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Published on May 26

Should nonprofits pay taxes?

taxing nonprofits

The town government in Concord, Mass., felt that local taxes were so high, they were driving residents away. So the town’s board sent a letter to the local nonprofits (private schools, hospitals, charities and churches) asking them if they could start paying their fair share, according to a report by Pam Fessler on NPR’s All Things Considered.


Much to my shock,  one arts group offered $1,000. The rest of the groups politely declined.


According to the NPR story, state and local governments, eager to close their budget gaps, are increasingly going after charities and other tax-exempt groups.


Besides the Concord example, it points to Boston, which wants its universities, hospitals and nonprofits to pay 25 percent of what they would owe if they weren’t tax-exempt. However, from what I understand from an article in the Boston Globe, that request wasn’t made to put the squeeze on nonprofits.


Here’s the situation, according to the Boston Globe : Nonprofits in Boston already pay cash and provide services in lieu of property taxes. Some pay millions; others pay significantly less. Because each agreement is negotiated individually, payments vary widely and the ill-defined system has long been the target of criticism. A mayoral task force was set up to examine the system. It is suggesting a new formula under which nonprofits would eventually increase contributions to 25 percent of what they would owe in taxes if they were not exempt.


I think the context of how this change came about is important. It’s not a desperate attempt of a government to balance its budget on the backs of nonprofits, but an attempt to make the system that is already in place more equitable for everyone, including the nonprofits who may have been paying more than their fair share.


At the same time, it should be noted that the change  would more than triple the current amounts paid by some of the city’s biggest nonprofit landowners. It’s easy to see why they would be concerned.


Philadelphia is looking at a similar situation, trying to make its system of payments in lieu of taxes more equitable, according to a blog post on philly.com, a site that  is a partnership between the Daily News and WHYY.


While Kansas and Hawaii proposed repealing the tax-exempt status of nonprofits in budget negotiations, I couldn’t find any news reports that the proposals passed.


Minneapolis has imposed a “streetlight fee” on nonprofits to help pay for electricity and bulbs, and that tactic of imposing fees is perhaps a more real threat to nonprofits than the prospect of having to pay property taxes. As Rick Cohen points out in a blog post on blueavocado.org, it’s easier to impose fees than to repeal property tax exemptions.


“Taking off from charging nonprofits for streetlights, other localities are starting to charge nonprofits for police and fire services and even fire hydrants,” Cohen said.


Is your nonprofit feeling an extra pinch of new government fees? What do you think of these tactics?



Fundraising Assets helps busy fundraising professionals raise more money, save valuable time and reduce costs. We offer consulting, writing, design and production services for direct mail and e-mail fundraising, social networking and more.

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Published on May 14

What if your CEO was a hottie with a smokin’ little body?

comment to Obama offers lesson to nonprofits

Yesterday, while I was contemplating a very healthy salad for lunch, Pres. Barack Obama was down the street from me at Duff’s ordering chicken wings. Bummer! It was a missed opportunity.


Of course, it would have been difficult to position myself for an opportunity to meet the president for lunch. That part of his itinerary wasn’t made public. I suppose I could have driven around Buffalo and its suburbs hoping to catch a glimpse of his motorcade, or at least walked to restaurants in my neighborhood hoping to bump into him. In retrospect, I think staying in and eating a salad was a wise use of my time.


But a comment made during the president’s visit to Buffalo does make me think about how nonprofit organizations can make the most of opportunities. You have probably already heard that while Pres. Obama was at Duff’s, one of the customers gushed, “You’re a hottie with a smokin’ little body.”


What if someone made a comment like that about your CEO? What if a positive but irreverent comment popped up on one of your social media sites, such as Twitter, Facebook or your blog?


Would your CEO be offended, demand that the comment be obliterated and order you to stop using social media?


Or would your CEO follow the example of seasoned politician Obama, who took the comment in stride? Obama hugged the customer who made the comment.  In a jovial way, he remarked that his wife, Michelle, would be catching the TV footage later. He had his photo taken with the woman.


