A Resolution for Non-Profits in 2013

Here’s a resolution all non-profit organizations can and should make for the New Year: In 2013, resolve to update and strengthen your development plan. Development plans are the backbone of fundraising management. And whether it’s a formally written plan with detailed timelines and specific tasks or simply a bunch of ideas written on calendars and sticky notes lined around your desktop monitor, your development plan needs to be updated and improved every year to reflect the most recent goals and resources of your organization.

A strong development plans serves as a road map for your organization’s fundraising strategies, events, and tactics. The plan should be a formal, strategic document. That means if you’re the post-it notes around the computer type then this is the year to put your plan on paper. All key stakeholders should be involved in creating, updating, and strengthening development plans (fundraising/development staff and management, general management, board members, etc…); this helps set the precedent that EVERYONE has an important role to play in fundraising efforts.

Every development plan is different because every organization is different, but the work needed to create and update one is the same. You must take time to assess your organization and gather information. What are you currently doing? Is it working? What are your goals for the year? Are they realistic? And what steps do you need to take to get there? Updating and strengthening your development plan can seem daunting but it’s probably the single most important thing you can do to set your organization up for fundraising and development success in the coming year.

The 10 components we use for development plans here at Access Philanthropy can help serve as a guide as you work on your own plan for 2013:

1. Framing – Who are you? How does the world see you? What are your greatest strengths?
2. Audience – What are your current audiences and messages to each? Where can and should you expand?
3. Communications – Is your current message clear, concise, compelling, and true? How do your communications pieces measure up to similar organizations'?
4. Institutional Fundraising – What are you doing in the areas of foundation grants, corporate grants, corporate partnerships, and public charities? How successful are your efforts?
5. Individual Fundraising – What are you doing in the area of individual fundraising? How successful are your efforts?
6. Online Fundraising – What are you doing in the area of online fundraising? How successful are your efforts?
7. Infrastructure to Support Fundraising –What do you have in place to support fundraising efforts? What can you do to improve or add to this in the next year?
8. Integrated Timeline – Map everything out on a monthly timeline (prospecting, grant deadlines, events, etc…). Is it feasible? Are there holes in your calendar where you can or should do more?
9. Integrated Anticipated Fundraising Income – Project your fundraising income by quarter. Be realistic. This will give you a better idea of what to expect and give you something to measure at the end of the year.
10. Final Observations and Recommendations – What are the top 3-5 things you noticed about your development plan? What are the top 3-5 recommendations you can make to improve your plan?

Updating and strengthening your development plan is hard but essential work. Set yourself up for success in the New Year by not only having goals, but also having a plan to attain those goals.

Guide to Holiday Giving

Every day closer to the end of December brings another year-end appeal letter to mailboxes everywhere. Year-end appeals are exactly what they sound like. They are letters sent by non-profit organizations at the end of the year and are usually the single largest mailing for an organization and bring in the most money. The year-end appeal, also known as the holiday or Christmas appeal, is often successful because it taps into the giving spirit of the holidays and the practical spirit of donors wanting to make their charitable gifts by December 31st to qualify for tax deductions for the current year.

Whether you’re looking to make a first-time charitable gift in honor of a friend or family member for the holidays or are a seasoned philanthropist designating gifts before the year ends, you should make sure your money is being well-spent. Here are some tips from Charity Navigator to guide your giving:

* Do your homework – give to organizations that are on the up and up. Do your homework and make sure the charity is accountable and is getting results. Organizations should be efficient and sustainable in their finances. They should follow good governance practices and be transparent. Organizations should also get measurable results. Check the organization’s website and see if they list an annual report; if they do, read it! This will give you a good idea who they are, what they’re doing, where they receive money from and what they spend it on. You can also register for a free account on GuideStar and look at their 990 tax forms which will give you information on finances, governance and mission.

* Give freely – most donors like to give for specific projects and purposes because it feels better knowing your money is going directly to feed hungry people than it does knowing it’s going to pay someone to administer that transaction. But the truth is that organizations need money for capital, staff, electricity, phones, and post-it notes. There is a cost to doing business and while it’s not as exciting to fund that part of philanthropy, it’s essential. Unrestricted gifts in the hands of good charities will do more good than designated gifts that can’t be supported. If you give to a trusted organization you can feel confident that your gift will go to the area of greatest need and will ultimately support the cause that brought you to the organization in the first place.

