Be the go-to news site for your cause

With local newspapers and broadcasters paying less attention than ever to news about the charitable world, nonprofits and foundations have a great opportunity to become the main source of news about the causes that are the focus of their work.

So make your website a source of news for anyone who wants to understand the issues you care about.

Explain the problem and causes. Profile people who are affected. Spotlight strategies and partnerships that do a good job addressing the problem. Report on government actions and other developments that affect the issue. Include links to help people learn more, and invite them to get involved.

The charitable world traditionally has been below the radar of the news media, and that lack of coverage has grown even greater as news organizations in an increasingly cluttered marketplace for news and information struggle to figure out what they think readers, viewers and listeners want.

So fill the charity-news void by providing your own news coverage of the issues that are at the heart of your mission.

And if you lack the expertise to provide that coverage, find freelance writers who can help.

Serving as the source of news and information about your cause will underscore your value to your community, to your clients, and to your donors and other partners.

Want help?

Philanthropy North Carolina is a consulting practice that provides writing and strategic communications support for nonprofits, foundations, colleges and universities, and others working for social good.

To find out more about hiring Philanthropy North Carolina to work with your organization to improve your communications, contact Todd Cohen at 919.272.2051 or

Special events focus on donors

Stewardship and fundraising receptions or dinners are the most popular special events for charities, a new survey says.

Most charities do not employ a full-time staff member devoted to event management, and decide whether to hold an event after considering the expected return on investment, and the staff and volunteer capacity to support it, says the 2014 Special Events Report from the AFP Foundation for Philanthropy.

“Special events are important to many nonprofit organizations because they help raise awareness of a cause and help cultivate relationships with donors and potential donors,” says the report. “Events tend to be more costly than other fundraising strategies in terms of return on investment, but they are often incorporated into overall fundraising strategy because they provide visibility for the organization and opportunities to involve people in its activities.”

Most research on events focuses mainly on “anecdotal descriptions of how-to’s for producing events,” the report says.

Its goal is to provide “benchmarking’ to help nonprofits determine whether an event “is appropriate considering its circumstances, how its event results compare with those of other like organizations, and effective ways to follow up with constituents, media and potential donors after the event.”

The report is based on responses from 101 individuals to an online survey fielded in March to a random sample of 2,500 members of the Association of Fundraising Professionals in the U.S. and 1,200 in Canada, and on two focus groups of fundraisers with significant experience in event planning.

Number of events

Nearly all survey respondents hold special events in a typical year, with roughly one-third holding or or two a year; nearly a third holding three or four; 17 percent holding five to nine; 13 percent holding 10 to 14; nine percent holding 15 to 49; and four percent holding 50 or more.

Most popular events

Sixty-two percent of survey respondents hold stewardship and fundraising receptions or dinners, and 57 percent hold galas with a live or silent auction, or both.

Just over one-third of respondents hold sports tournaments, and nearly one-fourth hold “a-thons.”

Event staffing

Fifty-six percent of survey respondents do not have a full-time staff position devoted to event management, while 20 percent have one events position; 17 percent have two to four events positions; and over 40 percent have two to four staff members who work on events as needed.

Event revenue

Fifty-five percent of respondents generate gross revenue of $100,000 or more a year from special events, and roughly one-third say revenue from special events accounts for less than half their annual revenue.

Only 12 percent say event revenue generates 50 percent or more of annual revenue.

Return on investment

Just over half of respondents track costs per dollar raised.

While estimated costs vary by type of event, most total 59 cents or less per dollar raised.

Reasons for holding events

While respondents cite a range of factors that influence the decision to hold an event, including relevance, mission and pressure from the board, most indicate they consider the expected return on investment, and staff and capacity to support the event.

Information resources

The main information resources that charities say they use for event planning are their own volunteers and staff, professional colleagues who plan events, and websites of other organizations that hold events.

Over half of respondents say they want more benchmarking information on effective ways to achieve event objectives, fresh ideas for themes, new technologies to support events; and “third-party” events hosted by someone outside the organization to benefit the organization.


