How Natural Disasters Will Impact Year-End Giving

Flooding in Houston. Wildfires in Montana. Life-threatening winds in Florida.

There have been an extraordinary number of natural disasters this summer that have hit our communities hard.

Houston – one of the United States’ biggest cities – is suffering economically as it begins to rebuild after Hurricane Harvey, which could end up being the costliest storm in US history.

Fires tearing across Montana are so intense that the air is dangerous to breath.

We don’t know the damage wrought by Hurricane Irma yet, but the impact will be enormous.

It’s also happening around the globe. Hurricane Irma obliterated one half of the island nation of Antigua and Barbuda. Monsoon rains in Southeast Asia have affected 41 million people, many of whom were already impoverished before having their entire material lives destroyed.

These events are inescapable, featured on the front page of all news websites and broadcasted to TV sets around the country by all the major networks.

Keep this in mind as your nonprofit gears up for year-end giving.

Each year, nonprofits compete for the nation’s generosity, participating in Giving Tuesday and rolling out carefully crafted campaigns to ensure that they have the resources they need to pursue their mission.

This year has already seen a surge in philanthropic giving resulting from the heated political environment, with legal and political groups benefiting the most. How this tends will affect the all-important year-end giving season is unclear. Have donors already maxed out their wallets?

The recent natural disasters will also inform how donors give. Humanitarian and basic needs organizations will be fundraising to help people reeling from these cataclysmic events, and the giving public – with horrific images and footage of the disasters in the forefront of their minds – could very well prioritize these organizations over other charities not directly involved in recovery efforts.

This could be among the most competitive year-end giving seasons in recent memory. The time to start cultivating messaging and strategy is now.

Jewish Museum in Philly Faces Cuts. How Can NMAJH Rebound?

The National Museum of American Jewish History (NMAJH) is feeling a pinch after several years of lackluster fundraising and growing costs.

The museum – inaugurated in 2010 and housed in a $150 million building on Philadelphia’s Independence Mall – is cutting 36 percent of its staff. Twelve of these positions were eliminated outright, with an additional six to be cut in the coming months. Other services inside the institution are being cut, curtailed, or consolidated. The museum will shutter its cafe and redistribute staff to take care of other responsibilities, and will begin closing on Tuesdays.

Ivy Barsky, the museum’s chief executive, discussed the cuts: “We’ve had to make some really difficult decisions, but it’s in order to sustain a bright future for the museum.”

These are tough days for institutions that celebrate, document, and/or preserve Jewish experience and history. The Trump Administration has suggested a staggering $3 million cut to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum’s federal funding, which makes up 5 percent of the institution’s overall budget.

In response, more than 60 members of congress have drafted a bipartisan letter decrying the move, which reads in part:

In our view, the mission of the museum has never been more important, particularly as the number of anti-Semitic attacks around the world rises.

Anti-Semitic attacks have grown in number since the emergence of the bigoted, online alt-right movement that works to indoctrinate internet users into hate ideologies. A number of Jewish cemeteries have been desecrated over the past 6 months, including one in Philadelphia, home to the NMAJH.

This sad social reality only underscores how essential these institutions are for cementing equality for historically marginalized groups.

The US Holocaust Memorial Museum, fortunately, probably won’t endure the proposed cut. There is some simple math at work here: with Trump’s disapproval ratings reaching historic highs, his more unpopular proposals that make fellow Republicans bristle probably won’t progress much further. As the strongly worded bipartisan letter from congress indicates, the proposal to cut funding to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum is unlikely to go anywhere.

But for NMAJH, life is more difficult. On paper, the museum seems to do well; it has a membership base of 6,000 and a retention rate of around 90 percent, which is higher than many other institutions. The museum also enjoys a spot on one of the most celebrated stretches of museums and historical buildings in the United States. Nonetheless, financial problems persist.

So how can it emerge from its financial troubles? NMAJH’s leadership will have to make some hard choices. The museum, for example, may consider rebranding. Visitors of described the title as long and ungainly. Others view it as a museum for Jewish people as opposed a museum about and celebrating Jewish people.

Renewed online efforts are also likely in order. In this day and age, nonprofits need to function like media companies. By building relationships with its constituents online, NMAJA could grow its already solid membership numbers or stand out in a crowded field of Philadelphia-based historical and cultural institutions.

