Michigan Foundations Short-Change Underserved Communities

(Clean water protesters. Residents of Flint Michigan were let down when public water was horribly contaminated due to institutional neglect).

From 2003 to 2013, Michigan’s 66 foundations – including some of the largest in the nation, such as The W.K. Kellogg Foundation, McGregor Fund, and The Kresge Foundation – gave $10.3 billion to programs based in the United States. During that period, the U.S. was at war and was in the midst of the worst economic recession since the great depression. In a word, It was a period of great uncertainty for many.

Yet only 31% of that $10.3 went toward programs that benefited lower-income people and other disadvantaged communities and vulnerable populations, including people of color, children, domestic workers, immigrants and refugees, the incarcerated and formerly incarcerated, the LGBTQ community, people with disabilities, people with HIV/AIDS, sex workers, and women and girls who have been victims of abuse.

Support for advocacy, citizen engagement, community organizing, and long-term solutions to inequality faired even worse. Finding solutions to global income inequality can’t even begin when, here at home, we put forth limited resources for finding solutions to inequalities in our own neighborhoods.

So far, the year 2017 has brought rapid change and nonprofits will undoubtedly look to foundations for support and direction over the next decade. The election 2016 fallout has led many funders to change course.

Groups of people previously passed over for by funders have become top priorities, and programs previously considered ineffective because of their grand social visions are receiving renewed attention. Upcoming grant cycles will most likely see an influx of funding for nonprofits dedicated to underserved populations and social justice issues.

Discover more information on funders and nonprofit organizations by reviewing their information available online through the Foundation Center.

AnalyticsIQ Connects Nonprofits With Big Data

There is a common saying in the nonprofit sector that philanthropic institutions lag at least ten years behind private industry counterparts when it comes to implementing new technologies.

Donor retention, for example, is often treated as an art rather than a science. When nonprofits lack the resources to assemble and analyze the hard data necessary for concrete solutions to demographic issues in their donor support base, they necessarily rely on the gut feelings of experienced professionals.

And while there are plenty of stewards out there who get results through skill and experience alone, there are tools available that not only make their lives easier, but that result in game-changing improvements to their nonprofits’ organizational capacity as well.

One firm based in Atlanta, Georgia is working to help nonprofits utilize these tools.

AnalyticsIQ offers comprehensive data analytics services, helping organizations discover important data and make better use of the donor information they already possess.

“One nonprofit client approached us with major issues concerning lapsed donors,” explains Mike Hattub, Chief Operating Officer at AnalyticsIQ. “During our initial discussions we uncovered a number of additional areas where we could also make a big impact on the group’s operations and fundraising.”

The client – a blue chip nonprofit active across the nation – was initially hesitant at delving into compiled data. They opted to move ahead, however, and AnalyticsIQ created a data model that the client used to create a specially tailored mailing that targeted 50,000 households.

The ROI on the mailing was double the client’s initial projection.

From there, AnalyticsIQ developed more models targeting specific age and ethnic groups that resulted in further successes. Eventually, AnalyticsIQ would be responsible for the majority of new donor mailings for the organization, providing invaluable demographic and consumer data that helped maximize the returns on fundraising mailings that ranged from 1-2 million individuals.

“Through our services – including Dynabase, our proprietary database – we help nonprofits achieve maximum scalability for donor mailings in order to meet their goals,” Hattub tells Key Elements Group. “We compile and analyze thousands of consumer characteristics and attributes that help development professionals craft the right language and appeal strategy for the job.”

In an era where information translates into profits and fundraising, nonprofits can’t afford to overlook the competitive benefits offered by data analytics. The world’s biggest brands and most cutting edge companies use analytics to determine consumer profiles and digital behavior in order to optimize user experience and convert interest into revenue. Nonprofits – both big and small – should follow suit.

(Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links and content from AnalyticsIQ. Key Elements Group LLC did not receive monetary compensation for writing this article or affiliated links.)

Nonprofit Election Survival Guide: 5 Tips for Fundraising Pros

(When will it end?!)

The U.S. presidential election cycle is truly unique in the world. Involving an 18-month media frenzy, the contest is unparalleled for its drawn-out drama and immense cost.

So far, candidates have raised $720 million, and Super PACs have amassed $446 million in funding. Campaigns and third-party organizations spend a large portion of this funding on communications. From non-stop emails to seemingly omnipresent campaign spots, the candidates and the groups supporting them are competing aggressively for the public’s attention.

