Monday, November 26, 2012

When Taking Legal Action against a Nonprofit

What steps can you take when you discover something about an organization that doesn’t pass the smell test?
Recently we received a letter in the mail from a concerned donor.  His issue was with a specific nonprofit that he knew (and had evidence) was carrying out activities not in line with the organization’s bylaws. On a daily basis we get many calls from donors looking to find out more information about this or that nonprofit. Some inquiries are very generic, some only concerned if the organization has earned our Meets Standards seal, and others with very specific questions or concerns that need more investigation.
In the case of our letter-writing concerned donor, we knew and agreed with the man that an organization should not be doing activities counter to what the bylaws dictate. But ultimately, the best course of action we could recommend to the man was:
·         First, to call/write the organization and have a discussion with them about the concern. Try and find out the reasoning behind their actions and let them know why you, as one of their constituents, are concerned about that action.
·         Second, if that doesn’t get you any closer to a solution, the next step would be to contact the Attorney General's office. Third party reviewing organizations, like the Charities Review Council, have no legal jurisdiction over nonprofits and it’s best to take those concerns to the AG’s office.
In cases that are less serious, or when you’re first researching an organization, we have a list of questions all potential donors should ask charities before making a donation. And of course, we always recommend finding out whether or not an organization is on our list of Most Trustworthy Nonprofits, and if not, asking the organization why.
Questions to Ask Charities Before Giving
  1. What is the exact name of the charity? Many organizations have similar-sounding names. It’s easy to assume a charity is the community organization with which you’re familiar, but this may not always be the case.
  2. How does the charity use your contribution? The Council recommends that at least 70 percent of a charitable organization's total expenses should be used for program services. Although fundraising and administrative costs are necessary to a well-managed organization, donors should expect that a substantial amount of their contributions are used for program services.
  3. What are the organization’s unique mission and programs? Different charities attack the same problem from different angles. Three cancer charities may have three very different programs:
    1. making research grants to scientists
    2. publishing pamphlets on a healthy lifestyle
    3. providing free mammograms to low-income women.
Your desire to fight cancer might coincide with one mission more than others.
Read the remaining questions on our website, and be sure to keep them in mind when making donations during this season of giving.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Mustache to the Max Day 2.0

Give to the Max Day is just around the corner! This Thursday, November 15th, Minnesotans will come together to raise as much money as possible for nonprofits and schools in 24 hours – starting at midnight on Thursday through midnight on Friday. By engaging as many donors as possible to give to their favorite Minnesota charities in one day, showcases Minnesota’s unparalleled generosity to the world!

During last year’s Give to the Max Day, the Council did something different around the office and Give to the Max Day was coined Mustache to the Max Day. With your help we exceeded our goal of 75 donations and our then executive director, Rich Cowles, agreed to grow a mustache.

Board member, Jay Kim, demonstrates
the power of a mustache.
We had so much fun in 2011, that we’re bringing you Mustache to the Max 2.0, with even higher stakes this year. 

If the Council receives 100 donations on Give to the Max Day, our staff & board will sport ‘staches around town.

Photos will be posted on social media (#mustachetothemax) over the next few weeks for your viewing pleasure. 

Why should you donate to see us in mustaches?

Executive director, Kris Kewitsch lays it on the line: “This is the ONLY time you’ll see me with facial hair!”

From board member, Tony Helmer, fundraising extraordinaire: “Believe me, behind every successful fundraising campaign is a great mustache.”

Board chair, Heidi Neff Christianson, says, “Smart giving is more important than ever, plus my kids will LOVE to see me wearing a mustache.”

For updates and buzz, follow us on Facebook and Twitter. We’ll send an update via email in the afternoon on progress towards our goal.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Smart Giving Tips for Give to the Max Day 2012

Individuals and nonprofits from all over Minnesota are gearing up for's 4th annual Give to the Max Day (GTMD) on November 15th, but how can you make the most of your donations on this special day?