It may also be time to think outside the box. A number of institutions are experimenting with virtual reality. Such immersive exhibits could position the NMAJH as a next-gen cultural institution and elevate its profile.

Rebounding from financial difficulties is a struggle many nonprofits face. But if an institution’s mission is vital – which NMAJH’s most certainly is – it’s worth looking forward to a better future, so long as there is an elevated commitment from stakeholder groups (on both the local and national levels) and a strong willingness to persevere.

Humane Society Fights Another Battle for Wildlife

When we hear The Humane Society, we think of cute, sad puppies and kittens that need adoption. We also think of slaughtered horses, abused pets, and mutilated lab animals.

The Humane Society of the United States fights everyday for the rights of pets and wildlife, a battle they’ve fought in conjunction with the wildlife scientists of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for years.

In a hasty move last month, the U.S. House of Representatives overturned a rule designed by wildlife management professionals that prohibits and sanctions the killing of hibernating bears and young wolf pups in dens.

Following the vote, President and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States Wayne Pacelle stated:

What the House did today should shock the conscience of every animal lover in America. If the Senate and President concur, we’ll see wolf families killed in their dens, bears chased down by planes or suffering for hours in barbaric steel-jawed traps or snares.

Backers of the measure claim it is a states’ rights issue.

Fighting legislation takes significant resources and The Humane Society for the United States will be in full-on fundraising mode to ensure that the organization serves its mission to protect animals.

The new political era has introduced a host of threats that directly impact nonprofits. Organizations will continue to run up against unexpected issues that require quick action and a reserve fund to tap. We in the nonprofit sector are going to see more call-to-action funds over the next few years. How will this shape the fundraising climate? Will donors heed the call?

In short: get ready for a shake-up in fundraising strategy compared to the past eight years.

Donor-Advised Contributions Increase Dramatically

Nothing motivates major donors faster that potential tax law changes. According to the National Philanthropic Trust, there has been a 72 percent hike in donor-advised contributions. Favorable market conditions and concern over changes to tax laws may be responsible for this dramatic shift.

Donor-advised funds are most likely to be held by high-net worth and ultra-high-net worth individuals. Fears of giving caps influenced major donors in 2016. What will happen in 2017? What type of tax policies will the new administration devise? Questions with answers waiting to be revealed.

It should be noted that the surge in donor-advised contributions did not translate to increased contributions from those funds to nonprofit organizations in 2016. Nonprofits actually saw a decrease in gifts from donor-advised funds. Organizations should find solace in the fact the money is there but the check has not been mailed. As tax-policies become law, 2017 will be an experimental year for giving practices.

Jackson, Mississippi is the New Poster City for Civil Rights

Enlightened thinking is happening in Mississippi, a state that has a reputation for leading with hate instead of love.

Last April, Mississippi governor signed an anti-gay law that allowed individuals and institutions with religious objections to deny services to gay couples. A few months later, a federal judge blocked the controversial law, describing it as “state-sanctioned discrimination.”

Today, through a ground-breaking museum underway in Jackson, the state of Mississippi may be turning over a new leaf.

The Civil Rights Museum “will be the first state-constructed and state-operated civil rights museum in the nation,” stated Haley Fisackerly, President and CEO of Entergy Mississippi.

A collaborative effort between the state and private sector has led to the Civil Rights Museum, which will share the history of the struggle for equal rights between 1945 and 1976. Perhaps, in the future, they will expand the exhibits and collections to feature other groups that have fought (and are still fighting) for greater equality, such as the LGBTQ community. Who knows, perhaps other civil rights movement organizations will join the growing list of culturally enlightening places to visit in Jackson, Mississippi.

The project received significant funding from Toyota, a company that has become a major employer in the state over the last decade with Toyota car manufacturing located in the state as well as the firm’s R&D headquarters. Evidently, corporate giving is very much alive and well. Look for the rise of corporations as they continue to take on a larger role in communities that are looking to make an impact.

PSR Philadelphia Hosts Advocacy Training for Med Students, Health Professionals

On January 28th, the Physicians for Social Responsibility – Philadelphia (PSR – Phila) hosted an advocacy training seminar on the campus of Jefferson Hospital. The training was designed to teach a number of skills to medical students and health professionals eager to make their voices heard in the world of political discourse.