To complicate things for nonprofits, many campaign-related communications solicit money. This can create donor fatigue among a public eager to shut out the nonstop buzz flooding their emails.

There are, however, some steps nonprofits can take this election cycle to improve their chances of edging out their political competitors during election 2016.

1. Step Up Direct Mail – Campaigns are spending more and more on technology-based communications in order to reach a plugged-in public. This has resulted in torrents of email communications that frustrate some and spur others to blacklist institutional messages. Amp up your nonprofit’s direct mail. It’s still the best way to close on small gifts, and it is currently less inundated with political appeals than the email alternative.

2. Offer Reprieve from the Madness – For your nonprofit’s digital communications, consider adding content that may serve as a pleasant distraction from the election hubbub. Humorous videos and other visual media that tie into your mission can be just what an election-fatigued public needs.

3. Interact with Your Constituency – Remind your supporters that your nonprofit is more than a faceless institution. Connect with them on social media platforms, interact with the content they post, and thank them for their continued support. A personal touch can be refreshing stand-out quality during the nonstop slugfest between rival campaigns looking to get ahead.

4. Mind the Passions of Your Constituents – Try to avoids stepping on toes or engaging in needless political advocacy. Accidentally creating the impression of support for this or that candidate can attract negative responses from passionate individuals deeply involved in the ongoing election debates.

5. Start Planning for November Now – While the election cycle may seem interminable, it does actually end. In fact, it ends in November, during peak year-end fundraising time for nonprofits. With an eye toward the conclusion of the 2016 election, be prepared with the best possible year-end fundraising plan in order take optimal advantage of the dissipating communications rivalry from disbanding election campaigns.

Funding for Philly Rail Park Grows

(The Reading Viaduct as it currently stands)

The drive to construct a public park on top of the Reading Viaduct in Philadelphia appears to be picking up steam.

The project – in part inspired by the popular High Line in New York City – has been in discussion for over a decade. Now, it may finally become a reality.

A diverse group of funders are making great headway toward raising the projected $29 million necessary to construct the park. From the Fox Chase Bank-affiliated Philadelphia Mortgage Advisors to the Central Philadelphia Development Corporation, the business sector is stepping up to help cultivate the public life of Center City.

Grassroots funders are also playing a big role. Friends of the Rail Park – a nonprofit that arose from the merger of two separate organizations both advocating for the elevated park – maintains a donation portal that has enabled individual Philadelphians to contribute to the fundraising efforts.

The studio of landscape architect Bryan Hanes received the commission to design the park, and the initial renderings are stunning. Running through 50 blocks of multicultural neighborhoods, the Reading Viaduct was constructed 1893, and remained in operation for nearly a century before falling into disuse.

Early this year, foundation support gave the project a massive boost. The William Penn and Knight Foundations have contributed $1 million toward the park as part of a larger $11 million package given to improve and expand the Philadelphia park system.

Even if construction is far off, the fundraising activity over the last year has shown immense interest and support behind the project. If the popularity of the city’s Indego bike share program is any indication, New York City urban policies are adaptable to Philadelphia. The park’s eventual construction will certainly contribute to Philadelphia’s ongoing ascent as a national and global cultural center and exemplar of a rich and open public life.

How Fundraisers Can Leverage Pope Francis Visit

It turns out that all the anticipation of Pope Francis’ U.S. visit reflected an accurate level of enthusiasm for the popular pontiff. His parade around the National Mall drew throngs of people, and he spoke before 18,000 people in Madison Square Garden. Philadelphia is doubling in size this weekend for the World Meeting of Families and Francis’ open-air mass tomorrow on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.

With the Pope set to land in the City of Brotherly Love today, let’s take a look at what he’s said and done so far and how these issues may have an impact on fundraisers.

In his address to congress, the pope mentioned a number of exemplary religious figures, including Martin Luther King. He also offered praise for Dorothy Day, a somewhat controversial figure in the Catholic Church who nonetheless enjoy popularity for her selflessness and saintly life committed to serving the poor. The Dorothy Day Guild – an organization that spreads awareness of Day and advocates for her canonization – stands to benefit. The group should leverage Francis’ words in its messaging in order to expand the reach of its valuable work.

