Real world nonprofit finance matters, and real world thinking about strategies for financial, programmatic, and leadership sustainability. This column is written by Steve Zimmerman, principal of Spectrum Nonprofit Services.
"Some problems are so complex that you have to be highly intelligent and well informed to be undecided about them," said Laurence Peter. Sometimes nonprofit "impact" can feel like one of these complex issues. Blue Avocado columnist Steve Zimmerman helps us out with an excerpt adapted from his new book, The Sustainability Mindset: Using the Matrix Map to Make Strategic Decisions. (co-authored with Jeanne Bell):
Nonprofit sustainability lies in making ongoing strategic decisions that account for both mission impact and financial viability. In Blue Avocado we've written about using the Matrix Map to visually illustrate how an organization’s programs work together to meet this dual bottom line. But coming to a shared understanding of "impact" is difficult, and assessing impact requires candid conversations that happen too rarely but can be very powerful.
In this article we untangle -- or unpack -- the various strands of meaning that combine into impact. In particular, it's useful to distinguish between impact assessment and program evaluation . . .
This handout illustrates income tax points that can be included with materials provided to auction participants and their advisors. It can help prevent negative reactions resulting from common charitable auction misconceptions, while helping donors achieve desired benefits available from this type of fundraising. Organizations can select questions they feel comfortable including with auction materials, and give the handout to participants as they arrive.
At the end of this article is a link to download this document as a Word file to make it easy to customize.
In order to help inform you regarding federal income tax issues associated with a charitable auction, we are providing you with this information as a courtesy for educational purposes. This is not legal or tax advice. Consult IRS resources or your tax advisor for additional information and personal guidance.
Q: May I claim a market value deduction for property that has appreciated in value and that I contribute for sale at a charitable auction?
The answer may depend on the type of property contributed, how you used the property, and how long you owned the property. For most property contributed for auction sale, a tax deduction is typically limited to the lesser of the items' current value or your tax basis, which is usually the amount you paid for the item if you acquired the property by purchase. See IRS Publication 526, Charitable Contributions, or consult a tax professional regarding situations where appreciated property may be deductible at market value.
Q: May I claim a tax deduction for property I purchase at a charitable auction?
You may be able to claim a charitable income tax deduction for the excess of the amount you pay for an auction item over the item’s current market value. But in order to claim . . .
Thank you for your generous donation of two new hand-made twin bed quilts for sale at our upcoming auction. We did not provide any goods or services in exchange for this contribution.
Favorite Charity, Inc. is recognized as a tax-exempt public charity under Section 501(c) (3) of the internal Revenue Code. Contributions are deductible to the extent allowed by law.
a) Financial information about this organization and a copy of its license are available from the State Solicitation Licensing Branch at 000) 000-0000. The license is not an endorsement by the State. [Note: state laws vary related to such licenses.]
Calculating overhead rates and managing overhead expense are important staff roles. Board members are not required to know how do staff accounting work, but we do need to bring an informed perspective to our oversight:
Harvard's indirect cost rate is 68% while Iowa State's is 48%. Should the board members of either institution be concerned? As a alumnus of one or the other, should these numbers affect our donations? As a parent of a high school senior, do these numbers influence where we want our child to go? Should they?
Amid the crosstalk about nonprofit overhead, board members and staff do need to understand what the conversation is really about, and how to interpret "what is overhead" for your own organization. Here are eight key things to know about overhead:
1. Apples, oranges, and alligators: One of the more surprising facts about overhead is that while it seems that everyone is talking about it, everyone is actually talking about the different things. The word "overhead" isn't an accounting term, so different people define it differently.
Some accounting terms which are similar to “overhead” and often confused with it are:
In one study, respondents were asked which of the above was the closest synonym . . .
Auctions are known for two characteristics: they raise money (sometimes a lot), and they are a ton of work. Blue Avocado contributor and CPA Dennis Walsh gives us a complete, handy compliance guide, and even better: five sample forms to make sure your wording is right:
Charitable auctions have stood the test of time as a great way to leverage our consumption-oriented culture for the benefit of nonprofit efforts. And while auctions have been traditionally held at special events, online auctions have recently increased in popularity, making it easier for volunteers and allowing people to bid from their homes and over an extended period of time.