The event attracted a tremendous amount of interest, requiring PSR – Phila to compile a waiting list, keeping with an ongoing trend in the wake of the post-election fallout which has seen a massive surge in youth interest in volunteering and political participation.

As Dr. Pouné Saberi from PSR – Phila told Key Elements Group LLC President and CEO Lynette Zimmerman:

Health professionals are the most trusted voice in society, we believe that legislation of all policies benefit from having the input of a health professional. But health professionals are not trained in how to give their opinions in policy making or even voicing their opinion in general media. We hope to provide a certain set of skills that will empower health professionals and students to seek out more visibility in the public policy arena.

The national PSR organization has been a nonprofit for more than 50 years, working on a number of social issues from the perspective of health professionals. Visit the group’s website to learn more.

Paris Agreement Likely to Take Force This Year

(World leaders gather during COP21 talks last year)

Finally, some great news for the environment.

Dozens of nations have signed on to the Paris Agreement, bringing international action on climate change closer than ever to reality. The new signees come just after the United States and China – the world’s two largest carbon emitters – announced their intention to sign the agreement earlier this month.

The news came during this week’s UN gathering in New York City, where 31 countries formerly pledged to join the Paris Agreement. Also known as COP 21, the agreement was negotiated merely a year ago. Compare this lightening fast turn-around to the hurdles faced by the Kyoto Protocols – which took seven years to initiate – and the speed with which governments are moving to find common ground on climate change is, indeed, encouraging.

Among the nations that signed on this week, many rank high on the list of top polluters, including Brazil (5th largest polluter) and Mexico (13th largest polluter). Other states signing on this week include Albania, Honduras, Mongolia, The United Arab Emirates, Singapore, and Morocco.

The fact that a total of 60 countries accounting for a full 48 percent of the entire world’s carbon emissions are now on board is a massive step for the international community in facing this existential threat. Now, all that remains is for additional signees accounting for a further 7 percent of the world’s carbon emissions to join before the agreement’s stipulations commence.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon spoke about the historical nature of initializing the agreement:

This momentum is remarkable. It can sometimes take years or even decades for a treaty to enter into force… This is testament to the urgency of the crisis we all face.

There are, of course, the typical gamut of climate-deniers who would love nothing more than to scuttle the agreement. Republican presidential candidate and serial conspiracy theorist Donald Trump has – in perhaps one of the most absurd instances of conservative intransigence on this issue – claimed that climate change is a hoax invented by the Chinese government to derail US business interests.

His campaign has announced its intent to cancel the agreement should Trump win the November election. This, thankfully, is much more difficult than it sounds. Upon signing the agreement, a nation agrees to stringent protocols in the event that it chooses to leave the agreement. The process is so laborious that it would likely require more time than the lifespan of a potential Trump administration in order to successfully accomplish.

Nonetheless, forces hostile to the social good will continue trying to obstruct meaningful action on this paramount threat. Socially invested entrepreneurs, activists, and conscientious politicians need to keep up pressure on the Donald Trumps of the world in order to ensure maximum impact of green initiatives, for sake of all nations and future generations.

Anti-Trans Bathroom Bill: North Carolina Governor Doubles Down

(Anti-LGBTQ North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory)

Republican leadership in North Carolina can’t take a hint.

After sparking a massive controversy earlier this year with the so called “bathroom bill” designed to marginalize trans people, the Tar Heel State’s Governor Pat McCrory is lashing out again at the state’s LGBTQ community.

The bathroom bill – HB2 – was rushed through the state legislature in response to a city ordinance passed by the city of Charlotte that gave trans residents the right to use restrooms corresponding to their gender. HB2 forbids transgender North Carolinians this basic civil right. Furthermore, the law does more than merely nullify Charlotte’s law, but goes as far as neutralizing local legislation designed to prevent workplace discrimination against the LGBTQ community broadly.

The latest affront from North Carolina’s bigoted governor came in the guise of a “compromise’ which, in reality, amounts to a reaffirmation of the state’s willingness to enshrine discrimination in its legal code. McCrory offered to convene a session of the state’s general assembly to repeal HB2 if Charlotte willingly repealed the initial law that set off this totally unnecessary firestorm.