Pope Francis also addressed immigration, and championed a humane and compassionate approach to solving political issues revolving around the topic. Some political figures – prominently Bernie Sanders – has already leveraged the Pope’s address in their fundraising and communications. Non-political nonprofits can do this, too. If your organization works with or for immigrant demographics, there is a natural connection.

The environment is another hot topic this week. In front of the UN, Francis called for nations to acknowledge the right of the environment. These are bold words, and a huge boon for environmental groups looking for another figurehead to channel their messaging through. Especially on the heels of Francis’ highly publicized encyclical calling for better stewardship of the planet, this weeks events have elevated environmental issues to the forefront and related nonprofits need to jump into the discussion.

A highly public figure in possession of immense respect and a massive global audience, Pope Francis is an invaluable influencer. Positioning your nonprofit’s messaging within the context of his vision is an easy (and essential) way broaden the scope of your nonprofit’s work.

China’s Financial Crisis and Nonprofits: What to Expect

Global stock markets are reeling after the widely predicted (yet no less jarring) Chinese financial crisis caused the Shanghai Composite to plummet, stoking fears that the world’s second largest economy is facing a bleak economic outlook. The Dow Jones plunged 1,000 points (before rebounding a bit). Markets from Europe to Southeast Asia also suffered big loses.

Throughout the summer, Chinese markets had been on the rise. Between 2014 and 2015, the stock market rose 150 percent, in part because 40 million Chinese citizens entered the stock market for the first time.

Many of these new accounts – however – were founded on borrowed money. Analysts projected the eventual reversal of fortune, as China’s debt-fueled economy and speculative investing were unsustainable bedrocks for the country’s surging financial sector. Last minute efforts by the Chinese government to regulate debt-based investments, pump the economy full of cash, and suspend new public offerings were ultimately too late.

The global financial plunge comes at a poor time for the nonprofit sector. With an amazing post-recession rebound, the philanthropic sector has benefited over the last year from an uptick in giving and other positive developments, such as the growing popularity of #GivingTuesday.

The continued resurgence – however – may be tempered by a growing financial storm, as nonprofit professionals head into the biggest fundraising season of the year with markets in the doldrums. Top-income level donors who leverage assets to make their charitable gifts may be less inclined to give this holiday season, as well as other giving demographics that choose to spend conservatively amidst the confusion and pessimism that may emerge from the Chinese crisis.

Development and nonprofit professionals eager to continue the positive fundraising trends of the last year need to begin gearing up for year-end giving immediately. Only through careful planning and considerable time commitment can fundraisers excel in times of financial uncertainly and flux.

Philadelphia Charities to Benefit from Pope’s Visit

[Leading up to Pope Francis’ visit to Philadelphia in September, Shaping the Story will provide regular updates on nonprofit and charity issues as they relate to the pontiff’s first U.S. trip]

Visiting the Philippines on January 18, Pope Francis brought fellow catholics out in droves.

An estimated 6 million people attended what has been officially declared the largest Catholic mass ever held in the county. Appearing in a modest, inexpensive yellow poncho, the Pope spoke about society’s responsibility to children.

The world was moved in particular by his response to an orphaned street girl who had been rescued by a church-run foundation. “Why is God allowing something like this to happen, even to innocent children? And why are there so few who are helping us?” the 12-year old girl asked.

The ever-empathetic Pope responded, “Only when we are able to cry are we able to come close to responding to your question…Those who are discarded cry. But those who are living a life that is more or less without need, we don’t know how to cry. There are some realities that you can only see through eyes that have been cleansed by tears.”

Pope Francis also paid homage to Catholic nonprofit institutions, stopping at Manila’s Catholic university and spending 20 minutes with the father of a volunteer for Catholic Relief Services who died the day before from collapsing scaffolding in the seaside city of Tacloban.

The Pope’s popularity is unquestionable. He has achieved a rock star status, including in the United States, where he has even adorned the cover of Rolling Stone. A Pew Research Center poll shows that around 80 percent of U.S. Catholics – who will finally have an opportunity to see the pontiff during his first U.S. visit this coming September – have a favorable view of Pope Francis.

The focal point of the visit is the World Meeting of Families, scheduled for September 22 through 25 in Philadelphia. Following the conference, millions of people will flock to the Benjamin Franklin Parkway to hear Pope Francis speak on the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum. The Vatican’s itinerary will also include either a visit to a children’s hospital or to a juvenile prison facility.

