nonprofitspot

Custom URL’s on Facebook…Will This Help Nonprofits?

In Nonprofits on June 12, 2009 at 7:41 pm

Tonight, at midnight, facebook will finally be allowing a functionality that has long been offered by various blog sites, as well as other social networking sites like MySpace, Twitter and LinkedIn.  They will allow users to customize their profile’s url’s.  (http://name.facebook.com or http://facebook.com/name).  So, the question is, for all of the nonprofit and charitable organizations with pages on facebook, will this help?  Will it make any difference, in terms of web traffic to the organizations page on facebook?

Over the past several weeks, there has been a great deal of speculation within both the nonprofit and technology sectors, regarding the Causes applications that exist on sites like facebook and MySpace.  Many believe that while such applications may provide an increased awareness of a nonprofit or particular social cause, it does little in terms of increased fundraising.   (It does stand to reason that the only real way of tracking that is based on the donations that are made via the Causes application on various social networking sites and does not take into account people who may donate to an organization via another avenue, after seeing the organizations page on facebook.)  So, will having a customized url prove to be of much benefit to organizations, regarding their fundraising efforts?

Certainly, having the ability to customize an organizations facebook url, so that it provides the name, will facilitate ease in linking other sites, like a blog or organization website, to the facebook page.  It may also prove to be an incentive to put the link in newsletters, thank you letters to donors, etc.  Rather than just saying something like, “Become a fan on facebook”, an organization can provide a direct link.  (They could do that now, too, but without the upcoming ability to customize the url, that is sometimes cumbersome.)  And, potentially, it could increase web traffic to an organizations profile, via search engines, as the name of the organization will be provided in the url.  But, will it really do much for direct fundraising?

Simply from the standpoint of keeping up with the herd, this is a functionality that facebook should have been offering quite awhile ago, given the number of other sites that allow for people/businesses/organizations to have customized url’s, and perhaps the increased noise that is being made surrounding the idea of whether or not having a facebook profile or Causes application does much for fundraising is part of the reason why they have finally decided to do so.

Regardless of whether or not the Causes application really does raise more money for nonprofits, regardless of whether or not having a facebook page is a good fundraising tool, regardless of whether or not having a customized url will assist your organization in it’s efforts, organizations cannot lose sight of the fact that it’s all only going to be able to potentially assist in an already-existing fundraising and/or marketing plan.  Social networking sites are certainly valuable tools, not only for nonprofits, but for individuals and for profit ventures, as they can lead to connections and potentially open up doors, but as is currently the belief they may not be doing much for fundraising…at least not yet.  Is there the possibility of that changing?  Absolutely.  With the right focus, applications, awareness, marketing, and functionalities, social networking sites and various online giving applications that are utilized by those sites, could very well prove to be quite valuable in regards to fundraising, education, advocacy and awareness.  But, we don’t seem to be quite there yet.  At this point, organizations can only incorporate those resources into the ones that are already place.  (And, perhaps do what they can to ensure that they are as well educated as they can be regarding social networking for the nonprofit sector.  One of my favorite site is, Beth’s Blog, as run by Beth Kantor, at http://beth.typepad.com/. )

Ultimately, though, it doesn’t cost anything to customize a url on facebook, come midnight tonight, so we all may as well give it a shot.  Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

What do you think?  Do you think it will make much difference regarding fundraising or web traffic?  Are you with a nonprofit that has found success in your fundraising and/or awareness efforts by using social networking sites like facebook and the Causes application?

Where Do You Give?

In Nonprofits on June 10, 2009 at 5:45 pm

The Gates Foundation has been in the news a lot, over the past few days, as it relates to the amount of money the foundation has received, unsolicited.  Which, raises the question…where do you give?  Do you give to foundation?  Or, do you give to 501c3 public charities, as opposed to grant making entities?  (According to their listing on GuideStar, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is a 501c3 Private Nonoperating Foundation, not a public charity.  Organizations that are determined to be private foundations need to be mindful of the amount of money they take in, from donations, as exceeding a certain percentage of their income via donations can affect their tax determination.  Additionally, donors need to be mindful that the tax benefits of giving to a 501c3 public charity do not hold true, in terms of how much of the donation may be written off, when giving to organiztions, such as foundation, political advocacy organizations, etc.)  And, do you give, at the local level, to a domestic violence sheter or humane society, or do you give at the national level, to an organization such as the American Red Cross or Greenpeace?  Why do some people give at the local level, while others give at the national?  And, is there more value to one, over the other?  Does having a “name brand”, so to speak, mean a lot to prospective donors?

I personally, while I support the national and international nonprofits, have always felt it more advantageous to give at the local level.  I am more inclined to write a check to the local domestic violence sheter, as opposed to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.  I am more inclined to participate in, and do fundraising for a team in the local Relay for Life, rather than simply cut a check to the American Cancer Society.  (Although, I suppose in the latter case, the money all goes to the same place, eventually.)  I have worked in the nonprofit sector at both the local level and the national level, and for myself, personally, have found great value in giving at the local level, and giving back to the community in which I live and work.  (This may also be a good time to point out that I was worked as a Development Officer for local nonprofits, so doing grant writing and fundraising for the smaller, locally-based organizations, perhaps furthered these feelings in me.) Many of your smaller, locally run nonprofits are not eligible for some the larger, million dollar grant awards that the larger, national organizations are, which is why there can be such great value to individual donors giving at the local levels.  Of course, the local charities aren’t targeting as large of a population, the way the national, or even statewide, nonprofits are, and many statewide and national nonprofits do provide funding to the local organizations, while also providing educational resources, which is also important, and demonstrates the need for the larger organizations to have continued funding, as well.  But, generally speaking, it’s the larger organizations who provide funding, resources, education, training, and participate in lobbying and political advocacy, while it’s the local nonprofits who provide direct services to those in need.

