Category Archives: Initiative: Nonprofit Operations

Operation Kids does not utilize public donations for operation costs. 100% of donations goes to the individual charities and programs.

New Home For Blog

Over the last quarter, we at Operation Kids have worked very hard to refine our mission and provide additional emphasis on our donor-led philanthropic services. As a result, many of you have seen several changes – both to our website and our blog – including additional regular blog authors and new perspectives.

And now we introduce one more change: after more than 2 years publishing on WordPress, A Voice for Children is moving over to our own, self-hosted page at This move is being done to provide you easy access to any Operation Kids resources, information and updates that are on our website, as well as allow us expanded custom options and the ability to provide additional functionality.

We sincerely appreciate the readership and resources a WordPress platform has brought us, and look forward to embarking on a new journey. We invite you to join us there, beginning today, Thursday, December 17, 2009.

If you have kudos, concerns or questions, we invite you to leave a comment or contact us.


The Operation Kids Blogging Team

Rick B. Larsen
Don Stirling
Christopher Lindsay
Sara Brueck Nichols


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Filed under Initiative: Nonprofit Operations

Identifying Donor Prospects

The Only Difference is Zeros: 10 Steps to Improved Nonprofit Development and Fundraising

Step #4: Identifying your Donor Prospects

One of the most critical steps in achieving improved development and fundraising for your organization is also one of the most energizing—putting down on paper for the first time a list of actual names that represent potential donors. And truth be told, there are as many ways to identify potential donors as there are donors themselves. While there are a handful of consistent characteristics found in each prospecting model, what is most important is whatever process you choose to identify potential donors, embrace it, use it, work it, and measure the results.

I have found that no matter the fundraising effort, capital campaign, or major gift effort, there are three fail-safe questions to ask to determine if the potential donor is truly a “prospect” rather than a “suspect”:

1.   Does the name in question have the financial ability to donate?

2.   Does the name in question have the willingness to participate?

3.   Is there someone on staff, or do we know someone, who can initiate?

There are situations where a certain person may be a HUGE fan of your organization and the work you do—but they are not in a financial position to donate at the level you may be seeking. Or, on the other hand, the person may have HUGE financial resources but has either shown very little interest in your organization in the past, or perhaps has never been exposed to the great work you do. In both instances, and while this is no reason to exclude them from your target list, it means the solicitation/donation process will be harder and take more time.

Once you have formulated your potential donor list based on the preliminary qualifications of one, they do the financial ability to donate, and two, they do have the willingness to participate (meaning the person seems to have a pre-disposition and affinity for your organization or cause), the third and final filter questions is this, “Is there someone on staff, or do we know someone, who can initiate an introduction to this person, or better yet, help initiate a presentation meeting with the potential donor? Is there a supporter of your organization (Board member/Advisory Board member/existing high-level donor/corporate sponsor) that would be willing to provide an “I know this organization and you will want to know them, too” introduction on your behalf?

With myriad organizations doing splendid work, and an endless array of opportunities for donors to contribute and make a positive difference, what becomes the game-changer in prompting a high net-worth individual or a philanthropically-minded family to choose to investigate and explore your organization? Time and time again that game-changer is the potential donor is familiar with, does business with, or admires the person who makes the call or sends the e-mail on behalf of your organization.

As you further refine your list of potential donors, remember Step #3 (Information is Currency), and begin to search out as much information as you can about those names that have risen to the top of your list. What charitable organizations have they supported in the past? What are the nonprofit boards they currently serve on, or have served on in the past? When they support an organization, is it in name and contribution only, or do they become actively engaged in furthering the mission of that organization?

Finally, if you are the person in your organization who leads the development effort, or you are a member of the fundraising team, remember that you have no greater ally than your active, researched and confidential list of potential donors. As charitable giving is most oftentimes a very deep and personal process and experience for the donor, you must also view the very formulation of your prospect list as not only essential and invaluable, but it must be handled with sensitivity and discretion.

While there obviously comes the moment when the time for preparation is over and the time for action and results begins, the focus, energy and care spent in formulating your list of potential donors will undoubtedly yield positive fundraising results—now and in the future.

Next Installment: Step #5: Get Inside the Door!