The visit presents a unique opportunity for Philadelphia-based nonprofits to galvanize their volunteers and supporters and to reposition their fundraising strategy and messaging for greater results, as the Archdiocese has already done by laying the groundwork for an ambitious year.

On January 20, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia announced a $10 million fundraising goal for the annual Catholic Charities appeal – the chief source of revenue for charitable Catholic activities aiding some 200,000 people through 80 programs. Archbishop Chaput has helped turnaround the region’s Catholic fundraising practices since he entered his position in 2011, surpassing $10 million in fundraising in both 2013 and 2014. The added excitement of the Pope’s visit should make this year even more profitable.

With the media attention, as well as the millions of energized Catholics (and non-Catholic philanthropists no less enthralled by the Pope’s presence) descending on the city, Philadelphia-based Catholic charities and nonprofits should follow the Archbishop’s lead and leverage the Vatican’s visit for 2015 fundraising. The pope’s message of charity, in conjunction with his popularity, will provide fuel for nonprofits’ invaluable basic needs work.

Red Cross Under Scrutiny

The Red Cross is drawing some bad press following a joint report by ProPublica and NPR concerning the organization’s accounting. An oft-cited statistic – peddled by Red Cross CEO Gail McGovern, among other executives – that the group uses 91 cents of each dollar it raises to provide humanitarian services is false. In 2013, overhead costs comprised 17.5 percent of contributed dollars, or nearly twice as much implied by the claim.

Senator Charles Grassley has called for the Red Cross to “elaborate on how it calculates the facts and figures given to the donating public.” Following the report, the Red Cross altered it’s language to state that 91 cents of each dollar it spends goes into humanitarian services – a statement that ProPublica also labels “misleading.”

The Red Cross is a unique entity. While technically an independent nonprofit organization, the group operates formally as a “federal instrumentality,” which requires the Red Cross to follow congressional mandates for humanitarian assistance. While the organization is not a federal agency, it nonetheless occasionally receives government funding when publicly-raised money is insufficient for particular humanitarian services.


Another idiosyncratic side to the Red Cross is its business structure. The group’s well-known blood drives actually provide it with a salable product from which it profits immensely. The Red Cross sells donated blood to medical providers, often at a lower price than private competitors (as evidenced this year when the Indiana Blood Center lost one-third of its revenue as clients flocked to the Red Cross’ cheaper blood supply).

As pointed out by ProPublica, the Red Cross conflates its blood business with disaster relief. If the two services are separated, actual operating costs show that the organization spends two-thirds of its budget on its blood services. For this reason, the altered claim that 91 cents on the dollar go to humanitarian services is rather spacious. Notwithstanding the value of cheap and abundant blood supplies, its difficult to equate disaster relief with profitable blood drives.

McGovern’s less-than-truthful claim does not match up to the standards of transparency and forthrightness that nonprofit institutions should hold themselves to. Nonetheless, there is nothing remarkably off about the group’s services-to-overhead ratio. Indeed, the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance states that nonprofit overhead costs should not exceed 35 percent of budget, a ceiling that the Red Cross does not even approach.

Furthermore, the business practices of the Red Cross should not obfuscate the organization’s financial needs. While selling blood is no doubt a profitable enterprise, the organization cannot afford to appear completely self-sufficient. If donors perceive a nonprofit to have a diverse revenue stream that adequately provides the funding necessary for operations, essential fundraising efforts can consequently have worse returns. This threatens the organization with budget shortfalls, as well as a tarnished image for its efficacy and social impact.

The Red Cross should rectify its false statements. But instead of entrenching the value of a humanitarian organization exclusively in dollars and cents, the public should consider the greater impact resultant from the organization’s efforts as the chief inducement for philanthropic giving.

#GivingTuesday’s Big Impact on Philanthropy

The optimistic projections were correct—#GivingTuesday was a roaring success, as non-profits across the globe successfully raised millions of dollars.

The Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University plans to release a comprehensive report in the coming months. The Case Foundation has given an initial fundraising estimate at $45.7 million, indicating a 63 percent increase in overall revenue from 2013.

Jean Case—CEO of the Case Foundation—commented on the numbers: “Just as Cyber Monday and Black Friday are key indicators of consumer sentiment and economic health, this data on #GivingTuesday can serve as an indicator of the health of our giving economy.”

Where #GivingTuesday has grown, the consumer-oriented days surrounding it have suffered. On Black Friday, sales were down 11.3 percent from last year, and Cyber Monday sales were up a paltry 8 percent.

