Sunday, October 23, 2016

Facebook knows the True Cost of Fundraising, Do You?

Facebook shut down our nonprofit's "Friend" Facebook page and forced us to go the "Business Page" route.  We are supremely annoyed.  There are so many (free) advantages to being a friend as opposed to being a business.  Friend posts are viewed and shared organically, communication is 2 way and you can see your actual reach.  All we see in our feed now are notifications to pay to "boost" our posts to achieve "reach" numbers that are clearly inflated.  Why does Facebook do this?  Why can't they cut nonprofits a break?  Because they know the true cost of fundraising and marketing, and they want us to pay for it. If only everyone understood this.

You get what you pay for
I learned a long time ago that you get what you pay for, and when you ask for nonprofit discounts, you get nonprofit discounted services and products--- which simply means not as good.  How can we expect for-profits to give up a portion of their profits for us, you ask?  Because we've been brainwashed to think this can work. We've been trained to ask for free stuff and as hard as it is for us to ask for things, it's just as hard for them to tell us no.  They risk being seen as uncharitable. So they promise us free stuff they really can't afford and try to follow through. It's a sucky conundrum, especially because our donors love to hear all about these in-kind transactions.

The same concept applies in fundraising.  It takes money to make money and if you don't invest in it, you wont be successful.  If your business model relies on fundraising, and you are not heavily investing in fundraising, it's unlikely you'll survive.  You may die a long, slow painful death, but you're still toast.  You will probably last longer than a badly run for-profit business because you are a nonprofit after all, and people will feel sorry for you and give you a pittance here and there which will only prolong the agony.  You will probably still do some good along the way, so there's that.

The need to invest in fundraising is integral from the start. If I wanted to start a new nonprofit* the first thing I would do is find donations.  Say I convinced 10 donors to give me $10,000 each.  I now have $100,000 which is a nice, healthy sum for a start up social services nonprofit. If I were a business, I would invest this money in strengthening my capacity and sustainability.  Probably none of my investors would expect me to be cranking out products and services yet.  But since I am a nonprofit, chances are that my donors want their investments to "go straight towards program" immediately. This is really the crux of the problem: the inability to consider fundraising, or other capacity building costs, as integral parts of the program or cause.  Say that all of my 10 donors refuse to allow any of their gifts to go towards fundraising.  This means that I and my new nonprofit are done.  We are not even going to die a long, slow painful death - we're not making payroll, our creditors are suing, and it is over.

But what if we had invested 50%, 60%, 70% or even more of that $100,000 in fundraising?  We could have doubled, tripled or quadrupled that initial investment. Sure, this means that our overhead percentages would be higher than we've been trained** to believe is acceptable, especially in the beginning, but it also means we will not fall prey to the deadly Nonprofit Starvation Cycle.  We might have a chance to go on to improve programs and outcomes to the point that we start to solve complex, social problems.  Imagine that.

If you find this subject as frustrating and fascinating as I do, the Nonprofit Council's Nonprofit Defense Committee is hosting a breakfast event featuring special guests from the national nonprofit "watch-dog" organizations Charity Navigator and Guidestar.  These guests will describe how they came to write an open letter to the donors of America, and what the next steps are to change the conversation in the sector to one where we are honest, open, realistic and effective around the true costs of marketing and fundraising. 

Now just to liven things up a little, I'm going to bring up the Wounded Warrior Project (WWP) because this organization was maligned in the media and by the public for doing exactly what I'm advocating for here. They've been cleared of any wrong-doing, but the uninformed court of public opinion is still strongly against them.  Anyone interested in getting the real story should watch this video and read this report.  I include the graph to the right to further make the point that when you invest in fundraising, you raise more funds, but you spend a lot on fundraising and this makes people uncomfortable. This graph shows how much money WWP invested in fundraising and how much revenue they were able to generate as a result of that investment - in comparison to other veteran's charities.  WWP was able to raise a lot more money and serve a lot more veterans, but sadly, if we don't change the conversation, they will not be able to continue or replicate this kind of success again, and the rest of us will also still be up a creek.

