Tuesday, April 03, 2007

A roundup of blogs about the nonprofit world, Posted By Robert Paisola, Director, The Western Capital Foundation

April 03, 2007

Tips for Pitching Causes to Reporters
Promoting article ideas to reporters is essential to promoting nonprofit causes, but it can be “boring and degrading,” according to a newsletter that is highlighted on the Green Media Toolshed blog.

The newsletter, published by Cause Communications, a nonprofit consulting group, asked several public-relations experts how to make the job easier. Yvonne Archer of Green Media Toolshed, an environmental-communications organization, published some of the tips.

“I’ve certainly been insulted and screamed at while pitching, but for every rude reporter there’s five who are genuinely interested in hearing what you have to say,” says Danielle Lewis of Spitfire Strategies. She advised “not overselling” and persuading higher-ups “to only pitch when you truly have a good story.”

Andrew Posey of Hershey/Cause says doing public relations for nonprofit causes is much easier than for corporations.

“We, in this sector, are actually fortunate in our ability to pitch causes that are both important and newsworthy,” he says. But not everyone is cut out for cold calling, he adds.

Tony Newman of the Drug Policy Alliance says his group makes up to 50 calls when trying to get a reporter interested in publishing an article. “If even 3 reporters out of 50 end up doing a story, that is a huge success!!” he says.

(For more suggestions on promoting nonprofit causes and a list of helpful resources, see The Chronicle of Philanthropy’s article. A Chronicle subscription is required, or you may purchase a one-day pass to our site.)

Share your tips for dealing with reporters by clicking on the comments link below this posting.

— Suzanne Perry

Posted on Tue Apr 3, 04:27 PM | Permalink | Comment

Foundations Account for Bulk of IRS Penalties in Compensation Review
Dan Prives has analyzed the Internal Revenue Service’s recent report on executive compensation at nonprofit organizations and found that private foundations accounted for the bulk of the penalties levied by the tax agency against organizations that it said paid their leaders overly high salaries or otherwise use tax-exempt assets for their personal benefit.

Mr. Prives, who has worked in finance jobs at several nonprofit groups, writes on his blog, Where Most Needed, that private foundations received four-fifths of the $21-million assessed by the IRS against nonprofit groups following its recent investigation. That is a significant share, he says, given that foundations accounted for only about one-fifth of the organizations that were examined by the IRS.

“The misbehavior on the part of the private foundations must have been really substantial,” writes Mr. Prives.

Digging deeper in the report, Mr. Prives found that most of the abuses at foundations was the result of loans to officials — often in the form of using foundation collateral to secure a personal loan.

“The abuse was sometimes subtler than compensation or direct loans, it involved insiders using foundation assets as loan collateral,” he writes. “Of course. Foundations usually have lots of bankable assets, and a lien on them would be easy to conceal.”

(Read The Chronicle’s article on the IRS report. To gain access to this article, you need a Chronicle subscription or a one-day pass. You may also read our special report on loans to nonprofit executives.)

Discuss your thoughts about the IRS investigation of executive compensation by clicking on the link just below this posting.

— Peter Panepento

Posted on Tue Apr 3, 03:04 PM | Permalink | Comment

April 02, 2007

Budget-Priced Beethoven
How much does it cost to take in a night of live Beethoven or Bach music? The answer seems to be “more and more.”

Henry Fogel, president of the American Symphony Orchestra League, writes in his blog On The Record, that symphony ticket prices “have escalated at rates well beyond inflation” over the past 3 decades. Ticket sales, meanwhile, have tended to decline, especially in the 1990s through 2003.

Mr. Fogel, however, also sees as a positive trend “bubbling up in the world of symphony orchestras”: a tendency for some nonprofit ensembles to re-examine their ticket-pricing policies and come up with innovative ways to make Beethoven and Bach cost less.

Mr. Fogel notes that the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra recently decided to price every single subscription ticket no higher than $25 (a financial move helped, in part, by a grant from the PNC Foundation).

The Dallas Symphony Orchestra now makes its subscriptions work in the same way as gym memberships, he writes. Patrons purchase an enrollment card and pay a flat fee to attend as many concerts they want each month. The Fort Wayne Philharmonic, meanwhile, had a “72-hour sale” promoted at shopping malls when all tickets were $20.

