Saturday, September 21, 2013

Should you blog?

There seems to be two schools of thought on blogging. One says that in the era of short-form social media, it is a waste of time and resources. The other says that if you don't blog, you are throwing away many dollars in sales or donations. As is true with most things, the answer to the question is somewhere in the middle. Before beginning a blog, ask yourself these questions.

What is your target audience?
If you are just blogging for your existing customer or donor base you are preaching to the choir. If they are already following you on social media or donating and volunteering, they may read the blog and even enjoy it, but it isn't going to tell them much they aren't going to hear or read anyway. Blogs should not only keep existing contacts connected, but generate new customers or donors. You can host your blog separately, or combine it with your website. 

If your target audience is people who don't know about your product or mission yet, a blog can build customer interest or donor engagement. A 140-character tweet or a short Facebook post just doesn't have enough depth to truly engage a new reader. Business oriented blogs are both sales and educational tools. If you want the reader to support you, explaining why your mission, product or service deserves some of their dollars is easier on a blog. They have to be able to find you on the web, but after they find you they need a reason to stay connected.

What's different about a business blog?
Blogs have come a long way from an individual who is basically putting their personal diary online. Today, people use Twitter and Facebook for that. Blogs, at least business blogs ( nonprofits are businesses too!), are much more of a sales and educational tool than a blow-by-blow description of your day or week. They are a promotional tool. The purpose is to encourage the people who need a product or service to patronize your business or support your mission, without constantly interrupting their day with a constant rain of nonessential information. Your tweet or FB post is a headline, while the blog is the article.

Who should blog?
Blogging is a long-term strategy. Blogs don't normally immediately produce truckloads of money. Blog if:

1. You have the time and/or money to commit to it as part of your sales or fundraising strategy for a year or more. You can hire someone to do it, or do it yourself, but it should be done on a schedule. Think of the weekly TV program you just can't miss,  rather than the occasional mini-series or special that comes on once, and then is gone. Plan on blogging no less than once a month, and maybe as often as once a week. This is relationship building, not an annual grant or loan application. Additionally, search engines tend to pick up on blogs well, probably because you are repeating the same words or themes, i.e. they are good SEO candidates, because you are repeating those same key words of phrases in a totally natural way. 

2. You have something new or fresh to say or sell. Not every topic, mission or service can generate good content every week. If you have lots of programs, products, or services that you can "sell", or good stories that these things generate that you can share, then by all means go for the weekly schedule. Some highly successful bloggers even blog daily, but that is hard to do effectively. The daily  posts become so short on new content and so repetitive that a tweet would work just as well. You ideally want to be the weekly can't-miss program, not a male enhancement commercial.

3. Commit to a blog if you believe in yourself, your business product or your mission. This is about generating passion and a need to buy into your concept. Whether it is a need for a product that you sell, or hungry people you want to feed, or anything in between, your blog needs to sell that feeling.

4. Commit to quality. You may be able to get away with internet shorthand on Twitter, but blogs are more akin to white papers than a tweet. If you are bored with good grammar, hire someone who will refine your raw material.

Interested in engaging more donors or customers? Give me a shout at  I would be happy to assist you in starting, maintaining or expanding  your blog.

©R.L. Baisch   Reprints with permission only

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Theater and Performing Arts Grant

The Shubert Foundation,, announced the 2013-14 grant guidelines today. The following is from the website. 
The Shubert Foundation is dedicated to sustaining and advancing the live performing arts in the United States, with a particular emphasis on theatre and a secondary focus on dance.

In service of this mission, we provide general operating support to not-for-profit, professional resident theatre and dance companies, as well as some arts-related organizations that help support their development. Grant recipients must have track records of artistic achievement, administrative strength and fiscal responsibility."

You must be a U.S. based 501(c)(3) in good financial standing. They accept only hard copy submissions, and the application format is available on the site. 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Dot Org doesn't mean nonprofit

One of the suggestions I make so often that it should be a recorded message is that nonprofits need to provide substantiation of their status on their website home page. Here's a good reason why that is going to result in more donations.