How a person chooses to spend their charitable dollars is ultimately a personal decision that only the donor can make and there is great value to giving, period, regardless of the size of the organization.  But, it may be wise for donors to sit down and really think about the impact that they want their charitable donation to have, before making their decision.  A great many small, local nonprofits are suffering, all over the country, to the economy, and the local humane society could probably use some extra money house the dogs and cats that are being dropped off, as people are having to move out of their homes that they can no longer afford, just as much as the National ASPCA.  Donors may also want to consider checking out websites like GuideStar and Charity Navigator, before making their donation decisions to ensure 1) the exact ruling of the organizations tax exempt status; 2) ensure that the organization (by reviewing the IRS Form 990′s) spends their money in a way in which the donor is comfortable; and 3) that the overall mission of the organization is inline with what the donor is looking to support.

Charity begins at home, as they say, and while it’s important and necessary for the overall well-being of our citizens on a national and global level, for the larger organizations to get what they need, in order to do their good works, it’s important to check our own back yards, as well.  So, to whom do you give?  Do you give at the national or local levels?  What factors into your giving decisions?

Check, Please

In Nonprofits on June 9, 2009 at 8:58 pm

For many months now, the public has been up in arms over the bonuses paid to banking and automotive executives, in a time in which many such institutions are declaring bankruptcy, merging with other companies, or going out of business.  (And, understandably so, as we, the tax payers have been shouldering a lot of the financial problems that certain businesss are experiencing.)  But, what about the bonuses paid to nonprofit Executive Directors, Presidents or CEO’s?

Now, the financial problems faced by many nonprofits currently have far less to do with extravegent salaries and bonus structures for their top executives, or human error, or gloutenous behaviors, as much as it does with the fact that in the current economic state, individuals and grant makers simply don’t have the same financial resources in which to donate.  (The fact that many grant making entities had their endowments with banking institutions such as AIG has not gone unnoticed.  By anyone.)  Nor is the nonprofit sector looking for a government bailout.  (It’s a bit hard for tax payers to become shareholders in a nonprofit, as we have General Motors, when nonprofits don’t have stocks to sell, isn’t it?)  But, regardless of the reasonings as to why, the fact is that nonprofit organizations all over the country are being faced with many of the same dilemma’s as the for-profit sector.  Do we lay people off?  Do we increase the cost of health benefits?  Do we temporarily stop contributing to 403b’s?  Do we put a hiring freeze, in place?  And, of course, do we not offer bonuses?

As required by law, the financial information of nonprofit organizations is public information.  If a prospective donor wants to see your IRS Form 990, audited financial statement, Profit and Loss statement, annual report, et al, it must be provided to them.  (Many organizations are answering the call of further transparency within the sector by posting the aforementioned information on their websites.)  It can be obtained by contacting the organization, or going to the IRS, directly.  Additionally, information such as the Form 990′s (and, other information if provided, by the organization) can be found on such websites as GuideStar and Charity Navigator.  As such, we would think that just as the staff of many nonprofits have not been receiving bonuses recently, that the Executive Directors or CEO’s haven’t either.  In many cases, this is true.  But, as the Form 990′s for organizations that operate on a calendar fiscal year, are slowly, but surely, beginning to find their way into the hands of prospective donors and the general public, it is being found that many organizations have provided sizeable bonuses to upper management, while the rest of the staff is going without.  (Now, people could make the argument that if an organization operates on a calendar fiscal year, then any bonuses that are being reported on the 2008 990 may be based on 2007 performance, but the bonus didn’t pay out until 2008. )

Remember, after the terrorist attacks of September 11th, the number of airline executives who take drastic pay cuts, to ensure that there wouldn’t be mass layoffs, as the airline industry began to suffer, due to people no longer flying?  Obviously, the Executive Director of a nonprofit doesn’t make anywhere near the kind of salary as the CEO of United Airlines, but is it completely unreasonable to expect a nonprofit executive, knowing what the financial situation of the organization will probably begin to look like, to waive their bonus, in an attempt to save people’s jobs?  Especially if, (as is the case with some nonprofit executive bonuses) the bonus is more than some employees salaries?  If members of upper management waived their bonuses of $50,000.00 to $60,000.00, wouldn’t that allow for people to continue to receive their 403b contributions?  And, how is it going to make the employees of the organization feel about their boss, their job (and, their own value), and the organization as a whole, if and when they take a look at the IRS Form 990 for the nonprofit for which they work?

What would you do, if you were the Executive Director of a nonprofit that was struggling, financially?  Would you waive your bonus?  If the bonus had been received, prior to economic strife really hitting your organization, would you return it, once it had?  Would you tell your Board of Directors, the following year, to not give you or your senior staff, bonuses, to ensure that your employees wouldn’t suffer?  And, while nonprofits are required to demonstrate their transparency to donors and the community, do they always fulfill that obligation to their employees?  Could nonprofits do a better job of being upfront with their staff members regarding the finances of the organization and information as it appears on public documents?  Would that bring comfort, or at least answers, to employees who may be put off by things they may read on a 990 or audited financial statement?

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