Archive for November, 2008

A market-based approach to doing good

November 28, 2008
Salesforce.com Foundation

Salesforce.com Foundation

On Wednesday, February 13, 2008, I went to a one-day conference, Innovation for Non-profit Success, sponsored by the Salesforce.com Foundation. Salesforce.com is a commercial web-based customer-relationship management package that was designed to help sales representatives keep track of clients, leads, sales, and relationships in general.

The company decided, based on their experience with one non-profit who came to them asking to use their software, to adapt the software so that it could be used by non-profits to track members, clients, grants and grantors, and other relationships. The first 10 licenses are free to registered non-profits, of which there are about 3,000 now. The foundation has offices in 16 different countries to support them all. For more information, see Salesforce for Non-profits.

Thinking about it later, there were two themes (in addition to promoting Salesforce.com, of course): Using Web 2.0/social media to engage members and donors; and using a market mentality and market tools to connect with donors (or lenders in some cases) to raise money.
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Raising money online, from TechSoup

November 12, 2008

These three articles at TechSoup.org answer three questions that non-profits often have:

How do you get funders to pay for computers? See “Ten Tips for Funding Technology” by Bennett Grassano. See especially tips 3, 4, and 5: Focus on your mission first; budget technology as shared costs, not overhead; and search for funders using terms like “capacity building.”

Online Fundraising Tactics: What Works?” by Karen Matheson, Eve Fox. A comparison of multiple vs. single appeals, deadlines vs. no deadlines, matching gifts vs. no matching gifts, and dollar goals vs. no goals.

How can you make money via the Internet without spending oodles of time? “Search Engines Help Nonprofits Raise Funds, Get Publicity, by Brian Satterfield. Once you get GoodSearch and Google Grants set up and publicized among your constituents, they basically just keep plugging along on their own.

Interrupted

November 5, 2008

Victor and I thought that our good deed for the day would be delivering Meals on Wheels to housebound folks.

We were in the car when the phone rang. Victor’s cell phone is connected via Bluetooth to the audio system. “Hello?” Victor said.

“Are you home?” Judy, one of our friends from church, asked.

“No, we’re on our way to Meals on Wheels,” Victor said.

“Oh,” Judy said. “I was hoping…. There’s a cat with its head stuck in the fence in my backyard, and I’ve been going up and down the street trying to find someone to help but no one is home, and—“

Victor started turning down the hill. “Okay, I’m on Castleton. I can be there in a few minutes.”

“Thank you!” Judy said.

Judy met us at the street with a big pair of lopping shears in her hand. “It’s been in the backyard for an hour, I couldn’t just leave it but I can’t see how to get its collar off. I’m always shooing it away because it stalks my birds.” As a matter of fact, there was a collection of birds twittering merrily around a bird feeder at the other end of the backyard.

Victor got down on his hands and knees against the fence. Yep, a skinny white and gray cat with a blue collar had its head stuck through one of the chain-link fence squares.

I stood in the background with Judy, listening to it whimper. “Do you have any Vaseline or mineral oil?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” she said, but before she could check, Victor said, “Okay.”

“Did you get it out?” Judy asked.

“I got the collar off,” Victor said and handed it to her.

“Hmm. Its name is Snaggletooth according to the tag,” she said.

“Calm down, kitty,” he said to the cat. It was now wriggling on its back with its claws wrapped around his fingers, and as he tried to pull it free, it made a few strangled “grrrt” sounds.

“Do you have any wire clippers?” I asked Judy.

“Wire clippers? No,” she said tentatively.

“Give me the hedge clippers,” Victor said before she could go look for dikes, and she handed them to him.

“Let go, kitty,” he said. “Don’t put your head in the way, dammit.”

We heard a loud click. “There,” he said, and slowly pulled the cat out, belly up, from the fence.

“She’s just a kitten, really,” he said, as she ran around the edges of Judy’s backyard, mewling, and finally jumped over the fence, presumably heading for home.

“Thank you!” Judy said to Victor, and to me, “I’m glad I didn’t have to call the Fire Department, there isn’t much they could do with their ladders with the cat on the ground.”

As we left, she was calling the phone number on the collar.

“Aren’t cats supposed to use their whiskers to figure out whether they can fit through a hole?” I asked when we were back in the car.

“I can’t imagine how she got her head through that fence,” Victor said. “It must have been one of those birds, taunting her from the other side: ‘Nyeh, nyeh, try to get me NOW!”

Click here to see Sam Gross’s infamous Meals on Wheels (and cats) cartoon.

Obama won!

November 5, 2008

Maybe the U.S. can now reopen the conversation about the role of government versus the role of volunteer and non-profit organizations that the Bushes and Clinton shut down.

A few years ago, if I’m remembering correctly, Bush II gave awards to a group of religious organizations for their work on behalf of the poor. The leaders of these groups said thank you very much, but pointed out that they had stepped in only because the government had slashed holes in the country’s support net. They’d expected to be running soup kitchens, drug rehab centers, and homeless shelters only for a year or two, just until the emergency was over. Here they were, though, still running their programs 10, 20 years later.

