Month: April 2014

Ronald McDonald House needs its superheroes

Ronald McDonald House needs its superheroes

Our Ronald McDonald House Charities blog: Come on in!

By Larry Mathieson, CEO: Ronald McDonald House® Southern Alberta and Ronald McDonald House® Central Alberta

At Ronald McDonald House, we often think of the children who stay at our House as superheroes. We know all too well the tremendous struggles they go through and face them with courage and a resilience that baffles most adults. However, there are some other individuals who are superheroes, and without their support, we could not provide the warm and caring environment that we do for seriously ill children and their families. These superheroes are the people in our community who give their time, expertise and resources to make a difference for our families.

This year, one of the families who volunteers for our Calgary House won the Propellus Calgary Volunteer Family Award. In their own truly humble fashion, when they were accepting the award they wanted to speak mostly about all the other volunteers…

View original post 505 more words

Does giving to charity make you wealthy?


          Anne Frank wrote “No one has ever become poor by giving” –but is it possible that giving can make you wealthy? For centuries a number of religious and philosophical texts have described the relationship between giving or being charitable and the generation of personal prosperity. In general there is a lot of evidence and research that describes that the wealthier you are the more likely you are to give bigger gifts to support important causes, locally, nationally and/or internationally. Is there any science to back up the religious and philosophical teachings that might suggest that the relationship between generosity and prosperity goes both ways? Brook (2007) in a paper titled Does Giving Make us prosperous? points out:” A large majority of Americans give of their money and their time. Most estimates place the percentage of U.S households that make charitable contributions each year at about 75%, and the percentage that volunteer about 55 percent.”  Brooks in his research goes on to describe:”… charity and prosperity are mutually reinforcing. That is of obvious importance for nonprofit research and management: It gives much greater importance to the role of fundraising in the nonprofit economy, suggesting that it is far more than a simple means to an end- it may be an engine of benefit in and of itself.”  Brooks does have an explanation as to how this phenomenon may be created: Many psychologists believe that charitable behavior can provide a productive focus in people’s lives, which enhances their confidence and self-esteem –and consequently their likelihood of prospering.”

           I don’t think most of the people I know give because they want to prosper; actually I think most would describe just the opposite. They would describe their giving or generosity is designed towards giving without any expectation of a return. Interestingly Brooks (2007, pp409-410) concludes:”…many philosophical and religious teaching have asserted that it is charity that leads to prosperity. This article has sought to test the direction of this relationship, and has found strong evidence that money giving does in fact, influence income. “For those who believe that real prosperity is really related to happiness, there is certainly research to suggest that giving can create some happiness.  Dunn, E.W.  et. al. (2008) thought that spending money on other people may have a more positive impact on happiness than spending money on oneself. When these authors considered this question they found that;” …spending more of one’s income on others predicted greater happiness both cross-sectionally (in a nationally representative survey study) and longitudinally (in a field study of windfall spending). “

        So there you have it-giving to charity can make you both prosperous and happy. Two more reasons to support your favorite cause.



Brooks, A,C. (2007) Does giving make us prosperous? Journal of Economics and Finance: Vol. 3 N.1; pp.


Dunn, E, W. Aknin ,L,B & Norton ,M.(2008) Spending Money on Others Promotes Happiness; Science 21

         March 2008: Vol. 319 no. 5870 pp. 1687-1688 DOI: 10.1126/science.1150952

5 More Great On-line Resources for Charity Leaders


            I never feel that you  can know enough or learn enough about how to do a better job leading the organization you work for.  The great thing about being a professional or leader in this age is the abundance of information and material for learning that is available as close as on your phone, tablet or laptop. Here are a few more organizations I frequently check out as a source of new ideas.



          Great website with blog-posts about everything to do with branding, marketing or communications for the nonprofit sector. The organization provides an interesting service to professionals working in the sector called “AskCharity”. The service is described as :”  AskCharity is a free service designed to help journalists and charities work together. Journalists can use it to find case studies, spokespeople and information from a wide range of charities. Charities can use it to build their media contacts and coverage.”

The Chronicle of Philanthropy

             This has to be the ultimate newspaper for Fundraisers. I have had a subscription for a while, but if you don’t want to jump in and invest right away, follow their website for a while and see if you find the articles to your liking. The website and subscription service covers pretty much anything to do with fundraising and philantrophy.

