Friday, March 9, 2012

Hire For The Future

Here's a simple question: Why is your nonprofit looking to hire a new employee? The obvious answer would seem to be "Because we have a current need in the position." While hiring for the present is all well and good, nonprofits also need to make sure they are keeping the future in mind.

This can be a difficult idea to sell. After all, the present needs of the organization are much clearer than those years from now, and there is seemingly more to gain by focusing on the here and now. In reality, there is much more to be gained by looking towards the future. One of the best ways to do this is hire employees who have multiple areas of expertise.

Even if you are hiring for a fundraising position, you should make sure this person has more to offer than the proven ability to raise money. For example, a fundraiser with social media savvy will help your nonprofit as new trends emerge. It wasn't too long ago that Twitter and Facebook were the talk of the town. Then, out of seemingly nowhere, Pinterest arrived, bringing a new social media platform for nonprofits to explore. Having the ability to raise money in multiple arenas will be of great help down the road.

Make sure to keep this in mind the next time you review an applicant's resume. Your employees must be able to adapt, especially in an environment that changes as often as the nonprofit sector does.

Nonprofit's Viral Video Draws Attention To Rebel Leader Kony

A now infamous viral video released to YouTube by a nonprofit has sparked a social media campaign to bring an African rebel leader to justice, showing once again the power of viral marketing.

The Wall Street Journal reported today about the nonprofit's viral video "Kony 2012," which spotlights the crimes the leader of the Ugandan rebel group Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) has allegedly perpetrated. Kony is currently wanted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity and war crimes including murder, sexual slavery, and using children as combatants. Invisible Children's video features interviews with Ugandan children, many who are afraid to speak for fear of being captured and killed.

"Kony 2012" (Warning: Graphic content) was first uploaded to YouTube on Monday and, by Thursday afternoon, it already had 44.7 million views and more than 170 related video clips, according to the online measurement firm Visible Measures Corp. The video also reverberated in other areas of social media, with social media analytics firm PeopleBrowsr reporting that Twitter users mentioned Kony 950,000 times. It was sites like Twitter and Facebook that allowed Invisible Children to get people aware of their video in the first place. Invisible Children's campaign also allows participants to directly message specific celebrities and policy makers through their website to encourage them to speak out on the issue. The site includes a wide array of personalities to message, from Lady GaGa to Mitt Romney.

The goal of Invisible Children, which was founded by Jason Russell along with two other filmmakers, is to bring Kony to justice this year. They plan to do this by bringing awareness of his alleged crimes through "Kony 2012" and the Invisible Children Protection Plan. The nonprofit's financial statements show that this program has a five-step strategy that includes creating an early-warning radio network and deploying search and rescue teams.

There are some who question whether this viral marketing campaign is effective. Scott Gilmore, chief executive of NYC-based Peace Dividend Trust, told The Wall Street Journal that while Invisible Children's efforts are commendable, they are ultimately for an effort that didn't need awareness. He also said the efforts won't bring back the children who were already kidnapped by Kony and the LRA. Invisible Children has responded to these types of critiques on their website.

You can read the full story in The Wall Street Journal.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Webinar: Unlocking The Value Of Donor Data

We may have just finished our most recent webinar on cloud computing but we're not stopping there.  We have a new free webinar to offer our readers tomorrow!

On March 9 at 1:00 PM EST, join The NonProfit Times, AMA, and CDS Global for a free webinar: From Information to Impact: Unlocking the Value of Donor Data."  Attendees will listen to Bev Hutney, Director of Innovation and Research at the Stelter Company, and Kristin Runyan, Chief Information Officer and VP, Product Management at CDS Global, discuss how to gather and analyze donor data today to help guide your important decisions tomorrow.

Interested in attending this webinar?  Visit our registration page to learn more details and to sign-up!

Nonprofit Ordered To Return $130G

A Massachusetts state auditor has demanded a Charlestown nonprofit return $130,000 after it was accused of using the funds on outside expenses.

The Boston Herald reported today that Charlestown, Mass.-based Life Focus Center Inc. allegedly used the funds, which were intended to help the disabled, to pay for food, alcohol, and other expenses while on a vacation in Disney World.  The organization has denied these claims.

