Home » Blog

For these times, they are a-changin.

in Communications, Leadership by Amy Wong Leave a comment

Maybe I am dating myself. And yes, I admit to overuse of an oft-quoted Bob Dylan song lyric as an entry to a blog/article. But as a near life-long resident of northeast Ohio (minus six years during college and in my early 20s) I have noticed more change in the last five years than I have seen in a long time.

Something just “feels” different. I can’t put my finger on it, but there seems to be a positive energy cast over the region – an aura that signals some really great things are on the horizon.

I see increased collaboration, new ideas, faster project iteration, a focus on innovation, and even investments in technology and programs that aren’t quite the norm or a guaranteed slam dunk. There are changes in leadership at many levels. Young people are being given a chance to head up organizations and projects, and even though there is still a gender gap, increased opportunities supporting women are emerging.

Leadership Akron’s Community Leadership Institute (CLI) collaboration with Women’s Network of Northeast Ohio is one such emerging opportunity.

I was fortunate to be selected for the CLI Class II, which completed its three-month program in early May. I didn’t know what to expect when the program started, but I knew the content would be valuable since both organizations have a reputation for delivering high-quality programs.

I was certainly not disappointed, but was surprised by how much more I took away from the program than I anticipated. As a CEO, I am constantly looking for ways to do things better for clients and staff. The CLI gave me the opportunity to immerse myself in something that will help me improve and grow personally as well as professionally.

During CLI…

  • I met people who inspired me and that I likely wouldn’t have met otherwise.
  • I learned to embrace the energy and knowledge from our group discussions.
  • I enjoyed that no one talked about how to communicate with a specific age group – baby boomers, Generation Xers or millennials. What we did talk about was how to harness our own strengths and understand the strengths of others to build a better workplace.
  • I made new friends and business connections that will be invaluable.
  • I joined 25 other women in looking for ways to create change in our workplaces and our community.

While heading up my own company and a household with three busy teenagers, I must work to be a good leader and role model. I’m not perfect by any means and I have certainly made mistakes. But I am willing to learn. I think women need programs like CLI to make it easier to gain leadership skills. CLI gave us a “safe zone” where we could be a little vulnerable and honest, while speaking about real issues without being judged.

I am a firm believer that being better requires change, whether it is changing leaders, a habit, an attitude or process. And I truly believe times ARE changing here in northeast Ohio, definitely for the better. And I love it.

5 Things I learned at my first Cleveland GiveCamp

in Volunteerism by Sara Lundenberger Leave a comment
A project near completion

A project near completion

by Sara Lundenberger, fundraising and marketing strategist

A few weekends ago I got the chance to volunteer at the Sixth Annual Cleveland GiveCamp. GiveCamp is a chance for local nonprofits to work with graphic designers, content writers, developers and other volunteers to create a new website, GPS based walking map and even a 3D instructional game for free in 3 days.

Here are the five things I learned that can apply to any job.
1- Preparation is key: As with most projects, a little background work can make a huge difference. The nonprofits that came to camp with content, photos and logos ready to go were leaps and bounds ahead of those that showed up with a lot of excitement, but nothing prepared.
2- If at first you don’t succeed…Pivot: I had the chance to sit in with three different teams throughout the weekend. The common theme on every team was changing directions. If the first idea you have doesn’t work, change it and keep changing it until it does.
3- The tech world isn’t run by 20-somethings: Yes- there were a lot of very young code writers and developers working all weekend. But they weren’t the only ones. Don’t assume that because someone is older than 30 they can’t possible understand CSS or PHP. Knowledge and experience are a pretty unbeatable combination.
4- Think outside the box: Just because you haven’t seen it done before doesn’t mean it can’t be done. I saw a lot of projects that started with a “It would be great if our site could…” and ended with a site that can do that and more.
5- Teamwork always wins: Whether you were on a project team, the security team, a floater and/ or Team Z (the non-technical, everything else group of volunteers) nothing would have been accomplished without teamwork. One team had 19 people working at all hours of the night to finish its project.
5b- Know your strengths: This sort of goes along with teamwork, but is a little different. Everyone has strengths, whether its web development, graphic design, social media or just being a worker. Use what you know and don’t be offended or upset if you aren’t needed.