Imagine Canada

           Even if you are not from Canada this site has some great resources (certainly if you work for a Canadian Charity you will find this site even more helpful).  The organization is a critical support to the Canadian nonprofit sector. On their website they describe themselves in the following manner: ” Imagine Canada is a national charitable organization whose cause is Canada’s charities. Our three broad goals are to strengthen the sector’s collective voice, create opportunities to connect and learn from each other, and build the sector’s capacity to succeed.”  Check out their site to find out more that this organization does for the sector, but also check it out for the resources they post online. They have guides for nonprofits for most of the critical areas important to running a charity.  The organization also publishes the report Canada Survey of Giving, Volunteering and Participating Data which is a great resource to understanding how Canadians give and volunteer. On a frequent basis the organization also publishes its Sector Monitor which tends to provide a lot of great information regarding emerging trends facing the sector. Imagine Canada polls nonprofit leaders and executives from across the country to prepare the report.


           Now Blackbaud is in the business of helping charities, so it should be no surprise that their website is full of valuable resources. The link to their resource section is here:

I am a big fan of their gift range calculator an easy to use, valuable resource to use when planning a capital campaign or even planning out your annual campaign.

I also like Blackbaud’s white papers which are brief “how to” guides and primers. If you are a new leader working for a charity I am sure you will find something useful to you here. Even if you have been in the sector for decades and are planning to implement something new to your organization , like P2P fundraising you’ll find some useful information here.



          Also in the business of helping nonprofits Convio like Blackbaud has a lot of valuable information on their website. Convio was so successful in what they do-that Blackbaud actually bought them a while back. Not unlike the Blackbaud site there are some useful tip sheets and guides for a number of fundraising. Convio does a few reports annually that help us compare ourselves to other charities in the sector. Be sure to check out Convio’s :” Charitable Giving Report,  Peer-to-Peer Benchmarking Report and their Online Benchmarking Report. You will come away with some new ideas but also see how your nonprofit stacks up.


Why doesn’t your charity track its volunteer time?


           I used to think every nonprofit that was supported by volunteers in some way tracked their volunteer’s time. Last week I was on the phone with a colleague from another charity and I asked how they reported the value of their volunteer’s time. “Well we don’t really count or record our volunteer’s time”. This surprised me but I guess there are lots of things that small, often under-resourced nonprofits might not track or measure just because they don’t have the people power to do it. However I was able to find a good post on the Blue Avocado site that provides some good rationales for why your charity might want to start tracking its volunteer’s time.  In the post Walsh (2011) suggests:” Tracking volunteer time: sounds like another chore? Actually it can help you meet match requirements, improve your financial statement presentations, and reduce liability”.  Some grants that are available from our provincial government are matching programs. These programs will often allow calculations of volunteer time contributed to a project to be treated as expenses and are thus eligible for matching. That means plain and simple your volunteer’s time is worth double, the value of their time plus the revenue granted to match the investment.

          One of Walsh’s rationales that resonates with me on a philosophical basis is;” We volunteers appreciate appreciation. We count what we value, so tracking is recognition that volunteer time is important. Recognition is a good investment; it pays off spectacularly.” The article goes on to describe:” Funders and donors want to know what resources your nonprofit already receives and from whom. “Our funders see volunteer inputs as a measure of effectiveness,” In some way not reporting the value volunteers contribute to your organization and delivery of your mission, is underrepresenting the value that your charity creates in your local community. The organization I work for does track volunteer time and the number of actual volunteers. In part we do this to be able to report these numbers, as well as to measure how effective we are in mobilizing people to deliver our services.  We also have other very practical reasons to track these hours (and the number of volunteers) some of our insurance coverage covers our volunteers personally and our clients if there were a case when a volunteers actions caused damage. To have this coverage we need to report the number of volunteers we engage and how much they do for us. To further consider tracking volunteer hours, you could also think of this exercise as a risk management activity. Walsh explains;” Documenting volunteer time can help protect volunteers and the nonprofit. Requiring volunteers to log activity creates a record that may become important evidence in defending the nonprofit or volunteers from allegations of misconduct” The article lists an example in which a charity was able to defend itself in a lawsuit based on its volunteer tracking records.

