Thursday, October 31, 2013

4 Ways to be a Smart Giver

This blog was originally posted on in preparation for Give to the Max Day 2013.

Smart giving is a partnership between donors and nonprofits - a blend of art and science. Smartgivers believe their time, talent and treasure are important social investments. People give for all kinds of reasons, and there is no wrong way to do it. But by using your heart, your head, and these four tips, you can help make sure your giving has the greatest impact this November.

1. Choose a critical problem to solve and look for organizations that tackle that problem

Instead of focusing on a specific organization, start by asking which problems facing your community list of strong nonprofits that meet 27 Accountability Standards at, look for organizations that want to solve the same problem that you do. These organizations have committed themselves to working hard to build a firm and solid foundation that includes accountability, transparency, good governance and public disclosure; that foundation allows them to focus on advancing their missions.
you’d like to address. Starting with the

2. Research how the organization will use your donation

It's easy to find information on an organization's mission, financial health, and impact online, using resources such as the Charities Review Council's list of charities meeting standards, as well as national resources like Charity Navigator, GuideStar, and Better Business Bureau. It is important to look for measures of performance beyond administrative expenses, or "overhead." An organization that invests in training, planning, evaluation, and internal systems is a stronger organization that can ultimately have the greatest impact on its community. Look for indicators of an organization's performance such as transparency, governance, leadership, and results. If you have questions or don't find what you're looking for, ask! Strong nonprofits always welcome all questions from donors.

3. Does the organization strive to reflect its community?

An organization that reflects the community it serves is one that includes its constituents at all levels: on the board, on staff and in its volunteer workforce. Organizations who are led by and for stakeholder groups often have stronger social capital and healthier ties to that community. That means they'll have strong outcomes in their work.

4. Look for risk-taking and out-of-the-box solutions

Nonprofits today are tasked with a huge challenge: serve more people with less money. Smart givers should invest their dollars into charities that innovate to work around those challenges. The willingness to take creative risks is key to finding new solutions to the problems we've faced since the dawn of humanity. It's up to this generation of donors to change the world, for good.

Want to learn more about the work we do at Charities Review Council? Come to our SmartGiving Open House on Thursday, November 7 from 3:30 to 7pm. We invite you to tour our new collaborative workspace, learn more about our work and renewed focus, eat some delicious appetizers, and have a good time with us as we debut our new home along the Green Line in nonprofit alley!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

What You Need to Know for Give to the Max Day 2013 – an Interview with Dana Nelson of GiveMN

Three weeks from today is Give to the Max Day—the fifth anniversary of the one-day statewide fundraising campaign. Last year, 4,381 organizations raised $16,391,905 from 53,339 donors in 24 hours, setting Give to the Max records in dollars raised as well as donor and organization participation. The magnitude of donations on Give to the Max Day, when coupled with informed giving decisions, makes for a wonderful opportunity for Minnesotans to help usher in the chance they’d like to see in our state.

We chatted with Dana Nelson, Executive Director of GiveMN, to find out what’s new for Give to the Max Day this year, what the best practices are for organizations new to Give to the Max Day, and who her dream celebrity endorser of Give to the Max Day is. Here’s hoping for a wonderful Minnesota Give Together in 2013!

What do you think has made Give to the Max Day so successful in the past?

A huge part of the success is owed to the nonprofits across Minnesota that take such great ownership of Give to the Max Day.  Every year, more and more organizations build it into their end-of -the year development plan and come up with crazy, zany ideas to promote the day and really have fun with it.

Also, I think we’re all wired to be really competitive, even if we don’t want to admit it. There’s something about the competition of giving—people give more than they might usually, because the get to see their favorite organization climbing up on the leader board. You get to see the impact of your donation alongside the thousands of other donations being made that day.

It’s also a great day to get people involved in giving that maybe don’t normally give, or may be first time givers to charity. A huge goal with Give to the Max Day is to get folks involved that don’t normally give or aren’t normally asked to give.

