Nonprofit Guide to Going Green

Nonprofit Guide to Going Green

by Ted Hart

ISBN: 9780470529829

Publisher Wiley

Published in Business & Investing/Green Business

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Sample Chapter

Chapter One

Raising Green by Being Green-Charity Fundraising Adrienne D. Capps

What Is "Green Fundraising," and Why Do It?

Green fundraising is the concept that even the fundraising activities of the charitable sector should incorporate techniques, which reduce carbon footprint, are friendlier to the environment, and promote sustainability. But is this really needed? The fundraising efforts of an organization are typically lean and represent just a portion of its overall operations. Examining your organization's fundraising efforts and transitioning them to include green techniques can contribute to increasing revenues and reducing expenses and serve as a communications tool to build awareness of your organization and present it as a sustainability leader in your community.

There are more than 1.5 million nonprofit organizations in the United States alone and easily more than 2 million worldwide. Combined, the charitable sector is an economic powerhouse. In 2006, the U.S. nonprofit sector was large enough to rival the sixth largest economy in the world, surpassing the economies of Brazil, Russia, Canada, Mexico, and South Korea. In the same study, total expenditures of all 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations examined (U.S. designation), together numbering more than 835,000, was nearly $945 billion. For the entire U.S. nonprofit sector, the annual total expenditures are estimated to be approximately $1.8 trillion.

It is estimated that a well-run charity will spend approximately 20 percent of its budget on fundraising. Using this measure, nonprofit spending, on average, totals more than $360 billion annually. Fundraising activities specifically and charitable spending generally make significant impacts on the economy.

Environmentally conscious charities are encouraged to examine, understand, and make improvements to the way they fundraise, utilizing more environmentally sustainable methods. Given the total expenditures of this industry around the world, combined efforts will result in a more sustainable future for our planet.

The discussion to follow and the organizations used as examples for this chapter were chosen because they are making changes in a systematic and thoughtful manner. These organizations are formally and informally surveying their staff, donors, volunteers, and board members for their input and feedback. They are researching articles and discussing the greening of their fundraising programs with colleagues. When they make changes, they are being thoughtful in their planning over a longer time horizon, not attempting to do it all at once or all overnight. A process that is thoughtful, deliberate, and has both staff and leadership support will most assuredly put your organization onto a smoother road toward success.

This chapter is organized into four sections that address the main techniques a nonprofit uses to raise funds:

1. Annual fund/direct mail

2. Grant writing

3. Fundraising Events

4. Major/planned gifts program

Appendix A presents lists of resources and tools that will help in the transition to a greener fundraising program

Greening Your Annual Fund/Direct Mail Program

Traditional Fundraising Method

A typical direct mail program consists of, at a minimum, these components: a compelling letter, a pledge form, and a return envelope mailed together in bulk to current and lapsed donors as well as prospects several times per year. Depending on the size of and resources available to the nonprofit organization sending these letters, the annual fund or direct mail program can be highly sophisticated and creative by using list segmentation, premiums or small tokens given with the letter or after a donation is made, irregularly shaped packages to draw attention or call to action, a promise or other compelling language used on the outer envelope to encourage the receiver to open it immediately. It is hoped that the organization, no matter its size, keeps statistics on response rates in order to more effectively analyze and test different packages, premiums, text, and other variables.

The history of direct mail is older than one might think-historians have dated its earliest examples back to the twelfth century in Japan. More recently, abolitionists in Great Britain used direct mail in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In the United States, however, the modern form of the direct mail program that we all know today began after World War II, when national nonprofit organizations, such as the National Easter Seal Society, were looking for new donation streams. Direct mail did not truly catch on until after the creation of the national zip code system in the 1960s. The popularity and success of direct mail continued to thrive as computers came on the scene in the 1970s. Before that, maintaining and utilizing lists was costly and time consuming.

The growth of the nonprofit sector, both in the number of organizations and in their individual sizes, over the next couple of decades continued to fuel the fire in the rapid development of the direct mail industry. Today direct mail fundraising makes up at least one-fifth of the more than $250 billion contributed annually to the 1.5 million+ nonprofit organizations in the United States.

