Tag Archives: fundraising

Star Trek and the Future of the Nonprofit Sector

[Image description: A cartoonish action figure of Spock, from Star Trek, with his hand outstretched in the Vulcan salute. The figure is standing on what looks like a wooden fence post, with a blurred background of plants]

Thank you Nonprofit Quarterly for publishing my piece last week on the future of the nonprofit sector. Except for the post on the misuse of the word “literally,” this is probably one of the most important things I’ve written about in the past four years. Due to a few people not having read it, I am reposting the entire piece here. If you haven’t read and thought about it, please take some time to do so. We can, and must, move our sector into the future.

Let’s face it, the last few months have been brutal. Dealing with the constant threats to communities and to democracy itself has been exhausting and heartbreaking, and many of us have been questioning whether we nonprofits are equipped to respond to current and future challenges. During these dark times, there has been at least one bright light: A new Star Trek show!

When hatred and xenophobia are on the rise, it’s nice to see a universe where diversity is a norm. From the two episodes I’ve seen, the new show, Star Trek: Discovery, is awesome. It’s not without flaws, of course, but this show, and Star Trek itself, paints a hopeful picture that we nonprofits should observe closely. And the Starfleet model in particular is something we should study

In Star Trek, there are various starships. Each has a different captain and a different mission. However, they are bound together by Starfleet, an organization that supports and coordinates the work of all the ships. Starfleet is big, with multiple departments. There’s Starfleet Academy, which trains officers; Starfleet Command, which provides governance; Starfleet Shipyard, which builds the ships; Starfleet Judge Advocate General, which serves as the judiciary branch, etc. Continue reading

How donor-centrism perpetuates inequity, and why we must move toward community-centric fundraising

[Image description: Two fluffy brown and yellow ducklings with black beaks and eyes. They’re snuggled up against each other, One looking right, the other one looking left. Image obtained from pixabay.com]

Hi everyone, this is a lengthy and serious post that I wrote after a period of thinking, and I hope it will lead to some vigorous conversations. Two years ago, I wrote a post called “Winter is Coming and the Donor-Centered Fundraising Model Must Evolve.” Since then, I’ve had more conversations with colleagues and donors, attended more conferences and workshops on fundraising, and did some more reading. Also, I donate to several nonprofits, so I can also draw from my own experience as a donor.

From all this, I think we have a serious problem with the donor-centered approach. Namely that the pervasiveness of this model in our sector may be perpetuating the very inequity that we are seeking to address as a sector. Continue reading

Why individual donations strategies often do not work for communities of color

easter-eggs-684450_640Hi everyone, this week is my organization’s first annual fundraising reception, where we formally introduce our Fellows to the community. Doing special events, to be honest, freaks me out, and I have been banned by planning committees in the past from attending meetings. Sheesh, and all because I get stressed out and occasionally go into catatonic states and murmur things like, “Beware…the storm is gathering…registration lines will fill up…time will stop…guests will beat their chests in anguish and despair as volunteers weep in the darkness…beware…”

Anyway, today I want to talk about cultivating individual donors and how it relates to communities of color. Every time that I talk about how arduous grantwriting is, either on this blog or in person, inevitably someone will say something like, “That’s why you should focus on individual donors! Statistically, individual donors provide 72% of the funds for nonprofits! Why, I knew this one org that was struggling, and they decided focus on individual donors, and they were able to save the family farm, and not only that but the ED was asked to pose for the Men of Nonprofit calendar because his stress melted away and he regained his youthful, radiant complexion!” Continue reading

Standardized answers to the Sustainability Question

beach-690125_960_720Hi everyone, last week the Chronicle of Philanthropy published a piece I wrote on the Sustainability Myth. Warning: The piece is for paid subscribers, but it was adapted from this post—“Can we all just admit there is no such thing as nonprofit sustainability?”—which you should check out, since it talks about teeth tattoos, which is an earned-income strategy I am working on in order to increase my organization’s “sustainability.” Tattoos on one’s canines and incisors will be the next big thing in society, trust me, and my organization is going to ride that wave.