That little comment about Pres. Obama has traveled around the world.  It’s perhaps the most discussed part of his visit to Buffalo.


Did it take away from his messages about the economy or health care? Perhaps. But it painted him as a warm and genuine human. Organizations should always make sure there’s plenty of time for that.


What’s your take? How do you deal with comments in social media and other channels? Please share your comments.

UPDATE: It turns out that Pres. Obama wasn’t ordering chicken wings down the street from me at the original Duff’s in Amherst; he was at Duff’s in Cheektowaga.  I didn’t even know  there was a Duff’s in Cheektowaga! Now I feel better about eating my salad!


Fundraising Assets helps busy fundraising professionals raise more money, save valuable time and reduce costs. We offer consulting, writing, design and production services for direct mail and e-mail fundraising, social networking and more.

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Published on May 08

Make your message crystal clear

Thank you for stopping by my blog on May 9,  “Blog Jog Day”! The event helps visitors explore new blogs. When you’re finished here, jog on over to www.comfortedbyGod.blogspot.com. For a list of all the participating blogs, go to http://blogjogday.blogspot.com.


writing for nonprofits


It was my job to write a piece to introduce a new school psychologist to the  community and let people know what a great asset he would be. I interviewed him, wrote the article, and gave the psychologist a draft to review to make sure there were no mistakes.


When he was done “correcting” the draft, it was no longer warm and welcoming. In fact, it wasn’t even understandable. It was full of jargon and technical language. It was as clear as a glass of chocolate milk.


Why did he muck up the article?


“I don’t want my colleagues to think I don’t know what I’m talking about,” he explained. The intended audience was parents and community residents, but the psychologist  was worried about other psychologists.


He was aiming for the wrong audience.


By choosing technical language, he was offering his fellow psychologists greater depth and meaning. Unfortunately, those technical words carry no meaning at all for the rest of us.  Our intended audience would have been lost if we had used his draft.


Suppose you are hiking through a remote part of the world and encounter people who have never seen an airplane. They ask you to tell them what an airplane is, and you say simply that an airplane is a machine that can fly like a bird.


Another member of your group is an engineer who says you’ve got it all wrong. An airplane doesn’t fly like a bird. A bird propels itself by flapping its wings, but airplanes use engines to supply thrust. He launches into an explanation of Bernoulli’s Principle and the shape of airplane wings.


Who was the better communicator?


In this example, part of the problem was that the engineer misunderstood his audience and used jargon. But he made another mistake as well. He used unnecessary detail. What he saw as precision in communication ended up muddying the message. Remember that details that are important to the people inside your organization might not be important to your donors and supporters.


When you are writing an appeal letter or article for a fundraising newsletter, who are you writing for? Your boss? The CEO? The board president? Or your donors and supporters?


To make your communication crystal clear, always keep your audience in mind.


If you want to make sure you’re making your message crystal clear, enlist the help of a professional nonprofit writer. Contact us to find out how affordable it can be to get the expert writing and editing help you need.


Fundraising Assets helps busy fundraising professionals raise more money, save valuable time and reduce costs. We offer consulting, writing, design and production services for direct mail and e-mail fundraising, social networking and more.

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Published on Apr 30

Become a linchpin

lessons for nonprofits from Linchpin


I promised I would share more with you from Seth Godin’s speech at the seminar organized by the  Can Do Society April 22 at Canisius College.

Godin is a marketer and best-selling author. His most recent book is Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?


The best I can do is give you a few quotes and urge you to read Linchpin. Give me a call and I’ll lend you my copy. It’s a great inspiration for anyone who, rather than trying to do the minimum they can get away with, tries to accomplish as much as they can. I think that includes all of my readers.


(I almost said the book is a great “guide,” but that implies that there is a map to navigate today’s world, and, as Godin said repeatedly, there is no map.)