“They had hoped to sell 600 tickets, and instead sold 1,534,” Mr. Fogel writes of the Fort Wayne effort. “We’re probably early in this trend to draw meaningful conclusions from it, but it is definitely a trend worth watching.”

Could such innovative pricing approaches help other cultural organizations? Click on the comment link just below this posting.

— Brennen Jensen

Posted on Mon Apr 2, 05:21 PM | Permalink | Comment

We've Been Fooled
The anonymous author of the blog Don’t Tell the Donor promised to reveal his or her identity in a posting on Sunday.

The promise, which came in response to a recent online debate about the credibility of anonymous bloggers, drew quite a bit of attention last week in the nonprofit world.

It turns out, however, that the unveiling was an April Fool’s hoax.

“Happy April Fools Day folks,” writes the “fund raiser” who created Don’t Tell the Donor. “Sorry for getting your hopes up. Maybe ‘a fund raiser’ will reveal his/her identity next year.”

— Peter Panepento

Posted on Mon Apr 2, 10:20 AM | Permalink | Comment

March 30, 2007

"Cyberbullying": A New Form of Sexism?
Beth’s Blog, which covers technology issues that affect nonprofit groups, has taken a lead role in promoting today’s Stop Cyberbullying Day.

The author, Beth Kanter, a technology consultant, is among a group of bloggers who have started a campaign to end abusive online comments after learning that a fellow blogger canceled plans to deliver a workshop after she was the victim of violent and sexual threats.

“This issue is so massive that it is going to take an ongoing effort from many different angles—educating young people with help from teachers and parents as well as everyone who is using the Internet now—to model good behavior and continue the dialogue around this,” Ms. Kanter writes.

Another nonprofit-technology blog, The Bamboo Project, says the problem goes way beyond “cyberbullying.” “It’s about, at the very least, rampant sexism,” writes the author, Michele Roy Martin, an organizational consultant and staff trainer for nonprofit groups.

She says the focus on blog nastiness “sidetracks the conversation into fearmongering about the Web, rather than focusing on the fact that the Web is just an extension of the way that women are treated in all parts of society.”

Have you experienced “cyberbullying” on blogs that you operate or read? What do you think should be done about it? Click on the comments link below this posting to share your thoughts.

—Suzanne Perry

Posted on Fri Mar 30, 04:12 PM | Permalink | Comment [3]

Online Video With a Message
Lucy Bernholz and her blog Philanthropy 2173 offer a look at some of the most innovative online videos by organizations that promote social change.

She also includes links to a site called DoGooderTV, which is playing host to a contest with prizes that “honor videos and animations that mobilize people for social change and promote nonprofit work.”

Ms. Bernholz, president of Blueprint Research & Design, a consulting firm that advises foundations and donors on their giving approaches, says the examples on DoGooderTV show the potential that online videos have to inspire change.

One such video, called the Free Hugs Campaign, has received more than 12.6 million views on YouTube and recently won the video site’s award for most-inspirational video.

Has your charity produced its own online videos? What have you learned from the process?

Feel free to share your thoughts — and links to your videos — by clicking on the comments link just below this posting.

— Peter Panepento

Posted on Fri Mar 30, 11:07 AM | Permalink | Comment

March 29, 2007

Reading List for Poverty Fighting
What should you read to prepare for a career in fighting poverty?

That’s the question Tricia Newman, a graduate student in Utah, raises on Poverty Think Tank, a blog she writes “about me thinking about poverty every day so I will be moved to action.”

A few of the books she’s read in the last three months have been educational, she says. They include Managing a Nonprofit Organization in the Twenty-First Century, Leadership Challenge, and Developing Your Case for Support.

She also studied a book by the German philosopher Immanuel Kant, Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysic of Morals, which, while educational, may not have the some practical value as the others.

“My professor said one-third of the reason we studied it in our ethics class was so we could say we had read Kant. So, I am here declaring that I have not only debated and delved into the ideas of Kant, but I have read them, insofar as they were translated correctly,” she writes.

What books do you recommend for Ms. Newman or other young people passionate about antipoverty work? Post your responses by clicking on the comment link below.

— Ian Wilhelm

Posted on Thu Mar 29, 03:55 PM | Permalink | Comment [1]

Giving Charities the Thumbs Up
Sean Stannard-Stockton, a California philanthropy adviser, has recruited a team of blog writers to share their ideas on how to effectively measure the performance of nonprofit groups.