But whether an auction is live, silent, or online, there are compliance issues. This article presents an overview of key charitable auction compliance issues and how to use donor education as part of compliance. With this background, and the sample worksheets and forms included, you can more easily meet reporting responsibilities . . .
Fundraisers never lack for advice. One board member tells you that foundations should be giving you money, while another thinks we should talk to Bill Gates. The staff thinks you should raising money from corporations. And the friend you run into at the grocery store tells you to raise money via Twitter or on Kickstarter.
The reality is that the board members should be raising money from foundations and major donors. The staff and the executive director should be raising money from corporations. The friend should be raising money for you on Twitter and Kickstarter.
So actually, fundraising isn't about you raising money, it's about all of them raising money. And your job isn't about so much for you to raise money; your job is about getting all of them to raise money.
And right there is the link between fundraising and leadership.
In fact, fundraising has more in common with volunteer management and community organizing than it does with technical knowledge about prospect research or grantwriting skills. Let's start calling fundraisers what they are: organizational leaders and movement builders. And fundraisers: let's start acting like what we really are!
* Are you an executive who followeda founder or longtime executive director with a compelling story to tell? Much of the literature on nonprofit executive transition has focused on the departing executive director. What about the trials, tribulations and triumphs of the person who comes next? We want to interview you for a First Person Nonprofit article; you can choose whether to use your name or stay anonymous. Please send an email and include your contact information and time zone!
* Discounts and free stuff for the next Blue Avocado Bonus Issue: Got a truly unusual and nationally accesible opportunity our 64,000 readers would love? Let us know! Email Susan Sanow susan at blueavocado dot org.
* In this issue: Ten Things Your Board Is Doing Right And Doesn't Even Realize It, Fundraising in Communities of Color, a quick DIY project with bylaws, and a guest humor columnist about a board comprised of cows (yes, cows). And news from our sponsor, American Nonprofits. -- Jan Masaoka and the Blue Avocado team
Almost all research on fundraising is done on mainstream nonprofits, and almost all advice and guides on fundraising are addressed implicitly to mainstream nonprofits. Yet because they have different development trajectories, nonprofits in communities of color often have fundamentally different assets and deficits than mainstream organizations of the same size and age.
For instance, imagine two afterschool tutoring programs, each 15 years old, and each with a budget of $600,000. The mainstream program is likely to have been founded by a group of prominent volunteers, mostly white, mostly upper middle income. Today it gets about 70% of its funding from foundations and 30% from individual donors. From its base of founding volutneer donors, the organization had strong writing skills and connections that positioned them for both grantwriting and fundraising events.
In contrast, a parallel tutoring program in an African American or Latino community, for example, is likely to have been founded by a group of community activists, mostly African American or Latino, mostly middle and lower-middle income. With the same budget as the mainstream program, this program gets 95% of its funding from local government, 4% from fundraising events, and 1% from foundations. Its founders had the political connections and savvy to obtain government funding and as an anchor organization in a low-income community, their continued involvement with broader community affairs continues to support their funding strategy as well.
This survey of 906 nonprofit finance professionals reveals some surprises about these crucial-but-often-overlooked staff, looking at questions ranging from educational backgrounds, workload, board and CEO understanding of finance, and CEO compensation:
Nonprofit finance scandals make for eye-catching headlines: whether about misused public funds, egregiously high salaries, constituents not served, or reserves squandered. But while nonprofit finance scandals make the headlines, the people who manage the funds -- nonprofit finance professionals -- are largely overlooked. And while studies have looked at the tenures and experiences of executive directors (CEOs) and development directors, few have looked at the finance professionals in our nonprofits.
Despite the occasional and highly-publicized problem, the very fact that such problems make the news testifies to the infrequency of such occurrences. Nonprofits are relatively free of financial scandal and abuse, demonstrating both professional expertise and a strong sense of values. But today even the best-managed nonprofits are working not only to steward charitable funds, but to manage earned-income operations, to re-invent their business models, to strengthen the leadership functions of governance, and to maximize the use of funds for mission and values.
Finance professionals are at the core of these efforts.