Tuesday, January 19, 2010


ARNOVA colleague Kat Morgan sent the following message this morning:

Donations for Haitian relief in US top $200 Million.
Corporations have pledged $43 Million.

Wall Street bonuses for 2009? $150 BILLION.
The value of these donations is less than %.0003 of those bonuses.



Friday, January 15, 2010

Aftershock: Will Your Gift Count?

In the wake of the Haiti devastation virtually everyone - from President Clinton on down - has urged viewers and readers to donate cash now. Distributing any hard goods in a country with bad roads and worse is a practical challenge as the military and NGO relief workers have quickly learned.I've been out on those roads in the past and I know.

Collecting clothes and canned food makes people feel good but money is of the moment. And nothing is more of the moment than the Internet. The first images out of the country were via Twitter and the few satellite phones that were working. By evening local time in New York on the afternoon of the earthquake web appeals were well under way from established organizations - and unfortunately there were also the money scams that came up like weeds.

Technology has of course advanced since the tsunami; the sense of immediacy was intensified and underscored by the ability to give via Twitter, Facebook and cell phone texting (which by the way is actually a slow way to give, slower than snail mail, because the money doesn't move to the charity for weeks after the text message goes through. It will likely be on your phone bill before the charity ever sees it!)

The apparent ability to do good and feel good via the Internet, the "now-ness," the instant gratification,cannot be understated. eRetailers have figured that out. At the same for charity giving there is no way of which I am aware to measure with even near accuracy how much has been contributed via the net, and just as important, how much will ever reach the intended recipients. There is no accountability anywhere along the line from giver to beneficiary. And one of the other differences between this event and the tsunami is that even small charities- who may or may not have a good work record - are online. PayPal, Convio and other pass-through agents have enabled anyone, including scammers, to raise money quickly and immediately.

The absence of control and centrality - to a left wing libertarian- is one of the Internet's great appeals (of course diminished by my awareness that the government has access to all of the information coming out of my computer). If you use the Internet to give - and I do and I have in this situation - it is really a matter of faith and trust. The Better Business Bureau's admonition to "give wisely" is good advice but a bit of an anachronism in the wired world. You can know the charity you're giving to but you are dependent on the middleman to get the money to them - net of commission.You may really never know.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Hunger Pangs

My good friend of many years, nonprofit consultant Marilyn Hoyt (hoytmarilyn@gmail.com) sent this out a few days ago, coincident with my "Hap-py New Year" blog below. She has graciously allowed me to re-post it. I guess all of us in the consulting trades are ruminating on what's to come. ...

We are all hungry to know what the future holds, even as we may already have a gut assumption: Not as tough as 2009 and likely slogging back. At the bottom of this update are a number of sources for high quality information to use in planning and action through the year. Thanks to all of you who helped focus attention of the really useful studies buried in the welter of communication we all receive. (Feel free to let me know new addresses who want to receive these updates. Likewise, if you don't want to receive this update, just let me know.)

Here's what I'm seeing so much of around the country that it counts as an informal trend:

1) Many, many staff are identifying the tough times with their institution and are really ready to leave. At the same time, their supervisors and boards may be identifying the tough times with them, and wouldn't mind their leaving. Once the job market starts to open up (and the largest of the nonprofit recruiters are seeing the trickle of searches starting now), there is going to be a tremendous game of musical chairs. NOW is the time to write down procedures, filing systems, and build structures that allow facts, history and culture to be accessible when staff leave. NOW is also the time to keep finding ways to allow most valuable employees to influence outcomes, vary their tasks, know they are respected, so that the chances of their leaving are diminished.

2) Lots of data points (but not yet consistent trendlines) are starting to look better. These range from scheduled art auctions to the Atlanta Merchandise Mart shows beginning in the 2nd quarter. Past recessions tell us that just as our tough times tended to lag the business crash, so our better times will lag. But they will come along.

3) Like small business, a lot of us are analyzing our "customers" and donors to see who is really worth the candle...and beginning to focus our mailing lists, meetings and staff time.

4) Many of us are seeing delayed payments for both contracted work and grants from both private and public sources. As Governing Magazine's 2010 checklist noted: "Live Within Your Means. Look to the future. Stop Deferring Expenses.... Set up a rainy day fund."

5) As the commercial business model falters, longing eyes are turning to our side of the fence. We are seeing an unprecedented number of businesses launched with the purpose to sell in the public good. Vermont has created a new type of incorporation that recognizes these companies seeking to do good, raise capital, and also receive grants. This is a trendlet to follow carefully....

There are capital campaigns ongoing and even in announcement, but you know when Harvard suspends a capital project in construction (science center, 12/10/09), that things remain very tough.