Whether you started your own small nonprofit or are part of a large organization, Godin urges you to become a linchpin, the person who is indispensible because she holds things together.


How can you do that? Here are a couple of my favorite points:


“Make a decision to do work that matters.” That’s probably why you got into this field.


“Take a chance that you might be criticized.” Whoa, that’s probably a lot harder to take to heart.


Being a linchpin isn’t about being a cog in a huge machine and obeying orders, it’s about having a vision, seeing solutions and taking chances. These are the people who make themselves indispensible.


If your organization wanted to replace you with someone far better than you, would they look for someone willing to work more hours or who had more experience in your field?


“No, the competitive advantage the marketplace demands is someone more human, connected and mature,” Godin writes. “Someone with passion and energy, capable of seeing things as they are and negotiating multiple priorities as she makes useful decisions without angst. Flexible in the face of change, resilient in the face of confusion.


“All of these attributes are choices, not talents, and all of them are available to you.”


Wouldn’t your donors like to deal with someone like that?  How might it help your organization if you were to become a linchpin? Do you think your organization would find you more valuable if you became a linchpin? Maybe the answers to those questions will help you decide to become a linchpin.


I’m going to stop there and encourage you just to read the book.


The other wonderful speaker at the Can Do Seminar was Linda Eaton, a founding partner of the Galileo Initiative and an internationally acclaimed motivational speaker.


I do want to acknowledge the students and alumni of the Can Do Society. They include my colleague, Ryan Najmulski, as well as Joshua Coleman, Andrew Loewen, Matthew McDermott, Sandra Nwosu, Scott Robinson, Stephen Seeler, Kim Suffoleto, Mark Wolbert, Nicholas Yu and Justin Jolls. They’re a bright, engaging and energetic group and I was delighted to have the opportunity to chat with most of them. Dr. Ji-Hee Kim, another lovely person, is the advisor.


Dan Fisher, Class of 2008, is a stand-up comic who acted as host for the event. He was really funny and I look forward to seeing him again.


One last thing: If you read my last post, you may be wondering what happened with my county legislator. I had e-mailed him the same day I e-mailed Seth Godin. Although I was just a stranger to Godin, he replied to me the same day, but my county legislator never responded to my e-mail. Five days later, I telephoned and left a message for my county legislator. He called me back a couple hours later. While he doesn’t agree with me on the issue I had contacted him about, we did have a long talk.

Fundraising Assets helps busy fundraising professionals raise more money, save valuable time and reduce costs. We offer consulting, writing, design and production services for direct mail and e-mail fundraising, social networking and more.

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Published on Apr 23

Lessons for Nonprofits from Seth Godin

Seth Godin lessons for nonprofits

I had the pleasure last night of meeting Seth Godin, marketer and best-selling author. His most recent book is Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?


He spoke at a program sponsored by the Can Do Society, a student group at Canisius College in Buffalo.


Since they say that actions speak louder than words, let’s start with his actions. I e-mailed Godin a few days ago with a comment about his blog. Within an hour or two, I received a response from Godin. That same day, I e-mailed my county legislator. I still haven’t heard back from my legislator.


To Seth Godin, I was just a faceless reader of his free blog. To the county legislator, I’m the one who gives him a job and pays his salary. Yet one made me feel valued and the other made me feel as if he thought I was a nuisance.


How do you treat your donors, volunteers and the people who use your services?


Godin espoused some provocative ideas in his talk, and I’ll share some of those with you next week.

Posted Under Uncategorized | 12 Comments

Published on Apr 12

Blog Jog Day may help nonprofits

blog for nonprofit organizations

Here’s an interesting opportunity that bloggers at nonprofit organizations  might want to try: Blog Jog Day.


With any luck, it will bring new visitors to your blog by encouraging visitors to explore blogs. Any time you get a new visitor, you have an opportunity to turn that visitor into a subscriber and a supporter.


The idea of Blog Jog Day is to have participants all blog on the same day, Sunday, May 9, with each post leading the visitor to the next blog, and so on full circle.


