Charities need to stop abusing language

Clear communication is essential for charities to succeed, yet they increasingly are using philanthropic jargon and doubletalk, and in the process putting their own survival at risk.

Charities are businesses. Their job is to improve lives. Their success is measured by the difference they make for the people and places they serve, and by their financial bottom line.

To best serve the people who receive their services, raise the money they need, run effective programs, operate efficiently, and find and keep smart employees, board members and volunteers, charities need to speak and write clearly.

They need to be able to tell their story so it is easy to understand the need they address, the people they serve, the way they work, their impact, and why people should care, get involved and support them.

Charities should speak plainly and make their words matter. They should embrace the fact that they are businesses with both social and financial bottom lines, and must survive in a fiercely competitive charitable marketplace.

But instead of using words that make their work easy to understand, and show people why they should get involved, charities abuse language, fogging their communications with jargon, technical words and acronyms.

And many charities, while wanting to avoid being seen as corporate, disengaged or bureaucratic, are quick to parrot the language of business, academia and government.

The job of charities is to make life better for the people and places they serve. They are businesses that provide direct services — to people and places in need, to donors, to volunteers, and to partner agencies.

To fix complex and interconnected social and global problems, charities need to say what they mean and do what they say.

And they need to stop pretending they operate in a refined atmosphere above the messy and often dysfunctional marketplace in which they must do business and compete.

To succeed, they must learn to communicate clearly with all their customers.

Want professional 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

Nonprofit news roundup, 09.11.15

StepUp launches statewide organization

StepUp Ministry, a Raleigh-based nonprofit that provides jobs and life-skills training to people at economic risk, has created a statewide umbrella organization to support local StepUps and expand the StepUp network.

The new umbrella group, StepUp North Carolina, will provide accounting, human-resources and marketing services to local StepUps in Raleigh and Greensboro, and to a new StepUp set to open in Durham in October.

It also will work with local StepUps to develop and share best practices in marketing, human resources, finance, programs, board and staff development, and other business functions.

And it will work with local leaders, organizations and funders in other communities to create and support new StepUps.

Steve Swayne, former executive director of StepUp Ministry Raleigh, serves as CEO of StepUp North Carolina.

Other staff for the statewide organization include:

* Keith Daniel, executive director of operations and strategic partnerships, who was executive director at DurhamCares.

* Beth Lowery, chief financial officer, who was controller at StepUp Raleigh.

* Amy Kennemur, human resource director, who was human resource manager and volunteer coordinator at StepUp Raleigh.

* Sarah Werner, marketing director, who was marketing and development coordinator at StepUp Raleigh.

Leadership change at Active Living By Design

Sarah Strunk, executive director of Chapel Hill-based Active Living By Design, will become its strategic advisor, effective October 12, and Risa Wilkerson, associate executive director, will become executive director.

Corbett new board chair at North Carolina New Schools

Jeff Corbett, senior vice president and chief procurement officer for Carolinas delivery operations at Duke Energy, has been elected chair of the board of directors at North Carolina New Schools.

Corbett succeeds Bob Greczyn, CEO emeritus of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina.

Ed Auslander, president and CEO of LORD Corporation, has been named chair-elect.  

Event raises $10,000 for scholarship

An event sponsored by Ann Zuraw, principal of Zuraw Financial Advisers, and hosted by the firm, raised $10,000  for the Bertha Sternberger Scholarship at Bennett College in Greensboro.

Zuraw, founder of the event, is a great-granddaughter of Bertha Strauss Sternberger, who was married to Emanuel Sternberger, a business partner of Cone Mills co-founders Moses and Ceasar Cone in Revolution Mills, a flannel production plant.

Arts mini-grants available

The Arts Council of Winston-Salem and Forsyth County is accepting applications from community groups and individuals for mini-grants of up to $500 to promote creativity and connect people through the arts.

Deadlines for submitting applications are Jan. 4, 2016, for projects taking place Feb. 1 through May 30; and April 25, 2016, for projects taking place June 1 through September 30.

