Monday, March 23, 2009

Plan to Sell “Toxic Assets” Announced

Today in Washington the Obama Administration announced the new plan to deal with the so called “toxic assets” that have been at the root of the economic crisis. To free up lending, this new program plans to attract private investors by offering low-cost loans from the FDIC and the Federal Reserve.

The way the program would work is that a private investors would purchase of a bunch of bad mortgage loans by putting up 6 percent of the cost. The FDIC would cover 84 percent of the cost of a loan and the remainder of 6 percent would be taken from the $700 billion in Federal bailout money.

This new program appears to get the nod from Wall Street. Many people have wondered whether Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner would be able to recover from his first failed attempt, on Feb. 10, to unveil a bailout initiative. There was a stunning disappointment from the lack of detail. Wall Street showed that disappointment with huge losses that day.

The Obama Administration wants to get the new program out there and test the success of the program before asking for more money from Congress. They put in a placeholder request of an additional $750 billion; however voters are not so keen on further bail outs after the AIG bonus scandal.

Nonprofits have seen the usually generous public pull back on gift giving due to fears about the troubled economy. Hopefully, this program will help to get the economy back on track and get the lending going again.

Will this program help nonprofits by shoring up public confidence? Tell us what you think.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Asking for Money in Tough Times

While it is difficult to ask for money in the best of times, soliciting donations in a terrible economy can be downright unnerving. Even businesses that you are used to going to for donations are facing layoffs and even bankruptcies. Where do you go when every stream seems to be dry? It is time for a little empathy, kindness and understanding. Here are some ideas that might help you to hang in there and keep the faith:
  • Be friendly. Being kind and friendly can really make a difference. People are looking for a ray of sunshine. You can be that ray. A little enthusiasm and a positive attitude can be charming. Though it may not convince a struggling individual to give cash, you just might develop a friendship with a potential volunteer. Since time equals money volunteers are worth their weight in gold.
  • Get some face time with your prospective donor. People always feel better giving to a cause when they have a personal relationship with the person asking for my donation. It is often preferable to ask for money in person. Dress nicely and always wear a smile.
  • Remind the potential donor that their gift is tax-deductible. In most cases, contributions are tax deductable to organizations that have 501(c)(3) status.
  • Sell the benefits of making a donation. If you are giving a reward for a donation, be sure to remind the potential donor what they will get in return for their donation. If they are getting special recognition or advertising in exchange, be sure to really talk it up.
  • Think thru possible incentives. Businesses are much more likely to make a donation if it would have a benefit to the donor’s business. For example, a local party store would be more likely to donate close to a holiday when the publicity could bring in additional business. Publicity is always a great exchange for a donation and is a win/win incentive.
  • Relationships count. If you visit businesses that have a potential benefit from a relationship with your organization you will have a better chance of success. A valuable favor in exchange for a donation provides a foundation for an ongoing partnership.

In difficult economic times everyone is a little more nervous, but history shows that people are still giving, albeit a little less generously, but they are still giving. What are some of your methods for asking for donations in a tough economy?

Monday, March 9, 2009

Remaining Optimistic About the Economy

According to the Associated Press, “Billionaire Warren Buffett said unemployment will likely climb a lot higher depending upon how effective the nation’s policies are, but he remains optimistic over the long term.

Buffett said the nation’s leaders need to support President Barack Obama’s efforts to repair the economy because fear is dominating Americans’ behavior and the economy has basically followed the worst-case scenario he envisioned.

‘It’s fallen off a cliff,’ Buffett said Monday during a live appearance on CNBC. ‘Not only has the economy slowed down a lot, but people have really changed their habits like I haven’t seen.’”
Perhaps we needed to change our habits. President Obama told the nation that it would take time for his economic stimulus package to begin working. The President has only been in office for 49 days and yet there are those who are criticizing that he is taking on too much while others wonder whether enough is being done with the banks.

It seems like a little patience is in order here. I know that we get information instantly these days, however, we need to stand back and wait a little bit while the plans are implemented. Perhaps we need to let some of the banks fail or let companies like AIG reorganize themselves and stop throwing more money at dying companies.

Like a bleeding patient in an emergency room, the preliminary measures taken are to stabilize the patient’s vital signs. Only when it is clear that the patient is stable can any additional efforts be made to “fix” the problem. We need to stop the bleeding that appears to be coming from the housing market and then go back and infuse money into the banks.

Until our economy is stabilized, the nonprofit sector will continue to feel its effects. What are you doing to remain optimistic in this difficult recession?