Most respondents count on volunteers to help with planning, execution, evaluation and follow-up for special events. And most say it is important to select volunteers based on their interests and abilities, to train volunteers and staff, to communicate well during event planning, and to recognize volunteers.


The technologies that charities say they use most often for planning, executing and evaluating events are websites, standards spreadsheet software, social media, fundraising software, and online publications.

Measuring success

Respondents say the most important measure of the success of an event is whether or not it meets its budget goal, followed by whether it generates new donors, prospects and volunteers.

Todd Cohen

Nonprofit news roundup, 07.25.14

North Carolina trails 33 states in child well-being

North Carolina ranks 34th among the states in overall child well-being, a new study says.

The state’s ranking is based on combination of rankings in categories that affect children, including 38th in economic well-being, 28th in education, 32nd in health, and 36th in family and community, according to the 2014 Kids Count report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

In North Carolina, for example, 26 percent of children lived in poverty in 2012, up from 21 percent in 2005 and compared to 23 percent throughout the U.S., the report says.

Sixty-six percent of North Carolina fourth graders were not proficient in reading in 2013, down from 70 percent in 2005, and compared to 65 percent throughout the U.S., and 19 percent of high school students were not graduating on time in 2011-12, down from 27 percent in 2005-06, and compared to 21 percent throughout the U.S.

Among new babies in North Carolina, 8.8 percent were born with low birthweight in 2012, down from 9.2 percent in 2012 and compared to 8 percent throughout the U.S.

And 37 percent of North Carolina children lived in single-parent families in 2012, up from 34 percent in 2005 and compared to 35 percent throughout the U.S.

Autism Society gets $50,000 to expand employment support

The Autism Society of North Carolina has been awarded a $50,000 grant from The Walmart Foundation to help expand its program that provides employment support for adults with autism.

The program will serve 85 adults with autism in Alamance, Chatham, Cumberland, Davidson, Durham, Forsyth, Guilford, Orange, Randolph, and Wake counties, and will include work-readiness evaluations, transition-to-employment training, job search, on-the-job training, ongoing job supports, and monthly support group meetings.

Triad selected for launch of food-donation app will launch the beta version of its grocery savings and food donation app in the Triad later this year, and has created an informal partnership with Greensboro Urban Ministry to design the food assistance app.

The company has developed specifications for the app and on July 15 launched a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign to raise funds to complete the project.

Beth Livingston of Greensboro is founder of MaxMyShopping, which is a subsidiary of Rock High Development, a limited liability corporation registered in North Carolina.

Newman to head American Medical Association Alliance

Julie Newman, immediate past president of the board of directors of the Alice Aycock Poe Center for Health Education in Raleigh, has been named president-elect of the American Medical Association Alliance.

Evia-Lanevi joins American Immigration Council board

Diane Evia-Lanevi, founder and advisory board chair for The Tomorrow Fund for Hispanic Students, has joined the board of trustees of the American Immigration Council, a national network of physicians and physicians’ spouses.

Visitors to national parks in North Carolina spend $1 billion

Over 16.1 million visitors to national parks in North Carolina spent over $1 billion and supported nearly 15,500 jobs in the state in 2013, a new study says.

The report, conducted by U.S. Geological Survey economists, shows $14.6 billion of direct spending throughout the U.S. by 273.6 million park visitors in communities within 60 miles of a national park.

That spending supported over 237,000 jobs and had a cumulative benefit to the U.S. economy of $26.5 billion, the report says.

The report says national park tourism returns $10 for every $1 invested in the National Park Service.

Sculpture recognizes Rotary’s 50 years in Cary

A new sculpture outside the Cary Chamber of Commerce commemorating the 50th anniversary of Rotary in Cary will be dedicated on August 1. The five-sided granite structure represents the five Rotary Clubs in Cary.

Greensboro event to focus on minority business

North Carolina’s second annual Statewide Minority Enterprise Development Week will be held September 11 in Greensboro.