* Find the perfect fit – spend as much time thinking about the organization you’re giving to as you would thinking about a special gift for a loved one. For every passion an individual has, there is a related charity or organization that needs help. Whether your passion is for animals, the environment, youth sports, families in need, hunger, or anything else, make sure the organization you are giving to is a good match for you or the person you are giving on behalf of.

Take care of those you love this holiday season. Help your community in any way that is meaningful to you and hopefully these simple tips will help ensure your kindness is well received and well spent.

Learning From Rejection

Let’s face it, rejection hurts. It doesn’t matter if you’re licking your wounds after a hard fought political race, were dumped by your significant other, or passed over at work for a promotion. Rejection is part of life and it’s part of philanthropy. The key to rejection is to learn from it. This is especially salient in grant writing.

Estimates for success rates in grant writing vary from 10%-50%. This variability reflects many things including the economy, financial markets, trends in giving, and the experience and preparation of grant seekers. Even assuming that you have done everything right on your end as a grant seeker – you selectively applied only to organizations that were a strong fit, you took the time to understand the funder’s mission, vision, values, and giving preferences, you wrote a memorable and honest narrative, you had a realistic and detailed budget, and you followed directions EXACTLY as stated – you still might get turned down. In this case it’s important to not give up.

It’s against our nature to stand tall and ask someone why they rejected us. It’s easier to vilify the rejecter or assume we simply weren’t good enough. But in the land of grants we have to fight that instinctual feeling of self-deprecation, put aside our bruised sensibilities and ask for feedback. Many funders are willing to provide feedback; you just have to ask them. Ask constructive questions to get constructive answers. Try to find out what the funder is looking for and what you can do to be more competitive in the next funding round. If the funder is too busy to provide feedback, ask someone outside of your organization to read your proposal. An objective eye will catch skips in logic or in narrative stories that you might overlook because you know the story so well your mind automatically populates that information. Don’t be afraid to ask for feedback. Don’t let rejection define you or your efforts. Use rejection to fuel a quest for something better. Give yourself time to dissolve the immediate pains of rejection and then pick up the phone and schedule a time to talk about your proposal. Actively seek out constructive criticism. As Henry Wadworth Longfellow said, ” The strength of criticism lies only in the weakness of the thing criticized.”

Politics, Philanthropy, & Big Bird

Do you remember last fall?

The Occupy Movement was born and spread across the United States, the world was still talking about the death of Osama bin Laden, and the Republican primary contest was in full swing. At that time we wrote a blog about comments Mitt Romney made related to what he would cut from the federal budget if elected President. One of those things was the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (PBS).

Fast forward to October 3, 2012… Governor Romney, the Republican candidate for President of the United States, is debating President Obama in the first of three Presidential debates and Romney tells moderator and longtime PBS news anchor Jim Lehrer, “I’m sorry, Jim, I’m going to stop the subsidy to PBS. I’m going to stop other things. I like PBS. I love Big Bird. Actually, I like you too. But I’m not going to keep on spending money on things to borrow money from China to pay for us.”

Social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook immediately lit up with people stunned and upset by Romney’s comment. The Twitter account @FireBigBird was created and gained over 13,000 followers in less than one hour. And the story continued to play in the national media days after the debate.

Romney’s comment didn’t come as a surprise to us. Living and working in the world of philanthropy, non-profits, and communities we’ve watched the 2012 Presidential Campaign since the beginning and his position on this while running for President has not changed. It has been pushed aside by other issues including the economy, undercover videos, “the 47%,” and myriad other things, but viewing himself as a fiscal conservative Mitt Romney has explicitly said he will cut funding for the arts. He will dramatically reduce funding for the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. In an op-ed piece published in USA Today in 2011, Romney described these programs as “not absolutely essential” and said they’re programs that “we don’t need or can’t afford.” These “unneeded” and “unaffordable” programs receive $155 million per year each and are among the smallest agency appropriations in the federal budget.

President Obama shouldn’t be held blameless in this conversation. Early in his term the Obama Administration tried to raise revenue for its spending programs by reducing the charitable deduction for the highest two income-tax brackets by as much as 30%. This plan would have raised the cost per dollar of giving from 65 cents to 72 cents which many economists estimated would have resulted in a 10% reduction in total giving by some of the largest donors in the nation.

Can you put a price on community? On culture? On valuing arts and history? On understanding where we came from and where we’re going? Culture and community are defining features of who we are as a society and we should all pay close attention in the next 30 days to what each candidate is saying and what that will really mean for our respective communities.

