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Nine lessons learned from clients in 2017, and how we’re using them in 2018

in Communications, Leadership, Planning by Lauryn Rosinski Leave a comment

In our roles as fundraising and communications professionals at Dot Org Solutions, we educate and guide our clients so that they can raise the most money and awareness as possible for their organizations.

But we have a little secret; one we don’t often share. We learn a great deal from them as well, putting some of their best practices into use in our own company.

That’s because nonprofits have some unique qualities that those of us in the for-profit space should emulate. Yes. For-profit companies should emulate certain nonprofit qualities. There’s certainly a touch of irony in that statement given that boards and others in business often tell nonprofits that they need to run more like businesses. In some respects, I agree. But in terms of having passion for helping others and making the world a better place, most nonprofits can’t be beat.

So, at Dot Org we are taking nine lessons learned from working with our clients in 2017 and are putting them to use in our 2018 planning. We hope that by adopting and incorporating these best practices into our work, we will be an even better company in the future.

#1: Focus on the mission.

More than 95 percent of our clients are nonprofit organizations. It’s the core of what we do here at Dot Org. (Hence our name.)  When we help them plan, develop marketing messages, fundraising campaigns, write grants, etc., we are always highly focused on their mission. We decided to take the same approach and let our company mission drive everything we do. Our mission: to support nonprofits in their fundraising and marketing efforts so they can better serve their clients and build better communities.

#2: Find your niche – do what you do best.

We cannot be all things to all people. And we often tell our nonprofit clients to do what they do best and not develop a new program or service just to get additional funding. We’ve decided to focus on what we do best here at Dot Org – content, strategy, training, planning, branding/brand integration, marketing and fundraising campaigns. This focus will help us get even better in these core areas so we stay true to our mission.

#3: Collaborate.

I think the word nonprofit should be synonymous with collaboration. That’s because nonprofits often must work together to best meet the needs of the constituents they serve. We are seeking ways to collaborate with key partners as well in 2018 to better serve our clients. We already have some partnerships in the works and are looking forward to rolling them out throughout the year.

#4: Tell stories.

We’re great storytellers – for our clients. Sometimes it’s just hard to tell our own. But, we realize how important it is to share our own experiences and the great work of our clients with others. So, we’re going to focus on sharing more of what we do and why we do it. We will also be developing some training and education opportunities to help nonprofits perform better, which we will be rolling those out during the year.

#5: Have clean data.

Ok… This one sounds a little strange. But we spend quite a bit of time helping nonprofit clients set up and clean up their constituent database systems. We preach about the importance of pristine donor data and how it is critical to better communications and fundraising. So, when we implemented a new software system for ourselves this year to create internal efficiencies, we needed to get all of our customer, vendor and prospect data into one place. Wow. What a mess. Our data certainly isn’t pristine. We have much work to do. So, like we advise our clients, we vow to create better data entry processes and continue to clean up our data to save time and better communicate with our clients, vendors and prospects in the future.

#6: You don’t marry everyone you date.

Sometimes client and vendor relationships just don’t work out. It is important to know when the relationship isn’t working and make the choice to move on. That said, we also need to remember not to burn bridges. You never know when you may run into the ex at some point and want to remain amicable.

#7: Plan and set goals.

We spend lots of time working with clients on developing marketing and fundraising plans that align with their goals. We’ve certainly gotten better at this as our company has grown, but we’re making a conscious effort in 2018 to develop solid goals and objectives along with action plans to go along with them.

#8: Remember why you do what you do. What’s your end goal? 

This one ties back to the whole concept of mission. But sometimes it’s hard to focus on the end goal when we are busy, tired, frustrated or fatigued by the length or stress of a project. It’s also easy to lose sight of the “why” we are working on something. So, we’re taking some cues from our nonprofit friends when we get in this situation and asking ourselves “what did we do to make a difference today?” If we can answer that question, we get back to understanding the “why.”

#9: Slow down and savor the successes.

Actually, this bit of advice is something we all can benefit from. Whether it is the homeless program placing a family in a new home after a tragedy, a musical organization building confidence in its young singers, or a community health center providing healthcare to immigrants, nonprofits celebrate and savor successes every day. It is human nature to try to fix things and dwell on what isn’t going well. We’re going to make a conscious effort in 2018 to slow down, breathe and step back to enjoy what we have accomplished.

Whether they know it or not, our nonprofit clients (and thousands of other nonprofits like them), have a profound impact on all of us here at Dot Org Solutions. We thank them for all they do to make our communities great places to live and wish them much success in 2018.

Donor Communication – Comparing it to “the big game”

in Communications, Giving, Planning by Amy Wong Leave a comment

In the spirit of yesterday’s “big football game,” I thought it could be fun to think about donor communications in the context of the pregame and four-quarters.Football scoreboard

Pregame:For nonprofits, the pregame is typically the year-end appeal. A strong year-and campaign often dictates what an organization will be able to do in the next year. If this is the only appeal you do, make sure it includes a mix of mail, social media, email communication and phone calls. You are competing against many other quality “teams” for your donor’s dollars.