Art exhibition to benefit Hirsch Wellness Network

Hirsch Wellness Network, a Greensboro nonprofit that provides creative arts, supportive services and wellness programs for cancer patients, survivors and their families, will benefit from the seventh annual Art Lives Here exhibition on October 9 from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. in the Revolution Mills gallery in Greensboro.

Last year’s event grossed nearly $30,000 for the Hirsch Wellness Network, which employs a part-time staff and maintains an office and classroom at Presbyterian Church of the Covenant.

Each year, nearly 1,000 individuals participate in Hirsch Wellness Network activities, including art classes, mindfulness and yoga workshops, presentations and performances

All classes are free to individuals in treatment, survivors and caregivers.

Meredith College names campaign communications manager

Emily Parker, former director of communications and marketing at the College of Textiles at North Carolina State University, has been joined Meredith College in Raleigh as campaign communications manager.

Prepare the way for change

Change can seem threatening to charities.

So as you begin to consider big changes at your charity, use communications to help your board, staff, donors, clients and other partners understand the need for change, the difference it will make for the people you serve and for your organization, and the steps required to make it happen.

You do not need to spring your big ideas for change all at once on the people your organization counts on. If they are not prepared, their initial response may be fear about how the changes might affect them individually, and resistance to your ideas.

So be smart and strategic in laying the groundwork for where you are headed and how you plan to get there.

You might use board and staff meetings, or your regular email updates to board and staff, or your regular report to donors, or the weekly blog you post on your website, or your monthly newsletter, or all of those vehicles, to lay the groundwork for change.

Don’t overwhelm your various audiences with information. Keep each message short and use it to explain a small piece of a much larger and more complex story. And devote multiple short messages to each of the broad topics you want to address.

You might begin by talking about the community need your charity addresses. Who does it affect, and how? What are its larger implications for the community and its social and economic health?

Then describe the people you serve. Who are they? What are the circumstances of their lives, the challenges they face, and the causes of those challenges?

Next, talk about what your organization does. What services do you provide? How do your programs work? What difference do you make in the lives of the people you serve?

Then describe the resources your organization counts on. Who supports you? Who are your partners? How do you work together?

Next, describe the challenges your face. What economic, financial, regulatory and competitive forces affect the community you serve and the marketplace in which you operate? What is working and not working in your operations, programs, fundraising and board oversight?

Then explain some possible ways your organization might change, and the way those changes might improve the services you provide and the lives of the people you serve while also addressing the challenges you face as an organization.

As you unfold your story, ask for feedback. Carve out some time at board and staff meetings to talk about the issues you are raising. In your email messages and other communications, invite donors and other partners to contact you with their comments and ideas.

If you get a particularly positive response from a board or staff member, or a donor or partner, follow up with one-on-one conversations. Ask about the challenges they see for youur organization, and their ideas for improving the way you work.

And if you get a particularly negative response, follow up as well. Ask both about the person’s concerns and hopes for the future.

By communicating clearly, carefully and strategically, you can break down resistance, build consensus, and help the people you count on see the need for change.

Change can be frightening. Use stories to make change make sense.

Want professional 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

Nonprofit news roundup, 09.04.15

High Point University gets $57 million in gifts, pledges

High Point University received $57 million in gifts and pledges in the past 14 months, all but $8 million of it from outside North Carolina.

Since January 2005, when Nido Qubein became its president, the school has raised over than $275 million without a capital campaign.

Gifts over the past 14 months included two of $10 million each, three of $5 million each, and 17 of $1 million each.

A total of $150 million in construction projects are underway at the school and funded entirely by philanthropic investors and operating revenues.

Those projects bring over 400 workers to the campus each day, including 250 to 300 for Frank L. Blum, contractor for projects on campus.

Wake Forest to study the ‘morally exceptional’

A team of researchers at Wake Forest University has received a $3.9 million grant from the Templeton Religion Trust to fund The Beacon Project, a three-year initiative to find and define the morally exceptional and better understand how to improve moral character.