Your post can be on whatever topic you would normally write about. When you sign up, Blogger, the organizer of the event, will select the blog that you send your visitors to, as well as the blog that refers visitors to your Web site.


Blogger will send you text to post on your blog that looks something like this: “Thank you for stopping by my blog! Please explore all this blog has to offer, then jog on over to (add next blog link here). If you would like to visit a different blog in the jog, go to http://blogjogday.blogspot.com.”


Blogger says it can’t link you to any particular blog, but suggests that if you’d like to be linked to a friend’s blog, you should submit your links together and they should be connected.


Also, Blogger will post a list of all the blogs in the circle. I think that’s a plus, because if visitors don’t feel like clicking from blog to blog, they can look at the list and see if there’s anything they’re interested in.


Even though Blog Jog Day is organized by Blogger, which offers free blog hosting, your blog doesn’t have to be hosted on Blogger. As long as you can add a forwarding link at the top and center of your site, you are welcome to join Blog Jog Day, they say on their site.


There is a $2 fee to participate, but I think it’s worth a try. I’ll let you know how it works out for me.


For more information on starting a blog for your nonprofit organization, getting help writing your blog, or for other expert help with social media, contact Fundraising Assets at 1-888-244-4013.


Fundraising Assets helps busy fundraising professionals raise more money, save valuable time and reduce costs. We offer consulting, writing, design and production services for direct mail and e-mail fundraising, social networking and more.

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Published on Mar 29

Are you wasting money on postage? Part 2

nonprofits can save money mailing fundraising appeal letters


Guest blog by Blase Ciabaton



Sometimes it’s better to use first class postage, but more often it’s a waste of money for nonprofit organizations.


In Part 1, we looked at some common reasons nonprofits offer for using first class postage, and an explanation of why it might be unnecessary. Today we’ll examine more reasons.



Our donors pay more attention to first class mail

If you feel that an envelope with a stamp on it gets more attention, then consider using precancelled stamps. This does not increase postage in any way, and looks exactly like first class postage. It does not involve a printed permit or meter.


Our board members want us to use first class postage

If this is the case, then hug your board members who are asking for this, tell them how much you appreciate their dedication and support, but explain that this is an area where you will not compromise. Do not permit the irrational wasting of your organization’s money on postage.


If board members refuse to acquiesce on this point, then at least consider doing an A/B campaign where half of the pieces use first-class postage and the other half are mailed at the nonprofit rate. Track response to the campaign and see if there is a statistical difference. Make sure that you put your office and home address on the nonprofit postage test list so that you will have personal experience with how long it takes for the mail piece to get delivered.


How much money are we talking about anyway?

Did you know that it costs at least 20 cents a piece more to use the first class postage rate instead of the nonprofit rate? The automated nonprofit postage rate is about 15 cents a piece while the first-class presort rate is about 35 cents a piece. In an even more extreme case, regular unsorted first class postage is 44 cents a piece, making the difference as much a 30 cents a piece. Simply multiply these numbers by the size of your database to get a real sense on how much money you could be saving per campaign.


The bottom line is that any money saved on postage can be used:

1)      to market to a larger audience

2)      to send additional appeal campaigns each year

3)      to reduce your administrative expenses and gain more benefits for those you serve

4)      fill in the blank



About the Author: In 2009, Blase Ciabaton used his six years of expertise as a direct mail professional to launch the blog www.TheDirectMailMan.com. The blog caters to the nonprofit community and tackles issues related to postage permits, mailing lists, returned mail and donor conversion.



Fundraising Assets helps busy fundraising professionals raise more money, save valuable time and reduce costs. We offer consulting, writing, design and production services for direct mail and e-mail fundraising, social networking and more.

Posted Under Uncategorized | 55 Comments

Published on Mar 19

Are you wasting money on postage?

direct mail for fundraising appeal letters


Guest blog by Blase Ciabaton


Sometimes it’s better to use first class postage, but more often it’s a waste of money for nonprofit organizations.


