Nonprofit Pro Media

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.

The Johnson Amendment Survives Trump’s Executive Order

During the National Prayer Breakfast in early February, Donald Trump promised his religious allies that he would “get rid of and totally destroy the Johnson Amendment and allow our representatives of faith to speak freely and without fear of retribution.”

The Johnson Amendment – which was sponsored by Senator Lyndon Johnson and passed in 1954 – circumscribes the political speech available to religious entities registered as nonprofits. It ranks among the clearest legal lines separating organized religion and elected office, preventing religious charities from endorsing (or campaigning against) candidates while empowering the IRS to strip offending nonprofits of their tax-exempt status.

Earlier this month, Trump announced that he would soon sign an executive order designed to “vigorously promote religious liberty,” making good on his earlier promises to scuttle the law. What he actually signed, however, was a little less than what his religious supporters hoped for. This line from the order sums up its weakness:

All executive departments and agencies shall, to the greatest extent practicable and to the extent permitted by law, respect and protect the freedom of persons and organizations to engage in religious and political speech.

Effectively, the Johnson Amendment remains on the books. The ACLU, which was preparing to challenge the executive order should it greatly empower religious organizations to discriminate, released an official statement that deemed the document an “elaborate photo op with no discernible policy outcome.” As for now, the organization is not pursuing action in court.

Perhaps – as some pundits have pointed out – this is merely a rhetorical ploy intended to create the impression among Trump’s evangelical supporters that he’s expanding their political power. It could, of course, also be step one of a larger plan to dismantle the legal framework that enshrines the United States’ founding principle that church and state remain separate.

If the Trump Administration did eliminate the Johnson Amendment at some juncture, it would enable religious nonprofits – which already receive less IRS and government scrutiny than their secular counterparts – to deploy untaxed resources on behalf of candidates. This would be an unfair advantage, and would turn religious charities into processing plants for anonymous political funding.

Campaign financing is already shadowy, complex, and in dire need of reform. Striking down the Johnson Amendment is not going to better enable organizations to pursue their missions, but it will create a deep fissure of trust between organizations and the constituents they are supposed to serve.

How Nonprofits Can (And Why They Should) Prepare For Hacking

Hacking is real and nonprofits are not immune.

Consider this increasingly common scenario: a hacker illegally accesses an organization’s emails, looks for incriminating information, informs the organization that she/he/they possess this information, and threatens to leak it unless the organization pays up. Most nonprofit budgets do not have a line item labeled, “hush money,” so managing this type of crisis is – naturally – quite difficult from a moral, ethical, and financial standpoint.

Nonprofit leaders need to understand the negative impacts of being hacked. Does their organization have a policy or incident response plan? It may seem like a task for an intern, or a non-pressing issue that can be added to next fiscal year’s to-do-list.

Increasingly, however, an institution being hacked is not a question of “if” but of “when.” That means preparations should start now.

There are different types of hacking. Depending on the type, different players need to be involved.

1. If your organization is part of a larger breach and is notified by an outside public agency, involve the organization’s legal officer or representative.

2. If your organization’s trade secrets are stolen, the executive board should meet immediately.

3. If your organization’s private customer information is compromised, the compliance team – which most likely consists of the audit committee, CEO, CIO and HR manager – should all be included on the first call.

After determining the type of hack, an organization should be prepared to execute a seven step plan to navigate the incident.

1. Determine the type of hack and assemble key players to manage the incident.

2. Discover the breadth and depth of the hack. This step involves a response team, which should be established ahead of time. Think of these individuals as emergency response personnel or first responders. This team communicates directly and frequently with the key players during the immediate aftermath of a hack.

3. Execute an incident response procedure. This involves: 

 i. Communications – Each of an organization’s constituent groups should be addressed with unique messaging that is disseminated in a timely manner.

ii. Tech – Determine level of damage, continued threats, and next steps to clean up systems.

iii.Normalization – Be prepared to restore systems and files, as well as to replace machines, and adjust firewalls.

4. Investigate, analyze and remediate. This is the deep-dive stage which may require an expert third-party vendor stepping in to assist in order to make sure that the hacker has no residual access to organizational systems and the network’s environment is clean.

5. Prioritize work responsibilities. The organization should communicate to staff members that hack-related duties temporarily take precedence over on-going projects.

6. Internal communications plan. Provide transparent, accurate information to the board of directors to ensure that the organizational message is clear. This will ensure that they understand how to answer any questions directed to them by the media, public, or constituents.

 7. Post-mortem. Immediately following the clean-up of the incident, meet with staff, board members, and all of the vendors involved for a post-mortem discussion about what worked, what didn’t work, and ways to improve the process in case of future hacks.

Be aware of the dangers and threats that could harm your organization and take action early. Preparation will ensure a well-executed plan to combat unexpected attacks.

 

Turning 25: It’s a Big Deal for Nonprofits

The twenty-fifth year may not seem like an essential milestone for nonprofits, but it is a critical juncture at which many organizations either begin a slow march toward decline or pivot toward new, more effective ways of doing business.

To survive (and thrive) during this transitional point, organizations should look at these three things:

I. Leadership

II. Branding

III. Delivery

I. Leadership.

Who is in control? Is the organization’s founder still at the helm, or is a senior staff member who has been there for more than 10 years in charge?  After twenty five years, fresh perspective is essential for growth. Celebrate the visionaries who have organization so far, but bring in a leader who has the growth mindset and energy to make positive change.

