Saturday, February 28, 2009

Top 3 Weekly Blog Posts for Nonprofit Workers

1. Capacity-Building Resources Database at Tips and tools for nonprofits

2. Minimizing Financial Fraud at Nonprofit Law Blog

3. Tough Times, Tough Choices at Michigan Nonprofit Association Blog

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The top 9 focus group tips

Have you ever wondered how evaluation specialists are so good at their job? Well, Richard Krueger (focus group expert) shared some great tips that make his focus groups so successful. It was hard to narrow down the dozens of tips and nuggets of information I learned at the MESI pre-conference Focus Group session, but here are the top 9 I wanted to share:

1. Recruitment is most time consuming and most important. If you get the wrong people to attend, the feedback and results will not be accurate. Make sure to identify a specific group or community- focus groups are not supposed to be randomized.

2. Get people to show up. If people don't show up, you can't have a focus group. One of the best ways to get people to show up is to have someone special or important call or visit them in-person to ask them to participate. Normally this is delegated to an assistant or secretary, don't do this. The best way to get people to participate is to have the Executive Director or Program Director call and ask them to participate. Also, don't forget a phone call reminder the day before the group. Also, have meaningful incentives.

3. The environment can make or break your focus group. Whether people feel comfortable and at ease will determine whether they feel they can talk openly. Make sure to seat them in a circle, and if possible, provide food. Allow them some time (a few minutes) in the beginning to make small talk among each other.

4. Don't invite questions in the introduction. You could end up getting asked something awkward that ruins the "mood", for example someone may ask what other focus group participants have said. The honest answer is you don't want to tell them, but you can't really say that. The best way to avoid this is to avoid asking if anyone has questions in the introduction. You can see if people have questions when you welcome them, individually and one-on-one.

5. The first question is key. It needs to put people at ease and make them feel comfortable with each other. Start the group with a friendly, easy question like "If you won a two-week all-expenses paid vacation, what would you do?" or "What is your favorite food, and where do you go to get it?"

6. Questions need to be asked in the right order. You should start with the broad, more general questions and gradually get more specific, ending with the most important questions. This is important because the first questions help trigger their memory of the subject of your group, and will help them in their answers later on.

7. Make sure to summarize key points at end. Take the 4 or 5 key points and repeat them back to the group. Ask them if you got it right. This will help you ensure you get it right in your analysis.

8. How something is analyzed can change its meaning. So, make sure to analyze carefully. The person that transcribes should have attended the focus group, that way they know whether someone was being sarcastic or ironic. Also, body language can say a lot. When transcribing use the participants first name (not last name-confidentiality), that way you know if the same person is telling your program is bad, or is everyone is saying it.

9. Report back to community. Say you ask a community to participate in your study, and they agree. They tell you their thoughts and suggestions for your program. Then, you never talk to them again. They are going to think you didn't value their input and that you are not doing anything about what they said. Even if you aren't doing anything, at least let them know you are looking into it or researching it more. If you are, let them know what you are doing. Also, a thank you to participants from the Executive Director can go a long way.

Monday, February 23, 2009

10 ways to use focus groups for evaluation

Are you wondering how you can use focus groups for your evaluations? Well, at yesterday's pre-conference session - Focus Group Methods, Richard Krueger handed out a great info sheet that included 10 ways you can use focus groups for evaluation.

1. Assessing needs and assets
You can use focus groups to learn about the needs/assets for a program, policy or organization, by gaining perspectives of a variety of stake holders, participants, etc.

2. Program planning and program design
Focus groups can help you determine why a program is successful or is failing, and they can give insight of barriers or motivational factors.

3. Designing evaluation, monitoring and inspection systems in complex environments
Focus groups can be used to determine what type of evaluation you should do, or what specific thing to evaluate.

4. Pilot testing intervention strategies, policies, delivery methods and more
Focus groups can help to determine which specific approach or strategy works best for implementation.

