Non-Cash Donations Are Also Crucial to Nonprofits

There are many ways other than cash donations to support nonprofits.

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The most common donation charities ask for is money, but a lot of people don’t have extra cash to spare. This doesn’t mean that you can’t support a cause or organization that is important to you. There are plenty of other ways that you can donate to your favorite nonprofit.

First, you can offer up your time. This is a great way to get involved in your community and there are volunteer opportunities for all ages and skill levels. You don’t have to be a professional to have skills and talents nonprofits can use. Food banks, animal shelters and all manner of organizations need a certain amount of manpower to make things run. Even fun runs and 5k walk/run fundraisers need people to volunteer during the races, which only requires a minimal time commitment.

If you have the abilities, you can also make something to donate. There are plenty of organizations that accept donations of clothes or other homemade items ranging from blankets for homeless shelters to hats for babies in the hospital. Locks of Love accepts donations of cut hair to make wigs for patients losing hair due to cancer.

Another option is to use a charity card or donate your cash back. Some credit cards can have automatic donations, or you can simply donate your points or cash back yourself after the billing cycle. You’re going to be using a card for these expenses anyways. You can also donate your computer’s idle time to organizations that need massive computing power and can’t afford it. Finally, you can donate blood or plasma on a regular basis. There is always a need for this, especially if you have a rare blood type.

No matter what you choose, volunteering or donating in some way will have benefits for you as well as your community.

Black Rock Solar: Getting Clean Energy to Rural Communities

The Burning Man festival

The Burning Man festival. Photo: Shutterstock

When people talk about Burning Man, they are generally talking about the festival where 70,000 journey to the desert of Nevada for a week of dust-filled celebration of fire and art. It is less commonly know that the organization that throws the festival is also a nonprofit. And one of its arms is a nonprofit called Black Rock Solar, which “provides low-cost, high-quality clean energy services to clients in the nonprofit, public, low-income and educational sectors, with a focus on rural and tribal clients.”

Any money Black Rock makes using the energy services is reinvested in “educational and job training programs; small grants for solar-powered art and community clean energy projects; and other activities to promote clean, renewable energy and energy conservation.”

The project actually got its start in the Black Rock Desert where Burning Man takes place, and was born from the Burning Man Project. The Burning Man Project was founded in 2011 and focuses on a variety of ways to give back, educate, and support like-minded organizations. They see this as a way to extend the Burning Man culture globally.

Though Reno is the closest city to the festival in the desert, it’s still at least a two-hour drive though lots of rural and tribal land. Many people living in these communities struggle with everything from access to healthcare and education to poverty and unemployment. The support of these communities is important to the organization, whose festival-goers blow through once a year, clogging the highways and leaving everything from trash to bikes in their wake.

Black Rock Solar has had some notable achievements in its seven years of existence including installing at least 4 megawatts of power in more than 72 separate arrays. NV Highway 447 has more solar cells per mile than any other highway in the USA thanks to Black Rock Solar and their work with communities along the highway.

The organization looks forward to increasing its community engagement and working with homes and small businesses to provide more clean energy to the people of Nevada.

Good Job Postings Require Effort

To find good employees, be transparent in your job listings.

Nonprofits need to find talented people, just like businesses do, and they often use some of the same channels, like LinkedIn or Craigslist. Nonprofits also have access to other talent search sites limited to them, including Volunteer Match and Idealist. These are great places to look for potential employees or volunteers, or make your needs known to people who are looking for work in the nonprofit field.

These sites are not all created equal, though. While most of them require you to provide information about your organization, Craigslist does not, and if you’ve ever looked through the jobs section of that site, you have no doubt seen some posts that miss the mark.

If you’re going to use Craigslist to find employees, which is a good idea considering how wide an audience you can reach on that site, you need to take it just as seriously as you would a post on LinkedIn—perhaps even more so because with LinkedIn, a lot of the work is already done for you. Simply by posting under your organization’s name, you’re providing readers with information they need to research you.

Craigslist, on the other hand, is pretty freeform, and a lot of organizations forget that readers on that site don’t know who posted something unless they introduce themselves. You can write the best pitch in the world, and really sell somebody on the position you need to fill, but if they don’t know what organization posted that position, why should they apply for it? Applying for a job when you don’t know who you’re applying to is hard, and such postings can seem condescending—or worse, fraudulent.

For job postings anywhere, keep transparency in mind: Tell potential employees who you are, what you do, what you’re looking for, and where to get more information on you, so they can find out if applying for that job is really worth their time.

Grants Available for School Garden Programs

School garden grants are available through the Whole Kids Foundation.