Led by William F. Fleeson, a professor of psychology at Wake Forest, the team will look at individuals who have been publicly recognized for moral virtue, as well as next-door-neighbor moral heroes who have not received widespread attention.

The project will include competitions for psychology, philosophy and theology scholars around the world seeking funding for research on the morally exceptional; research projects by Wake Forest psychology and philosophy professors; two research conferences and a summer seminars; a website with project activities and resources; and a campus reading group and lecture series at Wake Forest.

SAFEchild raises over $800,000

SAFEchild raised over $800,000 in its annual fundraising campaign, exceeding its goal by $100,000.

Chairing the campaign, which raised the most since SAFEchild was founded in 1993, was Anita Blomme Pinther. Other campaign leaders were Rick Guirlinger, honorary chair, and Pat Wilkins, president of the nonprofit’s board of directors.

SAFEchild will use the funds, raised from over 1,000 individual donors, corporate sponsors and matching gifts, to support the needs of child-abuse victims and provide child-abuse-prevention programs to children and families in Wake County.

Life and Science Museum gets $450,000

The Museum of Life and Science in Durham has received a $450,000 grant from Biogen Foundation for science programming.

With the funds, the Museum will serve over 52,000 people a year through programs and expanded hours for the Lab at the Museum, take hands-on learning into the community with a new mobile science van, and support collaborative projects, including summer camp scholarships and community programming.

Greensboro Habitat raises $112,000

Habitat for Humanity of Greater Greensboro raised over $112,000 at its inaugural ‘Summer Bash’ at on August 28.

Held at Summerfield Farms, the event attracted over 300 guests and included a silent auction.

Presenting sponsor and co-host was Columbia Forest Products, and co-chairs were Amy Kreimer, Julie Tesh and Laurie Tesh.

Premier sponsor was VF Corporation, and foundation sponsor was Replacements Ltd.

Smart interim CEO at Reynolds Trust

Allen Smart, vice president of programs at the Kate B.  Reynolds Charitable Trust in Winston-Salem, now also is serving as interim CEO with the departure of Karen McNeil-Miller, who has joined the Colorado Health Foundation in Denver as president and CEO.

Without goals, donors can feel unfulfilled, study says

Most donors know which charities they will support each year but only 22 have a mission statement or set of goals to guide their giving, says a new study from Fidelity Charitable.

A separate study, reported in 2014 in UBS Investor Watch, found only two in five donors are highly satisfied with the impact of their charitable efforts, and only one in five believe their giving is highly effective, Fidelity Charitable says.

Among 1,042 Fidelity Charitable donors it surveyed, 78 percent have a good sense of which charities they will support each year, and 53 percent know how much they will give, says its study, Giving and Planning.

Twenty-seven percent of women and 19 percent of men have developed a mission statement to guide their giving, it says.

Sixty-eight percent of full-time employees in their fifties plan to commit more time to philanthropy in the next five years, the study says, compared to 41 percent of all donors surveyed.

Twenty-five percent of retirees and 16 percent of full-time employees expect to spend over 20 hours a month on philanthropic activities.

And 29 percent of donors plan their giving further in advance after setting up a donor-advised fund.

Foundations’ investment returns decline

The average return on endowment investment fell for private foundations and community community foundations fell in 2014 from the previous year, a new report says.

Average returns for 142 private foundations, net of fees, grew 6.1 percent in 2014, down from 15.6 percent a year earlier, while average returns for 102 community foundations grew 4.8 percent, down from 15.2 percent, says the 2014 Council on Foundations–Commonfund Study of Investment of Endowments for Private and Community Foundations.

The declines reflect lower returns from domestic and international equity-based investments and some alternative strategies, says the report, which is based on data from 244 foundations with combined assets of $107.4 billion.

Returns for private foundations and community foundations averaged 11.1 percent and 10.5 percent, respectively, for three years, 9.2 percent and 8.7 percent for five years, and 6.3 percent for 10 years.

Fifty-nine percent of private foundations and 61 percent of community foundations reported increasing their grantmaking or mission-related spending in 2014.

