Wednesday, November 16, 2016

We're Moving!


As promised, we've been hard at work this year ensuring sustainability for Charities Review Council. One option, with potential for great impact, was to reduce our operating expense by re-locating the Council office. We're excited to share that we will be moving on Monday, November 21st!

Our new office is just around the corner from our current location, giving us the same proximity to our donors and nonprofit partners. You can find us at 700 Raymond Avenue, Suite 160, St. Paul, MN 55114.

The new space not only right-sizes us for our current programming activities and staffing model, but also allows us room to grow, as we continue to expand our reach. All of this while helping to recognize almost 40% in annual savings!

Feel free to reach out (or stop by!) as we welcome any chance to talk with our partners. Additionally, please update our mailing address in your files. Our phone number and email addresses will remain the same.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Smart Givers Give to the MAX!

A Q & A with GiveMN's Executive Director, Jake Blumberg. 

In true Minnesota tradition, we're gearing up for another Give to the Max Day. And, as donor and nonprofit partners here at Charities Review Council, we're looking forward to a day of huge generosity benefiting the causes you care about! Last year, more than 62,000 donors logged on to GiveMN.Org to give more than 18 million (yes, million!) dollars. That's huge! So in preparation for the big day, we asked Jake Blumberg, Executive Director at GiveMN, his thoughts, tips, and tricks for making the most of this giving holiday. Here's what he had to say...

What excites you about leading GiveMN?

GiveMN is such a unique organization that has the opportunity to help thousands of organizations and donors connect with one another year round, and of course, on our annual giving holiday in Minnesota, Give to the Max Day! The opportunity to help organizations make broad impact throughout the state and region is incredibly energizing to me, and I am excited about not only success we have had up to this point, but also the future we can explore as an organization and community together. 

What's the difference between GiveMN and Give to the Max Day? 

Since our founding in 2009, GiveMN has hosted Give to the Max Day as one of our marquee events, in service to thousands of Minnesota nonprofits and schools that strengthen our communities every day. It is our opportunity to bring attention to the sector, ignite generosity, grow giving, and make it a fun time to give.


It wouldn't be a Charities Review Council interview without asking about your favorite smart giving tips. So tell us, Jake...

What are your favorite tips and/or tricks for smart giving? 

There are a lot of habits we should incorporate as smart givers. One we are excited about is a new feature on GiveMN.org allowing donors to cover the processing fee on behalf of their favorite cause. That way, not only does the organization receive 100% of their donation, but donors are also able to help organizations be more sustainable. Online fundraising is one of the most affordable ways to raise money, and now donors can give just a little bit more to make it 100% free for organizations.






You mentioned Give to the Max Day makes giving fun and easy, So...

What are three easy steps to give on Give to the Max Day?

It's so simple, there aren't even three steps! Just go to GiveMN.org on November 17th and search for your favorite organizations, or find new ones by keyword or location. For a list of Charities Review Council's Meets Standards® nonprofits, click here! 

You can make a gift to any Minnesota nonprofit (or school) in just minutes. And, if you don't want to wait until November 17th, you can schedule your Give to the Max Day gift beginning November 1st, just like an auto bill pay. 

What's the gift that's meant the most to you? 

Golden Ticket Winner
I think there are two gifts that stand out to me in my fundraising career. The first is probably from the first fundraising campaign I ever ran. A family friend of mine heard about the work we were doing, and although they did not have a lot of capacity, they made a gift that was truly meaningful to them. It wasn't the largest gift the campaign received, but to me it illustrated how much meaning there can be in people giving what they can because they are inspired by the work we are doing to make change in the community. 

My favorite gift that I have learned about in my role at GiveMN has to be the story of the $100 gift during Give to the Max Day 2014 that led to a new wing of an elementary school library thanks to a $20,000 Super-Sized Golden Ticket prize generously sponsored by our friends at the Bush Foundation. I think it is an incredible impact our giving can make when a donor's $100 gift can end up creating so much change. The media center even bears her name now!  

Over to you Smart Givers!
What's a gift that's meant the most to you? Send us a message, or comment below for a chance to be highlighted on Charities Review Council's Facebook page this Give to the Max Day!