Ask me what I did over the weekend. Really, ask me.

in Volunteerism by Amy Wong Leave a comment
GiveCamp team working on a new website for Urban Vision

This is one of the projects I worked on at GiveCamp.This team worked on a new website for Urban Vision (

For those who know me, they would probably immediately guess soccer and baseball games, family functions or catching up on client projects.

Most weekends, this would be true. But as I have done every year since 2010, I spent my weekend on the shores of Lake Erie helping Northeast Ohio nonprofits in need.

I am fortunate (yes fortunate) to be a volunteer organizer for a phenomenal event called Cleveland GiveCamp, a group of about 200 tech, marketing professionals and designers that come together over the course of the weekend to complete projects for nonprofits from Northeast Ohio. These are amazing people who dedicate an entire weekend to make life better for residents throughout the region and I cannot say enough about how proud I am to work with each and every one of them.

What we accomplished

When I talk about the event to colleagues, friends and family, I usually talk about projects in terms of the number of projects completed. But this year, for some reason, I looked at the event in a different way. This year, what struck me most was what we accomplished on a higher level, not just the number of projects completed. (For those who are curious, we completed 19 projects including new websites, a GPS-enabled web app, an educational game and database applications.)

What our work means to those we help:
  1. An organization has improved data collection and reporting capabilities, which frees up a full day for a staff member to work on other agency projects.
  2. Children have a new online game to help them understand the importance of healthy eating and how worms help food grow.
  3. It is now significantly easier for an organization to track the equipment inventory it loans to its program participants.
  4. Individuals who are looking for affordable housing in Akron have an online searchable database that features up-to-date listings in real time.

And I have 15 other stories I could tell.

We all have our stories about the organizations we helped. But like all the others who attended and volunteered for GiveCamp, I learned some things as well.

  • I learned how a promising young doctor’s life was cut short, but his legacy continues. As I watched his mother cry telling his story, it further solidified my reason for choosing my career path and my dedication to helping nonprofits like theirs whose passion for their cause is unparalleled.
  • I learned more about the tireless work of nonprofits that exist in my own back yard, many of which I had heard of in name only.
  • I learned to appreciate the selflessness and dedication of our volunteers. Egos are checked at the door at GiveCamp. Often, many of us leave the event knowing the people on our teams, but never even considering asking them where they work. We know for those few days, we are there for something greater and we are focused on the task at hand.


Each year, there are returning volunteers and newcomers who have never experienced GiveCamp before. But I can tell you everyone who’s ever been to GiveCamp comes away changed in some way. Whether it is a new appreciation for the development process, or new personal and professional connections, GiveCamp has just a magical quality about it.

I can truly say that GiveCamp has changed me as well. Well I have yet to learn how to code, each year I gain a new appreciation for the work that is done here and for the people who dedicate themselves to doing it.

Thanks to the nonprofits and amazing volunteers, GiveCamp is, hands down, one of the best things I do all year.

What to do when communication misfires

in Communications, Uncategorized by Jeanine Black Leave a comment

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou


Effective business communications is an art form. Whether you are a professional communicator, like me, or an accountant or a plant manager, how you interact with employees, co-workers, colleagues and clients/customers is one of the most important keys to success. And with today’s ever-increasing digital world, non-verbal communication is almost non-existent leaving much of what we say up to interpretation, leading, so many times, to miscommunication.