McCrory’s singular commitment to persecuting the transgender community of North Carolina is shocking, even if you only consider the economic backlash and national isolation it has caused. A number of businesses – from Paypal to Deutsche Bank, General Electric to Whole Foods – have boycotted North Carolina. Nationally touring musicians have refused to perform in the state. And, in the latest news, the NCAA has pulled seven NCAA championship games out of the state.

Combine these developments with the generally low support that North Carolinians have for HB2 – hovering around a mere 35 percent in one poll – and the Republican establishment’s fixation on this issue is confusing to say the least.

New York AG Investigates Trump Foundation

(Photo: Gage Skidmore)

While the Democratic nominee for president Hillary Clinton has drawn scrutiny for the international dealings of the Clinton Foundation, her opponent for the White House is mired in his own host of controversies relating to his philanthropic enterprise.


On Tuesday, the New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced that his office was opening an inquiry into the The Donald J. Trump Foundation. Schneiderman told CNN:

We’ve inquired into it. We’ve had correspondence with them. I didn’t make a big deal out of it or hold a press conference. But we have been looking into the Trump Foundation to make sure it’s complying with the laws governing charities in New York.

The investigation emerges following a string of reports from the Washington Post that Donald Trump may have used contributions to his namesake foundation for personal expenses. The Republican presidential candidate also received heat on the campaign trail for asserting that his campaign raised $6 million for veterans charities, including $1 million donated by the real estate tycoon himself.

These claims have never been verified.

The Trump Foundation is no stranger to controversy. Earlier this month, the philanthropic entity was fined for a political donation to a group supporting the reelection bid of Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi in 2013. Bondi was tasked with deciding whether or not to pursue fraud charges against the now defunct Trump University. The fake institution of higher education scammed thousands of people through deceitful sales practices designed to prey on people’s financial insecurities.


The Trump campaign has lashed out, calling the New York Attorney General a “partisan hack.” But if the foundation’s own foot print is anything to go by, uncovering further malfeasance would hardly be a big surprise.

Report Shows Sugar Industry’s Deceit

A damning report released by the American Medical Association on Sunday, September 11 reveals how the sugar industry played a large role in covering up sugar’s negative health impacts. Penned by Cristin E. Kearns, the report details how the Sugar Research Foundation (SRG) helped isolate fat as the primary cause of heart disease.

During the 1950s, when coronary heart disease was growing increasingly common, SRF helped torpedo studies that showed sugar’s hand in the burgeoning health crisis. As Kearn remarks:

The industry sought to influence the scientific debate over the dietary causes of CHD in the 1950s and 1960s, a debate still reverberating in 2016. The industry would subsequently spend $600,000 ($5.3 million in 2016 dollars) to teach ‘people who had never had a course in biochemistry…that sugar is what keeps every human being alive and with energy to face our daily problems.

Indeed, looking back to the 60s and 70s, ads touted sugar’s health benefits as an energy-inducer. While that erroneous claim may no longer grace billboards, the long-lasting effects of the sugar industry’s obfuscation of the dietary risks posed by its cash crop are immense in magnitude. In the United States – second only to Mexico as the most obese nation on earth – added sugar pervades our foods, contributing to a number of pressing heath issues associated with obesity.

The sugar industry’s meddling didn’t end there. Industry interests also worked with the National Institute of Health to construct a dental health program for kids that precluded limiting sugar from daily diets. Sugar – of course – is the leading cause of cavities and tooth decay.

The insidious influence of commercial interests hostile to public health also spanned the Atlantic Ocean. An early whistleblower who correctly identified the risks posed by sugar, John Yudkin was a British professor who composed a prescient book that made headlines at the time but that ultimately led to his marginalization within the field. “If only a small fraction of what we know about the effects of sugar,” Yudkin wrote, “were to be revealed in relation to any other material used as a food additive, that material would promptly be banned.”

Working with government nutritionists, the sugar industry marginalized Yudkin’s findings and – just as in the United States – accomplished this largely by underscoring fat’s role in heart-related ailments.

The sugar industry’s decades-long lobbying efforts are a haunting example of how a special interest can shape public perception. Both nonprofit organizations focused on the social good and social enterprises genuinely concerned with human progress need to take these examples to heart, turning away from duplicity and innovating healthy programs, products, and services that are pro-growth and pro-people and that do not require deceit in order to generate profit.

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