Come to the breakfast this Friday and find out how you can help change the conversation and change the world. 

*I would never start a new nonprofit because no matter what cause I chose, there would already be a nonprofit out there that could use my help.


Monday, October 17, 2016

Don't Dilute Your Impact

A Letter to the Future Donors of America

I meet a lot of caring young people who want to change the world. They're fresh on the scene, filled with energy and optimism.  It's inspiring, even to someone as old and jaded and cynical as I. So I've mostly refrained from saying anything that would dampen their enthusiasm. I'm just grateful that someone is willing carry on when I'm done working in nonprofits. The last thing I need to be doing is quashing that potential. I learned a huge lesson when I questioned why my now-23-year-old daughter wanted to support invisible children overseas in her sophomore year of high school.  "Don't you know that there are suffering kids in your own community you could actually help?" I asked her, like I was some kind of Charity Grinchy-Scrooge.  I don't know what was wrong with me. I think I had just read an article about overwhelming Child Protective Services caseloads and I was feeling helpless. She was sad and it was pointless, and so I learned. 

However, recent events compel me to speak up now.  Young people today are the future donors of tomorrow and there is an important concept they need to carefully consider:

Don't dilute the impact of your time and money in the charitable sector. 

Right now young people have more time to give and they're eager to do so.  They volunteer at the food bank, read to kids in classrooms, and make robots with middle-schoolers on weekends.  According to The Millennial Impact Report , 70% of those surveyed volunteered at least 1 hour to a cause they cared about.  But even more amazingly, the report also found that 84% of young people are donating.  In a world filled with stories of crushing student debt, this is truly wonderful news.  Presumably, they wouldn't want the hard earned dollars they give to charity and the time they spend volunteering to be wasted.*   If they're not careful though, it will be, so I have some advice. 

First, don't start your own non-profit.  I know how it feels to be passionate about a cause, wanting to make a difference. But at least once a week I hear that someone wants to start a new nonprofit, and I cringe.  Until about 6 or 7 years ago, I was like most people who thought that starting a nonprofit seemed like a reasonable thing to do. People who want to do that are usually motivated by the identification of an unmet need and the willingness and desire to address it. But chances are that there is already a nonprofit out there that's struggling to address that need and could really use some help. Starting a competing nonprofit will actually hurt both enterprises by diluting the resources each acquires. The temptation is strong, and I can hardly blame anyone for trying.  Millennials look out at the world and all its problems and wonder why the hell we couldn't figure anything out.  Youthful energy and optimism kicks in and the next thing they know they are applying for 501 c 3 status.  For anyone who has pondered/is pondering this path, consider these 2 facts: 

In 2008, I read a book called "Billions of Drops in Millions of Buckets," that created a huge shift in the way I thought about how charity works.  Not a week goes by since then that I don't think about this book in the course of my work in the nonprofit sector. The book's author, Steve Goldberg, describes a phenomenon he calls "funding fragmentation" that results when nonprofit funding is spread too thin across too many organizations thereby diluting its impact.  For example, if you raised $10,000 and wanted to help a lot of organizations, you could give $100 to 100 nonprofits.  But have you really helped any of them?  What can they really do with $100?  But if you gave 1 nonprofit - one you really believed in and that you knew did really great work, the full $10,000, chances are they could achieve something meaningful. 

My first a-ha moment while reading this book was around that $300 BILLION DOLLARS being spent EVERY 365 DAYS.  It's a whopping understatement to say that's a lot of money.  You'd think that we could make more progress with $300 billion dollars being used every 365 days.  You'd think we could solve a few problems.  You certainly can see why young people today might be a bit frustrated.  I think this is one of the factors that leads me to my second point:  

Be careful of the choice and freedom to donate to any organization.  All signs point to the fact that millennials really want to try to solve complex social problems.  But their giving practices demonstrate a lack of awareness of the dangers of funding fragmentation that could lead to dilution of impact.  A huge contributing factor here is the millennial's desire to donate to any organization they choose.  This also seems very reasonable on the surface.  For example, young people are moving away from employer giving campaigns because they feel too limited by the charity choices in these campaigns. The Millennial Impact Report notes that as few as 11% of young people are donating through their employer.  This is leading more and more employers to "open up" their campaigns, and increase the number of charities employees can choose to give to.   