It’s all in the delivery

We’ve heard this phrase a million times and we all know how true it is, yet somehow, we seem to keep missing the mark. Almost daily, if not more frequently, I receive or am copied on at least one email or text that has the ability to throw me off my game because of someone’s “tone” or because the message is vague and hard to understand.  Yes, there is email etiquette and best practices for communication, but how you handle that negative email, text, phone call or comment on social media will make all the difference in world.

Here are some things I’ve learned along the way that help me in communicating with others:

  • We are all human. We all have hopes, dreams and back stories. We’ve all felt happiness and we’ve all been hurt. Being empathetic to those around you will always give you an upper-hand in your communications. I’m willing to bet that nasty email you received had nothing to do with you. Someone is having a bad day, week or year and you happened to be on the receiving end. Not fair? Possibly…but we’ve all done it. Keep an open mind.
  • Some people just don’t get it. Your hackles go up when you see their name in your inbox or their number comes up on your phone. They are direct, blunt, mean, cold…call it what you will. But they will forever not understand the nuances that go into communicating effectively. It’s how you handle it that will determine where the relationship goes from there. Do you let it ruin your day? Do you shoot back an equally tone-deaf email? Hopefully not. Choose your words carefully and engage them directly. Chances are you will find out they are not upset at all and had no ill intentions – in fact, are very nice people! But they simply don’t know how to express themselves.
  • Digital communication breeds false bravado. We see it every day on Facebook, Twitter and in inter-personal communication. People hide behind the distance email can provide or the anonymity of social media. It’s easy to “speak your mind” when the person you’re addressing isn’t standing in front of you. So buck the trend. Pick up the phone, schedule a meeting or simply go talk to the sender. Bravado disappears when met face to face (notice I didn’t say confronted?) making it that much easier to tackle a difficult issue, situation or communication. And if you have to have a difficult conversation, take some time to evaluate whether email is the proper channel to use; most likely, it is not.
  • Do unto others. How do you feel when you receive a negative email or voicemail? Remember that the next time you’re the one doing the sending. Are you watching your tone? Are you being specific vs. vague? Are you keeping it concise? Are you making it easy for the receiver to figure out what you need so they can prioritize their day? If not, start over.


Patience, empathy and treating others how you would like to be treated can go a long way in communication and relationships, in life and career.


Big plans, small budget  

in Planning, Uncategorized by Sara Lundenberger Leave a comment

Small businesses, start-ups and nonprofits are always balancing big ideas with small budgets. But they must often look at the best way to use their budget. Here are some ways to use a small budget the best way possible.


Have a plan: Decide your end goal. As a nonprofit, you might be looking to extend your services to more clients or raise more money for your programs. Small businesses and start-ups may want to market their product for investors or sell more products. One of my favorite quotes from Alice in Wonderland fits perfectly here;

 “Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”

“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.

“I don’t much care where –” said Alice.

“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go.”

― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

Knowing where you want to go is imperative to figuring out how to get there.

Design multi-use pieces: If you are spending money on designing and printing a piece pay close attention to all of its uses. By making a few tweaks to content or layout you may be able to use the same piece for multiple projects. Think about alternatives to your current pieces. Do you need brochures explaining every different program you offer or can they be combined into one brochure? How about a folder with rack cards that can be switched depending on the audience?

Use technology: You are already using your website and social media platforms to provide information to your clients and supporters. If you are investing heavily in invitations, flyers or promotional pieces, think about how you can drive clients to your website or social media pages to get the information. Not only is it cost effective, the information is always up to date and can be changed by your staff as often as needed. Try sending an eye-catching postcard with a link to your next big event instead of save the dates, invitations and remittance cards.

Tap into free or low-cost help: Internships are increasingly becoming a huge resume builder for college students to help them land the career of their dreams. They are very social media savvy and can keep your websites and social media platforms up to date and engaging. Often, interns become huge supporters of your organization or even your newest employee. Another great option is to work with your local colleges and universities. Communications, public relations, nonprofit administration, business, and many other major programs are constantly looking for projects for their students to work on throughout the semester. Everything from simple projects to creating large scale communication plans can be done at no cost to you while providing real world experience for students.