Non-profits who made out on #GivingTuesday can—in part—credit the ALS bucket challenge for their success. For the first time, a social media campaign attracted a broad array of demographics to get behind a unifying message, thereby raising millions of dollars. Having happened within the last year, this likely prepared social media users for #GivingTuesday. The ALS challenge habitualized the online community to charitable giving. Inculcating this habit has evidently paid off, creating a receptive class of online donors.

This year, #GivingTuesday also attracted more participating organizations than ever before. Over 20,000 non-profit organizations partnered up, a significant increase from the original 2,500 that participated in 2012.

That kind of momentum is big. As more organizations participate, the more institutionalized and recognized #GivingTuesday will become. Indeed, the social media-oriented event may well become the single most lucrative day for non-profits annually.

Philanthropists and organizations participated in numerous ways. In what may become a reoccurring fundraising strategy, Seton Hall University synthesized a traditional fundraising model with #GivingTuesday-style online crowd-sourcing. An anonymous donor pledged $100,000 if small donors matched the amount. The school exceeded the donor’s goal, raising $415,000 by the end of the #GivingTuesday challenge.

#GivingTuesday is also attracting prominent spokespersons. Ed Norton is no stranger to fundraising. The famous actor began a for-profit fundraising platform called CrowdRise in 2009. He integrated #GivingTuesday into his website, and offered his thoughts on what the day means and how his company chose to participate: “People like to see and feel that they’ve been a part of something big, and so we wanted to create a campaign that shows the collective impact of giving on Giving Tuesday.”

The campaign he refers to is the CrowdRise Giving Tower, an app that allows users to “see the world’s charitable efforts grow in the form of a tower made in augmented and virtual reality.” The app works by creating a visual representation of global charitable fundraising, stacking bricks higher as more money is raised in an interactive digital art piece. As groups develop new virtual assets around #GivingTuesday, they place greater stock and investment in the day itself, endowing it with greater financial significance.

The international character of #GivingTuesday was in full view this year. Over 68 countries participated. From Argentina to Singapore, Spain to Israel, people across the world engaged online, donating to their favorite charities and spreading the message of giving. There were over 32.7 million Twitter impressions, and 698,600 hashtag mentions.

This grand scope heralds an even bigger, more successful year to come in 2015.

Indian Boarding School Uses Fake Students in Direct Mail Campaign

A boarding school for Indian children has come under fire this week for misleading donors. St. Joseph’s Indian School—located in Chamberlain, South Dakota—has apparently raised millions of dollars via direct mail campaigns that utilized fake stories told from the perspective of fictitious students to generate donations during its annual fundraising drive.

A CNN report release Monday revealed that appeal letters from the school featured profiles of students who suffered abuse at the hands of troubled parents and experienced abject poverty. One such letter featured the testimony of a student named Josh Little Bear, who wrote, “My dad drinks and hits me . . . my mom chose drugs over me . . . my home on the reservation isn’t a safe place for me to be.” As the report uncovers, not only is there no Little Bear, but there is no actual student for which the name serves as a protective pseudonym.

The scope of the school’s mail fundraising is tremendous. Annually, the private institution sends out approximately 30 million direct mail pieces asking its largely Catholic donor base for money. Last year alone, the campaign generated $51 million dollars.

These actions create a host of questions about what constitutes acceptable fundraising practices. How much creative license does one have in crafting his/her institution’s identity? What are the ethical limits behind a non-profit’s messaging strategy? Can a certain element in an organization’s identity or messaging offend and alienate a group of people?

The fallout from these revelations is manifold. Native American leaders have already responded to the falsified stories. The president of the First Nations Development Institute accused the school of using “poverty porn” to solicit sympathy and philanthropy, projecting racist tropes of Native Americans in order to catch the attention of middle-class caucasian donors. Indeed, the donors themselves will likely be frustrated at having been deceived and may even cease their giving.

Others in the debate, however, contend that the school was merely aggregating students’ experiences and then fundraising for what is ultimately an invaluable service for hundreds of kids. The school has shot back at CNN for being “loose with the facts,” ignoring the honest operations of the school and the good it does for its pupils.

What remains to be seen is whether or not the fictionalized accounts—which, up until now, were chiefly responsible for St. Joseph’s successful fundraising—will end up tanking the school’s annual earnings.

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