5. Formative or process evaluation
You can use focus groups to explore how exactly a program is functioning and to gain ongoing feedback from participants.

6. Using focus groups to evaluate organizational issues
Use them to figure out how to improve morale, increase productivity, and more.

7. Summative evaluation
Focus groups can be used when a program is complete, and you want to determine how objectives were met and indicators for success/failure.

8. Impact or outcome evaluation
Focus groups can be used when a program has been finished for some time and you want to explore long-term impacts/outcomes.

9. Using focus groups with another evaluation strategy
They can be used to narrow and refine survey questions, or edit/change your methodology.

10. Using focus groups in a participatory study
They can be used to empower an organization to do their own focus groups, to teach others how to do them, to build their capacity.

*Bonus- you can also use focus groups when searching for best practices. If your organization wants to add a new program, you can invite all those organizations that have a similar program and are doing it well to help determine best practices for a successful program.

What is a focus group?

The first part of today's MESI Pre-Session on Focus Groups by Richard Krueger answered the question, what is a focus group?

According to Richard Krueger (the expert on focus groups), there are four critical characteristics that make a focus group:

1. Participants
You will need 5 - 10 (ideally 5 - 8) participants, that have been carefully recruited so that they are similar types of people (have something in common).

2. Environment
The environment needs to be comfortable, and participants are seated in a circle. The session should be recorded to ensure that everything is captured.

3. Moderator
It is important for the moderator to be skillful in group discussions, and establishes a permissive environment. The moderator should use pre-determined questions.

4. Analysis and Reporting
This includes completing systematic analysis, using verifiable procedures, and reporting appropriately.

Later today I will post tips and highlights from today's session.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Top 3 Weekly Blog Posts for Nonprofit Workers

1. Avoid Common Accounting Missteps by Nonprofit Law Blog

2. NTEN and TechSoup Webinar: Share Your Story - ROI and Social Media - Slides and Notes by Beth's Blog: How Nonprofits Can Use Social Media

3. 10 Steps to Online Fundraising Success and 4 Mistakes to Avoid by Katya's Nonprofit Marketing Blog

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Minnesota Evaluation Studies Institute next week!

Next week I will be attending the Minnesota Evaluation Studies Institute. The theme for this year's conference is: Social Justice in an Era of Accountability: The Challenge for Evaluation. I plan on blogging each day with some tips/highlights from the sessions. Here are the sessions I will be attending:

If you have any questions about any of the topics for the sessions I am attending, please post them in the comment section and I will make sure to ask those questions at the conference next week.

A few FAQs about the IRS 990 & Audits

  • What is the 990?

GuideStar explains that the 990 is "Form 990 is an annual reporting return that certain federally tax-exempt organizations must file with the IRS. It provides information on the filing organization's mission, programs, and finances."

  • Do nonprofits have to fill out a 990?

Yes, all nonprofits have to fill out a 990. There are only a couple exceptions: nonprofits that have less than $25,000 in revenue, nonprofits that are not 501c3 exempt, and most faith-based organizations.

  • Do nonprofits have to have their financials audited?

This varies state to state. Most states have threshold amounts. For example, in Minnesota a nonprofit organization has revenue greater than $350,000 then they are required to have their financials audited.

  • Can a nonprofit fill out their own 990?

Yes, they can. Nonprofits are not required to hire an outside consultant to do their 990, they can have internal staff complete their 990. Although, if the organization is large or has complex financials, it is usually best to hire an accountant to do this.

  • Does a nonprofit have to make their 990 public?

Yes, nonprofits are required to have their 990s available to the public. So, if someone requests a copy of it, you need to give it to them. Many nonprofits like Pro-Choice Resources publish their 990s online to make it easier for their donors and be more transparent.