Mr. Stannard-Stockton, who writes the blog Tactical Philanthropy, calls the roundup of blog postings on a single topic “The Giving Carnival.”

And he’s enlisted writers such as Phil Cubeta, a financial and charitable-giving adviser who runs GiftHub and Albert Ruesga, a foundation officer who writes White Courtesy Telephone to sound off on the topic.

In his posting, Mr. Cubeta points out some of the problems that occur when grant makers place too much emphasis on measuring results.

“I can understand the pressure to do so, to be ‘accountable,’ and to have ‘benchmarks,’ ‘balanced score cards,’ ‘leading indicators,’ and the like,” Mr. Cubeta writes. “But I wonder if outcomes measurement does not lead to unimaginative grants. If the grant maker knows that something has to be measured, won’t the grant be retrofitted to that measurement index?”

Mr. Stannard-Stockton, meanwhile, says charities should be rated qualitatively instead of quantitatively. Instead of forcing nonprofit groups to use specific measurements of progress, donors should instead review charities like Gene Shalit looks at movies.

“This country has a robust movie-rating system that is entirely qualitative,” he writes. “We have an enormous system of professional movie critics who make their ratings public and provide detailed commentary on why they like or dislike each film. There is no reason why a similar system could not be developed for charities.”

What do you think about donors’ push to measure results? What information should be most meaningful to potential supporters? Click on the comment link just below this posting to offer your thoughts.

— Peter Panepento

Posted on Thu Mar 29, 11:23 AM | Permalink | Comment [2]

March 28, 2007

A Charity Watchdog Changes His Mind on Nonprofit Self-Regulation
Trent Stamp, a flip-flopper? The head of the watchdog group Charity Navigator admits it’s true — at least regarding his position on nonprofit self-regulation.

On his blog, Trent Stamp’s Take, he writes that he has changed his mind and now supports the Principles for Effective Practice drafted by Independent Sector, an association of foundations and charities, to promote good governance in the nonprofit world.

While he still finds the proposals too lenient, he says he is loathe to align himself with the groups that oppose Independent Sector’s suggestions, such as the Direct Marketing Association and the Association of Fundraising Professionals.

“I represent donors, some four million strong as a matter of fact, and I would have no credibility with any one of them if they knew that I was on the same side as the telemarketers and the mail solicitors, no matter the reason,” he writes.

Not everyone agrees with his reasoning.

Dan Prives, the author of Where Most Needed, says he appreciates Mr. Stamp’s candor, but that the Direct Marketing Association and others are just advocating for their members. What’s more, Independent Sector relies heavily on wealthy foundations for financial support and therefore only speaks out for their interests, he says.

“Say what you will about the DMA, at least its members pay the freight. You can be assured that its positions represent those of its constituency. Independent Sector does not represent the views of US charities or nonprofits. It speaks about the independent sector, but not for the independent sector,” says Mr. Prives, who has worked at several charities.

His final thought: “And Trent Stamp hates junk mail — at least we cleared that up.”

What do you think? Discuss your thoughts on this topic by clicking on the comment link just below this posting.

— Ian Wilhelm

Posted on Wed Mar 28, 04:06 PM | Permalink | Comment

Following the Money at Fund-Raising Conference
The cycling champion Lance Armstrong was the headline act at this week’s Association of Fundraising Professionals conference in Dallas. But to Jack Siegel, a Chicago accountant and lawyer, the real story at the conference was on the exhibit floor.

There, the more than 4,000 people who poured through the Dallas Convention Center could get a lesson in the business behind the charity business.

On his Charity Governance blog, Mr. Siegel takes readers on a tour of the exhibit hall floor.

There, among the 250 exhibitors, are companies that make engraved memorial bricks, offer insurance for golfing contests, and secure memorabilia from athletes such as Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan to sell at auctions.

“It is clear that the world of the virtual charity has arrived. That means charities and their boards can concentrate on mission and purchase specialized services from experts without the need to staff up or reinvent the wheel,” Mr. Siegel writes. “Now if someone could only figure out how to outsource the mission we could all go home.”

Did you attend the AFP conference? If you did, what stood out to you from this year’s event?

You can read an article about a fund-raising survey released at the meeting and hear interviews with two scholars who spoke at the meeting on The Chronicle’s Web site.

— Peter Panepento

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