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

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

Thursday, February 18, 2016

So, You Want to Donate Your Couch, Carpet, or Clothing?

At Charities Review Council, we answer several phone calls from well-meaning individuals hoping to donate items (clothing, furniture, housewares, etc.) to nonprofits who need them. We love that these callers want to donate items to worthy causes rather than simply throwing them away. However, there is no single clearinghouse of nonprofits accepting donated goods. No such database exists because nonprofits’ needs and abilities to accept items aren't the same from day-to-day.

Why do some nonprofits accept donated goods, and what do they do with them?

Salvation Army sorting through donated goods
Many nonprofits sell donated goods to the public to raise money for their programs. For example, Goodwill/Easter Seals and the Salvation Army both run thrift stores. The profits from those stores support their efforts to deliver on their mission.

Other nonprofits sell donated items to organizations such as for-profit thrift stores. For example, the Disabled American Veterans of Minnesota and the Epilepsy Foundation of Minnesota both sell goods to a private (for-profit) company called Savers that operates several thrift stores throughout the country under names such as Savers, Unique Thrift, and Valu Thrift. In these cases, the amount of money the nonprofits receive is based on a pre-determined amount, independent of the sales within any of Savers’ stores. In most cases, Savers will pay the nonprofit a small amount for any goods they receive. Savers may pay as little as 40¢ per pound of clothing. Nevertheless, these nonprofits rely on the income they receive from donated goods to support their work.

Why can it be difficult to donate goods?

First, many nonprofits have limits on what they are able to accept. This might be based on the contract they have with the organization they sell the items to, or it might be based on what will or won’t sell in their own store. For example, few people are going to want to buy a used toilet, a used mattress, or even a used sleeper sofa from a thrift store. Depending on the item, it may also be an issue of personal safety or liability. Second, as of November of 2014, some of the large Minnesota nonprofits that accepted donated goods for many years, no longer do.

Why have some large Minnesota nonprofits stopped accepting donated goods?

In November of 2014, the Minnesota attorney general Lori Swanson released a compliance report saying she believed Savers was mishandling donated goods, and in May of 2015, she filed a lawsuit against Savers when they didn’t change their behavior. Savers has consistently said they never broke the law, but they came to an agreement with the attorney general in June of 2015 and agreed to adjust their practices. Savers is now being investigated in other states, too.

After the compliance report was released, several nonprofits ended their contracts with Savers. True Friends, Courage Kenny Foundation, and Lupus Foundation of Minnesota decided to discontinue accepting donated goods altogether.

Disabled American Veterans of Minnesota signed a compliance agreement with the attorney general and will continue working with Savers, ensuring all donated items are handled appropriately. Epilepsy Foundation of Minnesota and Vietnam Veterans of America also continue to solicit goods in Minnesota at this time.

Why do some nonprofits charge for pick-up service?

Some nonprofits will pick up your items for donation. A few offer this service for free, but many charge a fee. This fee can catch potential donors off-guard. Why do these nonprofits charge a fee to pick up goods being donated to them?

Salvation Army truck picking up donated goods
It costs money for a nonprofit to pick up items. They need to pay for the trucks, the mileage, and the time for the workers, along with any normal costs of sorting and processing the donations. Depending on what is being donated, the donation might not even cover the costs of picking it up. Therefore, many nonprofits charge a fee to cover the costs of pick-up to make sure the donations are actually benefiting their programs as intended.

How does this affect Charities Review Council?

With three large nonprofits cutting their ties to Savers, many donors hoping to support local nonprofits with their goods have been referred to us. Unfortunately, the Council has only a limited and outdated list of nonprofits accepting donated goods, so we aren’t able to help as much as we’d like. Below is the information we have about nonprofits accepting donated goods.

If you work at a nonprofit that is currently accepting donated goods, add a comment below so donors can contact you directly. 

Options for Donors

If you plan to donate to a thrift store, make sure to check how much of the donation will actually go to charity. The thrift store should readily make that information available to you.

Below are some options for donating directly to a nonprofit. Contact the nonprofits directly to find out exactly what items they will accept, and feel free to ask how they use the donation and how much your donation will benefit their programs.


Goodwill/Easter Seals

  • Offers free pick-up within a 25-mile radius of the two distribution centers in Saint Paul and Brooklyn Park. Schedule a pick-up.
  • Accepts apparel, some electronics, books, games and toys, furniture, vehicles, some medical and assistive living equipment. View a full list and donate.

Arc Greater Twin Cities (Arc’s Value Village)

  • Accepts vehicles, clothing, household appliances, games and sports equipment, bicycles, and many other household items. View a full list and donate.

Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity ReStore

  • Offers free pick-up within the Twin Cities metropolitan area. Schedule a pick-up.
  • Accepts air conditioners, appliances, building materials, bathroom items, cabinets, carpet, ceiling fans, counter tops, doors, electrical parts, flooring, furniture, hardware, home interior and exterior, landscaping, lighting, paint, plumbing, tools, and windows. View a full list and donate.

Habitat for Humanity of Douglas County ReStore

Disabled American Veterans of Minnesota

  • Offers free pick-up within the Twin Cities metropolitan area. Schedule a pick-up.
  • Accepts clothing, shoes, bedding and bath items, curtains, home d├ęcor, kitchen items, toys and sports equipment, small wooden furniture, books, videos, CDs and DVDs, lawn/garden items, tools, and hardware. View a full list and donate.

Epilepsy Foundation of Minnesota

  • Offers free pick-up within the Twin Cities metropolitan area. Schedule a pick-up.
  • Accepts small appliances, bedding, books, clothing, curtains, some electronics, small furniture, some household items, kitchenware, sporting goods, and tools. View a full list and donate.

Salvation Army, Northern Division

  • Accepts clothing, some household items, some electronics, some furniture, and some appliances. Call 1-800-728-7825 to verify if an item can be accepted. Donate.

Basic Needs of South Washington County (Stone Soup Thrift Shop)

  • Offers free pick-up of furniture in South Washington County, Cottage Grove, Grey Cloud Island, Newport, Saint Paul Park, Woodbury, and South Maplewood. Schedule a pick-up.
  • Accepts small appliances, blankets, furniture, books, CDs, clothing, working laptops, some electronics, jewelry, kitchenware, decorations, lighting, soft-side suitcases, tools, and toys. View a full list and donate.

Community Thread

  • Offers free pick-up for furniture in the area around Arlington Heights, MN. Schedule a pick-up.
  • Accepts cars, clothes, shoes, furniture, housewares, jewelry and accessories, linens, kitchenware, counter top appliances, audio and video components, CDs and DVDs, musical instruments (except organs and pianos), books, bicycles, toys, sporting equipment, lighting, and tools. View a full list and donate.

Buy it Forward

  • A nonprofit allowing you to sell items and donate the proceeds directly to a nonprofit of your choice. Learn more.

Twin Cities Free Market

  • If you can’t find a nonprofit that will accept your items, you can also list them here. While the goods won’t be benefiting charity, they will at least be going to someone who can use it. Learn more.

Special thanks to The Salvation Army Northern Division for providing the photos for this blog post!

Monday, February 8, 2016

It's Not Goodbye, Just See You Later.

In true millennial entrepreneurial fashion, and based very much on the passion and vision she brought to Charities Review Council, our Director of Engagement & Donor Services, Kate Downing Khaled, transitioned to a new, self-directed consulting role starting in January. While we're sad to see her go, this is a great opportunity both for her and also for Charities Review Council.

Kate Khaled
"Part of my work at Charities Review Council has been to create and execute engagement and program strategy that aligns with our core mission of mobilizing donors and nonprofits for the greater good. I feel great about what I've accomplished and I'm excited to bring those skill to bear in the larger community."

Kate's consulting work will focus on partnering with social sector organizations to build equity and community engagement into their strategic initiatives. Some of her offerings will include facilitating collaborative user-centered design projects and helping philanthropies remove process barriers to engaging new-to-them communities.

This lines right up with the work she did with Charities Review Council. Kate helped the Council build equity and community engagement into our major programs. From our standards review process to reinventing our annual forum convening work, Kate has brought new voices and vision to our nearly 70 year old mission.

"We've done beautiful work together, and anyone who knows me understands that I'll always be personally invested in Charities Review Council's mission and future. But now it's time for me to live the same advice I give to donors and nonprofits  - that advice is to take risks, do things a little bit differently and be entrepreneurial."

For those of you who don't know Kate - she's a bridge builder, so she won't be a stranger. We'll look forward to blurring the lines and being 'radical' in how we collaborate together with her in the future. For now, you can get in touch with her on LinkedIn or visit her website at

The great work Kate made happen at the Council continues. Please connect with Kris Kewitsch if you're interested in knowing more about or supporting these efforts.

Meet Caitlin Osborn: Our New Nonprofit Services Intern!