Recently a friend asked me to research a charity. She had gone to their website, where everything suggested it was a nonprofit. It had a dot org DNS address, nice home page, well crafted mission statement, heartfelt stories of people they helped, donation button, in short, all the things you would expect on a nonprofit website. On the "about us" page however, there was some wording that disturbed me. It was subtle, and I don't think it would have set off alarm bells for most people.

I checked with all the usual verification sites, including the IRS. No listings. I checked social media. Nice page, but none referenced their NPO status specifically. Then I did a press release search, and there they were, back in 2008. "Local entrepreneurial group (name here) opens OJT training and placement firm".

This "dot org" is a business, plain and simple. Is it misrepresenting itself as a charity? It sure looks that way. Just for kicks, I clicked on the donate button, and there it was…"donations are not tax deductible" in little tiny print. It didn't specifically say that they are a business. They were relying on that "dot org" and the slick website to plant the suggestion that they are a charity. I also sent an email requesting a copy of their nonprofit paperwork, either Federal or state, but I never got a reply.

If you are putting up or revising a website, and you are a real nonprofit, I strongly suggest that you provide a link to a copy of your determination letter, or at least the date you got the letter on your site. Even if you are only a state-registered nonprofit corporation, don't make prospective supporters spend an hour or more trying to verify your status. They won't. They will just leave.

The dot org designation used to be more or less reserved for nonprofits, but that is no longer true. Schools, churches, some clubs, cities and really just about anyone can use that domain designation. I have seen some suggestions that nonprofits should have a DNS registry of their own, but so far it hasn't happened. Wikipedia states that the number of dot org registrations jumped from one million or so in the 1990's to over ten million as of June 2012. Could some of those be fraudulent charities?  Ab-so-lutely!

You should be proud enough of your nonprofit to provide irrefutable proof up front of your status. My friend is really into the cause this phony nonprofit supposedly supports. She would support a legitimate group well. But I can guarantee that she isn't going to support this one, and she'll be a lot more discerning about believing a website again, based solely on their URL and a donate button.  She is also reporting them to her state attorney general's office. 

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Crowdfunding for Nonprofits - Hype or Hope?

Crowdfunding. It's a money-raising buzzword. It's trendy and in some cases, trending. It's the 21st century way for small businesses, artists, entrepreneurs and yes, small nonprofits to access cash for projects. Grants and government funding are incredibly competitive, and there is an element of the "good-ol'-boy network" mentality involved. Really new or very small nonprofits are often excluded just because they don't fit in that network.

Just a half-dozen years ago, no one thought of crowdfunding as a viable business model. Most business people were familiar with investor groups, but the idea of doing a whole fundraising campaign on the web was well, sort of a fantasy.

Then, in 2008 and 2009 respectively, Indiegogo and Kickstarter appeared on the scene. Primarily aimed at the performing and visual arts and the for-profit business market, these platforms offered a way for small businesses and start-ups, and even individuals to access funding for projects. Nonprofits have a category too.

In the last two years I have seen a decided uptick in the number of crowdfunding sites catering to nonprofits. So, is this a viable way for small nonprofits to access cash for programs?

I'd have to say "it depends". Like any new business model, crowdfunding has its share of hiccups. Initially, I saw a lot of sites go up that purported to be absolutely free to use. "We don't take a dime of donations for ourselves" was, and is a common tagline. Many of those sites no longer exist.

It costs money to build and host a website, process donations, keep track of whose projects fund and whose need to have money returned to the "crowd-vestors" ( I don't know if that's a real word…but it works for me!). Absolutely free just isn't going to pay the bills.

There didn't seem to be a lot of vetting of the projects and nonprofits for the donor's peace of mind.
In some cases, there was no way for the donors to receive an accounting for whether the money actually resulted in tangible gains or completed projects. Some sites gave the donors back their money if the project didn't fund, while others allowed the project owner to keep whatever funds were raised.