This is the fourth part of a 10-part series The Only Difference is Zeros: 10 Steps to Improved Nonprofit Development and Fundraising

-Don Stirling


Filed under Better Fundraising and Development, Initiative: Nonprofit Operations

Information is Currency

Anyone familiar with Commissioner David Stern of the NBA knows that the term “information is currency” is a very important mantra of his. It is his belief that information about every aspect of your organization, information about other organizations with which you compete, information about what programs, initiatives or projects are working—or not working—all of this information is the same as currency. And the more information that you have and hold, the richer you are!

In other words, the more key facts and data you are able to assemble regarding all aspects of your own organization and processes, your competition, and prevailing market conditions, the smarter you are and the better your organization’s planning and decision-making will be.

Well known management consultant Peter Drucker said, “My greatest strength as a consultant is to be ignorant and ask a few questions.” One of the driving forces behind successful companies is the notion that the relentless search for data and information—and the encouragement within an organization to take whatever time is needed to ask the right questions—is as important, if not more important, than the answers that follow.

As a nonprofit fundraiser, where the competition for charitable dollars is fierce and where there are always more requests than there are gifts, it is even more critical that members of a nonprofit development team be prepared and armed with as much key information and data as possible in advance of approaching and meeting with a potential donor.

If I am in the process of approaching a potential donor with a gift proposal, either to my own organization or to an organization I am representing, and in advance of a meeting with that potential donor, pieces of information that may be of benefit to me might include:

  • Is this person known for his/her philanthropic giving? Does (s)he have a history of giving?
  • What types of causes or organizations have they supported in the past? Is there a trend or pattern to the type of causes they have supported?
  • In regard to their past giving, is there information about how much they have given? How much in total, and how much in individual gifts?
  • Is his/her spouse or family involved in the charitable giving? Is multi-generational philanthropic giving important to the family?
  • Is the donor apt to participate and provide support beyond the actual donation? Does (s)he often sit on boards, or does the donor participate in on-the-ground volunteer efforts?
  • Does the person tend to seek recognition for the support (s)he provides, or does the donor eschew publicity surrounding his/her gifts?
  • Does it appear the donor’s gift had the intended impact and results? Was the charitable endeavor a success?
  • Has the donor ever been involved in a charitable gift or initiative that was not deemed successful? And why?
  • Does the mission or purpose of your organization present any present any philosophical or political obstacles that would stand in the way of the potential donor giving?

While the process of identifying a potential donor, making the actual donation proposal, and receiving the formal commitment of a gift may often take many twists and turns, the road is far more manageable with solid information and preparation. It is far better to be over-prepared and not have to use the information you have gathered than to be under-prepared and find yourself in an awkward or uncomfortable situation where you are thinking to yourself, “I should have know that information before I walked in the door!”

Information is indeed currency, no matter the task or the assignment, and the more we have accumulated, the more successful we will be.

Next Installment: Step #4: Identify your prospects

This is the third part of a 10-part series The Only Difference is Zeros: 10 Steps to Improved Nonprofit Development and Fundraising

-Don Stirling


Filed under Better Fundraising and Development, Initiative: Nonprofit Operations

Who Are You? What Can You Do?

Who is your favorite charity? What do they provide?

With over 1 million registered nonprofits in the United States and more than 30,000 primarily focused on children’s needs and issues, it is critical that nonprofit organizations are able to clearly and succinctly define who they are and what they do, as well as articulate the services they provide.

But as a nonprofit organization, can you define who you are and what you do? From a fundraising and development perspective you should be able to clearly outline those benefits you offer donors for associating with your organization. Sometimes this is defined as a brand platform, but it can also be as simple as answering the question, “What do we want the public and our target constituents to immediately think of when they hear our name?”

For instance, when any of us hear the words “Coca-Cola,” what comes to mind? What about “Nike” or “GEICO” or “American Red Cross”? It is not a fluke or simple luck that when we hear these organizational names we all generally conjure up the same images, feelings, and expectations.

These organizations have gone to great lengths to define who they are as a brand, the “technical equities’ and the “emotional equities” they own, and how they differentiate themselves from other brands in the same product or service category. This process is no less important to nonprofit organizations who are trying to grow and prosper in a space where the competition for the charitable dollar is fierce.

