesses can also get in on the action as a supporter of your cause.

So if you’re ready to throw your hands in the air and have others wave them around like they just don’t care, the following tips will guide you in implementing a successful fundraising event:

  • Plan Ahead. It is absolutely essential that you allow plenty of time to plan for a fundraiser.  The rule of thumb is to start planning at least six months in advance.  This allows ample time to develop a theme, secure a venue, and contact a guest speaker or honoree (if applicable).
  • Think Outside the Box. I’m a firm believer that fundraisers do not need to be overly formal.  Should the event be held at a hotel? Probably not.  Must there be a three-course dinner included? Not really.  When thinking about how your event would run, don’t be afraid to pick nontraditional venues like a vineyard or conservatory.  The most unique location I have ever heard for a fundraiser was the lower level of a mall.  Move the kiosks out of the way and voilà, let the mix and mingling begin :).

  • Delegate Tasks. Given the complexity of fundraising events, you or your staff may be tempted to execute it all on your own to ensure its success.  This makes sense if you have a large staff, but if your nonprofit is like pantyhose (overstretched), you may want to consider delegating tasks to your board or advisory committee.  For example, if you have a board member that has a spacious house, they might be the perfect person to ask to host the event and provide food and refreshments.
  • Consider the Source. When considering revenue sources for the event, don’t rely on ticket sales alone.  Consider raising the big bucks through sponsorships and the formation of a host committee.  Creating sponsorship opportunities is great for two reasons: (1) it allows your nonprofit to raise significant amounts of money in advance of the event and (2) it provides local businesses the opportunity to emphasize their commitment to community improvement.  Host committees are also a great funding source.  This committee is usually responsible for donating a certain amount to the event (e.g., $250-$500) and encouraging their friends/family/colleagues to attend.

What do you think about these strategies?  Do you have any additional ideas on how to make fundraising events a success?


I (Want to) Know What You Did Last Summer January 4, 2011

Filed under: accountability,foundations,individual donors,transparency — fundtimes @ 2:57 pm

Ok, so maybe the title of this post is a little misleading. We all can agree that nonprofits work hard each and every season to fill in the service gaps that our local, state, and federal governments cannot. But for current and potential donors (individual and institutional), they really want to know what your nonprofit has accomplished in the previous  year.  Hence, the need for a well-designed annual report.

While I fancy myself a fundraising guru (wink), I know little about publication and graphic design. So I decided to ask my friend, Halima Aziza Jenkins to share some trade secrets on what it takes to produce a compelling annual report.


Q: How important is an annual report to a nonprofit’s ability to market itself in the context of fund development?

A: An annual report is an invaluable marketing piece that serves two purposes: (1) it offers a detailed year-in-review for current donors and members; and (2) showcases a nonprofit’s goals and accomplishments for potential donors. Remember, an annual report need not be a black-and-white, picture less, dry-as-melba-toast publication.

When planning the look and content of an annual report, do keep in mind that most nonprofits solicit and receive funds from a mix of individuals, dues-paying members, foundations, and/or government agencies. The demographic of the donors or potential donors may steer how an organization wishes to present its information. Will the publication have a conservative look with few colors, clean lines, and standard serif font? Will the readers better engage with an off-beat design, bold colors, and angled photos? In the same way that an organization brands itself or creates ads, it will want to project a desired image through the preparation of the annual report.

Over the last ten years, graphic design, word processing, and desktop publishing software have grown more accessible and easier to use. Also, printing prices have fallen and the distribution of documents via the web has skyrocketed. A polished, comprehensive report shows donors that an organization is accountable, responsible, and cares about its mission.


Q: Nonprofits usually include information on their staff/board, financial statements and previous-year accomplishments in their annual report. What are some additional qualities that nonprofits should promote about their impact in an annual report?

A: As cliché as it sounds, everyone likes a good story that conveys some triumphant aspect of the human condition. If there is a heartwarming, personal story that happened as a result of a nonprofit’s work, be sure to include it along with photos and captions.

Also, don’t forget about visual interest. Any organization can and should produce an attractive, effective report complete with all the images, charts, tables, and a splash of color to hold readers’ attention.


Q: Depending on the size of a nonprofit’s budget, would you suggest that staff create their annual report in-house or solicit an outside consultant/company to create this?

A: There are advantages to both methods of producing the annual report. By producing the annual report in-house, the organization saves itself the hassle of relaying both report details and relevant institutional knowledge to an outside consultant. Further, desktop publishing software has grown more accessible and easier to use. Also, many printers will now accept PDF submissions in lieu of Adobe InDesign or Quark Xpress files, making it even easier to design and print material.

Hiring an outside consultant/company to produce the annual report often alleviates the burden of juggling the often “dreaded” annual report and end-of-year work backlogs. Other times, an organization may be looking for an outsider to revamp its publication style or image. Consultants can offer experience, freshen a perspective, and/or provide insights to the best way to reach an intended audience.

If a nonprofit does decide to solicit the help of a consultant, ask around for recommendations and do check references. Also, make sure that your consultant has nonprofit experience as opposed to general corporate or freelance experience.


Halima Aziza Jenkins is a freelance writer, editor, and graphic designer with more than ten years’ experience based in the Washington, D.C. area. Her web site is