State auditor Suzanne M. Bump called the charges a "horrifying" waste of taxpayer money, and ordered Life Focus to refund $130,000 to the state. This information was revealed after an audit of the nonprofit, which showed that Executive Director Jack Millerick charged over $123,000 on the agency's credit card in fiscal years 2009 and 2010. While a good portion of the money was allegedly spent during the Disney World vacation, nearly 40 percent of the purchases in 2010 were made in New Hampshire, where Millerick has a vacation home. He has told Bump's office that all of the purchases made during the Disney vacation were business-related, and blamed payments for gas on "human error."

Aside from the improper spending, Life Focus Center executives are also accused of hiring family members.  The auditor's report stated that Millerick hired his wife, Karyn, to serve as communications director, a position which paid her $85,000 in 2010. He also paid his brother-in-law $6,600 for maintenance services but did not report those expenses to the IRS or state tax officials.

You can read more about this story in The Boston Herald. Interested in reading more about finance?  Sign-up for our financial eNewsletter, Exempt.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

IRS To Investigate Political Groups

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is coming under fire from some conservative political groups for taking part in what they term a political witch hunt.

As the election season heats up, the IRS is taking a closer look at political nonprofits.  The New York Times reported that the agency has sent dozens of questionnaires to conservative Tea Party organizations in recent week in an attempt to determine their political leanings and activities.  Existing nonprofits like American Crossroads, on the Republican side, and Priorities USA, on the Democratic side, will also be pressed by the IRS to justify their tax-exempt status.

Although both sides will be questioned, some conservatives are crying foul on the IRS's questions.  Jay Sekulow, a conservative lawyer, is representing 16 Tea Party groups that are claiming the questions amount to harassment and a political witch hunt.  Conservatives point to a renewed effort by Democratic lawmakers to demand that these nonprofits and so-called Super Political Action Committees (PACs) disclose their donors and identify their major funders in political advertisements.

The issue the IRS has with these groups, designated as 501(c)(4)s (social welfare organizations) under the tax code, is they are concerned they are not living up to requirements.  Social welfare groups cannot engage solely in political activities.  In an e-mail to The New York Times, the IRS said they must be primarily engaged in the promotion of social welfare in order to keep their exempt status.  It's unclear how much political activity constitutes an excessive amount.

Another concern is whether donations to political nonprofits are tax deductible.  While an individual donation to a group like American Crossroads would not qualify as such, some companies could attempt to justify donations as a necessary business expense.  Tax experts believe that some donors are putting their donations into their marketing and advertising budgets and deducting them from their taxes.  This claim has not been proven, however.

You can read the full story in The New York Times.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Creating A Successful Nonprofit Newsletter

The best way to communicate with donors and supporters before the Internet was to send out newsletters.  These (usually quarterly) communications would keep them up-to-date on the most recent accomplishments of the nonprofit.

Newsletters are still around today, but they usually come in the form of eNewsletters, like the ones that The NonProfit Times sends out weekly and monthly.  With the change in format comes a change in expectations, so the old way of communicating won't cut it anymore.

It all starts with frequency.  In "Nonprofit Management 101,"  Kivi Leroux Miller, president of NonprofitMarketingGuide.com, wrote that the first thing nonprofits have to adapt to is sending out communications more often.  Most eNewsletters are sent out weekly or monthly rather than quarterly, and will contain fewer words than print newsletters (between 500 and 1,000 words).

Even if you are still sending out print newsletters, Leroux Miller recommended changing your style. She listed five techniques to keep your supporters happy and informed:

  • Frequency: Send fewer words, more often.
  • Look Forward: Preview more, review less.
  • Personality: More of them, less of you.
  • Next Steps: More action, less FYI.
  • Integration: More planning, less improv.
Make sure to sign-up for NPT's free eNewsletters on our website!

Gulf Oil Spill Donations Going to New Orleans Nonprofits

One of the worst oil spills in history occurred when British Petroleum's (BP) Deepwater Horizon rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, setting off a long clean-up process in the the region.  The spill not only affected the wildlife, but also local businesses and communities.  Communities are still recovering two years later, but help is on the way.

The Times-Picayune reported last week that nine New Orleans, La.-based nonprofits will receive the last $2.2 million of a fund meant to help local communities affected by the spill.  The Greater New Orleans Foundation made the disbursements and is responsible for donating $5 million of the $25-million Fund for Gulf Communities, established by an anonymous donor through Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors.  The remaining $20 million will be distributed by five other organizations associated with groups in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida.