Charities Review Council is excited to welcome Caitlin Osborn as our new Nonprofit Services Intern! Caitlin is currently in her last semester of the Master of Public Policy (MPP) program at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs where she concentrates in Public and Nonprofit Leadership and Management. At the Humphrey School, Caitlin serves as the MPP Degree Representative on the Public Affairs Student Association, where she facilitates conversations and actions around the evolution of issues concerning students in the MPP degree program. Caitlin hails from Roca, Nebraska, where she grew up loving the Huskers (Go Big Red!) and learning to drive on gravel roads. 

To better get to know our new Council team member, we sat down with Caitlin to ask her the tough questions: If you could be any superhero who would you be and why? And, perhaps more seriously, what's your favorite Accountability Standard®? See what Caitlin had to say here:

1. What is your favorite Accountability Standard®?

My favorite Accountability Standard® is Impact on the Community. It is important for donors to see that their gifts have made a tangible difference in someone’s life or the chosen issue area. I also think it’s really important for donors to see the nonprofit’s goals. This shows donors that the nonprofit is committed to progress. 

2. How have you seen nonprofits have an effect on community?

In nonprofits that I’ve worked with and also through studying the sector in general, I’ve seen nonprofits have great effects on communities. They engage communities in conversations about important issues and provide opportunities for betterment. I think nonprofits are becoming more and more innovative, pushing people to think critically about barriers and solutions. Nonprofits also promote collaborative solutions by engaging different people, who may have different perspectives, to work together toward a common cause. 

3. When you're not strengthening the capacity of nonprofit organizations by interning at Charities Review Council, what do you like to do for fun?

When I’m not at the Council, I love to take walks, read historical fiction, sing in the shower, take selfies with my cat, and do anything involving friends and food. 

4. If you could be a superhero, who would you be? And, why?

I would be a superhero dedicated to fighting the injustices against women that are still so common in the world today.

6. If you could listen to one CD for the rest of your life, what CD would it be?

Maroon 5, Songs about Jane. Takes me back to the angsty middle school days. 

5. What are you most excited about as you begin your journey with Charities Review Council?

I am most excited about learning new skills, such as social media, that will help me move forward on whatever path I choose following graduation. I am also excited to work with the amazing staff here at the Council, who have already shown so much interest in me and great passion for the work they do.

Caitlin will be supporting Charities Review Council's Nonprofit Services Team with completing nonprofit reviews, curating donor and nonprofit communications, and assisting with outreach efforts. Join us in welcoming Caitlin to the Council by reaching out to her via email or LinkedIn!

Friday, December 18, 2015

The Nonprofits Strengthening Project

Imagine if you could offer your grantees a fully customized capacity building and technical assistance program that would:
  • Focus on Diversity, Equity & Inclusion
  • Foster Collaboration
  • Leverage Technology
  • Build New Donor In-Roads
  • Celebrate Hard Work
All for the cost of a single program. 

If you haven’t yet figured out an affordable way to incorporate capacity building and technical assistance into your 2016 grantmaking budget, we have the answer. 

The Nonprofits Strengthening Project is an innovative solution from Charities Review Council that enables funders to be responsive and responsible grantee partners. Each project includes carefully designed programming that leverages community and technology, with the goal being to strengthen the capacity of our nonprofit partner's ability to pursue their mission.

Learn more about the Nonprofits Strengthening Project here.

But don't take our word for it, check out Rudy Guglielmo's blog post* below highlighting our long standing partnership with Youthprise and their grantees.
*Originally published April 20, 2015


Youthprise & Charities Review Council's Strengthening Project

by Rudy Guglielmo Jr., Program Officer at Youthprise

Rudy Guglielmo Jr.
I am pleased to share the results of our Nonprofits Strengthening Project with Charities Review Council (the Council) to build capacity for the nonprofits we fund. The project was very successful, engaging more than 35 Youthprise grantees. 

Upon project completion, 26% of participating grantees had successfully completed the Accountability Wizard®, thus earning the Meets Standards® seal, a visual marker of nonprofit strength; 63% of participating grantees had completed the Accountability Wizard® and were working on tangible action steps needed in order to meet all 25 of the Council’s Accountability Standards®.

Building on the success of the 2012 project, the 2014 Nonprofits Strengthening Project engaged an additional 21 Youthprise grantees. Currently, 9% of participating grantees Meet Standards®, and 57% are working on action steps needed in order to Meet Standards®. We anticipate that the remaining organizations will Meet Standards® by 2016.

I believe this was accomplished through the Strengthening Workshop Series, access to the Council’s online capacity building tool, the Accountability Wizard® and its customized one-on-one support.