             All of the rationales provided in the Walsh article are good reasons to track volunteer hours, however probably one of my favorite reasons for volunteer tracking is not specifically described. Volunteer tracking can be a continuous improvement activity. If we deploy more volunteers who invest more time than we did last year, we are getting better at figuring out ways to deploy more resources towards delivering our mission. It is hard to get better at something that you don’t measure your outcomes on, and having the support of volunteers is a outcome.


Walsh, D (2011) Tracking Volunteer Time to Boost Your Bottom Line: A Complete Accounting Guide: Blue 

          Avocado: as retrieved from:

Is your small charity ready for some million dollar gifts?



            A lot of small not for profit organizations and charities, in their wildest dreams they could not imagine receiving a million dollar gift. If a million dollar gift seems inconceivable to your small charity, this doesn’t mean you can’t acquire a gift that is transformational to your organization. Have your leadership team ponder what level of gift could be transformational for your charity. Don’t sell yourself short do a little blue sky thinking here. The Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University published an interesting study assessing institutional readiness to receive million dollar gifts. The study focuses on Universities, it can be hard to compare our small charities fundraising efforts to our local Universities as our organizations and our fundraising program is so different in size and scope. I am sure some of you other nonprofit leaders are thinking the same thing, but bear with me the study does point out some relevant findings (even for a much smaller charity).Some of the findings make a lot of sense, but at least one finding might seem counter-intuitive to some small charity board members or management. A lot of small charities I am familiar with can become concerned that if they do not look poor enough then people won’t make donations to them. I have worked for organizations in which staff or board members were worried that having financial reserves might give the impression to donors that we don’t need their donation. However in this study would not support that type of notion. The researchers found that:” Solid finances attract more gifts. Endowment value in 2001 is positively associated with the number of million dollar gifts received and the value of those gifts.” So in essence it seems that having a lot of money in reserve gave the message that the organization was financially viable and there had been good stewardship of resources.  The researchers went on to describe:” Those that have more get more, according to the Million Dollar Ready Study, which revealed that bigger endowments, more valuable assets and higher levels of government funding at the beginning of the study correlate to big gifts over the 13 year study period.” 

           Another factor which appears to affect the likelihood of receiving million dollar gifts is stability and long tenure in your organizations leadership. The study suggests;” A new president might earn a college or university some headlines, but it’s the long term established leaders who are likely to attract big gifts. According to study results ,having a president in office since the year 2000 is associated with receiving about 18 percent more million dollar gifts than having a president with shorter tenure.”  The study also found that a board that doubled their own giving was likely to create a 5% increase in the number of million dollar gifts.

        Two other quotes that resonated with me, and  are in keeping with the views I described in this post:


“Transformational philanthropy requires a transformational vision, and that vision must be articulated in a way that allows donors to see how student’s lives will be changed.” If your charity is a small charity and not a college, just substitute whatever word you use to describe your user group in this sentence and the meaning is the same for your organization. The researchers go on to describe: “ Invest in excellence and donors will invest in you. As powerful as a strong vision is, it must be partnered by institutional excellence.”


Lilly Family School of Philanthropy (2013) Million Dollar Ready: Assessing the institutional factors the

             lead to transformational gifts: as retrieved from:


More on Social CEOs

Three years ago I was a social media skeptic. I couldn’t really understand what benefit social media could have for a charity, little own why their CEO should be engaged on social media. If you have read some of my other blog posts you can see how radically my perspective has changed. Now I view social media as an important tool for nonprofits and their leaders. A little while ago one of the radio stations I listen to was talking about job positions that are likely to go away in the future and “social media expert” was one of them. Initially I was a little surprised by this, and I am not sure that we will see these types of positions going away in the near future. The reporters rationale for this prediction was that soon professionals, spokespeople and leaders of organizations will really need to become their own “experts” and will need to become adept at managing their own social media for the benefit of their organization. Makes sense, I suppose you don’t see companies posting for email experts or telephone experts, and social media is after all becoming just one more way to communicate with your users and stakeholders.