Sponsors of the event, to be held from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. at the Alumni Foundation Event Center at N.C. A&T University, is expected to attract hundreds of business leaders.

The event will be hosted by the North Carolina Institute for Minority Enterprise Development and the North Carolina Minority Women’s Business Enterprise Coordinators’ Network.

Insurance industry golf event raises $27,000

The inaugural golf tournament sponsored by Community Matters, a group of Charlotte insurance-industry companies that raises money to benefit charity, raised over $27,000. Proceeds will go to Charlotte Family Housing and Crisis Assistance Ministry and their work to prevent homelessness.

UNC gets $297.5 million

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill attracted $297.5 million in private gifts and grants in fiscal 2014, up 9 percent from fiscal 2013 and marking the school’s second-best year ever.

Commitments, including pledges and gifts, grew to $310 million, also up 9 percent, and helped create five endowed professorships, and 58 undergraduate scholarships and graduate fellowships.

Duke gets $3 million gift

Duke University has received a $3 million gift from alumna Bettye Martin Musham to establish a directorship for Islamic studies.

The gift will fund the William and Bettye Martin Musham Director for Islamic Studies. The director will oversee the Duke Islamic Studies Center, which focuses on teaching, learning and research about Islam and Muslim communities.

Compass Center consolidating offices

Compass Center for Women and Families is merging its office locations in the wake of the  July 1, 2012, merger of The Women’s Center and the Family Violence Prevention Center of  Orange County.

Effective August 6, Compass Center will serve clients at 210 Henderson St. in Chapel Hill.

All phone numbers and the agency’s domestic violence hotline number will remain the same.

BB&T teams with InterAct

Associates from BB&T Wealth in the Triangle volunteered on June 11 at the Family Safety and Empowerment Center for InterAct in Raleigh, assembling new picnic tables and sports and playground equipment, refinishing existing outdoor furniture, and spreading mulch.

Build communications planning into your routine

Communicating effectively is hard work, and it takes a lot of planning on a regular basis.

Whether you do it in-house or hire a consultant to help you, developing a communications strategy or plan is just the beginning.

A communications plan guides you in deciding your message and story; the audiences you want to reach; the materials and content you will need; and the process, responsibilities and schedule for producing your materials and content.

While your plan is a guide, it needs constant guidance, oversight and adjustment. Circumstances change. Unanticipated events, opportunities and problems arise. You need to be prepared.

Who is responsible for communications at your nonprofit? Does that person report directly to the CEO? If not, to what extent is the CEO involved in thinking and making decisions about communications? What is the board’s role? Does it have a standing communications committee, or a committee that has communications as part of its responsibilities?

While each nonprofit needs to find its own answers, it should have a plan that addresses those kinds of questions.

Effective communications is fundamental to the way nonprofits operate their organizations, deliver services, raise money, collaborate with other organizations, and advocate for their cause.

So it’s important to give your communications a high priority, and to make sure your staff and board are closely involved in developing your communications strategy and overseeing it on an ongoing basis.

Want help?

Philanthropy North Carolina is a consulting practice that provides writing and strategic communications support for nonprofits, foundations, colleges and universities, and others working for social good.

To find out more about hiring Philanthropy North Carolina to work with your organization to improve your communications, contact Todd Cohen at 919.272.2051 or

Duke scholar uses stories to help lift girls out of poverty

By Todd Cohen

DURHAM, N.C. — Deborah Hicks was the first person in her family to go to college.

Born in Memphis, Tenn., Hicks at age five moved to Transylvania County in the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina with her mother, a homemaker, and her father, who worked at a mountaintop tracking station and then as a television repairman.

Landing a scholarship from the American Association of University Women, Hicks attended Brevard College, earning a two-year degree, then graduated from the University of Northern Arizona after her parents moved to Arizona.

She went on to receive a doctorate in education from Harvard University, where her dissertation focused on children’s storytelling.