In traditional giving campaigns, employees are offered a choice of several charities to give to through payroll deductions.  The charities are vetted through the employers themselves or organizations such as the United Way.** The benefit to this is that employers and employees can feel secure that the organizations they are investing in are good stewards of the donations.  The downsides were an over-reliance on overhead percentages as an indicator of charity effectiveness and diminishing donor confidence.  Millennials became skeptical of the vetting and increasingly felt limited by their choices.  They wanted to become personally involved in the organizations they were donating to and do the vetting themselves.  And as the number of nonprofits began to drastically increase, so did their choices.  Again, this all seems very reasonable from an individual's point of view.  But dilution of impact in this scenario is pretty much inevitable.  In my community for example, the United Way vets between 60 and 70 nonprofit organizations each year.  It raises over $50 million dollars, a majority of which goes to those nonprofits. For years, local employers have been inviting the United Way in and encouraging employees to give to these 60-70 charities.  As these employers get more and more feedback from younger employees that they want more freedom of choice to donate, they are opening up their campaigns to more and more nonprofits.  There are over 1,500 nonprofits in my community.  You can do the math.***

Because I don't like to present a problem without at least offering a potential solution, here are my suggested focus areas going forward:  
  • Since there are too many nonprofits already - focus on mergers, collaborations, collective impact efforts and reducing duplication of services.
  • There is a lot of money out there - focus on the huge challenge of demonstrating effectiveness through performance metrics so we know how to spend it to get the outcomes we need.  This is so much harder than it looks.****
Good luck!  I believe in you! 
*This is where many readers will expect me to go on about overhead and administrative costs, but since that measure has been thoroughly debunked, I don't have to waste anyone's time with it.  

**For the sake of transparency, my nonprofit is a United Way agency.  

***Before anyone accuses me of trying to limit any more nonprofits from becoming United Way organizations, let me dispel that assumption.  I am all for freedom of choice - but the United Way can't vet 1,500 nonprofits and no one would benefit if they tried to.  We need a new model, that moves the needle. 

****Interesting article I recently read on outcomes.  

Thursday, October 6, 2016

New Home for Mentoring in San Antonio Opens Today!

The following is an updated version of a post from February 2016: 

After nearly 3 long years of planning and raising funds, Big Brothers Big Sisters is opening the new Harvey E. Najim South Texas Mentoring Resource Center today! Located in the center of town off Highway 281 near the airport, the Center is now home to over 40 professional Big Brothers Big Sisters staff as well as a place for all other mentoring organizations in the community to access mentoring resources.  Our mission is to provide children facing adversity with strong and enduring, professionally supported one-to-one mentoring relationships that change their lives for the better, forever, but we have been severely limited by space constraints since 2011.  The new facility, nearly 15,000 square feet, will triple our space.  We expect the move to lead to major increases in services.

We have been limited to working with only about 9,000 youth, parents and volunteers a year.  Our programs depend on the number of staff we can accommodate to recruit, screen, train and support volunteer mentors to pair with kids. We are excited to put the capital campaign behind us, move into the new space, and concentrate on growing the program. The demand for services is incredible and we want and need to be more responsive.

Space constraints combined with already existing funding constraints created long waiting lists for both youth and volunteers hoping to join the program.  Since 2012, thousands of volunteers and kids have waited an average of 6 months to be served. I worry all the time about the kids on the waiting list. 