What resources can organizations access on the GiveMN website to prepare for Give to the Max Day?

We have tons tools for nonprofits and for schools on our website. The goal is to make it as easy as possible for organizations to participate. We have templates available for email campaigns, direct mail campaigns, letters to the editor, radio PSAs, and press releases.

Watch the Everything You Need to Know about Give to the Max Day 2013 webinar – you can skim through it because its pre-recorded. We also have webinars on our website on all aspects of marketing, including maximizing email campaigns, social media, and creating visuals for the web.
To make preparing for the day as easy as possible, we also have a preparation checklist.

Is there anything new GiveMN is doing for 2013 that smart givers and strong nonprofits should know about?

We’ve changed a few parts of our prize structure this year. We have a new leader board just for greater Minnesota, for organizations outside of the metro area. We also have “power hours” this year, which are specific hours throughout the day at kind of crazy times: 2am, 5am, 5pm, 6pm, and 11pm. The concept is that the organizations that raise the most during those hours will win an additional thousand dollars. This is great for organizations that feel like they can’t sustain raising money for the full twenty-four hours, and can just hone in on one of these power hours. 

We’ll have our headquarters at the Mall of America again this year, where we’ll have live streaming coverage that shows up on our site. We’ll interview participating nonprofits and schools throughout the day.

Last year we had principals ride the orange streak roller coaster in Nickelodeon Universe for hours at a time as our little stunt. This year, principles will be swimming with and feeding the sharks in the Sea Life Aquarium!

What advice would you give to smaller organizations running their first Give to the Max Day campaign?

If it’s your first campaign, decide on a realistic goal, and know who you’re trying to reach. You may be reaching different than in your current fundraising. Maybe you have twenty volunteers who work with you on a regular basis, but you’ve never asked them to give. Give to the Max Day is a great excuse to ask new donors for a donation. It’s also a great day to get your board involved in giving, if they aren’t already.

We have some really wonderful and creative campaigns for Give to the Max Day, but if you’re a first timer, you don’t necessarily need to go all out.

Also, don’t forget to steward the donor relationships you get! Sometimes online donors come so easily on Give to the Max Day, but you can’t forget that this is a real relationship, just like a donation you got face-to-face, or from a check in the mail.

If you could get any celebrity to star in the next Give to the Max Day PSA, who would it be and why?

That’s a tough one, but I really like the Hot Cheetos & Takis kids – Y.N.RichKids! I would love for them to do our next PSA! I’ve also always wanted Prince. Maybe a combination of Walter Mondale and Prince—two very different Minnesota icons, together. But I love this year’s PSAs with Janel McCarville and Jeff Locke.

-Matt Beachey, Engagement and Communications Associate

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Five Out of the Box School Fundraising Ideas

 School fundraising has become a necessity for many schools to stay afloat. In order to maintain literacy programs, extracurricular activities, and classroom supplies, both public and private schools run fundraising programs in which their students participate. Traditionally, these fundraisers involve students selling candy, popcorn, or other items either through catalogues, door to door sales, auctions or raffles. According to the Association of Fund-Raising Distributors & Suppliers (AFRDS), each year, non-profit groups net approximately $1.7 billion by selling products. Some parents are beginning to grow weary of helping their children sell unwanted or unused products and ultimately buying these products themselves as a method of supporting their children’s schools. Although school administrators recognize that school fundraising is not ideal, they also understand that it is a necessity to keep the schools running smoothly and effectively.

Fundraisers that simply involve selling candy or candles may generate money, but they don’t necessarily add much value for communities or the students involved beyond the money they raise. Furthermore, if you’re buying something you don’t really want, you’d be much better off making a direct donation, where 100% of the money you gave goes to the school and you don’t end up collecting unwanted teddy bears. If you’re tired of your kids selling things that your neighbors don’t really need, try suggesting some of these ideas for your school’s next fundraiser:

Plant Trees: Ask a nursery for seedling donations and then ask additional donors to sponsor a tree. This is a great opportunity for kids to learn a practical skill, and has the added benefit of beautifying your community.