Getting back to the skeptical about social media thing, since my perspective on social media has changed so much; I am always on the lookout for other charity CEOs who are active on social media. I am most interested about those who share their perspective on it. Now at times reading these blog posts can be a fairly biased study as CEOs who are not active on social media would not be blogging about it, therefore most are likely to view social media in a positive light. Nonetheless I did come across an interesting blog post written by Simon Blake. When describing how social media is changing our landscape Blake (2014) describes;” It shifts how we connect and communicate with those around us and has huge potential to amplify our voice with and on behalf of users. It has created new boundaries between us and our staff, trustees, funders, service users, friends and between our personal, social, private and work interests and lives. It makes us more open to scrutiny, challenge and praise. It potentially makes us ‘fair game’ for the media, for partners, our objectors and our supporters for more hours each day, more days each week and more weeks each year.”

Blake goes on to describe;” Social media also makes it less possible or desirable for us to rely on well-polished press releases, sentences well-crafted by others with perfectly formed opinions.” For the most part I would say I am a fan of well-crafted messages with polish and professionalism. However to Blake’s point there is something to be said about messages and interaction that is a little earthier. Many nonprofit organizations work very closely with and for people. I think there is something that inherently resonates with our stakeholders when they feel they are hearing the “real “story about what we are doing for children, or families. Not the polished messages are not the real story or the truth, but there appears to be an authenticity or a genuineness to content that does not feel so prepared.

Another one of Blake’s quotes that resonated with me personally is:”…social media is revolutionizing the way we lead, the way we live and the way we connect with ourselves and others. It is changing the way we in the voluntary sector expect to achieve change and create the better world we seek. That makes it a big deal.” I think he is right- it is a big deal. Being engaged in social media allows us to hear from stakeholders and amplify our cause’s message in a way that has not been available to us at any other point in history.
Blake makes the further points :”….that is why we must embrace social media as CEOs – leading our organizations to maximize the benefits it brings in helping us achieve the change we seek. Who better to experiment, make mistakes and give others in our organization the permission to do so themselves?” Clearly maximizing the benefits to our organization is an important reason a nonprofit CEO to engage on social media. Additionally as Blake points out, it is a new way to exercise leadership. Managers and leaders have known for some time that if you want your teams to be innovative you must create a culture that does not punish people for making mistakes. As soon as you become overly punitive of mistakes you will shut down any form of risk taking which essentially shuts down creative thinking and innovation. A great way to reinforce your teams willingness to think creatively about better ways to fulfill or maximize you mission is to model some of these things yourself.


Blake,S (2014) Why social media is important for Chief Executives as retrieved from:

Marketing for Charities on the Cheap


            If you have read a few of my earlier blog posts you know that I do think even small nonprofit organizations need to invest in marketing (or maybe I should say small nonprofits especially need to invest in marketing). One book that has some very practical advice on low cost marketing for charities is the text by Levinson, Adkins and Forbes titled Guerrilla Marketing for Nonprofits. Especially useful information on low cost marketing techniques is described in their chapter: Guerrilla Social Media. The authors suggest:” Guerrillas know a good deal when they see one. And social media is a very good deal for guerillas because they focus on reaching individuals instead of merely selling their ideas to markets. With a little time, energy and imagination, nonprofit guerillas deepen relationships with their clients and supporters and increase the frequency of exposure of their message to the people they want to reach by using social media (Levinson et. al. 2010, p.195). The authors have an interesting description of why they think social media is so effective for charities. They describe;” …social media is designed to spread information through relationship networks quickly. It works on the same principle of Six Degrees of Separation. The Six Degrees principle states that people are so interconnected with one another by human social relationships that no one person is ever more than six people connections from any other person on earth. Some researchers believe because of the popular use of social media people are now separated by only three degrees (Levinson et. al. 2010, p.197).  These authors suggest that nonprofit organizations need to consider opportunities to take advantage of this ability to spread information quickly. For example they advise: “The messages of your viral outreach need to be easy to grasp without explanation and easy to pass on to others (p.198). Additionally they suggest;” Give people the content they need to pass on your viral marketing. Provide assets for your audience to make their own videos, allow them to put their pictures in an e-card, anything that helps to put them into the storyline and send to their contacts (p.199).