Now, as founder and executive director of the Partnership for Appalachian Girls’ Education, or PAGE, Hicks is working to give other girls the same opportunities she had.

“We’re trying to help Appalachian people create stronger futures and lift themselves out of poverty though education,” says Hicks, who also is a research scholar at the Social Science Research Institute at Duke and, through Duke’s Bass Connections initiative, heads an interdisciplinary project on education and economic inequality in Appalachia.

PAGE, a partnership of Duke and the Madison County Public Schools, builds on a strategy known as the “girl effect,” Hicks says.

“If you invest in the education of an adolescent girl, you have a ripple effect throughout the whole community,” she says. “When she finishes high school and goes to college and builds a career, she will make sure her children are educated, and then you will have generational change, with whole families and communities finding their own pathways to college and careers.”

Now in its fifth summer, PAGE sends seven Duke undergraduates to serve as mentors for teenage girls in Madison County, including 50 middle-school students and two high-school interns who would be the first in their families to go to college. The high-school interns, who are mentored on preparing for college, in turn serve as mentors for the middle-school students.

The free summer program, consisting of two sessions of three weeks each, focuses on literacy skills, critical thinking and leadership. The girls read novels, and participate in book-group discussions led by the Duke undergrads. They take photographs and create digital stories. And they participate in traditional camp activities such as arts, crafts, canoeing, hiking and field trips.

Of the two high school interns who participated a year ago, one will enroll this fall at UNC-Chapel Hill and the other has enrolled at Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College in Asheville.

PAGE now plans to become a separate nonprofit with a board that can help it raise money to support its $200,000 annual operating budget. PAGE gets most of its funding from private donors, and some grants from the Appalachian Regional Commission and funds housed at the Community Foundation of Western North Carolina.

As a young woman, Hicks says, she was inspired by Christy, a young-adult novel about a young woman who goes to the mountains to teach.

“Appalachia has persistent and intergenerational areas of poverty,” she says. “So we’re focusing on investment in the education of girls.”

Fundraising success linked to annual drives

Charities in the U.S. and Canada with formal annual fundraising drives are more likely to hit their fundraising goals than those without formal annual drives, a new study says.

And among larger charities, those with gift clubs that recognize different gift amounts are most likely to meet fundraising goals, says the “Nonprofit Fundraising Survey — Special Report about Annual Funds” from the Nonprofit Research Collaborative.

Annual funds’ impact

Among 945 charities that responded to an online survey in August and September about fundraising results from the first half of 2013 compared with 2012, and about annual fund drives, 70 percent have an annual fund, and 77 percent of those are meeting goals, compared with 57 percent of those without an annual fund, regardless of the size of the organization.

“This finding suggests that organizations focusing primarily on major gifts, without also having an annual fund campaign, might be at risk of missing their fundraising goals in the long run,” Eva Aldrich, president and CEO of CFRE International, which awards the Certified Fund Raising Executive credential, or CRFE, says in a statement.

Donor retention

Charities that retain half or more of their donors from the previous year are more likely to meet their fundraising goals and more likely to raise more than they did the previous year, the study says.

And charities to which more than 5 percent of donors give a higher amount than they did the previous year are more likely to meet fundraising goals and more likely to raise more this year than last year in their annual fund, the study says.

Gift clubs

Among charities with annual budgets of $1 million or more that have named gift clubs that recognized gift amounts, 79 percent are meeting fundraising goals, compared to 65 percent without gifts clubs.

But gift club benefits, when offered, make little difference in meeting fundraising goals.

Annual drives

Fifty-eight percent of charities responding to the survey increased funds raised in the first half of 2013, compared with a year earlier.

While 70 percent of respondents have an annual fund drive, annual funds are more common as the annual budget increases up to $10 million or more.

And having an annual fund is associated with being “on track to meet the current year’s fundraising goals,” the study says, it is likely there also is a relationship between planning for fundraising and having an annual fund.

It says a previous study by the Nonprofit Research Collaborative found a connection between having a board-developed fundraising plan and meeting fundraising goals.

