Great Questions Asked by Great Nonprofit Managers

How well do your managers ask questions? Some might not even give any weight to this or consider it a skill. You may not even see “question asking” on any list of managerial expectations. However, asking the right questions, and the tough questions, is an effective part of a manager’s job which implies it may require more attention.

Being a manager isn’t easy. Managers have finite resources and growing task lists. They must handle people and budgets with equal finesse, and in a nonprofit organization, also manage public perception. More importantly, they must be willing to ask the hard questions and to listen and learn from the answer they get as they explore ways in which to enhance and build their organization.

Asking the Hard Questions

The difficult questions are the ones whose answers may yield an unpleasant reality for the asker. In other words, you may not like what you hear! When it comes to nonprofit organizations, these three questions are at the top of the list of the hard questions that must be asked for organizations to ensure they’re doing the best they can to fulfill their mission.

1. Am I doing my job well? Followed by, are we doing our jobs well?

Your “job” at a nonprofit is more than the list of things you are responsible for. It’s also your job to help the organization maintain and achieve its mission, to build public perception and awareness, and to help keep a positive perception in the public’s eye. It’s not an easy task. Your responsibilities in this mix may be weighted more heavily towards one area or another depending on your role in an organization. But you still need to ask if you are doing your job.

Reviewing organization-wide goals and plans and assessing how well you are achieving key performance indicators can help you answer this question.

2. Are we adapting to changing circumstances?

As the proverb goes, “change is the only constant in life.” Situations, personnel, and other facts of nonprofit life can change over time. Organizations that can grow, adapt, and change are ones that thrive.

Look around your organization. How well have you adapted to changing circumstances? If your nonprofit began with one specific task in mind, have you been able to adapt to meet new challenges?

Examine systems, technology, personnel, geography, and other factors. Each area influences how well your nonprofit can do its job. Those that change with the times are those that can continue to grow, prospect, and help others.

3. How well are we using our resources?

The push within most nonprofits is to find ever-increasing sources of donations and funding to fuel growth. Looking at how well you are using your current resources isn’t easy. It can be troubling to realize that you’ve overspent on a marketing campaign or haven’t invested other resources wisely. Yet it’s only by asking these questions and facing the truth that you can find better ways to use existing resources.

Resources aren’t limited to funds, either. They can also refer to personnel. It’s a good idea to look at your team and make sure that you are allowing individuals to work to their strengths. Place them in positions where their unique talents can help the organization thrive. Outsourcing tasks like audit prep or nonprofit accounting can free your team up to do the work they were hired to do. Make sure that you are using people as well as financial resources in the best possible way.

Practice, Practice, Practice

Asking questions is a skill and can be improved with focus and practice. Managers are in place to find ways the organization can function more effectively. The best way to determine this is to ask questions about the people, process and systems being used. Getting curious about why things are done a certain way and if there’s a better approach only makes for a stronger manager, thought process and organization. Asking questions in a way that does not make others defensive is a great skill to hone in on too. As you practice this skill, and focus on getting better in this area not only improves your management style, it sets an example for others to learn and grow too.


Big Data, Big Worries: Ethics and Nonprofit Financial Management

Does the amount of data your nonprofit collects from donors, members, and other supporters worry you? It should. If you have big data, you have big worries, as well as responsibilities. An important part of nonprofit financial management is securing and managing the data that your nonprofit collects so that you safeguard the interests of all.

You Collect More Data Than You Think

At first glance, you may think you don’t collect all that much data. Sure, you’ve got a mailing list on file of people interested in your nonprofit’s work, and email addresses for that monthly newsletter to send out, but doesn’t everyone?

Consider how people donate to your nonprofit. If you accept credit card donations over the internet, website security becomes critical to prevent criminals from stealing data from your donors. Passwords may also be important if you have a member-only area on your site where you host forums. When you really sit down to analyze your organization’s data collection methods, you’ll quickly realize that you’ve got more data than you initially thought.

Keeping Data Safe: Creating a Data Ethics Policy

Register for this Webinar Now: The New Roadmap for Nonprofit Finance

Many organizations are creating their own data use and security ethics policies to help safeguard customer privacy and maintain the high level of trust they’ve worked so hard to build with their constituents.

To create your own organizational data ethics policy, follow these five tips.

  1. Establish data-use goals: Knowing exactly why your organization collects data, and the use to which you will put it in the future, is the starting point for a data ethics policy. You’ve got to know the reason why you’re collecting the data in the first place to establish guidelines about its use. Some common reasons for collecting customer data include future marketing, such as requesting that interested people sign up for your email list so that you can send them donation solicitations later.
  2. Create a privacy policy: Privacy policies are ubiquitous on websites but an important part of your data security and ethics work. You can create a privacy policy in several ways. There are privacy policy generators online that help you build a simple boilerplate privacy policy for your website. You can also ask your legal counsel for a recommendation. Once you create your privacy policy, post it online.
  3. Assess the risks: Take a data inventory to understand exactly what data you have stored and what the risks are of maintaining it. Know what you have to work with, how and where it is stored, and who has access to it. Lastly, determine who controls access to the data and the steps your organization has taken to safeguard it.
  4. Add safeguards: Every day it seems that hackers have found new ways to break into websites and steal personal information from customers. It may be worthwhile to consult with an internet security expert to make sure that your website and network have the latest security safeguards in place. Updating software and plugins for websites, adding Akismet to WordPress-based sites to screen for virus-filled spam, and using other simple measures may go a long way in preventing theft and security breaches.
  5. Conduct due diligence: If third parties have access to your data, such as mailing house or email service providers, do you conduct due diligence to ensure that their safety procedures match or exceed your own? Few organizations give much thought to who in other companies may use or access their data. Make sure that you have steps in place to screen companies and understand their data security policies. Common third-party vendors who may access your data include marketing agencies, mailing list companies, list brokers, email service providers, and fundraising organizations.

Nonprofit Financial Management: Data Security Policy

Once you have the basic information about your current data collection and use, formulate a general ethics policy and procedure document that can be shared throughout your organization. A little work now will come in handy later if the unthinkable happens and you have a data breach on your hands. Your constituents will thank you for taking extra steps to safeguard your data.

Financial Advice and Assistance for Nonprofit Organizations

Beck & Company Certified Public Accounts and Business Advisors specializes in nonprofit financial management, nonprofit accounting audit services, and issues pertaining to the world of nonprofits. We have extensive experience helping nonprofits of all sizes achieve their mission without sacrificing margin. Contact us for more information.

Nonprofit Financial Management and the New DOL Overtime Rules

If you are responsible for nonprofit financial management, it is important to understand the new DOL overtime rules. These rules will be in effect starting December 1, 2016, and will impact both for-profit and nonprofit businesses alike.

What Is the New DOL Overtime Rule?

The new DOL overtime rule resets the threshold for who should be paid overtime and when overtime pay takes effect. The revised Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) increases the salary threshold for white-collar workers. The threshold for exempt employees has increased from $455 to $913 per week. That is about $23,660 to $47,476 per year, on average.

The only exemptions from paying overtime are for executive, administrative and professional positions making $47,476 or more per year. The annual salary must meet or exceed $47,476 in order to qualify as exempt from overtime pay.

The threshold for so-called highly compensated employees has also been raised. These employees earn between $100,000 and $134,004 per year and perform non-manual labor. They must supervise two or more employees. These employees are now covered under overtime rules as long as their salary does not exceed the upper threshold limit.

Register for this Webinar Now: The Benefits of Integrated Project Accounting and Financial Management. 

Both the standard salary and HCE annual compensation limits will be updated again in three years.

Why Does this Matter for Nonprofit Financial Management?

The new DOL rules matter a great deal for nonprofit financial management. You may be required to adhere to it if you conduct business transactions exceeding $500,000 per year (excluding membership fees, grants or gifts).

Individuals may be covered under the revised law if they produce goods or services for interstate commerce and make amounts within the threshold limits. An example may be a nonprofit employee who regularly travels to other states for business purposes. You may need to review each situation on a case-by-case basis and make decisions based on the preponderance of activities that adhere to the rules. Err on the side of caution and compliance with the rules if you are unsure in a given situation.

Consider the implications of overtime on your payroll budget. Depending on how many employees are now covered under the revised DOL guidelines, you may now be required to pay overtime for a considerable number of people.

You may wish to revise schedules and limit overtime, depending on your needs. Weigh the pros and cons of hiring new employees or temps against the need for overtime.

There are several options to navigate these new salary rules. The options include:

  • Raise salaries: If you have employees who meet the ‘duty qualifications’ and have salaries near the $47,476 threshold, raising their salary would exempt them from the overtime requirement.
  • Pay overtime: Organizations should pay overtime salary to workers exceeding the 40-hour work week and who meet the requirements.
  • Redistribute workloads: Examine employee duties and hours, and redistribute tasks if necessary to avoid overtime.
  • Require overtime approvals: Occasional overtime payment may not be a problem, but you may wish to approve overtime requests to control your budget and employee workloads. Employees may not be aware that you are able to redistribute their workload.

The DOL leaves it up to the discretion of the organization or employer how they wish to address the changes. They neither endorse nor recommend a specific approach, which does give you some flexibility in how you address it within your organization.

Payroll and salaries account for a large portion of any organization’s budget. Nonprofit financial management includes the ability to balance budgets and avoid excess costs. By carefully adhering to the new regulation and understanding its impacts upon your organization, you can maintain a balanced budget that allows you to continue funding your mission.

Financial Advice and Assistance for Nonprofit Organizations

Beck & Company Certified Public Accounts and Business Advisors specializes in nonprofit financial management and issues pertaining to the world of nonprofits. We have extensive experience helping nonprofits of all sizes achieve their mission without sacrificing margin. Contact us for more information.

Add Processes to Improve Nonprofit Operational Efficiencies

Nonprofit Financial Management for Improved Performance by Adding Process Roadmaps

How many times have you started on a project or a task only to have that sense of déjà vu? Perhaps you had to perform that task last year, or a similar task last month. Unless you documented how you went about performing this task, however, it’s unlikely that you’ll remember the exact steps. That leads to duplicate efforts and re-creating the same task over and over again. In other words, you end up reinventing the wheel.

Many nonprofits fall into this trap simply because they are under-staffed. Their current staff is busy completing their assigned task lists, thinking ahead to next month, serving constituents, and doing all of the myriad tasks it takes to keep a healthy nonprofit organization humming along. It can be difficult to carve out time to draft a process roadmap, and still even more difficult to develop a plan to store such roadmaps and transmit them to others during the employee onboarding process. Still, without such roadmaps in place, valuable time is wasted. Nonprofit financial management can improve operational efficiencies by creating a process roadmap.

What Is a Process Roadmap?

Roadmaps are going the way of the telephone book, but they still provide a good analogy for documents around the office. A process roadmap maps out the path from start to finish that you take in order to complete a task. It includes vital information such as who performs which task in the process, what resources may be needed, and when the task should be completed.

Such a document need not be lengthy or cumbersome. In fact, the simpler and easier it is to read and understand, the better. Some companies require process documents to be one page or less to ensure they are as simple as can be.

Once a process is documented, it can then be replicated by anyone in the organization or delegated to someone outside of the organization. It is a great time saver after the initial time is invested into creating the document.

Uses of Process Maps for Nonprofit Financial Management

Let’s take a look at two common tasks nonprofits face and how process roadmaps can help:

  1. Annual charity event: Many nonprofits hold annual fund-raising events such as golf tournaments, sales, open houses, and the like. These events are frequently process-driven and require that multiple people pitch in and ready things for the date of the event. The date is usually set far in advance, so that a timeline can be easily mapped out from the event date back to the first tasks in the process, such as securing the venue. When a process map is in place for an annual event, it can be delegated to multiple staff members, volunteers, or outsourced partners.
  2. Audits: An annual financial audit is another event that can be transformed with a basic process in place and mapped out. You know when the audit will take place, and which documents must be gathered for the auditors. Specific resources may need to be earmarked for the auditing process, such as conference rooms reserved, personnel available, files organized and so on. Once a process is mapped and in place, the audit can go smoothly each year if the process is followed.

Organizing Your Processes

The most efficient way to organize processes is to create a template. The template can include:

  1. Name of the process
  2. Date when the draft was created
  3. A brief explanation of the process
  4. Goals and outcomes
  5. Timeline and deadlines
  6. Materials or other things needed
  7. Step by step instructions, tagged with the role assigned to each step.
  8. List of resources

A shared network drive or cloud-based system such as Google Docs, free to use with a standard (and free) Google account, makes it easy to organize all of your processes and provide access to staff at any given time.

Include Training

Lastly, be sure to include some basic training once the processes are in place. A process can only be used if it’s efficient and if people are aware it exists. Training familiarizes everyone with the steps in the process and provides a valuable opportunity for feedback to adjust the process.

Having your most important projects and events mapped out using a process roadmap saves you a great deal of time and effort. It enables you to transfer knowledge to new employees or volunteers and to smoothly and successfully navigate the path yet again. It is a great tool for organizational efficiency.

Beck & Company

Beck & Company is an independent certified public accounting firm located in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1987, we specialize in the world of nonprofit financial management, helping you to navigate the complex world of finance and accounting. Our services are always personalized, and cost-effective for your institution. We welcome your inquiry or call.  Contact us today or call 703-834-0776 x 8001.

Nonprofit Financial Management Tips [Free Webinar]

Why Nonprofits Need to Learn More About ASC 606 and IRFS 15

Nonprofit financial management includes keeping abreast of FASB changes, and examining your accounting methods to ensure they coincide with the latest recommendations. In May 2014, FASB issued Topic 606: Revenue from Contracts with Customers. In it, plans were unveiled to require all entities, both public and private, to change how they accounted for revenues. Revenues were to be recognized when the entity satisfied the performance obligation with the customer. This usually means that when goods or services are transferred to the customer, the revenue can be recognized.

While much of the work of a nonprofit doesn’t fall under the new ruling, some of it might, which is why you should pay attention to the changes and evaluate your revenues accordingly. Activities typical of a nonprofit that might be considered under the new ruling include membership fees, conferences and seminars, subscriptions, tuition, products and services, advertising, licensing, sponsorships, royalty agreements, and federal and state grants and contracts.

Nonprofits seeking to learn more about the law should sign up for the forthcoming seminar from Intacct: The Impacts of ASC 606 on Subscription Businesses. This webinar will take place on Thursday, November 3rd at 11 a.m. PST/ 2 p.m. EST.

If you are currently using spreadsheets to manage your accounting, it will be almost impossible to comply with this law and IRFS 15 compliance, the effects of which will begin in December 2016.

The webinar is led by Tony Sondhi, a member of FASB’s Emerging Issues Task Force and an expert on revenue recognition. This is a unique opportunity not only to learn first-hand about 606 and IRFS 15 compliance but to learn from a well-known expert and member of the FASB task force.

At this seminar, you will learn more about the changes begun by these rulings, as well as information on how you can interpret and implement them for your organization. You will also learn more about the financial risks for subscription businesses. Many membership organizations rely upon a subscription model, which is directly impacted by these rulings.

According to the FASB document, “The core principle is that an entity should recognize revenue to depict the transfer of goods or services to customers in an amount that reflects the consideration to which the entity expects to be entitled in exchange for those goods or services.”

The AICPA has put together a good paper that outlines the requirements and delineates the steps to take under each. There are five basic steps to comply with the new regulation:

  1. Identify the contract with the customer.
  2. Identify the performance obligation within the contract.
  3. Determine the transaction price.
  4. Allocate the transaction price.
  5. Recognize the revenue when the entity satisfies the transaction.

Typically, step 5 occurs when goods or services are delivered satisfactorily to the customer.

The goal, of course, is to protect customers and to make it simpler and clearer for entities to recognize revenues. Many organizations are already using similar protocols, and for those organizations, making adjustments to satisfy the requirements should be simply. For others, it may take a deeper look at the way they are recognizing revenues, and shifting some of their processes.

Do You Need to Make Adjustments?

All nonprofits should assess their accounting practices and see how their revenue streams compare to the new rules. Organizations should also consider what, if any, impact this may have on their financial statements. It is a wise move as part of nonprofit financial management.

Keeping Abreast of FASB Changes

We have previously shared details of the proposed FASB changes taking effect in 2016. Any changes that impact your business should be noted and researched as soon as possible. Nonprofits, like other business entities, must comply with all requirements. Failing to do so can put your nonprofit at risk for losing its nonprofit status. You also risk falling behind in compliance issues, an important part of accurate nonprofit financial management.

More seminars are available to provide updates on various issues pertaining to accounting and nonprofit accounting and finance. You may view our complete list online.

Beck & Company

Beck & Company is an independent certified public accounting firm located in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1987, we specialize in the world of nonprofit institutions, helping them to navigate the complex world of finance and accounting. Our services are always personalized, and cost-effective for your institution. We welcome your inquiry or call.  Contact us today or call 703-834-0776 x 8001.

Relax the Rules and Increase Employee Productivity. Yes, It’s Possible!

When you think about employee productivity, chances are good that you think about driving home the message that the faster and better you can get people to work, the more productive they’ll become.

Yet such employee productivity messages often backfire. Employees are adults, and hearing messages about working harder, smarter, and better often have the opposite effect. Instead of saying, “Yes, Boss!” and forging ahead, they slack off. It’s as if you’ve issued them a challenge instead of a request.

If you’re tired of giving workers the same message about employee productivity, we’ve got good news for you. Relaxing, instead of tightening, the rules at work may boost productivity.

Three Low-Risk Rules to Relax for Productivity

Although most of the evidence about relaxing to boost productivity is anecdotal, you can still try a few simple ways to lighten up and get more done. These three low-risk, high-potential-benefit changes can be tested in most nonprofit workplaces.

  1. Extend casual Fridays to casual summers: Casual Fridays offer even the most conservative offices to relax the dress code once a week. Casual summers take this a bit further, offering employees the chance to ditch the neckties or high heels in favor of casual, professional attire. Speak with your organization’s human resources department on how to craft a policy about casual attire to make sure people understand that ‘casual’ doesn’t mean ‘ready for the beach.’ You may also want to specify exceptions, such as meetings with clients, donors, directors, and the public that require a more polished, professional appearance.
  2. Relaxed working hours: While it’s necessary to have enough staff to handle routine business during your regular working hours, allowing people to come to work early and leave early on a beautiful summer’s day may help productivity. Instead of feeling trapped at work, they may work harder and faster to get their work done and get out the door. Relaxed hours, flex time, or even working from home may help people focus so they can obtain the reward of more free time.
  3. More breaks: Frequent breaks, even if they’re just to walk around the block, help boost productivity by giving people a change of scenery and a chance to clear their head. Banish the stigma of taking a break. Allow your employees a chance to actually have a lunch break, and give them a space away from their desks to eat. Breaks are part of work, and the less you hassle people about taking a few breaks here and there, the more productive they can become.

So which one of these ideas will you try? Choose one or try them all. The more you can reward, encourage, and inspire people, the better they will perform. Gone are the days of the Industrial Revolution when a mean supervisor was the way to get more work done. Instead of being the stick, offer a carrot. It’s the 21st century way to increase employee productivity.

Survival Guide for Nonprofit Finance Teams

Looking for more ways to enhance productivity of your team? Join us for this free webinar on Wednesday, August 31, at 2:00 PM ET. Survival Guide for Nonprofit Finance Teams will discuss ways you can increase productivity while facing the challenges facing nonprofit finance teams. Register here.

At Beck & Company, we can help you increase productivity when it comes to your accounting by taking the weight off your shoulders. Our experienced CPAS understand the nuances of nonprofit accounting and love helping great nonprofits succeed. We offer auditing services, tax and accounting services, and more. Contact us today or call 703-834-0776.

FASB Set to Release Nonprofit Accounting Changes Summer 2016

The Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) is set to release the first wave of nonprofit accounting changes during the summer of 2016, according to an article in Accounting Today.

The article indicates that FASB has completed its assessment of the feedback received on Phase 1 of its intended changes. The organization appears ready to release the first set of accounting standards changes that will guide nonprofit organizations in the near future.

The changes are expected to significantly affect the way nonprofits report net revenue, as well as other less significant changes impacting how nonprofits report and account for their finances. This is the first major overhaul of the nonprofit accounting guidelines in over 20 years. The overhaul came because FASB recognized the changing face of the nonprofit sector, with newer types of nonprofits requiring a different view on accounting standards.

Nonprofits Prefer to Stay Flexible, In-Sync with For-Profit Accounting

One thing that surprised the people at FASB was the outpouring of feedback they received from the nonprofit sector. Typically, the standards board receives only a smattering of feedback when it requests public input. The nonprofit sector sent in 250+ letters detailing feedback on the proposed changes.

The biggest request was that FASB retain the flexibility it has previously allowed in nonprofit reporting. Another request that came over loud and clear was the desire for nonprofits, in similar industries as for-profits, to continue using accounting methods and standards in line with the industry itself, rather than based on tax status.

The goal of keeping both for-profit and nonprofit accounting models in sync is to keep their reporting methods clear and easily understandable by most people. Because many people are at least familiar with basic accounting concepts used by for-profits, by keeping the nonprofit model similar, donors and the general public can better understand the finances of nonprofits. Transparency is maintained as it pertains to financial records because the information can be understood more easily.

The Rollout Schedule: What to Expect                                                                     

As Phase 1 begins rollout this year, it will impact reports generated starting December 2017. Financial statements for the fiscal year ending December 2017 should follow the new guidelines, with early adoption permitted.

The Big Change: Two Net Asset Reporting Categories Instead of Three

The biggest changed planned for Phase 1 includes condensing the three net asset reporting categories into two. The current categories include unrestricted, temporarily restricted and permanently restricted. The two new categories will be donor restrictions and without donor restrictions. The “without donor restrictions” category replacing the former unrestricted category.

Other areas impacted by the changes include some minor tweaks in the reporting of investment returns, as well as liquidity and availability.

Help Navigating the Changes

An upcoming webinar will be discussing how the FASB and IASB have released a new revenue recognition standard – which will dramatically impact the financial processes of software companies. Although the effective date is several quarters away, you need to begin taking action now. Click here to register for the New FASB Rev Rec Standards, Actions You Should Take Now Webinar on Thursday, June 16th at 11 AM PT/2 PM ET.

It can be difficult to discern which changes may truly impact your nonprofit organization and which may be considered and evaluated for your particular needs. The professional CPAs and consultants at Beck & Company can assist you through these changes, helping you update your accounting standards to reflect your nonprofit’s financial models and goals. We invite you to contact us to learn more. Call us at 703-834-0776.

Should Board Members Answer Form 990 Questions?

The IRS does not require board review of Form 990 however, Part VI, Line 11a of the form asks, “Has the organization provided a complete copy of this Form 990 to all members of its governing body before filing the form?” Further, Line 11b asks the organization to describe the process used to review the form, if there was one.

The information on the Form 990 helps board members understand the organization’s activities and the applicable tax laws, both of which are key to fulfilling their fiduciary duties. To help strengthen the board’s understanding of the organization, try asking them these 9 questions at your next meeting:

  1. Was a complete copy of the Form 990 provided to all members of your governing body before filing the form?
  2. Is the organization using a committee to assume responsibility for audit oversight, review, or compilation of its financial statements and selection of an independent accountant?
  3. Does the organization have any amounts recorded on its financial statements for receivables from disqualified persons?
  4. Did your organization provide a grant to an officer, director, trustee, key employee, substantial contributor?
  5. Did the organization engage in a business transaction with a family member of a current or former officer, director, trustee, or key employee?
  6. Did the organization hold assets in temporarily restricted endowments, permanent endowments, or quasi-endowments?
  7. Did the organization have an interest in, or a signature or other authority over, a financial account in a foreign country?
  8. Did the organization make any significant changes to its governing documents during its most recent tax year?
  9. Does the organization have a committee assuming responsibility for oversight of the audit?

It is vitally important for board members to be aware and well versed on the contents of form 990 before it is filed.  The CPA needs to talk to the board and officers and help them understand Form 990, how to read it and what to look for. This education is critical for the board to properly fulfill its oversight role for Form 990. The CPA is uniquely qualified to provide this vital education. The CPA should provide this training to the board periodically or in orientation for new members.

The Form 990 is not a simple form completed with cutting and pasting. This tool provides an opportunity for the CPA to partner with clients and moving them to a stronger position, practicing the best methods throughout the organization. It also provides a way to think creatively and answer questions that help the organization tell its positive story to the world. Form 990 presents an opportunity for the CPA to add real value for clients and to be a true adviser—it is the CPA’s opportunity to shine.

At Beck & Company we specialize in not-for-profit accounting and auditing. We understand the unique challenge of balancing the needs of your various stakeholders – contributors, members and your board, too. We have experience serving not-for-profit organizations such as unions, homeowner’s associations, religious organizations, charities, and social service organizations. If you have any questions regarding the filing of your form 990 we are here to help. Contact us today for more information.

Lessons from the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

A little more than one year ago, the biggest, most wide-spread, organically originated, fundraising campaign swept through social media. The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge began when golfer Christ Kennedy accepted a challenged to donate money to a charity of his choice OR dump a bucket of ice over his head, post a recording of it on social media and nominate three others to the same within a day. Kennedy did this and one of his nominees chose to make a donation to the ALS association, as well as post a video and nominate three others. Simultaneously but unconnected, Peter Frates, a form Boston College baseball player currently living with ALS, posted a video on Facebook. The challenge then took on a life of its own and thousands upon thousands participated in the fundraising campaign raising unprecedented awareness and money for the ALS organization. There are some valuable lessons to be learned from this campaign.

The Power of Social Media

It is undeniable that social media was the star player in the ice bucket challenge’s success. Although one cannot guarantee the type of mega success that the ice bucket challenge received, it proves that social media platforms are a great tool to use, to promote awareness of any cause. Ask yourself the following questions regarding your social media strategy.

  1. What is my social media strategy?
  2. How often is my nonprofit active on social media pages?
  3. How many followers/fans does our organization have?
  4. When was the last time our page posted or interacted on social media?

If you want to play, you have to at the very least, get in the game.

How do we engage the millennials?

Another thing we learn from the ice bucket challenge is the power of the younger generation to support causes. The millennials want to be a part of something bigger than themselves. They also want to know that their money is actually doing something good and making a difference. They are active social media users with influence. Learn how they think, what they are passionate about, what concerns do they have, and target a campaign to engage them. Read more about millennial giving habits here.