Charities Review Council | GiveMN

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Be a Smart Giver this Give to the Max Day

Get your Giving Guides ready! Minnesota's 24-hour online give-a-thon, Give to the Max Day, is almost here. 

At Charities Review Council, we know you're seriously invested in the causes you care about, and that every dollar matters to the nonprofits you generously support. That's why we work alongside donors (and nonprofits) every day, ensuring donors like you can feel confident when making a giving decision.

Give to the Max Day is no different! We're here to help you prepare for this year's giving holiday with two easy-to-use tips and a guide for nonprofit outreach. It doesn't get any better than that! But first, let's talk Give to the Max Day; What is it? How can you participate? And more importantly, WHY should you participate? We've got answers to those questions and more below.

What is Give to the Max Day? 
If you're new in town, or just haven't heard of Give to the Max Day, you're in the right spot! Give to the Max Day is Minnesota's 24-hour online give-a-thon, where generous donors (like you!) celebrate giving by supporting the causes they care about most.

Last year more than 62,000 donors logged on to GiveMN.Org to give more than 18 million dollars. That's huge!

Why should I participate? 
Besides the "feel good" benefits, making a gift on Give to the Max Day has some added benefits, like Golden Tickets!

Every hour, GiveMN will be awarding one Golden Ticket of $1,000 through a random drawing of all donations transacted during the previous hour. Additionally, two Super-Sized Golden Tickets of $10,000 each, will be awarded as well.

That means your $10 donation could transform into a $10,000 donation for your favorite nonprofit (or school). So go ahead, grab your lucky socks and make a gift to your favorite Minnesota nonprofit for a chance to turn your $10 (or more!) into $10,000!

Give to the Max Day makes giving easy and fun. Click here to get started

When is Give to the Max Day? 
Mark your calendars; Give to the Max Day is Thursday, November 17th. Too excited to wait? Don't worry, you can schedule your online gifts as early as November 1st, and still have it count towards the Golden Ticket prizes outlined above.





















How can you make the most of your giving dollars? 
Be a smart giver and use our giving tips (outlined below) and nonprofit outreach guide, found here.

TIP #1 Use our list of strong, trustworthy, and accountable nonprofits.

Take some of the guess work out of choosing a nonprofit to support. Nonprofits included on our list have taken steps to align their internal policies and procedures to widely accepted standards for nonprofit accountability and strength. These are nonprofits that you can feel confident investing in.

TIP #2 Know what questions to ask of a new nonprofit partner.

It's okay to reach out to ask additional questions. Our nonprofit partner organizations will welcome a donor phone call. And, relationships with the organizations you're planning to support matter almost as much as the dollars donated do. So, feel free to make a quick call, or send an email to an organization of interest, asking clarifying questions.

To make it easy, we've prepped a conversation starter (below) and an outreach guide (found here!) for you to use when reaching out to nonprofits you're considering supporting.

"Hi! My name is____, and I'm interested in supporting your organization on Give to the Max Day, and in the future. Would you, your program director, or your executive director have a few minutes to answer a couple of questions?

For the full nonprofit outreach guide, click here!

The nonprofit outreach guide
includes sample questions, the importance of each question, and interesting follow-up questions to ask of a new nonprofit partner.

From all of us at Charities Review Council, we hope you have a generous and prosperous end to your year, and a fabulous Give to the Max Day. Give on!

Thursday, September 29, 2016

You Don't Have To See The Whole Staircase, Just Take The First Step.

A special message from Charities Review Council's Executive Director, Kris Kewitsch. 

When we started this conversation we said, 'big changes start with small steps.' Now, six months later, we're excited to share the many small steps our small but mighty team has taken in order to deliver on our commitment to you - our nonprofit partners, donors, and community members.

Executive Director, Kris Kewitsch
Thank you for your support of our initial change message. Full transparency isn't always easy, or comfortable, but your emails, phone calls, texts and social media call outs did not go unnoticed, and reaffirmed our decision to share openly.

Martin Luther King Jr. said it best when he said "You don't have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step." 