10 tips for networking – in the US

in Uncategorized by Amy Wong Leave a comment

I recently had a chance to speak to a group of high school students at the National Inventors Hall of Fame Stem School in Akron, Ohio. They were pitching their entrepreneurial ideas as well as learning more about how to think like an entrepreneur. I was asked to lead a session on networking and wanted to leave a list of tips to help these students in their endeavors. Keep in mind that these tips were designed for high school students, but I thought they could be applicable to anyone wishing to be a better networker. 

  1. Wear your nametag on the right. That way, when you shake someone’s hand, you are looking the direction of their nametag.
  2. Have a firm handshake, or know the proper greeting custom. In the United States, a handshake is most common. In other cultures and countries, a bow, nod or other greeting may be more appropriate.
  3. Move around the room – don’t get stuck with one person or group.You are there to network and meet new people. You can always talk with friends and colleagues. Meet new people and learn knew things. And, if you get stuck talking to a person who is taking all of your time, find a good and polite way to exit the conversation.
  4. Have a purpose and plan. Who do you want to meet? What do you want to learn? A common mistake of networking is that people don’t have a plan. Know your audience. Think about what you want to accomplish while you are there.
  5. Don’t mistake networking for not working. Some people are serial networkers and in effect are not workers. This means they spend more time out of the office “networking” and looking busy, but are not in the office enough to get things done.
  6. Be likeable. It sounds pretty simple, but how many times have you been at an event and there is an obnoxious, overbearing person there. Don’t be that person.
  7. Follow up if asked. Again, this sounds simple too. But if someone you meet asks you to follow up with them. Do it.
  8. Be interesting AND interested. People want to talk to interesting people. They also want to be heard. So, balance the conversation with interesting information and listen attentively when others are talking.
  9. Know the kind of networking you are doing – strategic vs. general. I think there are two types of networking – general and strategic – and both are important. General networking helps get your name and your company name out there. Strategic networking usually has a purpose, like building partnerships with others in compatible industries. Try to incorporate both into your business plans.
  10. Use your manners.  No one likes the person who chews with their mouth open, spills coffee on themselves or is more interested in the buffet than the people in the room.


Proper networking techniques have helped me immensely throughout my career. I’ve met great people who have turned into strong vendor partners. I’ve met my insurance agent, financial adviser and accountant that way. I have also generated important business leads and just met some great people along the way.

Hopefully you can incorporate some of these tips into your own networking! Good luck!

Five tips for fashion-forward communication and fundraising

in Communications, Giving by Amy Wong Leave a comment

In full disclosure, I am not a fashionista. In fact, I hate shopping for clothes. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have some knowledge of what is going on in fashion. I have a teenage daughter – need I say more?

However, I pay close attention to what is happening in marketing communications and fundraising. I spend a great deal of time reading, listening to experts in the field, fielding questions from clients, trying new things and making sense of it all. What I have found over time is that there are many similarities to fashion. So, as a nod to some of my favorite fashion designers (Coco Chanel, Donna Karan), I compile this list of Five Tips for Fashion-pearlsForward Marketing and Fundraising.

  1. Stick with tried and true– not trendy: Well-written content, proper grammar, attention to detail and forging strong relationships never go out of style. While industry trends come and go (QR codes and telethons anyone?), strong writing and relationship skills continue to be the basis of every successful campaign.
  2. Accessorize: If you stick with what is tried and true, adding trendy accessories is definitely acceptable, as long as they don’t take over the outfit! One of my colleagues says it well. “Social media is a tool not a strategy.” So use tools/accessories such as social media, to enhance your basic outfit (plan). But, don’t use them without some strong wardrobe basics.
  3. Stay classy: Just as a revealing outfit speaks volumes about the person wearing it, so does inappropriate communications and fundraising. I am amazed by people who forget their manners and resort to tactics that compromise their integrity and that of their organization. Yes, today’s society is much more accepting of poor language, revealing clothing, etc. But that doesn’t mean it should make its way into your communications and fundraising efforts. Stay classy. You never know who you may offend.
  4. Edit: Yes, there can be too much of a good thing. So, just as you take a look in the mirror before you head out the door, take a look close look at your campaign before you launch. If there is too much there, do some editing. Or if there is not enough, add some more.
  5. Change with the seasons. Just as you change up your wardrobe as the seasons change, consider making modifications to your materials and messages. They also get bored easily. So don’t be afraid to try new things and make changes to keep things fresh.