Recently I wrote a grant proposal for $30,000, and of course, at the end, there it was, the Sustainability Question. “How will you sustain your program when support from the XYZ foundation runs out?” I took a deep breath. And by “taking a deep breath,” I meant chugging a mini bottle of vodka I keep in my laptop bag. Then I looked at pictures of cute baby animals. That always helps me to calm down. Continue reading

The annual dinner is over. Long live the annual dinner!

dinner

Thanks, Dave Greer, for the awesome pictures

In life, there are few things sweeter than that beautiful moment after a fundraising event is done (provided the event didn’t suck completely). It’s like living in a part of Alaska where it’s dark for six months at a time, and then finally seeing a sunrise and knowing that the darkness is abating. It reminds me of that time after my wedding reception. It was an awesome reception, complete with glowsticks and a live bunny and tons of booze, and we felt so much love and support and had more fun than we could remember. But that day that followed, that was magical. Sure, there were thank-you notes to write and other stuff to do, but slowly we started to feel a semblance of normality, like we had been lost in the woods and raised by wedding-planning wolves and now we were back to civilization.

Wedding-planning wolves, that’s hilarious. I am so sleep deprived. For the past couple of weeks, I have not been able to sleep. This is partially due to the baby, who wakes up every 30 minutes for the express purpose of wailing and spitting up on his father. But also because of this dinner, a 9-month ordeal very comparable to childbirth, including the screaming and crying and fetal positions, but without a cute baby at the end. For all the stress and night terrors and occasional fist fights, though, it actually turned out pretty well. We had an effective planning team team, led by our no-nonsense Development Director (slash Finance Director slash HR Director slash Office Manager) Rachel, who, like any good Development Director, inspires people even as she simultaneously strikes fear into the heart of everyone around her.

300 or so people came, including several political leaders, and the event started and ended on time. For days I was worried about my speech, the standard inspiring ED speech, having had no time or energy to work on it. I was supposed to practice for a couple of hours before the event, but then exhausted I promptly feel asleep, waking up an hour before the dinner started, panicking and hoping the Maya just miscalculated their calendar and that the Apocalypse was still going to happen before I had to speak.

Anyway, I didn’t screw up my speech, or at least I didn’t think I did; I couldn’t tell, since in my baby-induced exhaustion it seemed kind of like a day dream, except this time, I wasn’t an Iron Chef on the Food Network. I think we may reach our goal, and besides one person who emailed later to say he and his guests hated the food and the location and their sound system and their table position and my suit and said the decorations gave him cancer and who actually had gotten his table to get up up and walk out (!) of the event in protest, I think the guests overall had a good time.

Still, we could certainly improve for next year. Here are some lessons I learned:

  • Don’t seat politicians all together at the ED’s table. Politicians always leave early, since they run on political time, which is twice as fast as civilian time. Halfway through the dinner, I was left with my wife and baby and three other guests. I felt like a loser table captain who couldn’t fill his table. Next time, scatter the pols around, or seat the ones who plan to leave early in the back.
  • Using tablets to do floating registration is awesome. We had volunteers with tablets who just went around the room checking people in, which completely cut out the waiting-forever-in-line-at-the-registration-table curse that plagues many annual events. Technology is so cool. Eventually, we’ll just have volunteers wearing Google Glass go around blinking at people to check them in. That’s the future.
  • Check and double check the AV system, and spend money on a professional if necessary. There will always been AV issues. We had trouble with the microphones, which cut in and out, and all sorts of other stuff. The most painful part was during the heart-tugging video, which we had spent months on, and it turned out really well. But the 7-minute clip froze and buffered, ruining the momentum, and with each buffer my eye started twitching more and more, and I put my face in my hands to stop myself from openly weeping.
  • Try to get a good night’s sleep before being video-taped for the heart-tugging video. I had a rough night the previous evening, and it showed in the video, where I look like Steve Buscemi’s less attractive younger brother who has slightly better teeth. (This, however, may have spurred some people to donate more out of pity.)

All right, there’s a whole bunch of other lessons learned, but I have to sign these acknowledgement letters and write little handwritten notes on each one before Rachel strangles me with her Development Director hands, which are super strong from all that envelope stuffing she does for our mailing campaigns. I am tired, haven’t slept more than 3.5 consecutive hours in the past 15 days, and smelling like spit-up and diaper rash cream. And yet, I feel good, and this high will last for a month or two, before we start planning next year’s event.

Thank you so much, to all our friends and supporters, for helping VFA to lift up families and communities.