         Other writers have provided similar observations that social media is changing the way people receive information or are willing to receive information and how charities can use these new preferences to gain support. For example  Miller (2009) point out:” In place of once trusted institutions consumers are increasingly looking for alternative sources of information and advice to help guide the myriad of decisions they make in everyday life, including their purchasing and donating decisions. In particular, in search of authenticity and independence, they are turning to the opposite end of the scale from the big traditional sources. To friends, family and countless others that they have never met, but through the use of online recommendation activities that they treat as informed and trusted peers” (p.366)”. 

              When considering how this change can be responded to Miller (2009) suggests;” We need to move from the direct marketer’s focus of building and mailing mass contact lists and develop new online fundraising products that supporters will want to take to their friends and wider networks themselves. As we flip the funnel and our supporters become a key channel through which we communicate, the professional fundraisers role will increasingly become that of community manager rather than campaign manager, as each community fundraises in that way that works best for them.”

             The fortunate reality for small nonprofits is that visibility and awareness can be achieved at a lower cost than some traditional media. However it is likely a reality that small charities will need to become proficient in using these tools not only because they are cost effective but also because their stakeholders do/will prefer it. Levinson et. al (2010) point out;” The question is not if your organization will use social media , it is more a question of when. Your donors are looking for a more personalized relationship with your nonprofit. New generations of volunteers, donors and clients don’t just prefer social media, the demand it.  Today’s younger generation communicates with one another using social media and texting, not email and snail mail.”


Miller, B. (2009) Community fundraising 2.0-the future of fundraising in a networked society?

         International Journal of Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Marketing. V14, n1: 365-371.

Levinson, J.C, Adkins,F. & Forbes,C. (2010) Guerrilla Marketing for Nonprofits: 250 Tactics to Promote,

           Recruit, Motivate and Raise More Money: Irvine: Entrepreneur Press

Not everything that counts can be counted.


“Not everything that counts can be counted. And not everything that can be counted, counts.” — Albert Einstein

           It is National Volunteer week and last night we were honored to be at the Propellus Volunteer Awards Event last night. We were honored because one of our amazing volunteer families was the recipient of the Volunteer Family of the Year Award. It was awe inspiring to hear Donna talk about her family’s investment making a difference in their community and specifically in making a difference for the children and families we serve. When you nominate a volunteer or a family of volunteers for an award like this it does not take long to itemize the number of amazing things they do for your cause but it is hard to measure and quantify the value or the impact of their investment.  Last year for the 2013 National Volunteer Week economists tried to describe the value of volunteer’s investment of time in Canada. They used the International Labour Organizations definition of what volunteering is. They quote :”[the] (ILO) has defined a volunteer as an individual who performs unpaid, non-compulsory work either through an organization or directly for others outside their own household.” Good definition but it does not really capture the emotional or social nuances of the impact of volunteers.  TD Economics goes on to describe;” In 2011, researchers at Johns Hopkins University estimated that almost one billion people in the world volunteer their time every year.” At a big picture level or a worldwide level the impact of volunteer’s generosity is immense. Even at a national level the impact is staggering. These same economists make projections on the value created in Canada alone. This value they estimate to be a least $50 billion dollars of value to Canadians. The author suggest: “Although individual volunteers may earn more during their regular jobs, they may not use these highly-paid skills in their volunteer activities. In turn, the average wage is a reasonable benchmark to use for our exercise. Based on the hours volunteered and an imputed average hourly wage, the economic value of volunteering in Canada is in the ballpark of an astounding $50 billion each year. This figure, though undoubtedly impressive, is likely a conservative estimate that does not include any capital investment, nor improved skills and attitudes.”

          Assigning a dollar value to volunteer work makes it quantifiable and easier for the average person to come to an understanding of how important volunteers and the volunteer sector is to our nation and in fact our world. But it is unlikely that fiscal calculations will ever fully estimate the true value. Imagine Canada describes;” Counting hours doesn’t show the impact of the volunteer work. And as a result, it gives an incomplete picture of the value of volunteers. For some, the idea of putting a dollar value on involvement belittles the volunteer’s efforts. Many feel the passion and commitment of volunteers is priceless.”  We do count hours in our organization and try to measure the impact of our volunteer’s contribution in as many ways as we can. Heck we even count and record on spreadsheets the number of cookies our volunteer bakers bake for our kids. For example in our Calgary House on average our volunteer bakers bake 10 dozen cookies per day for our families.

