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The standard definition of a bequest is a planned gift that ranges from the simple (money) to the extravagant (a house) that is made through a will. Yet while all bequests share the same definition, they are not all created equal.

Nonprofits received more than $23.41 billion in bequests according to the most recent edition of Giving USA. All of those gifts came in different forms and, as Elizabeth Ziemba, J.D., M.P.H. wrote in her book “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Giving Back,” it’s important for fundraising officers to clearly understand their differences.

Ziemba noted that there are four distinct types of bequests that can be made in a will. All of these can be mixed and matched in the donor’s will, depending on giving goals. The four types are:

  • Pecuniary Bequest: A gift of a fixed or stated sum of money designated in a donor’s will.
  • Specific Bequest: A gift of a designated or specific item in the
    will. The item will most likely be sold by the organization and the
    proceeds would benefit that nonprofit.
  • Residuary Bequest: A gift of all or a portion of the remainder of
    the donor’s assets after all other bequests have been made as well as
    debts and taxes paid.
  • Contingent Bequest: A gift in a will made on the condition of a
    certain event that may or may not happen. A contingent bequest is
    specific and fails if the condition is not made.

eNewsletters are an easier and cheaper alternative to print for keeping people in the loop about the latest happenings at the organization. Just because this technology is convenient, however, doesn’t mean it’s free of potential pitfalls.

People hate unwanted online communications just as much as telemarketers, and anti-SPAM rules have made sending eNewsletters to your supporters into an art form. If you don’t do it correctly you could find yourself in trouble and blocked.

Kivi Leroux Miller, president of NonprofitMarketingGuide.com, wrote in the book “Nonprofit Management 101″ that there are a multitude of ways to ensure your organization gets its message across through eNewsletters while also remaining in compliance. She wrote that you should begin by following these six dos and don’ts:

  • DO use an email service provider. You can’t do bulk email from your
    desktop for a variety of reasons, including the potential you’ll be
    labeled as a spammer.
  • DO let your readers talk back. If someone replies to your
    eNewsletter, make sure it goes to an email box that someone is
    monitoring.
  • DO master the art of subject line writing. The “From” field and the
    “Subject” line determine whether your email gets opened or deleted.
    Ensure what’s in the “from” field is recognizable to the reader and
    what’s in the subject line is interesting, intriguing, or otherwise
    compelling to your readers.
  • DO master the art of headline writing. People naturally skim email,
    starting with headlines and subheads, so you want to grab their
    attention.
  • DON’T send attachments, including PDFs of your print newsletter.
  • DON’T rent or sell your e-mail list, and let your subscribers know that’s the case.

What’s the best way to ensure a successful fundraising campaign? Some would argue that donor research should be on the top of that list, and they would have a point. More information about donors means your fundraisers will have a better idea about how to approach them.

While large nonprofits usually have full-time researcher on-staff, it can be a little bit harder for smaller organizations to find room in their budget for donor research. That’s why Ann Rosenfield, executive director of The WoodGreen Foundation, offered some tips to help these organizations reap the benefits of this research without breaking the bank. 
She wrote the following checklist in the Winter 2013 edition of Advancing Philanthropy:
  • Hire a researcher, even if just for a while: This will enable managers
    to focus on the technical aspects of fundraising while research crunches
    the numbers.
  • Pay for a research database service: This allows for quick look-ups of
    prospective donors recommended by the board, events, and potential board
    members.
  • Remember that information on foundations is free: This information is easily accessible online on such sites as Foundation Center.
  • If possible, use data analytics: This allows the organization to see how
    analytics work and keep track of these findings on a spreadsheet.
  • Identify new prospects: Having a researcher means being able to seek out new prospective clients who will give.
  • Don’t forget that the organization’s small size is actually a strength:
    The small size of is an asset in that it allows research to be done on a
    more personal level.

We live in a society where it’s easy to be overwhelmed by data. It seems as if there are statistics about virtually everything, making it hard to figure out which numbers are actually important. Nonprofits are among the groups that are gathering more data  than ever, but not all of them are using the information they gather, or are not using it as well as they can.

