Thursday, March 25, 2010

Loaves & Fishes Experience

On Tuesday of this past week my 6-year-old and I did our second monthly volunteering gig at Loaves & Fishes. Lindsey's enthusiasm is inspiring -- she woke up in the morning and the first thing she said was, "Today we get to volunteer!"

We got there just as they were beginning the meal service. We donned our plastic aprons, latex gloves and hairnets, said a prayer and got to work serving the meal.

Just before we were going to start cleaning up, a lone woman walked in for the meal. She was probably in her mid 60's with gray and white hair tied up in a bun. She wore loose clothing like what you might wear to work out, athletic shoes and a backpack, and looked a bit flushed.

Turns out she walked for an hour to get there.

She told us how her bus pass had just run out and she didn't have any money to get it re-filled. She didn't want to miss her one meal of the day, so she set out walking, not realizing how long it would take her. I am hoping that she was able to catch a ride back to her place from one of the volunteers or other patrons there, I'm not sure.

As Lindsey and I drove home we talked about this woman's experience, how it was so important for her to get there because she wouldn't have a square meal all day otherwise, and how she didn't have a car and sometimes didn't have money, all foreign concepts to both of us. It reminded both of us of how very lucky we are and how much we truly have in our lives.

Monday, March 22, 2010

That's smart marketing

Sometimes things come together so well, so seemingly coincidentally, that you know that there is actually some smart marketers making that happen.

Take this past weekend's Get Lucky 7k, for instance.

This was added "late" to the roster of 2010 events -- it was only added in late January, with a March 20th run date. That's pretty late by event standards.

One of its major sponsors was Kieran's Irish Pub, who just moved to a new location last weekend. Not surprisingly, the after party for the run was at Kieran's, so now everyone could check out the new digs. Everyone would be every one of the 3,000 runners who joined this "last minute" run, and all of their friends and supporters.

Not to mention, it was basketball play-off weekend, which means that downtown is generally busier than usual for a Saturday morning, what with all the parents and families of high school basketball players in town to watch the kids play. Since Kieran's new location is just minutes away from the Target Center, where some of the action for the tournaments was, there were lots of families walking by Kieran's, with all of their green banners out, the crowd lined up out the door to get in, the celebratory mood happening all at 11 o'clock in the morning. I am sure that more than one parent thought, "After the games, I'm going to stop by there and see what all the hoopla is about."

All this for a "last minute" event add, which filled all 3,000 slots within 2 weeks of being announced.

Whatever the owners of Kieran's paid as the sponsorship for this event, they will definitely get their money back in terms of buzz and increased publicity of their location.

That's some smart marketing.

Friday, March 19, 2010

My Point Exactly

Remember that point that I made in a prior posting about planning for the best use of charitable dollars in humanitarian efforts? And about the possibility of setting aside charitable dollars to help with some potential long-term implications of 9/11, oh say, the possibility of the health impact of the debris surrounding the 9/11 area?


From the Associated Press:

Ground zero workers in court on 9/11 settlement

NEW YORK – A federal judge wants to hear from ground zero workers about a multimillion-dollar legal settlement for people sickened by dust from the World Trade Center.

U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein is trying to decide whether to approve a deal. It would pay $575 million to $657 million to about 10,000 police officers, firefighters, utility workers and laborers.

The judge has scheduled a Friday afternoon hearing on the settlement, which was signed last week.

Some workers involved in the suit have signed up to address the court. Hellerstein says a select number will get a chance to speak.

Workers have three months to accept or reject the deal. At least 95 percent would have to say yes for it to become effective.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Someone thought this was a GOOD idea?

From the Chronicle of Philanthropy:

In the Arts: Former Bear Stearns Boss Spearheads Public-Theater Campaign

Wearing a white hardhat and wielding a gold-plated mallet, Warren Spector, the former co-president of Bear Stearns Companies, symbolically broke ground Tuesday on a two-year, $35-million expansion and renovation of downtown New York's Public Theater, reports Bloomberg.

Mr. Spector, the theater's unpaid chairman, is leading a campaign to raise the remaining $7-million for the project. The famed arts group, founded by Joseph Papp, has $28-million in hand for the work, most of it provided by the city government.



Someone at the New York Public Theater thought it was a good idea to have a former executive of a company that benefitted from one of the the biggest corporate bailouts in modern times to head up a fundraising campaign? How trustworthy does this make the New York Public Theater to donors everywhere?

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Unspent Virtue: Disaster Funds Still Not Depleted

I read an interest article in the Nonprofit Times about prior disaster relief funds which still have money in them.

Some examples:

--The America Red Cross (ARC) has 10% of its 2005 tsunami disaster relief money still remaining. How much money is that, you ask? Well, 10 percent of $581million would be $58.1 million.

--The Salvation Army has a little less than 12% of their tsunami relief fund left to spend from the money that was raised after the Southeast Asian tsunami of 2004. That 12% is a nearly $3 million.