National Foundations Workshop

How has the national funding landscape changed since the recession?

Which national foundations and corporations are once again funding in Minnesota?

And what’s up with Walmart?

Find out on Tuesday, October 2, 2012 at the “National Foundations: Know Who and Know How” workshop presented by Steve Paprocki, President of Access Philanthropy.

If your organization doesn’t think it is a candidate for funding from national foundations, think again. Acquiring national funding requires an understanding of the national funding environment and how to create a funding persona that gets you recognized as a program or organization with national impact and appeal.

Find out what kind of research, branding, and communications you need to set your organization apart from the competition and attract national dollars.

At this workshop, you will:

  • Find out what’s happening in the national funding community and whether your organization has what it takes to create a national funding persona;
  • Get the inside scoop on the top 60+ national foundations that fund in Minnesota, but are based elsewhere;
  • Discover top funders in several categories – including corporate industries, faith-based communities, specialty funders, “nooks & crannies” funders, and constituency-specific funders; and
  • Understand the quirks of national funders and how to address their specific needs and idiosyncrasies.

This workshop goes beyond the usual suspects (Gates, Ford, etc.) and includes foundations whose presence in Minnesota may not be well known.

Register now before this workshop meets capacity! Registration is available through the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits website at: http://www.minnesotanonprofits.org/events/2012/10/02/national-foundations-know-who-and-how

The 80/20 Rule

The 80/20 rule, or the Medical Loss Ratio (MLR) rule states that insurance companies can spend no less that 80% of premiums on medical care and quality, and no more than 20% on administration costs. Since passing the Affordable Care Act, insurance companies are required to inform their consumers of how their premium dollars are being spent. Should they not meet the 80/20 rule, they must rebate premium dollars that exceed the limit.

123, 171 consumers in Minnesota will be receiving a total rebate of $8,956,885, an average of $160 per family.

Rebates must be paid by August 1st of each year by way of rebate check, credit or debit lump-sum reimbursement, direct reduction on future premiums, or the employer participating in these listed actions, or actions that will benefit their employees.

Under the Affordable Care Act, insurance companies are also required to send a letter to each of their enrollees explaining the 80/20 rule. They must inform their enrollees if their company failed to meet the 80/20 rule and provide breakdown of how they exceeded the standard.

For more information visit:

Buy Local, Eat Local, Give Local

So you have started to buy produce from the farmers market, and you choose the coffee shop on your corner versus the Starbucks ten minutes away for your daily caffeine dose, and you have finally worked it into your budget to buy farm fresh, organic, locally raised eggs. Congratulations! You are gracefully making the transition into becoming a true localvore. Now wouldn’t it be great if you could start directing your financial support to some neighborhood initiatives that promote green local living? Well you’re in luck; there just happens to be an ioby coming to a town near you! What is an ioby you ask? “Ioby connects people and money to site-based projects. All of these projects are conceived, designed, and run by neighbors—which ensures community buy-in, long-term caretakers and daily reminders of what’s been achieved”. – Ioby. 2012. MarketSmiths. 05 May. 2012. www.ioby.org Founded in 2008 by three graduate students, ioby is a way of bringing environmental and green habits to the streets. The founders, all environmental enthusiasts, recognized that popular “green” initiatives were not necessarily accessible to most people and generally involved promotion of products and buying things to make lifestyles more green. The idea behind ioby was to create an affordable way, through locally based funding, for neighbors to latch on to green living, by working together on improving their community green spaces. So how does it work? There are a few ways to get involved. You can either pick a project that is in your neighborhood and donate directly, or you can pick a project and donate but then also get involved, get your hands dirty and meet your neighbors. Alternatively, if you have a project that you want to start it is easy to get going by setting up an ioby. By signing up and starting a project you will have access to a network of funding resources including the ability to collect tax-deductable donations, get fiscal sponsorship free of charge and find new volunteers and donors. It is about bringing people together who support shared values and causes and raising local money for local projects. So find an ioby near you and continue your localvore lifestyle!