We are also launching an in depth strategic planning process to map out how we plan to go from supporting 3,000 one to one mentoring relationships each year to 30,000.  Earlier this year we visited the Miami Mentoring Resource Center to learn about their successes.  The trip was funded by a capacity building grant from the San Antonio Area Foundation.  We are so thrilled about the Area Foundation's faith and investment in our program! We know that too many kids today don't have access to positive, caring role models, and this is why they fail. Our new mentoring center is a big step towards the creation of a strong  community of mentoring professionals with the capacity and knowledge to tackle this problem more effectively. I can't wait to get started!

The two ways to help are:
There are also still naming rights available in the new Center.  

Mentoring relationships created according to the Elements of Effective Practice have long been proven to stop the dysfunctional cycles of failure, abuse and incarceration that plague the families  served  by organizations like Big Brothers Big Sisters. There is no doubt that mentoring works.  We are very proud of the work we are already doing, but it's imperative that we bring the program to many, many more kids.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Growing Up and Giving Back

This is the story of three at-risk kids who grew up to give back in very meaningful ways to the organization that helped them grow up successfully.
Russell and Mario

Russell was 11 when his mom asked him if he wanted to be in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program. He describes the impact that his Big Brother, Mario made on his life as monumental. They did so much together, camping, Fiesta activities, and "just hanging out," through which Mario provided Russell with a ‘sense of worth” and helped him “face my anger, sadness, fear, and guilt and replace it with forgiveness and understanding when my own father abandoned us.”

Russell speaking at a luncheon
 The pair have been together for 17 years now, staying in touch even after the formal part of their Big Brothers Big Sisters relationship was over. Mario continued to provide advice and guidance for Russell during college and while Russell tried to find a teaching job. Russell also stayed connected with the Big Brothers Big Sisters agency, serving on its Alumni Board, speaking at events and advocating for the mission. This semester Russell started teaching at South San High School, continuing to pay it forward and honor his mentor, Big Brother Mario.

Mo supporting Brianna in choir
Brianna’s mom felt that having a Big Sister would be a stabilizing influence after Brianna’s father disappeared. Brianna was matched with Big Sister Mo in 7th grade. She was so thrilled to visit Mo’s home the day they met and wrote all about Mo’s dog and four chickens in her journal. Over the next 5 years, Mo supported Brianna through middle school, high school and her first year of college. They did all kinds of things together which Brianna really feels expanded her interests and broadened her horizons. They cooked with fresh vegetables from Mo’s garden and ran in a 5K (Brianna can now run a mile in less than 10 minutes!).

Brianna was in ROTC all 4 years of HS

When she graduated High School Brianna received the Tyree Williams scholarship through the Big Brother Big Sister program and enrolled full time at Alamo Colleges while working part-time at Belk Department Store. Shortly after that Brianna moved on to Schreiner University and was presented with an opportunity to give back to Big Brothers Big Sisters as an employee. Brianna is currently working as a Service Delivery Coordinator through a grant from The Callioux Foundation, paying it forward everyday in honor of her mentor, Big Sister Mo.

Julio and Keith in the workplace
Julio's mother enrolled him in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program after they moved away from his father and a troubling home environment. Julio credits his Big Brother, Ross, with shaping who he is today. He describes Ross as a "really nice guy" who gave him an example that was vastly different from previous male role models in his life. Julio tells stories about hanging out with Ross at the ballpark where he learned compassion and rooting for your team even when they are down, and going to an ice cream shop all the time where the same cute girl always seemed to be working (who later became Ross' wife.)
Julio and fellow board members

When Julio grew up and became a successful, contributing adult with a job, he began donating to Big Brothers Big Sisters through the United Way over many years in several jobs in different cities. He said that no one ever called and asked why he was donating to the agency until he moved to San Antonio. After sharing his story with Big Brothers Big Sisters staff, the next thing he knew he was on the board, and then chair of the board! He also got his company, Clear Channel Communications, now iHeart Media, to participate in the workplace mentoring program where he and almost 50 of his co-workers became Bigs. Julio has been matched to two Littles, Keith and Daniel, paying it forward in honor of his Big Brother, Ross.

These are the stories that inspire me to continue with this work.