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Recovery.gov

In a video on President Obama’s Web site Recovery.gov (http://www.recovery.gov/) the president promises that “The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act will be carried out with full transparency and accountability.” This new Web site will be the centerpiece of that effort. President Obama describes how we can track the Recovery Act's progress. He promises to disclose full details in a “timely, targeted and transparent manner.” Once the money starts to flow we will be able to see how that money is spent. Here is an overall breakdown of the budget:

According to the timeline, Federal Agencies will begin reporting their use of the funds beginning today, March 3, 2009. By May 3rd, Federal Agencies will make their performance plans publicly available and will report allocations for entitlement programs.

The site encourages citizens to tell their stories about how the investments are working. They also want to know what is not working. As soon as the money begins to flow into the veins of the economic machine, we will be able to communicate our perceptions of how well it is really working. Obama has told us that he will try new things and get rid of ideas that are not working so this is our chance to really get involved in our democracy directly.

During his run for president, Obama used the web and technology to reach out to his constituents and raise an unprecedented about of funding for his campaign. This use of technology in his administrations has put information directly in the hands of the people and at an incredible pace. This kind of transparency is only possible because of the Internet.

There is an interactive map under the “Impact,” “Jobs” tab that allows you look at your own state to see how much money will be used to create new jobs. In the “FAQ” section they answer commonly asked questions with links to the actual “Recovery Act” documents.

Take a look at the site. Let us know how you believe this Web site will affect nonprofits like yours. Has the recovery program had adverse or positive effects on your organization? Let us know.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Digging for “Good” News

Americans must like being afraid. Every poll you here says that we are frightened. According to CNN, “73 percent of those questioned in a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey released Monday say they're very or somewhat scared about the way things are going in the United States. That's six points higher than in an October poll.”

Whatever happened to the great politicians like Franklin D. Roosevelt who told us: “There is nothing to fear but fear itself.” Americans needed to hear that message and believe that there was a grown up at the helm and that there was hope for the nation. What we need is a plan that each of us can stand behind with each person doing his/her part to turn things around. We need to hold steady, try to find ways to save time without slashing jobs. By over-reacting we contribute to the frenzy.

What are ways that you can keep afloat? Technology can be a great way to get more accomplished for less. Invest in technology savvy systems, like content management systems where information can be found easily, repurposed and reused.

How can you stay the course? Rather than laying-off experienced workers, why not look at ways to keep them still working while trimming expenses. Getting rid of the experienced will only add to the downward spiral by cutting into the stable parts of our economy.

Find your courage nonprofits! Be the creative problem solvers that you know you are. Get out your shovels and start digging for good news. It is there. People are ready to help one another. Volunteers will still give of their time for worthy causes.

What do you think will turn Americans around and spur them into taking courageous action? Your thoughts.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Obama Signs Stimulus Bill

Denver, Colorado - President Barack Obama signed the $787 billion economic stimulus package in Denver today after the Senate passed its version of the bill late Friday. We have been waiting, what seems like ages, for news of the plan passing meanwhile each day brought news of further job cuts and business failures.

In his weekly radio and Internet broadcast, Obama said, "I will sign this legislation into law shortly, and we'll begin making the immediate investments necessary to put people back to work doing the work America needs done."

He reminded us that, "The problems that led us into this crisis are deep and widespread, and our response must be equal to the task."

The struggle in the Senate lasted weeks, with lawmakers on both Democrat and Republican sides desiring to warm up the frozen credit markets and get lending going again. There are those who have begun to call some of the failing banks “zombies” because they seem lifeless and unable to get back to lending. It is everyone’s hope that this stimulus money will get the banks’ lending again.

The question is, what will it really take to get people spending? Opinions differ widely. However, this bill's tax cuts will come in the form of relief for 95% of Americans. The amount of $400 for individuals and $800 for couples will come in the form of diminishing payroll taxes by a small amount over time. Lawmakers believe that people will be more willing to spend the small addition to their paychecks rather than hold onto such small sums.

Also included in the stimulus was $70 billion to shelter upper middle-class and wealthier taxpayers from an income tax increase and two of Obama's initiatives; the expansion of computerized information technology in the health care industry and billions to create green jobs that will hopefully, begin to reduce our dependence on foreign oil.

The nonprofit sector will see billions infused into schools and local governments to help prop up jobs. Will this stimulus package restore our faith in the financial system? We wait with expectation to see if this new administration can begin to defrost the frozen economy. What are your thoughts?