Here are some common reasons nonprofits offer for using first class postage, and an explanation of why it might be unnecessary.


We are not set up to mail at the nonprofit rate.

If you are a nonprofit in the United States, there’s absolutely no valid excuse for not being set up to mail at the nonprofit rate! It’s free to get approved to mail at the nonprofit rate, and you do not need to have a mailing permit. It takes time to get approved, so you need to act on this today if you’re not already set up. Here’s some information that will walk you through the process and link you to the required paperwork.


We want our pieces to get delivered more quickly.

Are you mailing locally, or nationally? If you are mailing to a predominantly local audience, then nonprofit mail will almost always get delivered within the same time frame as first class mail. That’s right, delivery is no quicker when using first-class postage than it is when using nonprofit postage in most cases. Exceptions to this may apply during times of the year with peak mail volumes, like during the December holiday period.


If you are mailing to a predominantly national audience, and time is a critical factor, then you may want to consider using first class postage because nonprofit rate mail moves significantly more slowly outside of your local area.


If your audience is split between local and national, then you may want to use different postage classes for the different geographic segments of your database.


We want our pieces to get forwarded or returned if we have the wrong address

To qualify for the nonprofit mailing discount, the U.S. Post Office now requires that you use some approved form of address updating within 90 days of your mailing. If you’re a larger organization, your mailing software should automate this process for you. If you work with a third party vendor to process your mailings, they should have this integrated into their software—Be sure to verify this! For a small fee, you can also work with a professional direct mail vendor to simply have your database updated and returned to you along with the update certification paperwork.


The bulk mail paperwork that gets submitted with nonprofit mail requires a box be checked which verifies that you’ve updated your addresses using an approved method within the last 90 days. If they find that this is untrue, the U.S. Post Office has the right to refuse delivery, or retroactively increase your postage to the first class rate.


To summarize, if you’re complying with what the U.S. Post Office is requesting, then it’s redundant to pay for forwarding since you’re already capturing any changed addresses during your address update process.


Watch for more on this topic in our next blog.


About the Author: In 2009, Blase Ciabaton used his six years of expertise as a direct mail professional to launch the blog www.TheDirectMailMan.com. The blog caters to the nonprofit community and tackles issues related to postage permits, mailing lists, returned mail and donor conversion.


Fundraising Assets helps busy fundraising professionals raise more money, save valuable time and reduce costs. We offer consulting, writing, design and production services for direct mail and e-mail fundraising, social networking and more.

Posted Under Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Published on Mar 08

Is Twitter right for your nonprofit?

twitter logo

Let me start out by saying that I love Twitter. It’s one of my favorite forms of social media. I’ve learned a great deal about fundraising on Twitter, and Twitter has helped us drive traffic to the Fundraising Assets Web site and blog.


But that doesn’t mean it’s right for all my nonprofit clients.


Here are a few things that can help you decide whether Twitter is right for you.


What you can do with Twitter

Twitter lets you communicate with people through extremely short, frequent messages. The messages can contain a link to a blog or Web site where people can get more detailed information.


They’re like headlines, and you click on a link to see the full story. Or, they’re like conversations as you’re passing someone in the hallway—very brief.


With Twitter, the more active you are, the more popular you are and the more you get noticed. You’re active by not just sending out tweets, but by engaging in conversations.


What are your goals?

Are you trying to raise money? Recruit volunteers? Raise awareness of your cause?

Before you engage in any medium, whether it’s Twitter, Facebook, television or billboards, you must have goals, an audience, a plan, an idea of your resources and a way to measure success. If you don’t have all that on paper, stop reading and go make a plan!


Now look at your plan and try to determine whether Twitter will help you meet your goals. If your goal is to raise awareness of a rare disease nationally and worldwide, Twitter can be a great medium for you. One of its big advantages is that it offers such a broad and diverse audience.