The Whole Kids Foundation, in partnership with Food Corps, is accepting applications for its School Garden Grant Program.

This annual grantmaking program supports school garden projects in the U.S. and Canada that teach kids about nutrition and health, sustainability and conservation, food systems, and community awareness.

Projects can be in any stage of development from planning to operating, and priority is given to schools in limited-resource communities—that is, where a large portion of the student body is eligible for free and reduced-price lunches. Other criteria include the involvement of community and stakeholders, and the ability to financially sustain the garden once the grant money has been spent.

Applicants must be nonprofit K-12 schools or nonprofit organizations developing or currently maintaining a garden project on school grounds. Schools can be public, private, or charter, as long as they are nonprofit. Home schools may be eligible to apply if they are accredited and can locate a nonprofit in their community to apply on their behalf. U.S.-based nonprofit organizations must be 501(c)(3) organizations, and Canadian nonprofits must have charity nonprofit status.

Schools applying for grants must have the support of a specific partner in the community; this could be a nonprofit organization, farm, local business, Whole Foods store, or garden club, but it cannot be the school’s PTO or PTA. If the applicant is a nonprofit organization, it can be the community partner for the grant. For example, if Nonprofit A maintains a garden at School B, Nonprofit A can be the community partner and does not need to find another community partner.

The grants are $2,000 each for year-long projects. Application deadline is October 31, 2016, for U.S.-based schools and November 31, 2016, for Canadian schools. Schools which previously received grants through this program are not eligible to apply. Applicants will be notified by February 15, 2017.

For more information, visit the Whole Kids Foundation’s School Garden Grant FAQ.

‘Big Philanthropy’ Has an Equality Problem

Grantmaking has an "equality problem" and a diversity problem

One of the biggest obstacles to foundation grantmaking is the fact that most foundations’ demographics don’t match those of the people and organizations receiving their grants.

In a recent article in The Guardian, Courtney Martin writes that philanthropic organizations like foundations seem to have a double standard when it comes to the donations they make.

Take, for example, the racial, age, sex, and socioeconomic demographics of foundation staff and boards. Three-fourths of foundations’ full-time staff are white and nearly 90 percent are over 30. Women comprise less than 30 percent of CEOs and chief growth officers. When it comes to board leadership, 85 percent of board members are white, while only 7 percent are African American and only 4 percent are Hispanic. Fewer than 10 percent of board members are under 40. It’s also presumably true that many of these philanthropists come from upper middle-class backgrounds.

“This means a lot of people who are not white, male, and older are hustling their a—es off to understand the sensibility of those who are,” Martin writes. “They are spending energy being tactical about how they talk about their work and build relationships, however transactional and tokenising.”

What’s the solution to this?

First, philanthropic organizations and boards need to actively recruit people who come from the organizations and communities they serve. This in itself will increase the diversity of grants being made, but it’s not a complete fix, since the vast majority of funding seems to go to the arts and higher education while only 12 percent goes to “human services” nonprofits. Change comes slowly when it comes to board and employee composition.

Secondly, grantmakers need to avoid having a double standard when it comes to “rich” and “poor” organizations. Gara LaMarche, for example, argued that while his peers talk a big game about sustainability, they then “essentially treating grantees like ‘the right wing would treat single mothers on welfare, imposing strict time limits and cutoffs,’” while these so-called sustainability strategies often help grantees move from dependency on one foundation to another.

Finally, philanthropists need to look at the underlying historic and structural causes of poverty, seeing beyond their own wealth and privileges. “It’s about reclaiming values that privilege often robs us of: first and foremost, humility,” Martin writes. “But also trust in the ingenuity and goodness of other people, particularly those without financial wealth.”

There are plenty of organizations that can provide examples of funding that serves the community while also taking feedback from the members of the community directly affected by funding.

Gulf South Allied Funders, formed by a group of “trust fund kids,” raised money through their own inheritances and networks and donated the total raised to the Twenty-First Century Foundation, which has been a fixture in New Orleans for many years. The Gulf South group acknowledged that they didn’t know the community and its needs as well as Twenty-First Century did, and as a result they put their resources in the hands of an organization that could make a bigger difference.

Family Independence Initiative provides financial support in the form of scholarships, small business grants and other capital, with feedback from the poor families in Boston, Detroit, and Fresno that are being served by the initiative.

Self-Help, a group of nonprofit credit unions in North Carolina, California, and Florida, counter predatory lending and check cashing businesses by providing low-interest banking and loan services, financing community development projects, and more—again, with input from the communities they serve and lessons from the history of African American credit unions in the Jim Crow era.