With the smashing success of the past three "Great Minnesota Give Togethers", this year there is much to look forward to—and hopefully new records to break.
  • In 2009, more than $14 million was raised for 3,400 Minnesota nonprofits contributed by roughly 38,000 donors.
  • In 2010, the bar was raised with more than 42,000 individual donors participating and more than $10 million was raised for Minnesota charities.
  • Last year, $13.5 million dollars was raised by more than 47,000 individuals.
To help break these past records, here are four tips for being smart with your Give to the Max Day donations:

1. Keep an eye out for Minnesota’s Most Trustworthy Nonprofits by looking for the Meets Standards Seal on a nonprofit’s GiveMN page:

2. During GTMD, donate to your favorite organization during “off hours” (e.g. 2am!) to help your chance at winning a “golden ticket (throughout the 24-hour Give to the Max Day, one donor will be randomly chosen every hour to have $1,000 added to their donation, with a Super-sized Golden Ticket of $10,000 awarded to one individual's donation at the end of the event).

3. Rally your friends, family, and co-workers together to join you in your efforts of supporting your favorite organization. The more donations your favorite organization gets, the better chance it has at winning a $12,500, $5,000, $2,500, or $1,000 prize grant (which will be going to nonprofits that receive the most dollars during GTMD—for more details read here).

4. Busy on November 15th? Schedule your donation ahead of time! New this year, GiveMN is offering the option to schedule your donation to be processed on Give to the Max Day, like you would a monthly bill payment. 

With records to break, causes to support, and money to raise, how will YOU make a difference during this year’s Give to the Max Day?

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Exploring Board and Staff Communication

As most of us know, the vision, governance, and support a board of directors provides to nonprofits plays a critical role in the staff’s success in carrying out the organization’s mission. But what exactly are the appropriate lines of engagement between board and staff? How much interaction is too much and how much is too little?
Yes, this looks different for each organization—depending on critical factors like the nonprofit’s size, culture, and scope of work. In this Blue Avocado article by Jan Masaoka, “Should Staff Contact with the Board Be Restricted,” the benefits and hesitations behind board and staff interaction highlight why this is not a black and white situation.
Masaoka offers a few guidelines to help structure the relationship between board and staff in a healthy and productive way that is in the best interest of the organization:
·        No restrictions for board-staff contact, but the executive director should be aware of meetings
·        In board-staff meetings, keep discussion appropriate and within bounds of the topic (e.g. it would be inappropriate to discuss whether the board or executive director is acting responsibly in finance)
·        Board can request information from staff, but not in a way that would require extra work from the staff (so it would be something already prepared)
·        Personnel grievances must go through channels specified in the appropriate policies
·        The organization should have a whistleblower policy to protect staff and to comply with federal law
While these are great guidelines to follow, the last suggestion from Masaoka hits on a point that the Charities Review Council feels is nonnegotiable.
When organizations go through the Charities Review Council’s Accountability Wizard®, one of the 27 Accountability Standards they must meet is our Whistleblower Policy Standard, which requires organizations to “maintain a policy and communicate the procedures for the reporting and investigation of complaints about perceived or possible illegalities, questionable practices, or policy violations.”
Something we recommend to organizations when writing this policy, is that it includes a way for employees to bring their concern about mismanagement or other issues directly to the board. This ensures that employees have a direction to take in case they are uncomfortable approaching the executive director directly.
We review hundreds and hundreds of different types of whistleblower policies and it might be surprising to learn that this idea that employees should be able to go directly to the board is sometimes not included. To help organizations revise their whistleblower policy to meet our Standard and include this recommendation, in our resources of sample documents, we provide a sample Whistleblower Policy.
So yes, while no organization is the same, and board-staff interaction will look different for different organizational cultures, the importance of a whistleblower policy that allows for cross board-staff communication is important in creating an accountable, transparent, and healthy nonprofit.