In James C. Collin’s powerful management book, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t, Collins suggests great organizations take the time and effort necessary to develop what he calls the “Hedgehog Concept,” which, in short, when applied to nonprofit organizations, asks three defining questions that must be clearly answered:

  1. Can the financial model of our nonprofit organization become stable, sustainable and viable?
  2. What can our nonprofit organization be the best in the world at?
  3. What “lights the fire” of those working for our nonprofit organization?

The exercise of defining who you are, what you are, what you can provide (and be the best at the world at!), led me to a discussion with an associate of mine who founded and runs a billion-dollar, multi-national company. He asked me this compelling question, “If you only had 30 seconds during an elevator ride with a potential donor or client you had been trying to reach for months, how would you best introduce and explain Operation Kids?”

Out of that conversation came our own 30-second “Elevator Speech”:

Operation Kids is the leader in providing customized philanthropic services for individuals, families and companies. For more than a decade, we have managed the charitable giving process for our clients, helping them make informed giving decisions and achieve greater impact. Our philosophy is that by supporting a researched community of charities serving the most important issues facing kids, we improve the lives of more children while increasing the accountability and effectiveness of charities serving them. Our clients know…their giving is “OK.” And because of the ongoing generosity of our founders and supporters, our service is free. This is the charitable gift Operation Kids offers its clients. Your passion, our work, more lives changed.

While many organizations can easily be introduced and explained in 3-5 minutes, it is a very productive and positive exercise to craft an introduction (who you are/what you are/what you can provide) that is deliverable in 30 seconds or less. Not only will having this distilled-down, crystal-clear “Elevator Speech” prepare you for that oh-so-important opportunity with a targeted donor or client, it also becomes invaluable as your organization further defines what benefits it can offer your key audiences, including donors.

As you better understand who you are, what you are, and what you provide, this organizational solid-footing also helps you better formulate and package the benefits you can and must deliver, to either direct-service recipients or to participating donors and supporters. It forces your organization to ensure that what you are offering is a natural extension of who and what you are.

You become an organization that not only succinctly talks the talk, but also effectively and efficiently walks the walk.

In 2 Weeks: Step #3: Information is Currency!

This is the second part of a 10-part series The Only Difference is Zeros: 10 Steps to Improved Nonprofit Development and Fundraising

-Don Stirling


Filed under Better Fundraising and Development, Initiative: Nonprofit Operations

The Only Difference is Zeros

10 Steps to Improved Nonprofit Development and Fundraising

In 1984, as part of the first real job of my career, I had just come to New York City and joined NBA Properties, the official licensing arm of the National Basketball Association. In Denver that year, we were about to introduce to the basketball world a new concept—the NBA All-Star Weekend. Back then it was to include two showcase events—the Slam-Dunk Championship and what we called then, the Old Timers Game. (Soon after we found that our participants in that game preferred we call it the Legends Game!).

My responsibilities that year included putting together a shoe deal for those participating in the Old Timers Game. We identified a provider and put a deal together that, at the time, seemed like huge dollars. The shoe provider would provide the shoes and $5,000! But, if more than 13 of the 24 participants would actually wear the sneakers during the game, NBA Properties would be paid $7,500. As only 11 of the players actually wore the shoes in the first half, I actually went into both locker rooms at halftime and aggressively campaigned for two more players to wear the shoes the second half—thus earning us an additional $2,500! Days not soon forgotten.

Flash forward to 1997, and I am now serving as the managing director of marketing for the 2002 Olympic Winter Games in Salt Lake City. I am now participating in sponsorship presentations where the asking price is $50,000,000. Many times it was not lost on me that certainly some things had changed from the $5,000 asks to now the $50,000,000 asks. And yet, in taking a closer look, the development/fundraising process was, for both asks, very, very similar. The only difference is the zeros!

Over the coming weeks, now having spent over 25 years in the fundraising/development/sponsorship world, I will be sharing what I have come to see as 10 Steps to Improved Nonprofit Development and Fundraising. Steps that I have come to trust and use along the way, and which have served me well—from the NBA to Children’s Miracle Network to the Massachusetts Sports & Film Partnership to Operation Kids. Hopefully this list of steps will be of value to you as you pursue development and fundraising activities for the organization you represent.

Step #1: Love what you do and love who you represent!