Soul of Money

Have you ever thought about what your donating and spending habits say about the inner workings of your soul? What about the connection that your donations have to your personal values? How can you examine your relationship with money and the way you spend it? These questions may or may not be ones that you ask yourself when it comes to your personal philanthropy, however searching for these answers deep in your psyche can result in surprising realizations. What do your hopes, dreams and expectations surrounding your relationship with money really mean? A forerunner in this exploration is Lynne Twist, the founder of The Soul of Money Institute. The mission of the institute, created in 2003, is to encourage conversations about money and provide educational programs to inspire people to become more aware of where they spend their money. The workshops, books, consulting and fundraising philosophy aim to foster a change from consumer driven lifestyles to sustainable lifestyles, all the while transforming relationships with money to benefit individuals and the greater good. With a long history of fundraising for large foundations and small community organizations all over the world Lynne wrote the book The Soul of Money in 2003 and has since focused on promoting this idea of connecting the way you spend your money to your spiritual core. Check it out! http://www.soulofmoney.org/services/

Tax Advice For Beating Hearts

As the tax filing deadline looms a little more than one month ahead of us here in the U.S., many people are making plans for their tax refunds. Articles with titles such as “9 Ways To Use A Tax Refund” and “How to Put Your Tax Refund to Good Use” are popping up everywhere from social media sites to daily newspapers and monthly magazines. The advice given in all of these articles is generally tried and true…pay down your debt, invest, buildup an emergency savings account, etc… You’ve heard this before. It’s the same advice we hear every year, and for good reason. It’s sound advice.

It’s good to be careful and prudent. It’s important to act rationally and responsibly. But it’s also important to be kind and generous. And these are the virtues that are excluded from the “what to do with your money” lists every year. At a time when many families are struggling and organizations that offer basic services such as food, shelter and health services are experiencing record demand, would it be too much to ask that we appeal to the better angels of our nature and actively engage in local philanthropy?

An unexpected or higher than expected tax refund of any amount is an opportunity to help those around us. Use this as an opportunity to teach your children about giving. Use this to help a family that you know is going through a difficult time. Use this to strengthen the very foundation of our shared communities. Think of it like this: you can’t lose what you never had.

Are You A Volanthropist?

Many of you are familiar with the growing trend in philanthropy of online giving. Organizations everywhere are growing increasingly dependent on their website, Facebook page, and Twitter accounts as ways to engage prospective donors and encourage people to donate. Minnesota’s own GiveMN, an innovator in e-philanthropy, hosted their annual Give to the Max Day challenge and raised $13.4 million in online donations in just 24-hours. This has led some organizations to change their fundraising strategy from the traditional way of asking for funds throughout the year, to a new strategy of focusing on donating on just one day in order to build excitement and capitalize on challenge incentives and matched prizes. This strategy worked well for one small Minneapolis organization that was able to raise $100,000 in one day and snag the number one spot in their Give to the Max category. There is little doubt that the power of the Internet in getting people to reach into their pockets is clearly the way of the future.

Not surprisingly there has been a growing number of young professionals connecting to online giving. Two model organizations in the Twin Cities, LEAD and Eat for Equity, are focusing not only on collecting donations but also on catering to the willingness of these new funders to be involved in the activities of their chosen organization. Call them volanthropists or philanteers, but both organizations are realizing that these days funders, especially young ones, are saying, ” Here, take my money through my donating app, but I also want to help and be personally involved with what you are doing.”

LEAD, which stands for the Leadership Emergence and Development Project, was founded by Matthew Hemsley in 2006 as a way to bring philanthropy to young professionals in the Twin Cities. The goal is to connect this largely untapped group of professionals to non-profits to foster sponsorship and also provide opportunities for these professionals to become board members or engage in the activities that the non-profits are working on. LEAD hosts numerous events throughout the year from philanthropy fairs, where young professionals can get a sampling of the many non-profits working in the Twin Cities, to gala fundraising events that create networking opportunities and generate support for nonprofits.


A different approach has been taken by Eat for Equity, a non-profit started in Boston in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. A group of students decided to make New Orleans themed food and invite all of their friends to contribute for the dinner in order to raise money for Katrina victims; with that, Eat for Equity was born. Eat for Equity now operates in Boston, Minneapolis, and Portland, with each branch hosting monthly meals and all proceeds going to a different organization each month. In Minneapolis, the non-profit organizations receiving support are nominated online and then chosen by Eat for Equity board members. The meals are hosted in homes around the city with small armies of volunteers helping to solicit food donations, setup the host house, prepare food, and cleanup after the festivities. This is just another example of the new face of philanthropy: gatherings of young adults wanting to enjoy a good meal that also supports a good cause.


Both of these organizations have embraced the new trends in philanthropy but more importantly they have recognized the importance people place on tracking where their money is going. People do not want to sign off on a check anymore, instead they want to see exactly who and what is benefitting from their donation and if possible take part in facilitating the activities made possible by their contribution.