Here is a list of the organizations receiving the funds:
  • The Children's Bureau of New Orleans -- $250,000
  • The Partnership for Youth Development -- $299,708
  • The Youth Empowerment Project -- $210,548
  • The Mercy Family Center -- $274,500
  • Grow Dat -- $214,586
  • The Latino Farmers' Collaborative of Louisiana -- $125,857
  • The South Central Industrial Association -- $374,000
  • The Houma Regional Arts Council -- $240,447
  • Bayou Grace Communities Service -- $241,850
The Greater New Orleans Foundation distributed $2.4 million last year to 12 nonprofit organizations.  Overall, 21 nonprofits in the metro New Orleans area have received funds, which have played a role in the economic and emotional recovery from the Deepwater oil spill.

You can read the full story in The Times-Picayune.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Texas Nonprofits Scramble After State Homeless Program Cuts

Many states across the country have been going through economic crises, leading to budget cuts in important programs.  One example of this takes us to Texas, where years of cuts to the state's homelessness program have left local nonprofits scrambling to save their own services.

The Star-Telegram reported on Saturday that during last year's budget crisis, legislators got rid of a $20 million homeless housing and services program, as well as an employment program and street outreach and rental assistance services.  The programs were first created in 2009 to help the state's eight largest cities fight homelessness.  The $20 million was distributed to local nonprofits in a two-year cycle.  Those funds are now gone.

The cuts have forced these same nonprofits to cut costs in order to preserve their own services.  The Salvation Army in Fort Worth had to cut their case managers from four to one, and saw its client assessments drop from 1,400 to less than 500 in only three months.

The state will still provide nonprofits with $5 million drawn from various sources, such as the housing trust fund, this year.  This was meant to fill the void created by the elimination of the program, but it will still only provide half of the money cities would normally receive.  For example, Arlington will only get $250,000 rather than $500,000.

There is some hope for nonprofits on the horizon.  The United Way of Tarrant County announced last week it would be awarding $2.4 million in grants from Fort Worth's Directions Home program.  These grants would provide money for case managers, career planning, and rental vouching programs.  The Salvation Army hopes to use the money to hire two new case managers for its emergency shelter.  Yet bigger issues lay ahead.  There is currently no funding planned for homelessness programs in 2013.  Nonprofits are planning to lobby the state to at least get the $5 million from this year again.

You can read the full story on this issue in The Star-Telegram.

Is Your Nonprofit Pinterest-ing?

Have you ever heard of Pinterest?  If you haven't, it's time to get out from under that comfortable rock you've been living under, because it's the next big social media craze.  So what is it?  It's a pinboard style social photo sharing website.  Users are able to create boards and then decorate them with pictures that best represent their interests.  These photos can either be taken from the web or uploaded from your computer.  Once the picture is up, the user can link it to a website of their choosing.

Although it was launched back in March 2010, Pinterest has only recently gained steam.  As of January 2012, the site had 11.7 million unique visitors, the fastest any site has reached that mark.  It's clear the social networking site has reached the level of "phenomenon" so now the question is how can your nonprofit make use of it?

Mashable, a social media and tech website, recently published an article on the top 10 strategies for nonprofits when using Pinterest.  Here are five of the tips we like the best:

  • Know Your Audience: This is the standard rule for other social networking platforms and it still applies to Pinterest.  For example, did you know that of the site's 10 million plus users, 87 percent are women, and the average age spans between 25 and 54.  Keep this information in mind when deciding which pictures you want to pin.
  • Get Personal: It's true: People respond better when they think a real human being is behind the scenes of your social network.  Give your pins some life by personalizing your descriptions, and don't be afraid to show some humor from time to time.
  • Make It A Team Effort: Social media campaigns are most successful when you get multiple staff members involved.  Mashable gives the example of charity: water.  Sarah Cohen, the communications and development manager at the nonprofit, told the site that one of their recently added boards, "Products We Love," is comprised of the various nonprofit brands that the group's staff admires.
  • Fundraise: Pinterest has a feature that makes it extremely easy to raise money.  All you have to do is pin a picture of something (maybe a money jar, a fundraising sign, etc.) and enter the "$" sign and price in the description box.  This will create a banner in your image that will allow users to donate that amount of money into your Pinterest's Gifts tab.
  • Highlight Other Nonprofits: Pinterest is a great place to promote your nonprofit but you also don't want to go overboard self-promotion.  Other users get notifications when their pins have been "re-pinned," and this will help you get more followers and, who knows, maybe the nonprofit will re-pin one of your items.
You can read the full article on Mashable.com.  Make sure to visit NPT's Pinterest page, too!