 

The First Quarter: In the first quarter, your donors are still interested – similar to those who are just sitting down to watch the game and much-anticipated commercials. They have come to the party by making a gift at year end, and your organization is still fresh in their minds. Keep your organization front of mind and set up the coming year.  Consider:

  • Sharing goals for the coming year and how donor gifts will help achieve those goals
  • Producing a calendar of events for the coming year
  • Explaining any changes you anticipate for the year

 

The Second Quarter:The second quarter can go either way. If your team is still in the game, they will remain engaged. If your team is way behind, you may lose donor interest and they will find something else to do and support. So it is important to keep them in “the loop.”

  • Maintain regular communication – once a month is recommended through e-newsletters or print if your budget allows.
  • Use social media to share photos, organizational events, etc.
  • Keep donors apprised of special events, newsworthy items, etc. through special communications

 

Halftime:This is a great time to showcase your talent. Your audit should be done and you can share success from the prior year.

  • Create an annual report. It doesn’t have to list donors unless that is important to your constituents. It can be a simple year in review completed in-house and sent out electronically via email and social media channels.
  • Send reports to donors who have endowed funds. Tell them how their gifts were used, the value of their fund and other relevant data.

 

The Third Quarter:The game is more than half over, but there is still work to be done. Update your donors on your goals. Don’t lose steam as you prepare for year-end. Continue regular communication like you did in the second quarter. If your donors continue stay engaged, this will help your year-end appeal success.

 

The Fourth Quarter:At this point, you don’t want to rely on a Hail Mary pass. Controlling the game is where you want to be. Make sure you are very strategic and thoughtful in planning and executing your annual appeal.  A strong game plan is going into the fourth quarter will make a significant difference and carry your organization through the end of the year.

 

Post Game: Take time to celebrate, assess your program, and reflect on the good you do.

Simplifying the Fiscal Cliff Deal and its impact on nonprofits and donors

in Giving by Amy Wong Leave a comment

Digital Image by Sean Locke<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
Digital Planet Design<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
www.digitalplanetdesign.com

As a fundraiser, you are likely confused by what the Fiscal Cliff means for your organization. Imagine what your donors think. I have been asked by several of my nonprofit clients what the legislation means to them and those who support them.

Many of the early explanations have been highly technical and geared toward professionals in the tax, legal and financial fields. That’s not very helpful to those in the trenches who are trying to make sense of it all.

I’ve teamed up with Lori Sheets, senior manager-assurance and advisory services, with Bober Markey Fedorovich in Akron, Ohio, to help sort it out. Lori specializes in working with nonprofit organizations, and has helped highlight key points of the Act so it is easier to understand and explain to staff, donors and board members.

Here are the high points:

  1. People are seeing less in their paychecks. If you haven’t seen a reduction in your own take home pay, you will soon. Disposable income is reduced by 2% for all wage earners beginning the first pay period of January 2013. There was no extension of the temporary Social Security payroll tax cut which was implemented in 2011 to help stimulate the economy. Reduced disposable income may mean reduced donations to charities, particularly donations given via payroll deduction.
  2. Those earning the most will pay more taxes. The income tax rate for highest earners increased from 35% to 39.6% for individuals earning more than $400,000 annually ($450,000 for couples). “It is possible that higher taxes may reduce the amount they have available for charitable giving,” Sheets said. However, she added, those in this tax bracket who make charitable gifts will see a 7% decrease in the after-tax cost of giving which may be a good incentive to donate to worthy causes.
  3. High income individuals will continue to have limits on charitable deductions. Taxpayers earning more than $250,000 ($300,000 for couples) will have a limitation on itemized deductions. These limits will reduce high-income individuals’ benefit from charitable contribution deductions.
  4. Gifts of highly appreciated assets are still very attractive to donors and charities.  According to Sheets, “Charitable gifts of highly appreciated assets continue to be advantageous for donors. They can receive an income tax deduction and avoidance of capital gains tax. At certain income thresholds, these gifts are even more effective at lowering tax impact.”
  5. Donors age 70 ½ or older can continue to use their IRAs to make tax-free contributions up to $100,000.  Legislators extended this key provision of The Pension Protection Act of 2006 until the end of 2013. Donors can still take advantage of this extension for their 2012 tax year if they make a transfer directly to charity by January 31, 2013.

 

Other key points

  • There are enhanced deductions for contributions of food inventories (Code Section 170(e)(3)(C)(iv))
  • There are favorable deductions for donating conservation interests (Code Section 170(b)(1)(E)(vi))
  • There are changes regarding contributions of property by S Corporations.(Code Section 1367(a))
  • Enhanced charitable deductions for contributions of book inventories to public schools and corporate contributions of computer inventory were not extended.

 

Whenever there are changes to tax laws that impact charitable giving, it takes some time to figure things out. Donors may be skittish or decide to postpone their giving until they know more about how the laws affect them.

Ultimately, during any time of change or uncertainty, it is important to maintain strong relationships with donors. They may have to make choices regarding their charitable giving, so the organizations they feel the most connected to are going to continue to be the recipients of their generosity. So, while it may seem appealing to spend most of your time courting your new prospects, don’t forget your current donors who currently have you at the top of their list.

This post is for general information purposes only. For additional information and analysis on the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 and its impact on nonprofits, contact an accounting or tax law professional. We also recommend the following resources for more in-depth analysis or information: