With a Little Help from our Friends at Willamette Week

It’s crunch time for nonprofits in Portland.  The last six weeks of the year are some of the busiest for bringing in donations for our organizations.  For most nonprofits, it’s the time the annual appeals are sent by mail and/or email to our supporters asking for the year end gifts.  We tell our donors stories of our successes which we could not have achieved without their loyal support, and we tell them that there are still more needs in our community, so we ask them for more financial largess.  We hope that our message is compelling, and we look forward to getting news that gifts are rolling in, and then start writing and mailing thank you notes when it happens.

In Portland, some organizations that planned ahead get extra help from Portland’s weekly newspaper, The Willamette Week, by being included in its annual Give! Guide.  The Give! Guide started in 2004, and in its first year, it helped raise $20,000 for the organizations if featured.  Since that time, the Give! Guide has helped raise $5.33 million for local organizations.  This year, Willamette Week hopes to add another $1.75 million to that total.  They have already brought in over $500 thousand, mostly through online giving (98%), and expect to get the majority of their donations in the last two weeks of December.

The Give! Guide is broken down into eight categories of organizations:  Animals, Arts, Community, Education, Environment, Health & Wellness, Social Action, and Youth.  Donations are set at a $10 minimum, and in many cases, donors make gifts to three or more organizations.  Those organizations featured in the Give! Guide have a nice photo with an accompanying paragraph about what the organization does, how you can help it, and a testimonial.

To be included in the Give! Guide, your organization needs to apply online in the spring.  This year, 253 organizations applied, but only 110 were chosen by a committee of three Willamette Week employees and two individuals outside the business.  Just like when you are writing a grant, you need to make your story compelling, and you need to be accessible to online supporters.  The majority of the people Willamette Week tries to reach is under 35 and grew up with technology.

Around the same time the applications are judged, the newspaper asks for nominations for its annual Skidmore Prizes.  Each year, four prizes are awarded to exceptional nonprofit employees under the age of 35.  Along with the honor of the award, the winners receive a $500 dollar check.  In most cases, that is a nice chunk of cash for a nonprofit employee.

I think the Give! Guide is a great thing for the nonprofit community, but I will admit that one aspect of it bothers me a bit, only because I am a bit of a purist, and I mentioned it to Nicholas Johnson, the Director of the Give! Guide when I interviewed him for this post.  To get more people to donate, the Give! Guide provides incentives for giving with the help of local businesses.  Even when you give at the lowest levels, you receive a card with coupons for discounts and free products.  At higher levels of giving, you get beer, wine, and other items delivered to your home, and in some cases, by the editor Mark Zusman, or publisher Richard Meeker of the Willamette Week.  When a donor gets something in return for their donation, it lowers the value of their gift, and it can foul up your figures if you itemize on your taxes.  In his defense, Johnson told me the majority of the donors do not itemize on their tax returns due to their age, and the newspaper does provide the cash value information for the items they give to the donors.  I felt better after learning about the transparency.

When it’s all said and done, I think that the Give! Guide is a great help to the local nonprofit community.  It brings in more money for a number of organizations, it helps them tell their stories to more people, and it provides organizations an opportunity to start a lasting relationship with younger donors.  The organizations need to do their part and engage these opportunities, because not all organizations will be in next year’s edition.  According to Johnson, Give! Guide tries to include 30% new organizations each year.

A special thanks to Nicholas Johnson for his time talking to me and his hard work putting the Give! Guide together.

This was originally posted on cnrg-portland.org on 12/13/2012

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About greatergoodfundraising

Richard Freedlund has been active in the nonprofit sector in a number of ways, both professionally and as a volunteer. He is the founder of Greater Good Fundraising, a business that helps schools and organizations raise money for their programs while accomplishing something positive for the community. After living in Oregon for 27 years, he has returned to his hometown of Rockford, Illinois and hopes to make his mark on the nonprofit sector there. He is the father of a talented jazz musician and the son of philanthropic parents that continue to support multiple causes. To contact Richard for consulting, fundraising, or speaking opportunities, email greatergoodfundraising@gmail.com or reach him on Twitter.com @ggfundraise
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