Lately I notice that many crowdfunding sites are themselves for-profit businesses. They charge a listing fee or other service fee, either from the donor, the project or program owner, or both. They withhold the credit-card processing fees so that the cost is not coming out of the site manager/creators funds. They seem to have a more stringent verification process for the nonprofit and to require more verifiable data before listing a program/project. In short, they have a business model and there seems to be some thought behind making the sites sustainable. Many like Uruut ( are brand-new, but seem to have a grasp on the funding sources for the nonprofit sector.

Crowdfunding is certainly an avenue for small start-ups, both for -and non-profit, to explore. Like any other business venture, do your due diligence. All venues that have money as a component are ripe for exploitation and outright fraud. Service providers to the crowdfunding industry should be vetted. One resource I found was an ongoing five-part series on the website titled "Doing due diligence on crowdfunding service providers". While it doesn't specifically apply to nonprofits,  the tips will undoubtedly apply across the board.

Exploring crowdfunding certainly provides the little guys with some hope of succeeding. Just remember, there is no such thing as "free". In this case your effort in selecting a good platform sponsor and a credible campaign will be the price you pay to increase your chances of success.

©091413 R.L. Baisch

Thursday, September 5, 2013

IRS opens comment period on new 1023 application

On September 4, 2013, the United States Internal Revenue Service released its new online interactive version of the nonprofit application, form 1023 for public comment.  The comment period will be open until September 20, 2013.  You can access the form here. This version cannot be printed or submitted. Even when the new form is deemed ready for prime time, you will still have submit the application as a paper copy. According to the IRS, the new form will offer links to relevant forms and explanatory information within the body of the application. Supposedly, at some point the application will transition to a fully online format, but there is no timeline given for when that might occur.

The website also states that the IRS has updated two of its educational courses, "Applying for 501(c)(3) Status"and "Maintaining Tax-Exempt Status", available via a link on the home page of the same website

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Grantmaker Research

Sometimes I get lists from clients that were obviously compiled from some website like the Foundation Center. Not too long ago I actually got a list printed directly from that website of over 100 "youth-oriented" foundations from a prospective client.
I have a subscription to that resource and several more just like it.  If grantor research was that easy, no one would need professional funding consultants and/or grant writers. The reality is, that list is simply a baby step in finding prospective funding.

There are many steps that go into approaching and qualifying a viable funding partner. Does the grantmaker ever support NPOs in your geographical area? What do they mean when they say they make grants nationally?  What makes them choose one nonprofit over another? Does their controlling philosophy match yours? Are you looking for a one-shot funding source, or is a continuing relationship important? What other nonprofit or ideological themes do their individual board members support away from that particular foundation?

There are dozens of things that can influence acceptance of a grant application. Not too long ago, I researched a large family foundation in the eastern U.S. for an Idaho client. I felt that the client's program might fit in with the foundation's underlying interests, but according to their public face, it looked like a stretch.

I literally built a profile for the board members and the history of their involvement in Idaho.  And I mean every consequential board member, all 22 of them. In the end, I was able to help the client craft a customized proposal that stayed true to the client's mission, but still appealed personally to the foundation's board members. This is the first three sentences of the acceptance letter from that foundation:

"Thank you for making our board aware of your program. We have been interested in this type of highly targeted program for many years. Normally, the program would not fit our giving parameters, but we are making an exception due to our personal interest in (the program). We are pleased to inform you that we are funding (the specific area of the program) in the amount of $10,000 for each of the next three years."

This was a highly targeted, well documented and very personal appeal to the specific interests of three of the board members as evidenced by their personal participation in similar projects. I spent almost a month, off and on doing that.

Very large nonprofits may have the resources to do that type of in-depth relationship building, but often they rely on actual personal contacts.  They know the board members they are trying to court. They go to dinner with them, attend the same functions, and often the actual application is simply a formality.

If you don't rub elbows on a personal basis with your target funding source, consider hiring out the research, and acting on it with something more than stale boilerplate copy. It could be profitable.