And while annual funds are more common as the size of an organization’s budget increases, the likelihood of having an annual fund varies by subsector.

More than 80 percent of arts and religious organizations have annual fund campaigns, compared with 52 percent of organizations in the public-society benefit sector, which includes United Ways, community foundations and freestanding sponsors of donor advised funds such as Fidelity Charitable or the National Philanthropic Trust.

Retention rates

The Fundraising Effectiveness Project, separate research by the the Association of Fundraising Professionals and the Urban Institute, shows declining renewal rates among all donors, including those to annual funds, in 2,840 organizations participating through 2012, the study says.

In the Nonprofit Research Collaborative survey, in contrast, among 88 percent of those with an annual fund that reported tracking renewal rates, 12 percent reported renewals of less than 50 percent, 13 percent reported renewals of 50 percent to 60 percent, and 63 percent said 60 percent or more of their donors renewed their annual fund gift in the most recent year.

The big differences in renewal rates in the Nonprofit Research Collaborative survey with those in the Fundraising Effectiveness Project, suggest that charities that participated in the two studies differ in material ways.

High renewal rates are associated with increased contributions to the annual fund overall, the study says, and organizations with a renewal rate of less than 50 percent of the previous year’s donors have a markedly lower probability of seeing increased funds raised in the current year.

Annual fund upgrades

Among 78 percent of respondents with an annual fund that track “upgrades,” or  gifts in the current year that were higher than the amount the same donor gave the previous year, the biggest share, or 36 percent, reported that 5 percent to 10 percent of their donors upgraded gifts the previous year.

For those with upgrade rates of 5.1 percent or more, over half the organizations saw growth in the amounts received while organizations with upgrades by 5 percent or fewer donors were less likely to report an increase in annual fund receipts.

Yet, when the share of donors increasing their annual fund gift grows by even a few percentage points, the organization is more likely to be on track to meet its fundraising goals, with 5 percent serving as the “breakpoint.”

Gift clubs’ impact

Sixty-five percent of charities responding to the survey reported having different donors levels or named gift clubs, which seem to be associated with greater probability of being on track to meet fundraising goals this fiscal year, the study says.

Charities with larger budgets are more likely to have annual funds, more likely to have gift clubs and, if they have both, more likely to be on track to meet goals.

While 36 percent of charities with annual budgets of less than $1 million that have an annual fund also have gift clubs, or 20 percent of all small charities, the study says, there is no statistically significant difference in reaching their goal with our without gift clubs or giving levels, the study says.

In meeting fundraising goals, it says, smaller organizations may face other challenges, such as to few paid fundraising staff; less engagement by board members; staff members who are newer to fundraising; or a disproportionately high share of funding from government, foundation grants or other sources not connected to individual fund drives.

Gift level benefits

Forty-two percent of respondents with annual funds offer donor benefits based on giving level.

Among respondents with annual funds that offer donor benefit, 56 percent offer special events organized exclusively for donors, often those above a specific giving level, while 24 percent offered exclusive or privileged access to the organization’s leadership or personnel.

Membership benefits

In addition to gift clubs, the study says, some charities offer memberships.

Twenty-four percent of respondents with an annual fund also offered memberships with benefits. That group included 57 percent of arts organizations with an annual fund, and 54 percent of environmental organizations with an annual fund.

And among 251 charities offering gift club benefits, 54 also offered membership levels.

Arts organizations have the largest share, with both memberships and giving clubs.

The study finds no clear relationship between offering membership benefits and being more or less likely to meet fundraising goals.

Among all organizations offering memberships, 65 percent offering member benefits were meeting fundraising goals, compared to 60 percent of those with no benefits tied to membership.

“Offering membership benefits may help attract more members,” the study says, “but it is not linked here with fundraising results, whether meeting goals, raising more money, donor retention, or donor upgrades.”

Good stewardship practices, it says, “may be as important, or even more important, in supporting annual fund results than are tangible items or even experiential benefits such as donor-only events.”

 — Todd Cohen