Monday, July 25, 2016

3 Days of Overhead

Recently, the Wounded Warrior Project came under fire for what was portrayed in the media as wasteful overhead costs. This video, asking who would be the next WWP, was developed after that media firestorm. One of the examples of waste that WWP was crucified for was shocking"staff development" costs. 

So, before Big Brothers Big Sisters of South Texas (BBBS) gets accused of participating in a giant 3 day boondoggle, I offer this explanation for my Leadership Team's trip to Washington DC last week.  But first, a word about nonprofit staff development.  If you google "nonprofit staff development," the first thing that comes up is "52 Free Development Opportunities."  Even in the for-profit world, staff development is often neglected, overlooked and/or skimped on, but in the non-profit world it's nearly nonexistent.  If there is a budget line item for it at all, it's the first thing to be cut if revenue is tight, and revenue is always tight. At BBBS we didn't even have a line item for staff development in the budget until a few years ago.  It's embarrassing, I know.  It flies in the face of good business practices. We are always being told in the nonprofit world to "act more like businesses," unless of course it increases our overhead, which it always does, as I wrote about a while back in this JoyfulRant post, The Nonprofit Catch-22.  So, we vacillate between the desire to treat employees well and invest in their development, keeping overhead low and doing "free" stuff. So, if there is an opportunity to take staff to a conference filled with workshops and presentations developed at a national level, we are all over it. 

So last week, I took my team to Washington DC for a GEAR UP conference.  This is an annual event that alternates between DC and San Francisco that thousands of education and youth development professionals attend.  GEAR UP is a US Department of Education funded program designed to increase the number of low-income students who are prepared to enter and succeed in post-secondary education.  BBBS is a GEAR UP sub-contractor with the San Antonio Independent School District (SAISD).  Our agency has provided mentors for over 300 GEAR UP SAISD students for the past 5 years.  The conference we attended last week was put on by the National Council for Community and Education Partnerships (NCCEP), a national non-profit, non-partisan organization working to increase access to higher education for economically disadvantaged students. NCCEP advances college access through advocacy, training, and research. They put on a really great show! 

The decision to send our 5 top leadership staff to this conference was made for several reasons.  Most importantly, was because our organization is about to experience major changes to the way it does business. We are moving to new offices and implementing a new service delivery system that will enable us to increase quality while serving more youth than ever before in the history of our organization.  I felt like we needed a bit of a retreat.

We had a great time!  The trip was copiously depicted in every social media outlet that we have access to.  We spent long days in weird hotel florescent lighting attending plenary meetings and workshops, and long nights eating, drinking* and sight-seeing. All of us made it home ok except our Southwest Airlines traveler who ended up spending the night in Dallas due to the airline's technology issues last week.  Lest we lose sight of the many purposes of the trip in all of the fun social media illustrations, here is a helpful list of the ways the conference benefits our mission: 

1. We make all kind of connections: Last year at this conference, we learned all about a program called Virtual Job Shadow that we will be piloting this coming year with GEAR UP students, who will be high school seniors.  We also met the creators of a new for-proft called The Student Success Agency that provides on line career counseling for high school students by matching them with a current college student.  This year I really appreciated a workshop on advocacy that I will pass along information from to the Texas Association of BBBS. 
2. We find our what is new in the business:  Knowing what others are doing in the mentoring space is critical for us.  There were 1,800 conference attendees from all across the US and we attended workshops on a variety of programs.  I was amazed to hear all about a mentoring program that has a 92% college graduation rate! This was topped only by a workshop I once attended on a mentoring program in Oregon that has a 5 year 98% volunteer retention rate.  This kind of learning at previous conferences has played a big part in informing the changes we are making to our programming. 
3. Passing our knowledge on to others:  We presented our workplace mentoring program for the 2nd time at this conference. It's exciting for us to know that a superintendent that attended our presentation 2 years ago was able to go home to California and replicate the program with students and businesses there. We will be doing post conference coaching sessions with 4 other agencies this coming week. 
4. Team Bonding and R&R:  I never underestimate the value of getting together outside the office for a little team R&R.  Here are a few of the social media pictures; dont we look like we had a really great time :)  --  

The BBBS leadership team!