According to a survey published by Target Analysis Group, a Boston-based consultancy firm, donations made to nonprofit organizations in 2007 did not even keep pace with inflation, growing by an average of 1.4 percent. The number of donors declined by a median 1.4 percent from the previous year, and organizations acquired a median 6.2 percent fewer new donors. The only silver lining was that the 72 organizations surveyed still raised more money with individual donations growing by a median 3.9 percent from the previous year. Target Analysis Group gave several reasons for the downward trend, including the fact that the number of people who grew up around the time of World War II is dwindling, as is the growth of direct mail fundraising in the United States.

Fundraising Challenge

The challenge for direct mail fundraising is plain on one front: how to acquire and keep a large base of supporters who make annual gifts. On a second front, with the advent of social media and the increased use of technology such as BlackBerry And the iPhone, how do nonprofit organizations reach prospects who are not responding to direct mail efforts?

Greening your direct mail program offers some unique answers. Many organizations have already become greener without realizing it.

Transition to a New, Green Paradigm

In the last few years, has your organization sent an e-mail solicitation as a cost-cutting method? Have you tried to sell tickets to an upcoming fundraising gala by posting to Facebook or LinkedIn? If so, you have started to transition toward becoming more green without realizing it (or maybe becoming green was one of many reasons you made the change) while reducing expenses at the same time.

If your organization is at a stage of considering using social media, the Internet, and e-mail to raise annual fund dollars, this section will help you. The key, once again, is transition. Implementing new techniques too quickly or changing your program too radically will not only be difficult for your organization to handle and potentially not sustainable but may confuse or even anger your donors. Slow and steady change wins the race. Take time to talk internally to staff and volunteers and externally to donors and prospects about the changes your organization intends to make in its direct mail program. Get their input, and incorporate it into your plans.

In a phased transition to greening your direct mail program, your organization may start by streamlining its direct mail package before jumping right into e-mail or social media solicitations. This method may be particularly relevant to larger, national organizations that need time to make large changes or whose volunteers, staff, and donors are concerned about the success of such online campaigns.

When you are planning your next mailed annual fund appeal, take a look at each piece of the package. Are there parts or whole pieces that can be eliminated, made smaller, or otherwise streamlined? Are you using recycled papers and other materials? Is your printer or print shop using environmentally friendly inks, dyes, and other chemicals?

Before making changes, however, talk to your board members, volunteers, donors, and staff. What are their thoughts on changing the look of your direct mail packages by downsizing or eliminating pieces? Is it meaningful to them for your organization to use recycled paper and natural dyes? If so, you should let them know by printing the message "100 percent recycled paper" on the outer envelope or pledge form. Doing this may even serve as an example in your community and garner increased support by demonstrating that your organization is a thoughtful, environmentally-focused leader. Note that eliminating pieces or making them smaller may result in cost savings, but use of environmentally friendly inks and dyes and recycled paper may increase expenses slightly. However, over time as more and more of us move in this direction, these costs will come down.

CASE STUDY: UNITED WAY OF YORK COUNTY, SOUTH CAROLINA The United Way of York County, South Carolina has incorporated a number of greening techniques into its fundraising program, including its direct mail campaigns. The competitive advantage, however, has come from taking the time to talk to external constituents before it made a change.

You may be familiar with your local United Way, which represents other non-profit organizations in the community and solicits donations for them through work-place campaigns. Representatives from the United Way make brief presentations, generally 10 to 15 minutes in length, to a roomful of employees at a corporation and distribute pledge forms, brochures, and other materials with information about giving, the United Way mission, and the organizations it represents. Employees take the information and, with luck and motivation, return a pledge form or donation by mail or designate a recurring gift through payroll deduction.

The United Way of York County, South Carolina, "greened" this process by eliminating informational brochures that usually got left behind on chairs after the meeting. At the suggestion of a company employee, the organization created a table tent that could be displayed in a break room, lobby, or kitchen. It had specific information about the United Way campaign that could be read easily and quickly. The organization also reduced a three-page pledge form to a one-page, black-and-white, self-mailing return device (see Figures 1.1 and 1.2). This actually streamlined its internal office procedures just in the ease of handling one page instead of three. In addition, the organization began promoting the opportunity to make donations and fulfill pledges online at its Web site. These three small changes have added up to big savings in paper and printing costs.