II. Branding.

A clear, fresh brand is critical to reposition an organization and its image in the communities where the organization exists and which it seeks to influence. Step outside of the organization and look through the eyes of public. What does the nonprofit’s image, communications, mission statement, and overall aesthetic look like? Ask yourself what this impression means and how it impacts those who receive it. There are numerous companies that specialize in branding. A worthwhile investment for a nonprofit is to work with an outside firm that doesn’t see things through the same lens as the staff or board of directors. A fresh perspective will allow the organization to expand beyond its current branding limitations.

III. Delivery.

Take this moment in the organization’s history to look at delivery. How are the programs delivered? How are you acquiring the constituents you serve? What is the impact? Is the impact what is most needed in your target communities at this time?  Often, there are better ways to deliver your product. But it requires the courage to break the norm and change the organization’s processes, procedures, and staff.

Reevaluating leadership, branding, and mode of delivery can set your nonprofit up for positive change that invigorates donors, funders, community members, and those served by the organization. How will your organization evolve?

Girls in Tech: Hacking for Good

Girls in Tech – a nonprofit dedicated to empowering girls interested in technology – is taking a bold step and hacking for humanity.

The organization just kicked off a new series in Melbourne designed to generate innovative solutions to social issues through “hackathons” that involve teams of tech-savvy women competing to produce forward-thinking digital products.

Girls in Tech’s goal is to “create prototypes for technology that can address complex social problems. The hackathons are aimed at using technology to benefit charities, while also encouraging impassioned women to engage in innovation and entrepreneurship.”

More hackathons are slated to occur across the globe, tapping the energy and creativity of 60 chapters and more than 50,000 members of Girls in Tech. Hacking teams have recently tackled issues including hunger, supporting at-risk youth, and clean air.

The White House is even jumping into the gender-side of the STEM conversation, supporting  two new laws: The Inspire Act introduced by Representative Barbara Comstock and the Promoting Women in Entrepreneurship Act.

The former is said to “promote STEM fields to women and girls, and encourage women to pursue careers in aerospace.” The latter authorizes the National Science Foundation to support entrepreneurial programs for women.

The effort to level the playing field within all industries is no fad. It is an absolutely necessary task that supports economic growth while contributing to financial and gender parity.

Nonprofits: When is Organizational Transparency a Detriment?

How necessary is transparency?

The National Council for Nonprofits states that “charitable nonprofits embrace the values of accountability and transparency as a matter of ethical leadership, as well as legal compliance.”

But what happens when transparency endangers the lives of those who fund and staff a nonprofit? What if the founder uses a different name other than her/his legal name? Are they violating the trust of donors who contribute to their organization?

These questions are emerging as more nonprofits are formed to help refugees, immigrants and historically marginalized demographics. Should the founder of a nonprofit that builds homes for refugees in Iraq risk his life by using his legal name? It is a perfectly reasonable question – the socio-political contexts in Iraq and Syria are complex, with different factions holding ethnical standards across the spectrum. Think about the nihilistic violence of ISIS and its targeting of foreign aid workers. What may be a moral necessity in Pennsylvania could be a mortal mistake in Aleppo.

Do donors really care about transparency if it risks the lives of those who are working to serve a greater purpose?

Recently, two peacekeepers went missing, presumed to be kidnapped in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Nonprofit work is not always risk-free. The price for transparency in their case may very well have cost them their lives.

How Nonprofits Can Leverage Virtual Reality

Virtual reality presents incredible opportunities for nonprofits. Schools, museums, and performing arts organizations are leveraging its use everyday to teach empathy and cultural understanding, empower people to experience faraway places, and provide the public deeper immersion into the arts. Through virtual reality, mixed reality, and augmented reality, nonprofits can extend their reach beyond their website, social media presence, and physical location. They can be anywhere and share their mission with anyone.

Here are several trailblazing organizations leveraging this experiential technology.

Global Nomads Group. This organization is making an impact by connecting middle- and high-school students with their peers around the world, breaking down barriers separating youth from the global community.

Classical Music Reimagined. Faced with aging audiences and declining interest in classical music, the industry may have just found a way to leverage new engagement strategies through Classical Music Reimagined, demonstrating value to brand new audiences.

Guggenheim. Last year the Guggenheim took a leap and collaborated with Google to enhance the museum experience with virtual reality.  They speak of an enhanced experience not as a replacement but as something different, “a virtual experience of a museum will, necessarily, be fundamentally different from a visit to the physical building, and we trust that those differences can be strengths when in the hands of an engaged public and teachers.”

Think outside of the box – or put the box over your eyes – and ask, “could this technology take my organization to the next level?”

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.

Mar-a-Lago Red Cross Gala Raises Questions

(The gates of luxury: outside of Mar-a-Lago)

Does it matter where you host your charity gala?

The days following Trump’s January 27 executive order were chaos. Customs and Border Protection agents were abruptly tasked with barring Syrian refugees’ entry to the United States indefinitely, blocking all other refugees for 120 days, and preventing the entry of all citizens of seven mostly Muslim countries for 90 days. The plan was ill-defined and generated immense consternation among those enforcing it. It also created tremendous backlash, bringing protesters out to airports in support of refugees and in opposition to the targeting of a single religion, Islam.

A familiar charity – the Red Cross – was at JFK Airport in New York, providing basic provisions to those impacted by the order, just as they have done since 1881 for others dislocated by major events.

According to the American Red Cross’s 2015 990, the group received over $46 million in government grants. Not a significant amount when factoring in annual gross receipts over $3 billion. But is it a conflict of interest to accept funding from a government that creates duress for those the nonprofit is supposed to serve?

Consider this: The American Red Cross recently hosted its annual charity gala at Mar-a-Lago, a Trump property, which has become known as the Winter White House. The Trumps attended the gala and offered praise to the organization.

Optics matter. Nonprofits should be mindful of the potential repercussions of their actions. Fixing with one hand what the other breaks isn’t going to make any real progress.

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