Finance & Strategy

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.

photo of Steve Zimmerman

The New Fundraising Frontier: Impact Investing

Capital campaigns can be a slog! Most organizations face similar challenges: donor fatigue, the time it takes to raise funds, rising development costs, and concerns about falling short of your fundraising goals. But what if there were another way to raise funds for your cause?

Enter the world of impact investing! You may have read about this idea as it's starting to gain popularity, but it's been around since early 1970's. Ford Foundation started investing in nonprofits as a way of expanding capacity. In fact, the Nonprofits Insurance Alliance Group, the publisher of Blue Avocado, was an early recipient of a $500,000 loan at 2% interest in the 1980s as part of the Ford Foundation's foray into impact investing. NIAC paid that loan back with interest and 30 years later provides insurance protection to 18,000 other nonprofits and has grown to nearly $500 million in assets.

In-Kind Fundraising: A Great Way to Expand Your Budget

You're desperate. You're planning a fundraising event but don't have the funds to book a venue or a caterer. So what do you do?

First, breathe! Then, start thinking about options for support in a new way. The truth is, often your problem is actually an opportunity since you'd be amazed at how much easier it is to score in-kind support instead of cash contributions. Yet whether you secure a gift or eliminate an expense from your budget, both benefit your work equally.

Success with in-kind fundraising is all about how you ask. So how do you go about enlisting this support?

Scarcity or Abundance? An Experiment in Collaborative Fundraising

As a recovering lawyer, I wasn't professionally trained in development when I became an executive director three years ago, yet my Board expected me to get to work

When I began exploring the field, I quickly learned there are a lot of recognized best practices. One of the most tried and true ground rules to successful fundraising is that resources are limited and nonprofits are plentiful, so keep your strategies and funder contacts close to your chest.

But I soon began to wonder: what if embracing abundance instead of scarcity yields both better fundraising results and impact?

Succeeding When You’re Small: Lessons Learned from

Although the Blue Avocado audience consists of community-based organizations, we can still learn from the experience of those who started a nonprofit out of their basement and grew to be nationally recognized leaders in the field. is one such organization. Started by Charles Best in 2000, it's a crowdfunding platform for public school teachers. The nonprofit was started in his own Bronx classroom when Charles needed resources for his students, and he found a way to connect people who want to help.

Achieving Equity: We Need a New Approach to Funding

Lately there has been a lot of focus on the issue of equity. "Equity" is obviously a broad term that encompasses a range of issues including income and wealth inequality, as well as economic opportunity. But at its core, equity is ultimately about creating a level playing field and ensuring that everyone has an honest chance at achieving their potential regardless of their race, gender, economic status, or zip code.

The Best Route to Approaching Donors: Hand-Head-Heart

As someone who began her career as a fund raiser and migrated to become a funder as head of a large corporate foundation, I have a somewhat unique vantage point on the struggle many nonprofits endure when engaging funders and major donors to support their cause. In speaking with executive and development officers who are charged with fundraising, I find it most helpful to convey some simple principles that I applied to maximize the return on the time and energy I put into achieving optimal fund development results.

Two free webinars help take your organization to the next level

What will you do to begin again this fall?

Of course it would be great to be one of those organizations that has tons of resources to attend conferences throughout the year and plan long, leisurely retreats to learn the latest best practices. But we live in the real world - one where we're often picking cheese puffs off the floor of our car as we drive from one obligation to the next. Using money for best practices means fewer dollars for other things (like paying the staff or paper for the printer, for example).

That's why the free webinars we're offering are so valuable. Not only can you enjoy them from the comfort of your office, but the price means you'll be able to sign up board members and key staff members as well! Back by popular demand, Your Part Time Controller will share review the FASB Accounting Standards Update (ASU) 2016-14, which marks the largest change to nonprofit accounting guidelines in over 20 years.

Second up this month will be our third in our fundraising series. Darian Rodriguez Heyman will teach you how to build a fundraising board.

Sign up for these two terrific events happening in October.


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