Before you embark on any capital campaign, annual fundraising effort, donor program or revenue-generating activity, make sure you are passionate about the organization you represent, energized about the services and impact your organization provides, and that you flat-out love what you are doing. With so much competition for individual or family donor dollars, foundation dollars, or corporate dollars, the very first impression that the person you are presenting to needs to know and feel, is that you, as a representative of your organization, has a true passion and burning emotion for that which you are presenting and offering.

If you don’t truly care about the mission and purpose of the organization you are representing, and the services and assistance they provide, why should the person you are presenting to care either?

You have to have it inside of you. It needs to burn…not real hot some days and cooler other days. That passion for your organization and what it stands for and provides must burn steady, and burn bright. That passion for what you do and who you represent must be that “special sauce” that gets you out of bed everyday, and inspires you, day in and day out, to work hard, to prepare and to compete.

Without it, potential donors partners will see through you and will likely share in your transparent disinterest. With it, potential donors will say to themselves, “There is something deeper going on here and I need to find out more.” Before a person believes in your organization and your mission, they first must believe in you.

Next Week:    Step #2: Define who you are, what you are, what you can provide, and what you are offering!

-Don Stirling


Filed under Better Fundraising and Development, Initiative: Nonprofit Operations

The dawn of philanthropic giving in China

On May 12, 2008 a major earthquake measuring 7.8 on the Richter scale devastated Sichuan province in China, killing approximately 87,000 people and displacing millions. Within hours of the earthquake, hundreds of non-government organizations had organized to solicit donations and volunteers to aid earthquake victims. China’s most popular internet portal sites, including Tianya, Tencent, Sohu, Taobao, and KongzhongNet partnered with several charitable foundations to launch a massive online fundraising drive for earthquake victims, raising over 24 million RMB (US $3.5 million) within three days, mostly from individual online donations.  Within two weeks of the earthquake the total amount of social donations as reported by the Ministry of Civil Affairs had reached 30.876 billion RMB (US$4.5 billion).  (see Yang Guobin’s article at and Jia Xijin’s article at URL:

Does the explosion of charitable giving that followed this earthquake represent a one-time spike in philanthropic activity in China triggered by a particularly tragic disaster? Or is it indicative of a more long term trend in China towards the development of a healthy philanthropic sector? While it there continues to be many obstacles to the development of such a sector in China, there is significant evidence to suggest that there is growing demand and space for philanthropic activity in Chinese society.

China has traditionally seen relatively little philanthropic giving outside of the family. Various observers have offered numerous explanations for why this is so. Some point to cultural barriers, noting that both Confucianism and Chinese Marxism promote a culture in which social and political issues are viewed as being primarily the domain of the elite. Others note that in spite of the enormous economic gains made by China since the beginning of reforms in 1978, a relatively large portion of the Chinese population continues lack the resources to participate significantly in philanthropic giving.  Another important factor impeding the development of a philanthropic sphere in China has been the dominant position of the government in Chinese society, particularly during the Mao period.

Recent events, including the Sichuan earthquake and the 2008 Beijing Olympics, suggest that these barriers are breaking down fast. Social donations skyrocketed in 2008, increasing 246 per cent since 2007, as did volunteerism with over ten million volunteers participating in earthquake relief efforts and millions more getting involved in the Beijing Olympics. Simon Elegant of Time views this describes this spike as a “shock of consciousness… a new confidence in the ability, even duty, of ordinary Chinese to contribute to building a more virtuous society and a willingness to press the government for the right to do so” (see his article at,9171,1808638,00.html). This development has had a profound impact on both domestic and international corporations, who have had to ramp up there social responsibility programs to avoid be labeled as misanthropic “iron roosters,” as well as on grass roots non-government organizations, who have benefited greatly from the increase available funds and volunteers.

The event of 2008 revealed that a large number of people in China have both the desire and the resources to participate in philanthropic activities. Furthermore, philanthropic organizations in China are becoming increasingly organized and professional. Countless non-governmental organizations dedicated to dealing with social and humanitarian issues are operating in China with progressively higher degrees of autonomy from the government.  Most importantly, the Chinese government is allowing more space for philanthropic work in China. This is partially a consequence of the increasing difficulty of managing an ever more diverse and complex of Chinese society, but also reflects acknowledgment on the part of the Chinese Communist Party of the immense contribution a healthy philanthropic sector can make to a society.