What do you think? How can we use our privilege to do good work that helps the “boots on the ground” organizations doing important work? How can we avoid having double standards in our funding? If you’re a nonprofit organization, what would you like grantmakers to know in order to help you with your work? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Planning Ahead Can Help Ease Growing Pains for Nonprofits

Planning is as important for nonprofits as it is for businesses.

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Growing a nonprofit can be exciting, giving the organization the opportunity to better pursue its mission. But it can also bring along problems if that growth is not well managed in the first place.

Although they have different goals, nonprofits and businesses can learn from each other, and both can benefit from that exchange. While there are a number of practices in the business world that don’t quite translate to the nonprofit field, there are some that can be very helpful, such as having a business plan.

The idea behind a business plan is to be sure you know how you’re starting your business and how you’re planning on growing it in the future. Since the goal of a business is to make money, it’s a safe assumption that, if successful, a business will bring in more money than it needs to cover costs, and have the opportunity to grow.

This isn’t always true of nonprofits, which don’t always find themselves flush with cash. But when they do, thanks to a successful campaign or to a very generous donation, it can be tempting to spend that cash without planning ahead.

Don’t do that.

It sounds kind of obvious when you read about it in this context, but planning for what to do if your organization hits it big and has the money to expand isn’t something that every nonprofit does. It’s important to ask yourself, first and foremost, if growth is in the organization’s best interest. Do you need to add staff or services? Can you sustain those if donation levels drop back to normal?

These are the kinds of questions that successful business owners ask themselves before they spend an influx of cash, knowing that sometimes its safer to simply hold back and see if the higher income is a sure thing. To be a successful nonprofit, make sure you ask yourself the same questions.

Will Amber Heard’s $7 Million Donation End Up Hurting Her?

Will Amber Heard's $7M in donations actually hurt her at tax time?

Image: Shutterstock

Celebrities Amber Heard and Johnny Depp recently settled their divorce, and Heard received a $7 million settlement. She subsequently donated all of that to charity—half to the American Civil Liberties Union and half to the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles. She specified that the money for the ACLU should go toward preventing violence against women. Considering she sought the divorce because of emotional and physical violence against her perpetuated by Depp, this seems like an obvious choice.

Those two organizations will no doubt be able to do a lot of good with the $3.5 million influx they both just received, and it’s great to see somebody donate that kind of money. Heard could have easily kept it for herself, and nobody could really look askance at such a decision. But her donation could, as Forbes points out, result in some complicated tax issues for her.

The article in question lays out the specifics of the tax policy, which is much too complicated to get into here, but suffice to say she could end up getting hit with a significant bill come tax time, depending on how that money was received.

Hopefully, for her sake, Heard’s lawyer managed to get that settlement in such a manner that she won’t have to pay taxes on it. Otherwise, despite not having any of the money, she may actually have to pay taxes on the entire $7 million. The other option is that she might not be able to deduct much of it, which likely isn’t a big concern for her, as she is a well paid (by the average American’s standards) actress herself.

But there is an important lesson here for people wishing to make large donations. If you’re planning on giving a big donation, check with an accountant first to make sure that you can deliver that donation in a way which doesn’t come back to bite you.

Charity should be lauded, not punished because of the intricacies of tax law.

How to Encourage Gen Xers and Millennials to Be Philanthropic

A millennial with a smartphone. Read about some ways to encourage Gen X and millennial charitable giving.

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Baby boomers are starting to move out of the forefront of charitable giving, leaving Gen X and millennials to lead the way in philanthropy. But how do you convince them to use their philanthropic dollars to benefit your organization?

First, understand that some actually do have the capability and desire to give. Gen X and millennials have often been lambasted as self-obsessed generations who don’t care about charitable giving, but if you actually talk to them, you’ll find this is no more true for them than it is for any other generation.

In addition, studies show that as people reach their 30s and 40s, they start not only having the financial resources to give but thinking about the legacy they want to leave as well, so this is a good time to reach out to them.

Look to women. According to a study from the Women’s Philanthropy Institute, women in almost every income bracket gave more than men.

Between careers and families, Gen Xers and millennials are still very busy people, so make it easy for them to support your organization. What does this look like? Perhaps a mobile app or a “give-by-text” campaign, or an easy-to-access online funding platform. If they have funds with your organization, give them efficient access to their fund statements through your website or a mobile portal.

Don’t just give them sob stories, tell them what you’re going to do about the problems on which you’re focusing your efforts and encourage them to give feedback. They want to know what you’re going to do to ensure that your work will be sustainable and have a long-term impact. Sharing what your strategy is and how you plan to include their voices will be a huge encouragement for them to step up.