The fun factor

One reason for the ALS Ice Bucket campaign’s success was its fun factor. The campaign was engaging, specific, simple to do, sharable, and tapped into FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). If you weren’t challenged to participate you felt a little left out of the fun. This “X” factor was key to the viral nature of the campaign. Think outside the box.

Wide end of the funnel

Another key factors to the ALS success was its accessibility. Anyone could play. Whether you made a financial contribution or not you were still positively impacting the cause just by promoting awareness.  Furthermore donations were made that ranged from $1 – $200,000 and every donation mattered.

Savvy organizations are taking a tip from the success of the ALS Ice Bucket challenge to find ways to create online community support that will ultimately lead to greater impact for their organizations. Online giving campaigns should definitely be a part of your future fundraising strategy to support your organizations mission.

Founded in 1987, Beck & Company is an independent certified public accounting firm serving the Greater Washington D. C. metropolitan area with clients also along the Eastern Seaboard. Our firm has been built upon a tradition of service, technical expertise, and creative thinking. Our services are highly personalized, cost effective, accurate, and dependable. Above all, we find the most practical solution to foster success and opportunity in your business and personal financial ventures. Contact us to see how we can help you reach your organizations goals.


In a New York City apartment in 2012, Henry Timms, the Executive Director of the 92nd Street Y, dreamed of a global day dedicated to giving back. Tis’ the Season, right? With a day fully dedicated to giving thanks, followed by two of the biggest shopping days of the year, why not set aside a day dedicated to generosity? #GivingTuesday is a compassionate response to the consumerism of Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Last year more than 10,000 organizations worldwide participated in GivingTuesday and according to The Chronicle of Philanthropy raised over $46 million dollars. Knowing the trend of this generosity the question becomes, how can nonprofits get involved and make the most of #GivingTuesday in 2015.

Step one – Start Planning Now!

Get a head start promoting on social media, marketing collateral, and direct contact with donors. Take advantage of the hype of this global movement to let those who care about your organization know that you are playing too. If you haven’t put a plan together yet, it’s not too late. Set up a meeting time with your most creative thinkers and establish a plan now.

Step Two – Communicate

Make sure your call to action is simple, clear, and compelling.  Some ideas would be to integrate #GivingTuesday into your year-end campaign, organize a volunteer project, hold an open house showcasing your nonprofit, or consider matching grants. Whatever you choose, ensure that people know exactly what you want them to do and when.

Step Three – Share Your Story

Throughout the day, be sure you are sharing your results. Post updates on social media every hour. Take pictures and post them. Interview volunteers and capture their story for a follow up blog post or video to share. Additionally, document the process. Write down what works and what doesn’t so you can learn for next year.

Step Four – It’s Not What You Know but Who You Know

Consider recruiting and then empowering people who will promote your organization and influence others to love it too. Consider looking at your social media and identifying your biggest fans and cheerleaders. Those are the ones who consistently like, comment, retweet, and share your posts; or find a local or global celebrity who supports your cause. Even if their only contribution is to share your #GivingTuesday posts on their social media sights, it’s a win. Just think of all of the people who can be reached through networking with your most popular followers.

Step Five – Wide End of the Funnel

Take advantage of #GivingTuesday as an opportunity to be accessible to everyone.  This is a great all play day and should be considered a large generator of new first-time donors. Focusing on a campaign that attracts new donors, is accessible to everyone, and has the potential to move the newly generated donors deeper into the funnel to become long term advocates for the cause.

Step Six – Don’t Forget to Say Thank You

Generosity begets generosity, so don’t forget to be generous in acknowledging and appreciating those who have supported your organization on #GivingTuesday. Anyone who has experienced success in fundraising–and the profound responsibility of stewarding generous donors–knows that gratitude is everything.

Assign someone from your team to be responsible for responding to every contributor, immediately with a thank you email. Take it a step further by making a personal phone call or sending a hand written thank you note.  These are the types of actions that set you a part and delight those who have supported you.