Beth Kanter and Katie Delahaye Paine wrote in their book, “Measuring the Networked Nonprofit,” that it is more important to evaluate impact than to gather and store numbers. They offered nine suggestions on how organizations can get the most out of the statistics they gather:
  • “Likes” on Facebook is not a victory. Social change is a victory. Proper
    measurement keeps organizations focused on results rather than the
    tools they use.
  • Measurement helps nonprofits understand and improve their social networks. It helps them listen to and engage with constituents.
  • Measurement means data for decisions, not for data’s sake. It isn’t numbers to dump on the board’s desk.
  • Measurement makes an organization plan for success. Measurement leads to
    smarter investments and smarter use of those investments.
  • Good measurement is good governance. Credible evaluation reports and demonstrations of impact are crucial.
  • Data without insight is just trivia.
  • Measuring failure is part of the path to success. If an experiment bombs
    or a great idea isn’t really so great, learn from it, and learn why it
    happened.
  • Incremental success is no failure. Victories often come in baby steps.
  • Measurement is valuable at every level of functioning.

Nonprofits have embraced technology, but that doesn’t mean they have all done so with open arms. It’s this factor that will determine whether or not your organization will have success with the various new devices and software available.

Holly Ross, former executive director of the Nonprofit Technology
Network (NTEN) in Portland, Ore., and now head of the Drupal
Association, set out a list of Dos and Don’ts to make dealing with
technology much easier:

Do:

  • Let mission and strategy be the guides when making technology decisions.
  • Establish strong systems. Staff can’t get mission-critical work done if they have to reboot the system every half-hour.
  • Plan. A crystal ball isn’t necessary to plan for technology needs.
  • Evaluate continuously. Learning from experience isn’t possible without stopping to reflect from time to time.
Don’t:
  • Make technology decisions based solely on cost. It is only one factor in determining the value and expense of technology.
  • Forget to include staff in technology decisions. Allies will be needed while new systems are being implemented.
  • Select mission-critical software such as a donor database without first documenting key business processes.

What’s the first thing that happens when you are officially hired for a job? You usually have a meeting with the human resources officer, who informs you of the organization’s conduct policies. It’s basically a no-brainer to most people by know that it’s unethical to steal office equipment, or other things like that. Yet sometimes it’s the little things that can really get you in trouble.

What was that about not sweating the small stuff?

Thomas Wolf, in his book “Managing a Nonprofit Organization,” wrote that the little details relating to day-to-day work life should be properly explained to employees. Some of these relate specifically to in-office procedures, while some are more general.

Wolf listed eight examples of these policies that you should include in your employee conduct manual:

  • Specific rules about how the staff is authorized to make purchases.
  • Guidelines governing travel (such as per-diem limits, times when air travel is permitted, and mileage reimbursement rates).
  • Controls on personal use of the office telephone.
  • Rules governing the use and care of office equipment.
  • Limits placed on the organization’s liability for personal property left on the premises.
  • Guidelines governing outside work, such as whether the employer has
    first refusal on publications and whether the organization permits
    leaves of absences to do outside jobs.
  • Intellectual property and confidentiality issues.
  • Policies regarding working hours and conditions that address regular
    office working hours, flextime or overtime arrangements, and overtime
    compensation.

The trends are always changing in the world of technology. Who would have thought just a few years ago that tablets would become more desirable than laptops? Yet that’s exactly what has happened, with major developers like Microsoft developing innovations meant for that device.

Most nonprofit managers would love to bring the latest “must-have” software to their organizations, but that’s simply an unrealistic proposition. To be successful in today’s rapidly changing world, it is imperative to decide which technologies best fit your organization.

In “Nonprofit Management 101,” Holly Ross, executive director of Portland, Ore.-based Nonprofit Technology Network (NTEN), wrote that the key to selecting new software is understanding and documenting your needs. This would seem to indicate a length process, but it can actually be done by following five best practices:

  • Identify your top needs. If you are looking for graphics software, for
    example, will you be making graphics primarily for the Web or for print?
  • Can your existing software already do it? Before you head out into the
    software selection process, be sure to evaluate existing software to see
    if it can get the job done.
  • Find out what your peers are using. Referrals can be the best way to find the right piece of software for your organization.
  • Identify some scenarios and test. Most software packages and vendors allow you access to a demo or trial version.
  • Decide whether this software will meet your needs. You should look for software that will best meet your critical needs.