If you have any additional questions about 990s or auditors, ask them in comment section and I will do my best to answer them.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Top 3 Weekly Blog Posts for Nonprofit Workers

1. Why I Wish Nonprofits Would Stop Using the Word ‘Minorities’ by Rosetta Thurman's Perspectives from the Pipeline

2. How free media can make you stupid by Donor Power Blog

3. Build a Nonprofit’s Technology Assets from the Ground Up, Part 1 of 2 by Non-Profit Tech Blog

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Philanthropic Shopping

Thank you to Joe O'Connor works for for providing this week's guest post!

Philanthropic Shopping

During these economically chaotic times, nonprofit organizations need support more than ever. Luckily, the internet is chalk full of resources that make donating and finding volunteer opportunities much easier. Some websites even turn everyday online activities, like shopping, into support for nonprofits.

Like many businesses, nonprofits are struggling financially. Big donors are decreasing – and in some cases completely stopping – their normal donations. So, it is important for everyone to step up and help these important organizations.

Some websites, like, allow you to shop for causes online. These services not only enable you to help nonprofits, but they save you money as well. All you need to do is click through the site before you shop at one of your favorite online merchants, and a percentage of what you spend is automatically donated to the nonprofit of your choice. There's no extra cost for you, and you may even save money with special deals and offers.

In this time of economic crisis, everyone is more careful about spending money. Though that is certainly understandable and important, we can not forget about the great organizations that depend on donations to help feed starving villages, build homeless shelters, or provide after-school programs for inner city children. By taking advantage of philanthropic shopping websites, individuals can remain frugal and still donate to the causes that you care most about.

Not only can nonprofits take advantage of websites like or to promote philanthropic shopping, there are many other opportunities for online fundraising, like Good Search, where people can do philanthropic internet searches (every time someone uses Good Search as their search engine a penny is donated to their charity of choice). Also, many nonprofits are partnering with businesses to have a percentage of an individuals purchase go to charity. You can read an article on this in Inc.: Saving the World, One Purchase at a Time.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Advertising on nonprofit websites?

I was recently asked what I thought about nonprofits selling space on their website for advertising. I will tell you what I told them. I think it is a bad idea.

It's one thing to sell space (typically in the form of a sponsorship) for your nonprofit event's program, but it is something else entirely to put advertising on your website. There are 2 main reasons why I think it is a bad idea:

  1. Dilutes your mission/compromises your website: By selling ads on your website you may put at risk the integrity of your website and organization (there is a reason nonprofits don't sell ad space on their websites). Additionally, ads on websites rarely are attractive, plus depending on the ad it can negatively affect your brand. Also, ads on websites can be distracting- and you don't want people clicking away to check out a book on amazon- you want them clicking to your donation page.
  2. Appearance = reality: It will appear as though your organization is endorsing those that advertise on your website. Nonprofit organizations should not endorse for-profit businesses. Additionally, it would be time-intensive to ensure that every company upholds the mission/ideals of your organization- for example: Sierra Club wouldn't want to put up X corporation's ad and then find out they just logged 150 acres for their new company and killed off the local wildlife, it might not look very good to your supporters.
This doesn't even go into the issue of who would manage the advertising, and the additional time and hassle of worrying about UBIT (unrelated business income tax). Additionally, most (if not 99.9% of) nonprofits do not sell advertising on their website. In fact, after searching and looking at a few hundred sites, I only saw one that did, the AARP, which most people don't even know is a nonprofit organization.

The same goes for nonprofit blogs, in a short interview in December, Darren Rowse (ProBlogger) said "One thing that I'm pretty sure a nonprofit SHOULDN'T do is run advertising on their blogs. I think blogs are probably more effective to non profits for communicating what they are on about, finding people to support them etc. But if you start selling advertising you distract people from what you're on about as an organization."

Now, if you decide to sell it anyway, this post by Social Signal talks you through your options.

I had great difficulty locating nonprofits that sell advertising on their website, so if you know of any that do, please post a link in the comment section.