Today, I come to you with our exciting steps forward, progress towards year-end goals, and plans for the future!

Our core work remains the same, and continues to flourish!

In our last Council update, we mentioned that our core work would remain the same, and it has! At Charities Review Council, we're committed to working alongside both donors and nonprofits, strengthening the relationship between the two so that relationships that were once transactional, can transform into authentic and meaningful relationships that better serve our communities. We see glimpses of this every day; Donors reaching out to nonprofits to learn more before giving of their time, talent and/or treasure. Our Nonprofit Services Team has done an incredible job keeping us on track with our annual goals. Here are just a few of the highlights thus far!

The Highlights: 
  • We have exceeded our annual goal for engagement of NEW nonprofits in the Accountability Wizard® review process! We are now working towards a stretch goal for year-end. 
  • We are currently exceeding our year-to-date budget for Accountability Wizard® fees, and plan to finish the year in a strong financial position. 
  • Our renewal rate continues to stay strong at 94%. 
  • Our 3rd annual Nonprofit Calling Day was a huge success, engaging 42 nonprofits in our Accountability Wizard® review process! 

What's new at Charities Review Council? Great question! We are so excited to share with you our new projects, tools and plans for the future.

NEW PROJECT SUPPORT- Nonprofits Strengthening Project

We received new project support from Youthprise to work with nonprofits serving Somali youth. Our Nonprofits Strengthening Project for these organizations kicked off in July and will continue through October of this year. 

Participation in these projects includes: 
  • Access to our online, capacity building tool (aka the Accountability Wizard®),
  • Customized training and workshops delivered by local subject matter experts, and 
  • Nonprofit Strengthening Workshop
  • One-on-one support from Council staff members in the areas of governance, fundraising, financial activity and public communications. 
We're grateful to have Youthprise as strong supporters of this work. 

NEW TOOL & RESOURCES - Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Toolkit

On average, only 14% of our nonprofit partners are able to meet the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Accountability Standard® upon initial review, meaning that 86% need to take action before meeting this Standard. To better support our nonprofit partners in this area, the Council received support from Youthprise in 2014 to begin working on a tool that would support nonprofit organizations with not only meeting this Standard, but also implementing lasting changes in the area of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. We've successfully completed phase one, which was to create the tool, and are now working on phase two, which is to bring the tool online for our nonprofit partners to use! The Carlson Family Foundation, Wells Fargo and the Medica Foundation have all signed on as supporters of this work. We plan to start beta testing this fall and expect to be online by spring of 2017!  

SPACE UPDATE

In our last Council update, we mentioned the possibility of a new office space for Charities Review Council. We continue to explore opportunities that are aligned with our current structure, give us room to grow, and allow us to deliver on our mission and programmatic goals. We'll keep you updated as the year continues.

FORUM 2017 (Previously known as the 'Annual Forum')

We are transitioning our once traditional 'annual' forum, to instead host a biennial event that honors and celebrates the work of the philanthropic sector. FORUM 2017 will mirror events you've attended with us in the past. 

Haven't attended a Charities Review Council event in the past? Sign up now to get an invite to the next one! 

Forum 2015
What can you expect from this new event? You can expect a dynamic speaker, or maybe even speakers (!), creative learning opportunities, purposeful networking, donor-nonprofit collaboration, and of course, lots of fun! We're thrilled to have Bush Foundation on board as our Presenting Sponsor, and look forward to sharing more event details soon! 

We're excited for what the future has in store for Charities Review Council. We're truly embarking on a journey and appreciate you coming along for the ride.

Consider investing in our future. Click here to help us mobilize informed donors and accountable nonprofits for the greater good, with a financial gift of any size today. 

In partnership, 

Kris Kewitsch & the Charities Review Council team

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Giving During Disasters

Charities Review Council offers the following tips on smart giving during disasters and how to exercise caution when responding to disaster-relief appeals.


President Obama and Vice President Biden visit memorial in Orlando
On June 12, 2016, gunman Omar Mateen shot and killed 49 people, injuring 53 others, inside Pulse- a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida. Authorities are saying this is the deadliest mass shooting in the United States and the nation's worst terror attack since 9/11.