          We definitely could never repay our volunteers for what they do for our families but measuring it and reporting it, seems like a small effort to describe the impact. In the summer of 2005 when I started with the organization we had an excel spreadsheet with the names and addresses of 35 volunteers who helped us in the House. Last year when we created our annual report it was staggering to realize that within the year over 1400 people had volunteered, in our House and at our events. Yesterday Donna was writing her acceptance speech (which was amazing) she emailed me to find out how many volunteers had volunteered for the Calgary House in the past year. I almost emailed back 1400 because I figured it couldn’t have changed that much since last year. I asked our volunteer coordinator to do a quick query in our volunteer database. We were both amazed when the database told us 3694 people had volunteered for us in some capacity over the recently ended fiscal year. We are a relatively small charity so realizing in total how many people were helping is a little humbling.

           It is hard to quantify and hard to describe what a difference our volunteers make, but our families and our kids know. At our own volunteer awards night all of our volunteer awards are named after kids who have used our House(s). Each year for each award named after a child, the parents come and give a speech at our event about exactly what the volunteers meant to them. This is a metric that is hard to quantify but like the man said:”… not everything that can be counted, counts”



Imagine Canada (2014) Assigning an economic value to volunteering: company website; as retrieved


TD Economics (2012) An economists case for volunteering,  as retrieved from:

6 great online resources for charity leaders


          In any sector staying abreast of changes in your environment and changes and technology can make the difference for the success of your organization. This is certainly true for the nonprofit sector. Fortunately there are many on-line resources that provide a wealth of information for nonprofit leaders and executives. Here are just a few sites that I find myself checking out on a fairly regular basis to come up with new ideas and stay abreast of changes in technology and trends pertinent to the sector.


Charity Village and Charity Channel’

I first became aware of these sites when I was looking for my first jobs in the nonprofit sector.  Both sites have nonprofit sector job postings and offer job alert features (emails will be sent directly to your in-box for positions meeting your criterion.  Both sites have a library of on line articles and how to guides for a number of issues important to non-profit organizations (e.g. board development, volunteer management, fundraising budgeting, etc.) Charity Channel is a U.S site and Charity Village is Canadian. If we have an opening which is specific to the sector like a fundraising or a program operations role, Charity Village is one of our go-to sites for posting

Nonprofit Hub

This site has some really interesting posts on social media, fundraising, technology relevant to the sector and more. I like this site because at times their writers just seem a little ahead of the curve. Some of their authors are talking about trends that are going to happen before most of us are paying attention to them. They also tend to have great links to articles and material on other sites of interest.

The NonProfit Times

I tend to think of this website as the digital newspaper for the sector. If you are a fan of charities and all aspects of what they do and what it takes to operate them this is a good site for you. Very frequently I come across links on my LinkedIn feed to articles that I think will be really interesting. A good proportion of the time the articles are a link to this website.

Non Profit Technology Network (NTEN)

As the name of the site suggests this website and their related media focuses on the “tech” side of the nonprofit world.  One of the nice things about this site is you can search for resources and links by job/role type. For example you can search for resources for:

 •Communications Staff


 •IT Staff


 •Program Staff

This organization also produces a quarterly journal (NTEN Change: A Quarterly Journal for NonProfit Leaders). It is a visually appealing document with a lot of great material and you can sign up online to receive it for free.  Another value on this site is the organization does research and produces bench mark studies in an few areas of interest to nonprofit leaders- and of course you can also download these studies for free.

Blue Avocado

One of my former board presidents was a big fan on this site; she used it to find a lot of useful information on board development, governance and board training.  I like the site because it covers all aspects of nonprofit management – but I also like it because the organization does not take itself too seriously. After all a name like Blue Avocado- if you weren’t reading about it here you would not necessarily assume it was a site for nonprofit leaders.  They also appear willing to make the odd tongue in cheek post. Today I noticed the post below posted on their front page. I had to go to the Charity Navigator Site for more information- oh right it is April Fools Day.

Charity Navigator Closes

From Lee Taylor, Hayward, California

“We realized it’s stupid to rank nonprofits based on a few unproven management indicators,” said leaders. “We apologize for all the harm we’ve done to good nonprofits.” When reached for comment, a nonprofit spokesperson said, “Ding dong the wicked witch is dead.”