Friday, February 6, 2009

The ED Compensation Debate Continues

A few months ago I wrote: What is too much when it comes to executive compensation?, which highlighted the firing/forced resignation of the Charlotte United Way's Executive Director, Gloria Pace King, because the media caught wind of her compensation package- a decision that I completely disagreed with. Ms. King was a phenomenal fundraiser and increased the capacity of the Charlotte United Way because of her work, which is why she commanded the salary that she did.

Unfortunately, it seems like the Charlotte United Way is realizing their error. Looking at their 2008 fundraising campaign, "the agency's 2008 annual campaign fell $15 million below the previous year's total", Mike at Nonprofit Board Crisis highlighted. Mike's recent post: Firing an ED can have unintended consequences mentions his disagreement with the Charlotte United Way's decision about Ms. King and discusses the results of the Charlotte United Way's 2008 campaign.

This just goes to show you that a good Executive Director is worth their weight- Ms. King only cost the Charlotte United Way about $370,000 per year (not including her pension), which is definitely worth the $15 million shortfall they experienced in 2008- which at least in part is related to her firing/forced resignation.

The issue of ED compensation has been brought back to life with the recent debate over having salary caps on corporate CEOs. Give and Take recently had a post on this topic: A Salary Cap for Nonprofit Executives?, that discussed whether the $500,000 salary cap for CEOs should also be imposed on nonprofit organizations. I'm not sure what I think about this, I guess I think that as long as for-profit businesses are allowed to pay their CEOs whatever they want, nonprofits should be allowed to pay their Executive Directors what they deem appropriate.

Top 3 Weekly Blog Posts for Nonprofit Workers

1. Getting Your Nonprofit Organization Ready To Listen by Beth's Blog: How Nonprofits Can Use Social Media

2. What to do now, Part II by Mission Based Management

3. Mario Marino on Investing in Nonprofits by Tactical Philanthropy

Thursday, February 5, 2009

The Small Things Matter

Recently, I received an email from someone asking me to donate $.99 to a nonprofit organization. The ask was all about this 99 cents and how if enough people donate the 99 cents it would add up. I thought it was great- who wouldn't donate 99 cents? So, I went on to make the donation, only to find that the smallest amount that I was allowed to donate was $5.

Now, this is a mistake that many of us have made at one point. We have sent out a link to a website that doesn't work or told a donor we'd update them on something and didn't or asked someone to donate 99 cents when the online donation site only accepts donations of $5 or more. These sorts of minor mistakes are all about keeping on top of things and double-checking everything. While these mistakes are minor, and are easily forgiven/forgotten, they do matter.

In this case, the opportunity to donate 99 cents was taken away, and the nature of the ask was changed. Donors who thought "it's just 99 cents" now were being asked for 5 times the amount they had planned to give- yes, it's still only $5, but it's still more than planned. With the dozens if not hundreds of "asks" a donor receives a year, it is important that when you have their attention you say it right, you include accurate information, and you make it count.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Why can't a nonprofit get its own credit card?

I recently had a conversation with a NonprofitSOS reader that has been asked to be the holder of the credit card for the nonprofit where they work. What does this mean? Well, it means that a new credit card is issued for the nonprofit with both the employee's and the nonprofits name on it. It also means that their social security number is used for the card, and their credit could be affected. This also happens a lot in the business world- employees have company cards- but with businesses the likelihood of losing funding is much smaller. I recently discovered that credit card companies won't let you get a card just for the business- you have to use your social security number (I discovered this when getting a company card for The Advancement Company).

My question is, why can't a nonprofit (or a business for that matter) get a credit card with just the nonprofit or business name on it? Why does an employee have to put their credit on the line? Both nonprofits and businesses have EIN numbers (social security numbers for organizations), so those could be used to get the card. I think the main reason this happens is because the credit card company wants an actual person to put the ultimate blame on if something happens. But, I think that this should be changed- a company or nonprofit should be able to have its own credit score, which in turn would affect their rates and the amount of credit available to them.