Monday, February 9, 2009

Email Legitimacy – Spam or Legit?

Email has become a great method of keeping in touch with donors and constituents. Email is fast, cheap and easy, or is it? If you have done everything that you are supposed to do, to get your subscribers to “opt in” and have found that your emails are not necessarily making it to their destination, you are not alone. Every time an angry recipient hits the “Report Spam” button your reputation is tarnished. You work very hard to get email addresses from qualified “opted in” recipients only to have them “unsubscribe” when you send them the “special offers” that they told you they would like to receive. Your email list is continually dropping out members. Join the club.

There are two big problems that you need to be aware of: 1) recipients are inundated with too much email; 2) spam filters are getting ever more sophisticated.

Everyone is receiving so much correspondence by email that they feel overwhelmed and use the “Report Spam” button as the easiest way to get rid of a lot of “advertisements”. They believe that their name has been sold and that they are receiving emails that they did not really want. If you are selling your lists you may want to reconsider whether this practice is helping or hurting your efforts.

Another issue that you can’t really do anything about is Bayesian spam filtering, named after Rev. Thomas Bayes that is a form of e-mail filtering that processes email using a classifier to identify spam email. It is one of the techniques used by search engines to distinguish illegitimate, spam email from legitimate email. Much modern mail client software has implemented Bayesian spam filtering. Users can also install separate server-side email filters. The way they work is by identifying particular words that have a high probability of occurring in spam email and in legitimate email. If your email has the words that have been identified as spam words in it, your emails may be filtered. They may never make it to their intended destination.

Are you experiencing problems getting legitimate email to your members? Let us know what tactics you are employing to cope with this issue.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Taking a Lesson from the Superbowl

Wow! This year’s Super Bowl was the kind of heroic turnaround that Americans just love. Coming from behind, the Pittsburgh Steelers went back to an old type of play, go left, go right, find someone open, pass the ball and run. Using their resolve, the Steelers charged ahead at the last minute to win their sixth Superbowl against the Arizona Cardinals in Tampa with a 27-23 victory. According to MSNBC, Steelers’ quarterback Ben Roethlisberger told his teammates “it’s now or never, I told the guys all the film study you put in doesn’t matter unless you do it now”. And they did.

In the face of huge obstacles, with the biggest economic crisis in decades overshadowing everything, keeping a cool head, working together, and using tried and true techniques wins the day. Nonprofit organizations face excruciating obstacles with donor money drying up but this is the time to pull the team together and say “it’s now or never.” It is amazing what great ideas can emerge from facing down your fears and driving ahead in spite of the odds (I was a cheerleader in high school). I say go team, go! America is not licked yet. We will rise up, take control and move forward. Is it time to go back and look at your most successful fundraisers and give them a new twist? What are your thoughts? Tell us what has worked for you.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Tumultuous Time in Business Sector Opens Up Opportunities

As the tsunami of job cuts continues in the American marketplace, economists’ predictions are making the year 2009 look pretty bleak. Major American companies like Home Depot, Sprint Nextel, Caterpillar, and Pfizer, announced thousands of job cuts today and it looks like the trend is expected to continue for the next six months.

While the news is bleak there is a silver lining to this cloud. Prime television and radio space is available at bargain basement prices. Also, talented employees whose jobs have been eliminated are available for hire.

Bargains are everywhere… that is, if you have the money to take advantage of them. This might be the perfect time for nonprofit groups to shore up their workforce and broaden advertising plans to include television and radio. According to AJ Khubani, president of Telebrands (the folks who make all of those “As Seen on TV” gadgets for “Just $19.99") this is a boom time for businesses with low priced goods and services.

Nonprofits could take a lesson from this “infomercial” advertising model. According to Infomercial DRTV, “Infomercial production costs generally start at $75,000 and go up from there. An infomercial media test cost is typically $10,000-$15,000.If the test is successful, then media expenditures will increase, which can translate into in a larger ROI.

For example, if your infomercial campaign spending is at $10,000/week and bringing in $20,000 in revenue, if you can maintain that same 2:1 revenue to media expenditure ratio (Media Efficiency Ratio or MER), at a spending level of $100,000/week, then your campaign will generate $200,000 in revenue.”

Opportunities abound for those who have a sense of innovation. When the going gets tough, the tough really do get going. What are your thoughts?