While the level of donation and volunteerism has inevitable receded in the year since the earthquake, there is significant evidence to suggest that there is enormous potential for the philanthropic sector to grow rapidly in the coming years. In short, international charities, religious organizations and special interest groups which focus on disaster relief, charity, and providing social services without crossing political boundaries are likely to find an increasingly open and friendly reception by the Chinese government and people.


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Filed under Initiative: Nonprofit Operations, Initiative: Thought Leadership, Uncategorized

Don’t count out the little guys

We are fortunate to live in a country where many of our citizenry are willing to donate their time and money to help fight the incredible social problems we face. Indeed, our willingness as a people to contribute of our time and money has become a fundamental part of our national character, and it has contributed to the rise of a robust third or nonprofit sector in the United States.

In my interactions with government and nonprofit leaders from around the globe, I have come to realize that our belief that the average person can make a difference is not unique.  However, I do believe the degree to which we believe it far exceeds our international counterparts.  It reminds of something that the former U.S. Ambassador to the Russian Federation Alexander Vershbow articulated while trying to explain why our nonprofit sector is so strong during a speech in Moscow. He said:

Americans believe very strongly that individuals can change society through their own efforts. And they understand that individuals working together to further a common goal can make even bigger changes than by working alone. These beliefs, born perhaps of our unique historical experiences, are not of recent advent. The nineteenth century Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville, who visited and reported on American society, wrote “Americans of all ages, all stations of life and all types of dispositions are forever forming associations. In democratic countries, knowledge of how to combine is the mother of all other forms of knowledge; on its progress depends that of all the others.”

The United States support of charitable organizations remains unsurpassed. In 2008, Americans collectively gave more than $307 billion to charities representing the equivalent of 2.2% of the gross domestic product. This percent of gross domestic product more than doubles the next two highest nations in terms of charitable giving, the United Kingdom and Canada, which gave only 0.73% and 0.72% respectively.

Americans are donating their time as well. In 2008, more than 26% of adult Americans volunteered in their local communities. As the Independent Sector notes:

The power of the charitable community grows from its ability to bring together people who share a commitment to improving lives. They select the charitable community to make those changes because it offers the freedom to experiment with new ideas, to respond to needs without delay,…and to encourage all efforts, both large and small, that will improve the quality of life for people across the country….

The ability to utilize volunteers is an incredible asset to the nonprofit sector.  It serves to reduce operational costs and provides opportunities for nonprofits to leverage relationships in their communities.

All of these factors have contributed to the unprecedented expansion of the nonprofit sector itself. Annually, the number of 501(c)3 organizations grows by 1% to 5% resulting in more than 1 million nonprofits currently registered in the U.S. today. It is estimated that an additional 300,000 or more operating charities have not registered. The vast majority of these nonprofits are locally based. Though many of us can easily name national charities such as the American Red Cross, Salvation Army, or United Way, according to the Idependent Sector only “four percent of all charitable organizations have annual budgets of more than $10 million. Most are small, with nearly three quarters operating with budgets of less than $500,000.”

Regardless of their size or budget, these small charities are making a fiscal impact. Not too long ago, the World Bank examined the return on investment local charities were providing in the Washington, DC metropolitan area.  They found that organizations like the Manna Food Center in Montgomery County could leverage every dollar it received in cash donations into $5 worth of food through food donations and distribution. Another organization, Stop Child Abuse Now in Northern Virginia, recruited volunteers to serve as court appointed special advocates for nearly 200 children annually, saving the state government more than $400,000 in attorney’s fees. Additionally, each year the Independent Sector designates a monetary rate for a volunteer’s time.  While clearly the value of a volunteer exceeds any dollar figure that can be assigned, the 2008 dollar per hour rate is $20.25. If a volunteer were to spend two hours each week mentoring a child or working in a soup kitchen through one of these local organizations, the dollar value of that one volunteer’s time over the course of a year is more than $2,100. These same types of savings can be found in almost every community in the United States.

Community-based organizations are able to utilize voluntary initiative and community donations to tackle problems that the government is unable to adequately address on its own and do it for less money. So as you look to donate or voluteer, don’t count out the little guys.


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Filed under Initiative: Charitable Giving & Accountability, Initiative: Nonprofit Operations, Uncategorized