--The ARC also has $1.4 million left in their Liberty Fund -- they have already distributed the $2.1 billion that was donated to that fund. The catalyst for that one? The 9/11 terrorist attacks of nearly 9 years ago.

I remember speaking with some of my then-clients right after 9/11, when the ARC had a public relations nightmare on their hands in regards to how they had handled much of the donations, and that most of the donations had not yet been distributed months after the attack. One person explained it to me this way, and I liked her way of thinking.

As a humanitarian organization, the ARC wants to plan for the highest and best use of the charitable dollars for the victims of 9/11. Let's say that 5 years after the disaster, they determine that much of the population living in lower Manhattan is developing a horrible lung disease as a result of breathing in all of the debris that was in the air weeks after the disaster. But now those dollars are spent and gone, and there is no money to help these people. Is that a better use of the charitable dollars than making millionaires of the survivors of 9/11's victims?

Where does the responsibility of the city and state begin and end in terms of the response to the attack? Should the ARC re-imburse the city for the use of their equipment to respond to the disaster, to use those charitable dollars to relieve a potential tax burden from the populace for the great expense that was incurred that day?

Outside of the immediate needs of food and shelter for victims, sometimes it takes a while for the true cost of a humanitarian crisis to be known. Responsible charities want to make sure they are using those dollars to ease the greatest need, but sometimes those needs aren't readily known. Not that I'm saying that the ARC is the most responsible one out there, but because of the amount of money involved they are under greater scrutiny, some deserved and undeserved.

As Laura Howe, Senior Director, Disaster Public Affairs of the ARC said in the Nonprofit Times article, "It’s never a question of whether or not we have money in the end or money that’s left over, but how can we get help to people in most efficient way possible.”

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Personal Connections...and Interconnections

I am currently working with a team of writers on the next issue of Gillette's donor-focused newsletter. While others are doing most of the heavy lifting on the writing, I volunteered to write a column in which we spotlight a donor and why that person has chosen to support Gillette. This has turned out to be an incredible experience, one of the reasons why I made the leap to work at a nonprofit.

I picked this particular donor because she contacted Gillette out of the blue and asked how to become a monthly sustaining donor. Once I gave her instructions on how to accomplish this, she gushed via email about Gillette and how its impacted the lives of children she knows. None of her children have ever been seen here, she was never seen here as a child herself, but she sees the work we do and wants to make sure we're around for every child.

Wow -- an unsolicited endorsement. Mind if I publish that for the rest of our donors?? Perhaps we can convince some of them to become monthly sustaining donors, too.

From there, the interconnectivity began:
  • -- the donor blogged about being highlighted in a future Gillette newsletter
  • -- we contacted a patient family whose story had inspired this donor's giving for permission to mention them in said story
  • -- the patient family blogged about how happy they are that their story can inspire others to do good
  • -- the donor who will be highlighted was contacted by the patient family and thanked for spreading her kindness
  • -- a regular joe who knew the donor through third parties started his own blog inspired by the donors' blog
And thus the wave begins.

I left work yesterday with a warm feeling in my heart, amazed that the donors' words have come true -- "Making little ripples of kindness will cause a tidal wave of happy people in our community." And the article hasn't even published yet.

Can't wait to see what happens when it comes out.

Monday, March 1, 2010

The case for unrestricted funding

Trust. It's at the heart of charitable giving.

Abuse by some nonprofits have lead to a high level of mistrust of nonprofits by the very donors they rely on. This is why donors are demanding that they be able to better direct where their charitable dollars go. Instead of going to a general operating fund, which donors often interpret to mean "the CEO is going to give himself a big fat bonus," they want their funds to go to exactly the cause they wish to support.

Thus the reason why the American Red Cross is currently swimming in approximately $100 million in their International Response Fund. These are dollars that were raised in response to the Haitian earthquake crisis.

That's good news for Chileans.

Now an 8.8 magnitude earthquake has hit Chile, and while, as this article in the Pittsburgh Tribune Review points out, Chile is in a better position to respond to this disaster, there is still a need for an international response. People have already opened their wallets to give in response to Haiti; there are fewer who are willing to give as generously to respond to another natural disaster on the heels of the first.

Now the American Red Cross can divert the funds initially raised for Haitian relief to fund Chilean relief -- immediately. After all, donors gave to the "International Response Fund." While this money was raised under the pretext of use in Haiti, it can easily be sent to aid another country suffering another natural disaster.

Imagine the pickle the ARC would have been in had the funds been restricted to use ONLY in Haiti. They would have had to contact each and every donor and ask permission to divert funds to Chile, a time and resource-intensive endeavor, one which would not have been a good use of their charitable dollars. And what would ARC have done with $100 million in Haiti? What is the true cost of responding to a natural disaster? Does the ARC have the resources to occupy the country for years, to help re-build its intrastructure and systems, to improve it better than that which existed prior to the earthquake? Does that kind of response exist within their mission, their charter? I suspect not.