The rate of increase on grantmaking or mission-related spending averaged 21.1 percent for private foundations and 33.9 percent for community foundations.

The spending rate for 2014 averaged 5.4 percent for private foundations, compared to 5.5 percent a year earlier, and 4.8 percent for community foundations, unchanged from a year earlier.

Peter’s Creek Community Initiative gets $22,000

Peter’s Creek Community Initiative has received a $22,000 grant  from the Charles Babcock Jr. Discretionary Fund and the Community Fund at T​he Winston­ Salem Foundation.

The Initiative, organized under the guidance of T​he Shalom Project,​ aims to revitalize the Peters Creek area through community economic development to benefit residents, businesses, and other organizations.

Volunteer Center to recognize volunteers

The Volunteer Center of Greensboro will hold its 2015 Volunteer Recognition Luncheon on October 14 at Empire Room at Elm Street Center.

The Center is accepting nominations for lifetime achievement, youth volunteer, individual volunteer, volunteer program, and corporate group.

Each winner will receive a $250 grant from Connors Morgan to benefit its volunteer program.

Black Philanthropy Initiative seeks proposals

The Black Philanthropy Initiative at The Winston-Salem Foundation is accepting proposals for grants to support programs that support African- Americans in the areas of education, parenting and financial literacy.

The Initiative will make grants in amounts of up to $5,000 each.

The deadline for submitting proposals is September 29 at 5 p.m.

Kids Voting names director of student elections

David Cashwell, former deputy legislative intern in the Texas House of Representatives, , has joined Kids Voting-Guilford County as director of student elections.

Kids Voting-Guilford County works to prepare students in kindergarten through 12th grade to be educated, engaged voters and active citizens. Students vote in mock elections for local, state and national elections.

Band Together NC names volunteer leaders

Band Together NC, a Raleigh nonprofit that uses live music to promote social change, has named three event co-chairs for its 2016 partnership with Kidznotes in Durham.

The volunteer leadership team include Christina Coffey, vice president of retail services with CBRE Raleigh; Bo Heath, senior vice president and partner at McGuireWoods Consulting and McGuireWoods; and Cari Swann, manager of forecasting and analytics at First Citizens Bank.

StepUp adds eight board members

StepUp Ministry, a Raleigh nonprofits that provides employment and life-skills training, has named eight new members of its board of directors. They include Brendan Hale, director of career development at Baker Roofing; Kirby Jones, founder of The Daniel Center for Math and Science; Maria Lyons, a business-management and customer-service professional; John Martin, senior vice president and financial advisor at CAPTRUST;  Robert Rehm, a partner at Smith Anderson; Keith Richardson, a mechanic at Newcomb and Company; Greg Sandreuter, managing partner at Beacon Development; and Harriet Stephenson, director of nursing education at WakeMed.

Profile donors to spur new giving

A charity’s best prospect for a new gift can be a current donor, who also can serve as a great example for prospective donors.

So writing profiles of current donors can serve the twin goals of helping to cultivate them and other current donors for future gifts while also courting prospective donors.

Still, many charities that publish profiles of their donors waste the opportunity.

Profiles of donors should show the impact their gifts can have in advancing their own values while making a difference in the lives of the people and places the charity serves.

Yet too many donor profiles at too many nonprofits simply pander to donors and overstate both their impact and that of the organization.

Make your profiles human and real. Show who the donor is. Explain how the donor’s gift was structured to address the donor’s personal, family or business needs, while also making your community a better place to live, and in the process serving an important cause the donor cares about.

Donor profiles do not need to be long to be clear and compelling. You can capture a lot of information in a short profile. What’s important is to use details, not generalities and overblown praise, to show the impact a gift can have both on the people it benefits and on the donor.

And put your donor profiles to productive use. Post them on your website and distribute them through social media. Include them in your newsletter, annual report and fundraising materials. Print them and use them as handouts when you talk to prospective donors.

Donor profiles can be a great way to cultivate current donors by reinforcing the value of their giving, and to show prospective donors how their gift can lift the lives of others while advancing their own values and meeting their personal needs.

Want professional 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