Take a minute and look at your fundraising and communications plans just as you would your wardrobe. Consider making necessary adjustments so you too can be fashion-forward in your efforts.


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.

10 ways to improve the board, staff relationship in a small nonprofit

in Boards, Giving, Volunteerism by Amy Wong Leave a comment

I hear countless stories from small nonprofits who are frustrated with their boards.

Surprise, nonprofits! The boards get frustrated with you too.

I tend to see the biggest frustration with smaller nonprofits for several reasons:

  • They don’t have internal resources to manage a board effectively.
  • They are often run by individuals who are passionate and capable of running the organization, but have received no training in managing a board
  • They have little board turnover. This leads to stagnation, boredom and apathy.
  • They are not strategic in their board recruitment. As author Jim Collins would say, nonprofits “need to get the right people on the bus.”1 Many do not.


Unfortunately, this frustration can be detrimental to the organization over the long term. So, here are some suggestions to help nonprofits AND their board members develop a successful relationship.

Suggestions to nonprofits:

  1. Have an outline of board member expectations – and stick to them. Financial support, meeting attendance and volunteer expectations are key components of this outline. If they don’t agree, they shouldn’t be a board member.
  2. Communicate regularly and clearly. One of the best pieces of advice I received was from a board member. “Remember that you live your job every day. We don’t and we forget some of the things you tell us. So, if there is something important you want us to know and learn, keep telling us,” she said. Ergo, regular communication is critical.
  3. Delegate. Your board is there to support you. If you outlined expectations, you should be able to delegate tasks. So, don’t just talk at board meetings. Create action items.
  4. Have a nominating committee. The job of this board-led committee is designed to recommend potential board members with specific skills who will help your organization move forward.
  5. Set term limits. It doesn’t matter how well you implement suggestions 1-4. There will always be board members who aren’t effective. Term limits help you rotate “underperformers” off the board.


Suggestions to board members:

  1. Make a gift! Period, done, end of story. If you are a board member of a nonprofit, you must write an annual check to the organization. Make it meaningful. • Ask questions. If you don’t understand something, ask. Your question may help the organization run more effectively.
  2. Offer your personal or business expertise. Do you know how to write business plans? Are you an accountant? Do you understand marketing or social media? These skills can greatly benefit a nonprofit.
  3. Don’t just offer suggestions, offer solutions. Smaller nonprofits are often operating at capacity. Provide ideas that will help solve problems without overtaxing the organization. You may have a good idea, but it may be impractical to implement. (i.e. an additional fundraiser may solve the financial issues, but be totally impossible to implement due to limited staff time.)
  4. Be present. Attend meetings, be an active participant and advocate for the charity anywhere you can. Being on a board should not be about status. It is about doing things for the greater good and helping forward the mission of the organization.


Like any relationship, a successful nonprofit/board partnership must be a two-way street. There must be open communication, clear expectations and a shared vision. When this occurs, nonprofits thrive, boards become engaged and the community as a whole benefits.

For additional resources on board development for nonprofits and board members we suggest the following resources:
• Board Source:
• The National Council of Nonprofits: Article on Board Development:
• The Nonprofit Expert: Article on Board Development

1 Jim Collins “Good to Great” multiple references

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 />

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: 




Page 1 of 212