The organization first made the change in 2008 after informally surveying volunteers and donors over the course of a few months. People reported that the forms were long and cumbersome and that the brochures did not provide any additional useful information beyond the presentation and the United Way's Web site address. In the last year, the United Way of York County, South Carolina, reports that the changes have been so well received that it will continue using the one-page form and information table tents and plan to be more aggressive about promoting the Web site for online donations and pledge fulfillment.

Organizations can eliminate mailed annual fund appeals and conduct them wholly online in any number of creative ways. Your organization can send an e-mail solicitation, also called an e-solicitation, using virtually the same text and techniques as a direct mail package. If your organization has never sent a mass e-mail to its constituents, you will need to consult your information technology department or a consultant. Technology issues that may arise from ensuring your message does not end up in a junk folder, formatting e-mail addresses, and using images, among others, will need to be considered. See Appendix A for a list of organizations that can help in this area, including and the Taproot Foundation.

A great deal of attention is being paid to the subject of how to use social media networking sites, such as Facebook and LinkedIn. Creating a Facebook group or cause can build awareness about a fundraising campaign (and events) and drive prospective donors to your organization's Web site for more information and to make gifts online. An individual's Facebook friends can see the person's involvement with your organization, and he or she can receive updates to fundraising efforts through messages you can post to the group or cause page. Starting a discussion about your fundraising campaign on your organization's page(s) is similarly effective.


The local San Diego Chapter of the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network (YNPN) has had the opportunity to start a green annual fund program from its inception. With a budget of about $10,000 annually, YNPN San Diego is run by an all-volunteer group of nonprofit professionals just getting started in the nonprofit sector. The group quickly recruited 15 board members and organized themselves into eight committees. Board members and volunteers stay connected on e-mail and, increasingly, via social media sites like Facebook and LinkedIn. What the organization quickly discovered after its inception in April 2008 was that a network of emerging leaders in the nonprofit sector in and around San Diego was virtually nonexistent. To build awareness and to fundraise for YNPN San Diego, they turned to the tools they had been using themselves to communicate-namely social media sites. First, they created a Facebook group and in January 2009, after receiving their 501(c) (3) status, started a cause. The goal was to raise $1,000 on Facebook within four months, by their first anniversary in April 2009-and people started to get creative. One of the volunteers pledged $100 if 100 people joined the organization's cause. A few board members paid their board dues of $100 per year through Facebook, either by paying it themselves or raising the funds through friends in order to raise awareness and publicize their support of YNPN San Diego to their Facebook friends. The first donation for the campaign came in on January 19, 2009, and YNPN San Diego surpassed the $1,000 goal on March 18, 2009, one month ahead of schedule. As of April 29, 2009, YNPN San Diego had 224 members in its group, and 105 people joined its cause with a fundraising total of $1,204.

YNPN San Diego completed its first fundraising plan in April 2009. It includes many references to conducting their fundraising program in a 100 percent green manner, including continuing to raise funds in creative ways through Facebook. An excerpt from the "About YNPN San Diego" section outlines the group's commitment to green fundraising: "YNPN San Diego continues to use its listserv, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter as its primary modes of communication focusing on being a `green' organization." An excerpt from the "Online Networking & Resources" section explains their goals in greater detail:

YNPN San Diego uses the latest and greatest technology to help manage our internal communications and network with our members. This multi-faceted strategy is fun and green, as well as time and cost-efficient. YNPN San Diego continues to examine new communications technologies and at this time you can find YNPN San Diego using the following tools: listserv, blog, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Idealist and more. The use of social media has helped YNPN San Diego spread like wildfire and become a model organization for nonprofit social media use. Through its website, YNPN San Diego also provides pages on resources related to next gen nonprofit issues as well as career information. We believe that these resources provide support to our members by creating a small clearinghouse of information for our membership that helps to strengthen the San Diego nonprofit community.


Excerpted from "Nonprofit Guide to Going Green" by Ted Hart. Copyright © 0 by Ted Hart. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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