Family attraction earnings continue strong Those of us who run museums and zoos for family audiences continue to see good and sometimes record-breaking numbers, and many annual funds did better this holiday season than in 2008.

Looking for money -- there's a stimulus going on, and the nonprofit sector is still wending its way in. We haven't missed the boat.

The National Science Foundation, NOAA, and US Department of Education have announced tranches of funding available for educational activities that non-profits outside of school districts and universities can apply for. Likewise, the state offices for recovery money are pretty organized now and you can usually find them with a model like this "recovery.ca.gov" or "recovery.ny.gov" More importantly, this is a time to network, network, network with colleagues and our national associations. None of us are going to win all this money in one felled swoop so we need to be connecting with each other on all we learn.

Here are useful reports:

Guidestar periodically produces useful surveys with summaries that are quick to review. This one comparing the first 1/2 of 2008 to the same period in 2009 tells us a lot of what we already know. It's helpful to have authoritative data to cite when working with our staff and boards. Here it is: http://www2.guidestar.org/rxa/news/articles/2009/down-but-not-defeated-results-of-guidestars-eighth-annual-nonprofit-economic-survey.aspx?source=dec09nwsltr

The Pew Center for Research does such thoughtful work. They've turned one of their lenses this year on the new generation of teens and young adults coming up and will continue to release work through the year. Here's the start: http://pewresearch.org/pubs/1437/millennials-profile

The only thing worse than not having resources is spending our resources barking up the wrong tree. Excepting for those of us with brands rivalling Coca Cola, social networking is still a waste of time if the goal is to raise money. Philanthropy Action has done a solid study: Social Networking and Mid-Sized Nonprofits, What's the Use: http://www.philanthropyaction.com

A Nielsen study on blogging seniors reminds us that social networking may not be particularly useful for fund raising, but as an interface to forward our mission, it grows more important with each passing year. Attached is a December Nielsen report on blogging seniors.

Most nonprofits are involved with education or poverty, or both. The 2008 federal figures which allow us to pull stats for our proposals and reports in a number of ways, including by school district, are out: http://www.census.gov/did/www/saipe/

Monday, January 11, 2010

Hap-py New Year!

I resolved not to blog at the end of the year because I knew what I wanted most for Xmas was to see the back of 2009. I greet the new decade with some hope and no little apprehension.

On the hope side, over my 50 years, US philanthropy has always amazed me for its resilience, survivability and intuitive ways of coping. I see no reason to believe this year will be otherwise - even if the numbers are off previous highs. The belief that charities do good is deeply embedded in the American psyche and Americans continue to respond generously. That US charity is so fractionated, duplicative, unregulated and often badly managed (case-by-case) is- in an obverse way - a strength. Why? The very breadth of the market and the fact that most are family-size operations - just like American business as a whole - insure that a large number survive. Should they? The market really does decide. Charities may not always prosper but they do flourish all over the country.

My apprehension is that the US economy continues to struggle; e.g., an estimated 2 million homes will be foreclosed on this year, the need for families to use food stamps to survive is at an all time high. Food stamp consumers are the poor (traditional), the near poor (less traditional but always a factor) and the new poor - a phenomenon hitherto unseen. The chances that renewed government money will hit human service charities' budgets is slim to none, and as the saying goes, "slim just left." Enter Goldman Sachs.


This morning's New York Times reports that Goldman Sachs, sitting on the biggest profit it has ever made in its 145 years, "... Considers Requirement For Giving." Yes it's a p.r. stunt. And yes taxpayers hugely funded their turnaround 18 months ago and yes it's taxpayers who are losing their homes, their jobs and their shot at the American dream. That more people in their desperation haven't gone postal is a wonderment.

The money Goldman's largesse might produce for charity is but a rounding error in the context of the $300 billion plus philanthropic handle. Further much of the bonus distribution will be in stock that cannot be readily liquidated. How much "real" money will hit the table is unknown.

The silver edge is that most giving most of the time is local and it is therefore a good bet that New York City charities will see much of what actually is donated in cash. Goldman's profit will be about $12 billion; not all of it will be distributed to the employees. But assume $6 billion was: if just 1% went out the door that's $60 million to be split among a select of the 20,000+/- non-religious charities in the city. Better to have it than not to have it of course. Sorry to be churlish but I'm just not carried away.


On a mildish, wet New Year's eve my usually lusty SoHo neighborhood was the quietest I have ever seen it in 30 years. The cameras were at Times Square where cheering yahoos from the outer boroughs and other landfill made for a TV spectacle. But reading the entrails my pickup is quite different. My sense is a city and an economy at the edge. It could fall either way and if I believe what I read we're better off than most.

I hope for the best. I dread the worst.