We also learned that compliance with the Charities Review Council’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Standard was a challenge for Youthprise grantees. Grantees reported a need for information on best practices and a leader to promote the value of work in diversity and inclusion. In response, future capacity building efforts will focus on tools to assess racial participation. We are excited by the potential to influence the nonprofit sector at its approaches for diversity and inclusion.

You can read the full report, prepared by Charities Review Council, here.

This blog is published with permission from Rudy Guglielmo, Program Officer at Youthprise who's mission is to champion learning beyond the classroom so that all Minnesota youth thrive. 

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Annual Forum 2015: Radical Collaboration

"Energizing, dynamic, electrifying, inspiring, experimental." Those were just a few of the words attendees used to describe Annual Forum 2015 - Philanthropy 2.0: Radical Collaboration, and we couldn't agree more! At Annual Forum 2015, we asked you to join us as we imagine, create and innovate a new future of philanthropy with donors and nonprofits working together in authentic, trusting and collaborative partnership, for the greater good. This year's theme, Radical Collaboration, encouraged attendees to not only attend, but to participate.

Re-live the Annual Forum 2015 experience with our Annual Forum video, attendee tweets, event photos, and more!

Annual Forum 2015: Radical Collaboration from Charities Review Council on Vimeo.

With help from SPARKit, a mobile pop-up park that encourages creative exchange through games, art-making, and a festive atmosphere, and DJ extraordinaire Lizzy Shramko, we hosted our first session of the day, Making New Connections, a fun and engaging networking hour. Radical collaboration requires a first step, an initial introduction, a space and place to find common ground. At Annual Forum 2015, attendees where challenged to take the first step and meet someone new.

"I love that from the very start I was challenged to think in radically different ways- about networking, about what to expect from a conference!"

"It was a great way to start the forum. Awesome vibe!"

Attendees were then invited to pause, listen and learn at our second session of the day, Radical Collaboration in Action. To set the stage, Dameun Strange, a Ron McKinley Philanthropy Fellow at the Bush Foundation, shared his perspective on collaboration, jazz music and leadership.

KBDS creating a musical collaboratio
Dameun and Khalil Brewington, who together make up KBDS, then shared a LIVE, musical, radical collaboration, creating a piece of music inspired by the day.

"Great panelists and discussion. Loved the integration of the arts/music." 

Our cross-sector leadership panel then provided examples of innovative, disruptive and collaborative projects and programs happening right here in Minnesota and beyond.

Panelists included:

Here were just a few of the many share-able moments!

First lesson learned at #AnnualForum15 Radical Collaboration: Collaboration looks like you and me. It's serious and...
Posted by Charities Review Council on Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Through conversation, both in-person and online, around the benefits, and let's admit it, the challenges, that accompany new collaborative projects, attendees left feeling inspired, energized and equipped with tools for integrating collaboration into their daily work.

Anna Love-Mickelson, co-founder of stoke.d and professor at the Stanford University School of Design, then moved us into our last session of the day, the Open Source Brainstorms. Our goal for this session was to create a space and place for individuals, like you, to bring ideas and opportunities for collaboration, to the table.

Participants self-selected into small group conversations around these five key themes.
Each theme prefaced by 'How might we....'
  • create self-identified philanthropists using education and skill-building?
  • help boards and nonprofits reflect and include the communities they serve?
  • make the communication between donors and nonprofits easy and seamless?
  • leverage technology to strengthen the relationship between donors and nonprofits?
  • communicate to the world the outcome of our work in a meaningful way?
Using elements of design thinking and a group of dynamic, philanthropic leaders to help facilitate small group conversations, attendees generated more than 350 ideas and potential solutions to the questions identified above.

With the incredible knowledge, skill and expertise in the room, there were far too many ideas to share out at the event. But don't worry! Charities Review Council announced that it will be sharing "an idea a day" across our social media platforms (Facebook & Twitter). We hope that you might be inspired by an idea generated at Annual  and run with it! Follow us online to see the ideas, share your thoughts and continue the #DisruptMN conversation.

In addition to sharing "an idea a day," Charities Review Council also announced Open Source Brainstorm Labs, as a space and place for individuals to continue to come together, design and create collaborative solutions. Stay tuned for more information to come in 2016. 

The Annual Forum continues to be a place for making new connections, deepening existing relationships, experiential learning and fun! This year, we learned that collaboration isn't always easy or comfortable, and it's definitely not linear, but is necessary in order to create meaningful change. We hope that you'll join us at Annual Forum 2016 as we continue to grow the greater good in partnership. Click here to join our invite list.

P.S. Go ahead, tag yourself and your friends in the event photos, here!