Nick Cannon's inspiration speech
Presenting our workshop
A sea of 1,800 people
One staff member had never been to DC

This trip wasn't cheap.  Anyone who looks at our financials will only see a number, and relative to other nonproft numbers, especially small human service nonprofits like ours, it 's not a small one.  But I wish it was even bigger.  I wish my whole program staff could have attended.  Our organization would be better for it.  It's not the same to bring back the info, especially with regard to #4 above, although there is great value in that.  I hope that the investments that the WWP project made in its staff and other means of overhead, don't take the movement back too far. 
*disclaimer:  no alcohol or recreational activities were paid for by the nonprofit or government funder

Sunday, July 10, 2016

The Charming Madonna Inn

My sister, Ali and daughter, Lacey in Sept 2014 when we first saw the Madonna Inn
Located right off on the 101 halfway between Los Angeles and San Fransisco, the Madonna Inn is my new favorite place. Two years ago on a quick trip to California to pick up my daughter, my sister and I were compelled to stop in at the Inn for a drink one night intrigued by the lights and the layout of the place. We were utterly charmed. The ballroom off the "Silver Lounge" where we had a drink was filled with swing dancing seniors. The decor was opulent and exaggerated. The major color scheme was pink and gold. Perusing one of the gift shops we discovered that all 110 rooms had different themes. We vowed to come back and stay in one of them. Last week we did. Here's that story in pictures.

Also, Click to check out the pictures of all the rooms.  
The first glimpse of the Inn as you drive in from the 101
The main building where registration happens
The infamous sign
Ali and my daughters on the stairs
Ariel snapping on the stairs - it's hard to stop taking pictures
It's in the middle of wine country - bonus!
The carpet, the rock fireplace, it's so awesome
There are stained glass windows all over the Inn
More stairs, flanked by cherubs, with more of that carpet
Entering the Silver Lounge
Main lobby hallway
The Gold Rush Steakhouse
The Copper cafe Pastry & Coffee House
The Silver Lounge
Silver Lounge Bar
Silver Lounge another view
Stone fireplace in the lobby
This might be the owners...

Wine tasting everyday
Me and the girls
Ali on the stairs
The Steakhouse
The Gold Rush Steakhouse is really striking
The Copper Cafe where we had breakfast
The Cafe counter
The Cafe booths and wall murals
Exterior walls
One of the buildings

The Secret Garden - lots of weddings here

The building where our room was and the spa/pool area above
Our suite
The Imperial Family Suite
Green and gold
Ali in our suite
Our suite
The dressing table
Suite view

The Secret Garden
Going up towards the spa
Charming Architecture
View from the pool
Another hill view from the pool/spa area
The pool; colorful
The gazebo by the waterfall at the pool
Ali with her umbrella drink form the pool bar
View of the pool area from below
In the gazebo
One of the gilt mirrors in the Imperial Family suite
Me in the Secret Garden
Ali's birthday dinner in the Gold Rush Steakhouse on the 4th of July
The kids call these chalice-goblets (choblets)
Dressing for dinner in the suite

The famous pink champagne cake
Off to the spa for massages
The Inn at night

Copper Cafe
Wine bar in one of the gift shops
Ariel in the spa relaxation room
Ali relaxing
Me poolside, post massage
The pool rock waterfall

The dance floor
The Madonna Inn is in San Luis Obispo but our trip took us from Paso Robles in the north to Solvang south
The big picture
There were flowers everywhere - and 60-80 temps

Pool bar drinks
The hot tub on the 4th
The pool bar

Ali with a post card of the famous men's bathroom
The preceding are pics from 2016, the following are from the 2014 visit.
The Inn at dusk

the dance floor and band

Silver Lounge bar

Event space

Wine for sale and tasting

Gift shop

Post  cards of the 110 guest rooms