Any nonprofit manager can browse the web and look for grant opportunities for their projects. It’s the writing part that can prove a little trickier.

Grant writing is one of the more frustrating aspects of the funding seeking process. You can pour all of your time and energy into a proposal only to see it rejected with seemingly little thought. While there is no surefire way to ensure your proposal will be accepted 100 percent of the time, there are some ways to increase your chances of success.

In “Nonprofit Management 101,” Tori O’Neal-McElrath, director of institutional advancement at the Center for Community Change, listed nine dos and don’ts for the grant seeking process that will give your proposal the best possible shot of being accepted:

  • DO take the executive summary portion of the proposal seriously. It is often the first section that gets read.
  • DON’T make your problem statement so bleak that it creates the perception of no hope.
  • DO get your facts straight. Make sure your data is up-to-date and as accurate as possible.
  • DON’T let a grant-writing consultant develop your program plan. The
    person can write the grant, but staff needs to develop the program.
  • DO follow the grant guidelines as specifically as they are articulated.
    Never use a “one size fits all” approach to seeking grants.
  • DO contact the funding institution and speak or meet with someone about
    your organization and/or program before submitting the proposal.
  • DO think of everyone — funding institutions included — who invests in your organization as partners.
  • DON’T try to convince a funder to invest in your nonprofit if you do not fit within their specific areas of focus.

With rare exceptions, major gift campaigns can’t be completed in a single year and, in fact, they can sometimes take as long as a decade. That’s why it is important to create a schedule of goals when planning your campaign.

Whatever kind of schedule you create should include a series of target dates in which you are going to reach certain benchmarks. Russel V. Kohr wrote in the “Handbook of Institutional Advancement” that the first year of your campaign is perhaps the most important; it is during this time period when your efforts can really take off or sink.

Kohr wrote that organizations should aim for the following 13 goals during the first year of their major gift campaigns:

  • Complete the first draft of the long-range plan;
  • Share plan with trustees and selected potential benefactors;
  • Revise plan as necessary;
  • Trustees approve plan and campaign goal;
  • Development office prepares statement of gift opportunities;
  • Development office drafts case statement that is then shared with key
    people in the organization, trustees, and selected friends;
  • Survey various constituencies intensively;
  • Research prospective donors of major gifts;
  • Begin solicitation of major gift, corporate, and foundation prospects;
  • Increase annual giving solicitation;
  • A group — such as the president, chairman of the board of trustees, and
    the chairman of the trustee committee on development — enlists a
    national campaign chairman and members of the major gifts committees;
  • Role of the president and other administrative officials in the campaign is determined; and,
  • Begin solicitation of trustees.

All eyes right now are on the so-called fiscal cliff and while most of the arguments echoing in the congressional halls are about whether there should tax hikes on the wealthiest 2 percent, there are some issues that will directly impact the nonprofit sector. For example, there are still talks about capping the charitable deduction to generate revenue for the government, to which most in the sector are adamantly opposed.

This is where effective advocacy can come into play.
While nonprofits are forbidden to directly influence lawmakers, they can use their supporters to rally for causes like the charitable deduction. In the book “Five Good Ideas,” Sean Moore wrote about how organizations should scrap the focus on the nuts and bolts of advocacy in favor of a reliance on concepts, approaches, and mindsets that can help them become a constructive player in public policy.
Moore laid out five ways to avoid the common pitfalls organizations face while lobbying:
  • Understand how the government thinks. Key to successful persuasion is
    understanding those who you are trying to convince: Their values,
    objectives, needs, and way of looking at the world.
  • Undertake do-it-yourself public policy. One of the most important things
    you can do is provide public officials with material they can use in a
    format with which they are familiar.
  • Build political capital. Whether its leadership realizes it or not,
    every organization has political capital. This includes the reputation
    and accomplishments of your nonprofit and its leaders.
  • Be strategically opportunistic. Aim for a balance between being reliable
    and avoiding being taken for granted. Be prepared to be active, but
    wait for the opportunity where you can have the greatest influence.
  • Find your champions. Having a champion is a litmus test for your work:
    If you can’t get someone to play this role, that may be an early warning
    about the practicality of what you are asking.