Time for a change, indeed.

Leading by dragging my feet…

November 3, 2008
The diseased oak

The diseased oak

We had our building and grounds committee meeting last Thursday night, and it went pretty well. Sort of. Well, maybe not so great. Here’s what happened.

The main agenda item was to decide on our budget request for next year. We foresaw three major expenses:

  • Tree pruning and tree removal. Our trees are dropping dead branches onto the sidewalk and neighbors’ roofs (and some of their dead branches are threatening to fall on our roofs). The quotes we got ranged from $4,500 to $11,000 and were not quite apples-to-apples. I was given the task of asking the three tree services to come up with comparable bids and find out if they could break the job up so that we could do some this year and some next year.
  • Stopping the mortar in the church from falling on the choir’s and rector’s heads. This can be done by knocking off loose mortar and repointing (replacing the mortar between the joints) where necessary. The quote, from Company X, a respected restoration firm that we hired to replaster and repaint the outside of the rectory and repair our tower last year, is $19,500.
  • Fix the rectory basement. Four things are wrong:
    1. The plaster ceiling is falling down.
    2. Some areas of the brick (yes, brick) foundation need to be repointed.
    3. Raccoons and other animals can get in through the walls.

Explanations

The mortar problem inside the church: Twenty or thirty years ago, one of my predecessors hired a company to repoint the inside of the church. Unfortunately, this company used the wrong type of mortar. Restoration companies now know that if you use hard cement to replace the softer mortar used 100 years ago, the hard mortar comes off the walls, sometimes taking pieces of stone with it.

The soft mortar, on the other hand, lets the building breathe moisture in and out. It’s designed to be “sacrificial,” in fact–rather than let the water infiltrate the stone and crack it, the mortar captures the water and it falls out (eventually) instead of the stone. Twenty or thirty years ago, most contractors didn’t know this.

The front of the rectory
The front of the rectory

Gaps in the rectory walls: For some reason, it was fashionable 100 years ago to move enormous buildings here and there. In our case, the rectory was spun 90 degrees on its foundation so that the front door faced the driveway rather than the street. The workmen didn’t tie the joists of the top three floors to the foundation–since the weight of the building itself keeps it in place, they probably didn’t see the need.

However, over time, it appears that gaps opened up between the building and the foundation. There had been serious water infiltration for many years (it stopped after we cleaned out all the leaders, gutters, and drains around the building as per Property Support manager Michael Rebic’s recommendation) and probably some areas at ground level rotted away.

If there were no raccoons, squirrel, and possums on Staten Island, the gaps wouldn’t matter that much. However, soon after our new rector and his family moved in, so did two raccoons, at least one of whom turned out to be rabid. (Flo of Critter Ridder trapped them both and took them to be tested; unfortunately, testing means taking out brain tissue, so that was the end for them.)

Connections

We have a quote for $26,000 to repair the rectory basement by Company X and a second quote for half that by a local company that we like a lot (Company Y), but not for historically sensitive work. Company Y doesn’t have expertise in restoring old buildings.

I didn’t even bring Company Y’s quote to the meeting because I don’t believe they’re qualified to do the rectory basement work. Their proposal calls for putting in a dropped ceiling that encapsulates the falling plaster ceiling, which would be fine except that it hides the gaps in the walls instead of fixing them. (I can just imagine the animals dashing around in the airspace between the old ceiling and the new one….)

Company X’s proposal calls for removing the plaster, adding wood blocking around the periphery to tie the building to the foundation, and closing off animal access. However, it didn’t address the missing mortar, which Company Y did put in their proposal.

Company X, with their restoration expertise, knows that they have to test the mortar in the church and replace it with an equivalent soft mortar. They’ll automatically make the same assumption in the rectory basement. Company Y, on the other hand, would have to be told to test the mortar and we’d have to supervise them to ensure they use the right mortar.

Here’s the problem: Two of the committee members really, really want to use Company Y. In fact, one of the two–a building contractor who does excellent work in his area of expertise and donates a lot of time to the church–tried to force the issue. He sees me as obstructive (and he’s correct), but I feel like the mom who won’t get a dog for her kids: Who’s going to take care of the dog? Not the kids.

In the case of the rectory, who’s going to make sure the job is done correctly? If we don’t hire experts, it’s going to be me, and I don’t have the time or the knowledge.

At the meeting, we decided that the rector and I will go through the basement again with Company X’s project manager and ask him about repointing and whether encapsulating most of the ceiling might be better than pulling it all down.

But long-term, I think there’s a better solution: Send the two dissenters to school. The Episcopal Diocese offers historic preservation seminars and conferences, and the rector agrees that it would be a great idea to send them and anyone else who’s interested.

It’s good to have dissenters. Anyone who cares enough to argue is valuable to a committee like ours, and I expect one or both of them to become committee chairs after me. But my bottom line has always been, “In 2108, I don’t want Building & Grounds cursing us for the stupid decisions we made in 2008, like we curse our predecessors.”

Sometimes, I’ve noticed, if you slow down, the right answer comes along in its own time. We’ll see.