Sadly, when disaster strikes, so do the scammers. 

Support the Orlando victims and their families, but also protect yourself, by using the smart giving tips below. 

__________________________________________________________________________________


When researching where to send a gift, consider the following:


1. Is the organization legitimate? 
If an organization is calling you, be wary. Established disaster-relief organizations are often too busy to implement a direct phone campaign during times of disaster.  Don’t be afraid to say “no” over the phone and then contact the organization directly yourself.

2. Texting-to-Give
Before picking up your phone to donate, here’s what you need to know.Text-to-give is a convenient and quick way to donate to a charity. Donors text a keyword to a short code and a pre-determined charge is added to your phone bill. A user can donate multiple times for each billing period. Note that since the donation is collected through the cell phone billing cycle it can take up to 90 days before the intended charity receives the donation.  Make sure you give to an organization that you trust.

3. Don’t be swayed by emotional or high-pressure solicitations with little or no substance.
Don’t make a donation to an unknown charity over the telephone or via an e-mail request, especially if it pressures you to give immediately, or refuses to send information unless you make a pledge. Verify organizations before you give by calling Charities Review Council's Nonprofit Services Team at 651-224-7030.

4. How do you protect yourself from fraud? 
Always pay by check or credit card, NEVER with cash. Cash can be lost or stolen.  Don’t provide your credit card number unless you know the charity and you initiate the contact.

5. Is the organization accountable to its donors? 
Don’t hesitate to ask for written information about programming and financial activity.  Research that information on the organization’s website, or call us at 651-224-7030.

6. Find out whether your contribution is tax-deductible. 
Ask the organization if it is a 501(c)3 charitable organization. Gifts to 501(c)3  organizations are tax-deductible to the full extent of the law. Obtain receipts if you plan to claim a tax deduction.

__________________________________________________________________________________

This information was originally published on Charities Review Council's website on July 21, 2015. However, the content and tips provided are still applicable now. Questions? Contact Charities Review Council's Nonprofit Services Team at 651-224-7030.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Big Changes Start With Small Steps

A special message from Charities Review Council's Executive Director, Kris Kewitsch. 

You've heard it said, change is the only constant and, like many of our nonprofit partners, we're an example of that.

A community thrives when its leaders fail forward, take risks, elevate solutions and share lessons broadly in the community. At Charities Review Council, we're leading by example, sharing organizational developments that will affect us both internally and externally, in hopes that it will cultivate trust, transparency and open dialogue about what it means to be a strong nonprofit.

True transparency means being willing to share openly. So here it goes...

Late last year, after the annual plan and budget had been finalized, Charities Review Council received word that expected funding would not materialize. Although we had planned to shift funding from operating support to fee for service, we hadn't planned for the possibility of no funding at all. This long-time support accounted for roughly 18% of our total budget. As a small nonprofit, (5 FTE, approx. $650,000 budget) news like this prompts many questions and tough decisions around programming, staffing structure, and more.

Big changes start with small steps. 

At Charities Review Council, we're pulling it all apart in order to put it back together in a way that makes sense. It hasn't been easy and there are still a few moving parts, but isn't that the beauty of change? Reimagining what has always been, in order to make room for what's to come? We like to think so, but for now, we'll focus on and share with you what we do know.

Our core work will remain the same; helping donors make smart giving decisions to strong nonprofits. 

By promoting nonprofit accountability and transparency with our capacity building tool, the Accountability Wizard®, and using our Accountability Standards® as a framework for building trusting, productive donor-nonprofit relationships, we'll continue to foster a culture of philanthropy that leads to stronger communities.

With support from our amazing board and staff, we’ve re-worked our annual plan, making tough decisions around programmatic activities like, Grow the Good, Open Source Brainstorm Labs, and more. This includes changes to our Annual Forum. We will not be hosting a traditional annual forum experience in 2016. Instead, we’ll be planning for an event in early 2017. Stay tuned for more details!

We’ve also made changes to our staffing model, including moving two previously full-time staff members to project based consulting work. Along with that, we are currently looking to relocate the Council offices, and are in the midst of taking tours in the neighborhood for a space that fits our programmatic needs and budget.