Monday, January 19, 2009

I Have a Dream…

How far we have come since that day On December 1, 1955 when Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a bus in compliance with the Jim Crow laws that required black people to sit at the back of a bus and give up their seats to any white person requesting it. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke out against segregation and urged the people of Montgomery to Boycott the buses. That boycott ended in the United States District Court ruling in Browder v. Gayle that ultimately ended racial segregation in Montgomery, Alabama.

Today, January 19th, is the day the nation observes the birthday of Rev. King. He is remembered for his famous "I Have a Dream" speech, given in front of the Lincoln Memorial during the 1963 March on Washington. He said in that speech "I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.'" King’s assassination in Memphis on April 4, 1968 focused the civil rights movement and moved American’s to take more action against discrimination.

It seems fitting that Barack Obama, our first African-American president, will be sworn in tomorrow, Janaury 20th, in front of that same monument. According to National Public Radio, Barack Obama will enter the office of president with the highest rating in history of an incoming president, 80%. Perhaps the near collapse of our economy and the low approval rating of outgoing President George W. Bush have contributed to this optimism, but our country seems to be looking forward to the change.

We all have a dream of a brighter economic future for this country. How do you think Barack Obama is handling his transition? How do you think his policies will affect the nonprofit sector? What policies would help to improve your efforts to keep your organization going in these difficult times?

Monday, January 12, 2009

The Senate Presses Forward Land Protection Bill

Yesterday, in a rare Sunday session and with a 66-12 vote, the Senate moved forward legislation that would reserve more than 2 million acres in nine states as wilderness. Final Senate approval is expected later this week and supporters of the bill hope the House will also approve the legislation.

The bipartisan package of bills represents years of work by many senators from many states to continue the legacy pushed forward by Theodore Roosevelt in 1891 when Congress passed the Forest Reserve Act allowing the President of the United States to set aside forest lands.

The bill is actually a collection of about 160 bills sponsored by many states to give the land the government's highest level of protection. The lands that have been designated as wilderness include Zion National Park in Utah, California's Sierra Nevada mountain range, Oregon's Mount Hood, Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, parts of the Jefferson National Forest in Virginia, Idaho's Owyhee canyons, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Michigan. The bill would also limit further oil and gas leasing in the Wyoming Range. Additionally, 387 miles of rivers and streams in Snake River headwaters will be protected.

If this bill continues forward and passes in the House, it will represent a real victory for environmental groups. Hopefully this type of positive reform will continue with this new Congress. How do you believe this legislation will impact your nonprofit organization? Is this the first of good things to come with regard to protection of the environment? Give us your thoughts.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Helping Donors Make Wise Choices

Attorneys General across the United States warn donors about making charitable contributions due to the number of scams that have surfaced using the internet. The suggestion that donations are not making it to intended destinations feeds the worries of donors, perhaps making them hold back on contributions.

Would donors still be interested in your cause if they knew that less than half of the money they donated actually made it to the worthy beneficiaries? Helping donors make wise, informed decisions about charitable contributions could come down to putting information at their fingertips. Most people want to be sure that they are giving to a worthy cause and that the money they give is helping. Here are some ideas that might help make the gift-giving experience a success on both sides.

Help donors to make an informed choice. Provide information about how much of the gift givers’ donation will actually go to the charitable cause.

Don’t make high-pressure appeals. Legitimate charities don't rush donors.

Provide written information. Legitimate charities will be willing to send information to donors before a transaction takes place. Provide information on your organization's mission and on how your donation will be used along with proof that the contribution is tax deductible.

Have a call in line. Make sure that your charity can be reached by phone. This will allow a donor to make sure that you are legitimate.

Make sure credit card payments provide security. Credit card payments make funds available more quickly. Using a secure site like PayPal can make the user experience easier and secure.

Provide appropriate tax information. Make sure to provide tax deductible information for federal and state income taxes. Donating to some tax-exempt organizations may not necessarily result in a tax-deductible donation and some organizations may even try to use terms like "tax I.D. number" or "keep this receipt for your records" to suggest they are tax-exempt charities when they aren't. For record keeping, a canceled check or credit card statement generally is sufficient for IRS purposes when you donate less than $250. For larger donations, you will want to provide properly worded receipts from your charity confirming the donation.

Provide alternative forms of giving. Provide alternative forms of giving such as charitable gift annuities, gifts in-kind, and endowments.

Make it easy to volunteer. Giving of time and personal skills can be a valuable to nonprofit organizations. Get organized and make it easy for someone to give their time.

What has worked for you? Give us your ideas.