Thank them. Gen Xers and millennials don’t need ticker tape parades and they don’t need to have their names shouted from the rooftops, but the thank-you note is even more important to them than it is to baby boomers or the generations before them. On the other hand, if they’re making a big donation and they don’t specifically say they want to be anonymous, you might want to offer a more public show of gratitude if you want to keep those dollars flowing in.

What other tips would you give organizations wanting to increase their presence with and donations from Gen Xers and millennials? Let me know in the comments.

How Community Foundations Can Help With Your Charitable Giving

If you have some money to give, consider working with your local community foundation to help your investment grow.

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Let’s say you have some money that you want to donate to nonprofits that are working in an area of interest to you. As you know from reading previous articles on this blog, it’s crucial to do your research so that you’re giving to organizations that are well-managed, legitimate, and sustainable. But maybe you don’t have the time or energy to do that research or to manage the accounting that goes along with making donations on your own.

One solution is to work with a community foundation.

A community foundation is a public charity that administers philanthropic dollars, researches nonprofits, and manages the investments that keep your fund at a level that will allow you to make donations to organizations you care about. It can work on a citywide, regional, or statewide level.

A community foundation pools your dollars with those of other donors to generate a large amount of money, which is then invested in the stock market. These investments are managed either by a committee of the Board of Directors or an independent firm. By pooling donors’ resources, the community foundation is able to make larger investments that generally yield higher results than you would get by working with the market on your own.

In return for its services, the community foundation charges a small administrative fee, typically around 1 to 2 percent of the fund’s balance per year. For this tiny amount, you get to do the fun part of the grantmaking and leave the “drudgery” to people who are trained in research, investment, accounting, and grant administration. You also get a charitable tax deduction for your gift because community foundations are 501(c)3 nonprofit organizations.

The most common type of fund held by community foundations is a donor-advised fund. A donor-advised fund typically works like this: You tell the community foundation you are interested in making a grant in a field of interest to you, and the community foundation’s staff tells you about effective and sustainable nonprofits working in that area. You can then choose the organization to which you would like to make your donation.

Through a donor-advised fund, you can make grants anonymously, which can be another benefit of working with community foundations.

You can also work with a community foundation to establish an endowment fund for your favorite nonprofit or make donations directly to community foundation initiatives that are working in areas of interest to you.

The best thing about working with a community foundation is that you don’t have to have huge amounts of money available to make a concrete difference in your area of interest.

For more information about community foundations, stories of their successes, and how they can help you maximize your philanthropic dollars, visit Community Foundation Atlas.

Have you worked with a community foundation to manage your charitable donations? Please share your stories and tips in the comments.

Are These Celebrities Really Endorsing Top-Quality Charities?

Celebrity endorsements mean a lot for marketing any organization. Companies will pay celebrities large amounts of money simply for their endorsement of a product. Though most fans have never met their favorite celebrities personally, many people hold these people’s opinions in high esteem.

This can be especially powerful with charities. Having a celebrity associated with them is a great marketing and advertising tool to get publicity and donations. Charity Navigator, a nonprofit that evaluates other nonprofit organizations, compiled a list of charities associated with celebrities and included their rating of these organizations based on accountability and transparency.

Michael J.Fox’s Foundation for Parkinson’s Research was rated 92/100. This charity is dedicated to finding a cure for Parkinson’s Disease.

The National Constitution Center was rated 87/100. This charity has been endorsed by the George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Dikembe Mutombo and Sandra Day O’Connor. The purpose of this organization is to increase public understanding of the US Constitution.

The Women’s Sports Foundation was rated 84/100. It has been endorsed by Laila Alo, Sheryl Crow, Mia Hamm, Holly Hunter and Billie Jean King. It strives to improve the lives of women through sports and physical activity.

The Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation was rated 82/100. This foundation seeks to fund medical research to bring about tomorrow’s cures.

USA for UNHCR was rated 77/100. This organization has been actively endorsed by Angelina Jolie and works to bring about U.S. support for the UN Refugee Agency. Unfortunately, this organization scored poorly in Charity Navigator’s assessment of their financial forms and spending.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) was rated a 75/100. This organization has been endorsed by a number of celebrities including Pink, Pamela Anderson, Alec Baldwin and Woody Harrelson. This organization scored poorly in the evaluation of its released financials. It also lacks independent voting board members, which reduced its accountability score as well.

With these ratings in mind, it makes sense to look beyond the celebrity endorsements and do your own research on a nonprofit before supporting it with your own donations. Charity Navigator has rated thousands of nonprofits, large and small, based on their financial information and other factors, so it serves as a good resource to begin your own investigations. For example, here are 10 consistently low-rated charities for your review.