Walk-a-thon: Plan a route and a date, and ask for pledges from donors for each mile walked. Walk-a-thons foster great conversation with your fellow walkers and are a great way to get active.

Cleanup Fundraiser: Choose a community to cleanup, and ask donors to give an amount for specific goals. For instance, they could donate a dollar amount per pounds of trash picked up, number of parks cleaned, or distance of road side cleaned.

Sell Rock Salt or Toilet Paper: It may still be door to door sales, but these are things that people will need to buy anyway, so you don’t have the guilt of pushing unwanted trinkets. Rock salt can be especially valuable to your community in winter, as it keeps your sidewalks dry and safe. With that in mind, you could also include a shoveling and salting of buyers’ driveways and sidewalks with their purchase.    

Dodge Ball Tournament: Set up a tournament bracket and have a registration fee for teams to sign up and participate.     

Allie Wilde, Engagement and Marketing Intern, Matt Beachey, Engagement and Communications Specialist  

Friday, October 11, 2013

What We Can Learn From Tyrone Freeman

One of the more straightforward-sounding standards we steward at Charities Review Council is our conflict of interest standard. In short, the standard reads as follows:

A board’s deliberations should be independent and free of bias from board members or key employees who may have a personal interest in the outcome.

Sounds pretty simple—basically, don’t make decisions that put your financial interests in the place of your organizations. Most conflicts of interest that arise in nonprofits are relatively minor issues, like a board member refraining from recommending a contractor who happens to be a personal friend.

A recent high-profile case involving Tyrone Freeman, the former president of California’s biggest union local highlights the importance of a strong conflict of interest policy. Freeman steered tens of thousands of dollars from the Service Employees International Union Local 6434 to the affiliated organization he led, California United Homecare Workers.     

This certainly isn’t a typical case, and generally we don’t look for punitive stories to cover in this blog, but this situation is one that could easily have been averted with stricter conflict of interest policies in place.

If you serve on a board, you aren’t likely to run into this extreme of a situation. But without a conflict of interest policy in place, you could unknowingly put your organization at legal risk.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

What the Shutdown Means for Nonprofits

In wake of the current government shutdown, an important question arises: how are nonprofits affected by the shutdown and what can donors do to help? Many charitable groups rely on federal funding or federal grants, so a prolonged shutdown could have dire consequences for nonprofits.

When funding for federal programs that provide social services such as food stamps, housing vouchers, and veterans’ services stops or slows down, the people who are affected are forced to find alternative channels for support. This creates a higher demand for services, putting a larger strain on organizations that are already faced with less funding and staff support.

Meals on Wheels is one of the most prominent organizations affected by the shutdown. “We budget less than half a million dollars a year to run our entire organization which is for food costs, vans, staff, fuel and everything else. We get about $250k from the fed government so it’s more than half of our budget,” said Alison Foreman, the executive director of Ypsilanti Meals on Wheels. If this major source of funding is gone for an extended period of time, nonprofits face the tough decision of cutting expenses wherever they can: staffing, program services, or facilities.

So, the most important question then is, what can donors do to help nonprofits in this critical time of need with little to no federal support?

Donors can respond by recognizing organizations that are most affected by the government shutdown and attempt to help their local communities. One of the most significant areas that will be affected is food, either through lack of access or mobility to meals, food stamps or food scarcity. Donors can search for organizations that address hunger and meet Charities Review Council’s Accountability Standards here.

Nonprofits that work with housing needs will also be affected by the shutdown. Federal programs that address homelessness through housing vouchers and shelters may be severely cut down or reduced, and nonprofits that address these issues might be similarly affected. Donors can find organizations that address homelessness and meet our Accountability Standards here.

Allie Wilde is a junior at St. Catherine University and is a History and English double major. She just started in early September as the Engagement and Marketing Intern for the Charities Review Council. She is from and currently lives in Minneapolis. In her spare time, she likes to play, think, watch and talk about soccer.