On the other hand, if you have a private school that draws its students from the surrounding neighborhoods, it would probably be better for you to choose a method that is more focused.


Investment

It doesn’t cost money to use Twitter, but it does take time. If you’re going to get involved, I estimate you’ll need to spend a minimum of half an hour a day. At the beginning, it will take longer. Do you, your staff or volunteers have that much time to devote? Think of it this way: A TV ad might be useful to you, but you have to cross it off your short list if you don’t have the money to pay for it. In the same way, Twitter might be useful, but if you don’t have the human resources to spend, consider other social media where your time may pay off better.


Alternate uses

Having said all that, just because this is how most people use Twitter, it doesn’t mean that’s how you have to use Twitter. I’ve seen small nonprofits that don’t use Twitter as a way to engage in conversations, but as a message board. Picture a board in front of a school saying, “Art show on March 17.” An example is Toledo Central Catholic High School, which you can see if you sign up for a free Twitter account. Using Twitter this way greatly reduces your time investment. If using Twitter this way meets your goals, go for it!


Help is on the way!

We know that social media is a very new area for busy fundraising professionals. It’s difficult to figure out where to start and how to invest your resources.


To help you sort through the muddle, we’re working on two initiatives.


The first initiative is a webinar to walk you through the basics. We’ll discuss Web sites, Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, and how each might—or might not—help your organization.


The second inititative is a series of e-books that lay out the basics for social media. We’re also going to offer books to help you get the most out of your appeal letters and fundraising newsletters.


We’ll keep you posted and let you know when they’re available.

Find us on Twitter at @fundraiserhelp.


For more information on using social media, or for other expert help on fundraising, contact Fundraising Assets at 1-888-244-4013.


Fundraising Assets helps busy fundraising professionals raise more money, save valuable time and reduce costs. We offer consulting, writing, design and production services for direct mail and e-mail fundraising, social networking and more.

Posted Under Uncategorized | 6 Comments

Published on Feb 25

Is your appeal letter good enough?

make spring appeal better

It’s almost time to deliver your appeal letter to the post office, and your palms are sweating. The economy has been rough, and so much depends on this communication moving your donors to give again. Is your fundraising appeal letter good enough?

Let’s review some techniques to make your appeal letter as compelling as it can be.


Write to one person, from one person. Address the person by name. If you can’t do that, use the singular “Dear Friend” rather than the plural “Dear Friends.” Avoid phrases such as, “Some of you may think.” Instead, use phrases such as, “You may think.” Remember, you’re speaking to only one person at a time. The letter should be signed by only one person, and it should be written in the first person singular (I, not we.)

Tell a good, emotional story. People give based on emotion, so tell your readers a moving story about how you create a positive change in the world. If you care for sick people, tell the story of one person who recovered from illness thanks to your organization. If you give stray dogs a home, help us feel the joy shared by one dog and his new family. If you educate the next generation, introduce us to one student who is happily making her way in the world because of what she learned at your school.

Use design and structure to amplify the message. People skim fundraising letters, so lay out your appeal letter in such a way that they can grasp your message even if they don’t read every word. Tell your reader more than once what you want and why you need it. Have a strong opening paragraph, a strong closing paragraph and a strong P.S. Underline a few important phrases. Use photos that help tell the story and add emotional impact.

Long letters work better. This is true every time. You have the back of your sheet of paper—use it!

Eliminate extra expenses. Brochures seldom help response. Leave them out and save your money.

Get an audit of your appeal package. For a very small investment, you can feel confident that your entire appeal package, from the appeal letter to your mailing list, is optimized. You can apply the results to all your fundraising appeals.




For more information on getting an audit of your appeal letter, or for other expert help on your spring fundraising appeal, contact Fundraising Assets at 1-888-244-4013.


Fundraising Assets helps busy fundraising professionals raise more money, save valuable time and reduce costs. We offer consulting, writing, design and production services for direct mail and e-mail fundraising, social networking and more.

Posted Under Uncategorized | 5 Comments

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