Despite these changes, we’re still committed to maintaining and growing the value of our Meets Standards® Seal.

Last year, we saw a 20% increase in the number of new nonprofits engaged in the Accountability Wizard® review process and we exceeded our renewal goal with 92% of our nonprofit partners renewing their accounts in 2015. Although temporarily lean, we’re still accomplishing great work. We look forward to engaging new nonprofits and growing our list of reviewed organizations in 2016.

As Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu said, “Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don't resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.” 

As an organization, we continue to take steps forward in our strategy of supporting authentic and engaged relationships between smart donors and strong, accountable nonprofits.

We thank you for taking the journey with us.

In partnership,

Kris Kewitsch & the Charities Review Council team

Monday, February 22, 2016

Your Best Annual Report Yet!

Ready to create an annual report, but not sure where to start? Start here! 

Transparency and regular communication about a nonprofit's mission and accomplishments builds trust, increases visibility and provides the opportunity for an organization to engage with their community. An annual report is just one of many opportunities for a nonprofit to share their organizational story. Sharing an annual report every year with key stakeholders, donors, family and friends, helps supporters connect with your mission and make informed giving decisions, leading to responsible philanthropy.

At Charities Review Council, we review hundreds of annual reports a year. Some are great, highlighting personal stories, clearly articulating accomplishments and effectively utilizing visual content to make it engaging for the reader. While other annual reports, well, that's why we decided to write this post. With three easy steps, we're sharing what we've learned and providing additional support as you take on creating your next annual report. Follow the steps outlined below and you'll also ensure that your organization aligns with our Annual Report and Communication Accountability Standard. It's a win-win! So without further ado, here are our three steps for achieving your best annual report yet! 


Step One: Determine 2 - 4 accomplishments to highlight.

Your annual report should not be a running list of everything you did in the previous year. Instead, focus in on a few accomplishments that truly convey your organizational story in a meaningful way. Ensure that you are including information for each of your major programs (major programs listed in the IRS Form 990, Part III). Donors want to know how their gift made a difference. So consider sharing things that might 'wow' your constituents, whether that was a new program, unexpected results, or a new location opening. Share the excitement with those who matter most, your supporters!

Step Two: Make it EASY! 
Easy to read, easy to understand and easy to access.

It's simple, annual reports fall flat when they are too long or overly complicated. When writing your annual report, keep the end goal in mind, which is (or should be) to engage your key stakeholders, donors, volunteers, family and friends in the work of your organization. In order to do that, keep these three things in mind:

Donors & nonprofits gather at Annual Forum 2015
  • Avoid using jargon. When you use jargon, or complicated language that not everyone will know and understand, you limit your audience from understanding the full breadth of your work. Make your work accessible and easy to read. Avoid jargon.
  • Use Images. You know and we know pictures have the ability to bring stories to life! By using pictures in your annual report you're not only adding excitement to your report, but you're also adding color, which is reported to increase readership by 80%! Don't forget about photo captions. If people read nothing but the captions in your annual report, they should still get a sense of the work that was accomplished last year. Photos and image captions connect your reader with the work being done, and that my friends is what the annual report is all about.
  • Create white space. Annual reports that are all text from top to bottom, left to right, are hard to read and quite frankly, boring. Strategic use of white space creates a more effective design and un-cluttered feel. White space can also be used to draw the reader's eye to a key statistic, mission statement, or accomplishment. Use white space to help point out the most important pieces of your annual report. 


It may be last on this list, but it's certainly not least. Use our annual report checklist to determine what is required information* and what is considered 'best practice' before getting started. You can print the checklist, or share the link with a co-worker to get your team on the same page before diving in. Discuss which, if any, of the best practices items that you will include in your annual report, remembering that too many things can potentially detract from the message you are trying to share. Focus in on the items that convey your organizational story, are relevant to the previous year, and include those in the report.

You are now ready to embark on your annual report journey! For more information, inspiration and practical applications, check out our website at www.smartgivers.org.

*Required to meet Charities Review Council's Annual Report and Communication Accountability Standard, not necessarily required by law.