Did fundraising cause the recent government shutdown?

shutdown1In the weeks leading up to the government shutdown, I heard some rumblings via the news media that Senator Ted Cruz and those aligned with him were dragging things out in Congress to maximize their online and direct mail fundraising efforts. To be honest, I didn’t give much thought to those accusations. They sounded like sour grapes and something partisan opponents would say in the heat of the moment. And then . . . when the government actually shut down, I started receiving a flood of email from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC). This is when my fundraising spidey-sense started to tingle, and I started paying attention because there must be lessons to be learned for non-profit organizations somewhere in this mess.

Here is what the most recent DCCC fundraising email said:

Dear Erik —

Boehner’s Tea Party majority is teetering on the edge:

A new poll shows that Democrats are leading SEVENTEEN Republican Congressmen after the Tea Party-inspired shutdown. Guess how many seats we need to win back a Democratic Majority? 17.

Voters are done putting up with the extreme Tea Party antics that have paralyzed the government. We have to act quickly to press our advantage in these crucial races. Will you help us raise $500,000 immediately to take on vulnerable House Republicans?

Donate $3 IMMEDIATELY to the Democratic Majority Rapid Response Fund.

This shutdown could spell the end of the Tea Party controlled Republican Majority.

But if we want that to happen, we have to act now.

DCCC Rapid Reponse

I purposely omitted the hyperlinks and website addresses because my intention is to evaluate language and strategy and not raise money for the DCCC.

So, let’s strip out the partisanship and set aside our personal political feelings. Let’s avoid the temptation to point fingers. Let’s just look at the circumstances, strategies and verbiage in the letter from a “Just the facts, ma’am” perspective.

What do you see? What do you sense?

shutdown3Here is what I’m seeing:

  • I see a misspelling in the signature block.
  • I see a case for support spelled out in five simple sentences.
  • I see emotionally charged words intended to poke and prod me into action (e.g. teetering, extreme, paralyzed, etc).
  • I see a fundraising goal clearly articulated (e.g. $500,000).
  • I see a specific ask (e.g. Donate $3.00 immediately).
  • I sense the strategy here is to set a very low barrier to entry to entice first time donors. In other words, they poke me, I get upset, and the solution is as simple as just giving $3.00 to make things right again.
  • I see an email with a small handful of carefully worded sentences fitting neatly on my computer screen. I don’t need to scroll down to continue reading.
  • I see short easy to read sentences. The longest sentence was 16 words long.

There is so much that you can learn if you just keep your eyes, ears and mind open. Professional fundraisers cram your mailbox and email inbox full of examples every day. Are you paying attention? Because with a little discipline you can teach yourself a lot in a short period of time.

Let’s circle back to the question I pose in the headline of this blog post:

Did fundraising cause the recent government shutdown?

I think a case can be made for the answer to this question being “YES”.

There is so much noise being made in our political arena on a daily basis that many people tune things out. I know that I am as guilty as others in this regard. So, when you have fundraising goals to hit, then your case for support needs to be very big and noisy in order to get people’s attention.

I believe the lesson to be learned here for non-profit organizations is that your case for support is powerful. It is the engine at the center of your resource development plan. It is the jet fuel for all of your fundraising appeals regardless of whether it is a direct mail appeal, email, social media, telephone solicitation, face-to-face pledge drive or special event.

shutdown2When crafting your case for support, this is what our friends in the political fundraising world seem to be telling their non-profit cousins:

  • Make it emotional
  • Focus on an issue that people care about
  • Choose an issue that donors and the media will talk about and magnify
  • Wrap marketing efforts around your fundraising efforts
  • Where possible, infuse advocacy into the appeal

For those of you who are skeptical and find yourself thinking at the end of this blog post that non-profit organizations can’t “manufacture” a crisis and weave it into a case for support like politicians, then let me suggest that you open your mind a little more.

I cannot tell you how many agencies I’ve seen neglect their buildings by minimally investing in maintenance and upkeep. In the final analysis, aren’t those agencies just slowly creating a powerful capital campaign case for support for down the road? Maybe it is purposeful and maybe it isn’t, but the fact that it is a manufactured crisis cannot be denied.

There are plenty of needs and gaps in our communities around which non-profit organizations can build a powerful case for support. We don’t need to manufacture crisis to raise money like our political counterparts, but it does happen more often than you think.

So, what are you waiting for?

It is the fourth quarter and year-end fundraising is one of the biggest shows on Earth. Start writing your case for support document today so you can transform it into an eloquent and powerful fundraising appeal in the next few weeks.

But whatever you do, please don’t “shutdown” your agency to make a buck or two. I suspect donors can only handle this strategy in small doses.  😉

And I am making a mental note to myself . . . perhaps, I need to stop tuning out politicians on a daily basis so they stop doing drastic things to get my attention.  😉   (Sorry, I just couldn’t help myself.)

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC

Obamacare and your non-profit: Part Two

On Monday of this week, I blogged about the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and what it might mean for non-profit organizations including those that have fewer than 50 employees and don’t think this legislation applies to them. At the end of my post, I asked a few questions as I always do. Within 24 hours, one person did weigh-in and others sent me direct emails. So, I decided to share that expert feedback with you today.

Feedback from a federally qualified healthcare center

elgin greater familyThe following is a comment from Rose Reinert who is a community outreach liaison from a healthcare non-profit in my hometown of Elgin, Illinois. I’m sharing it here because I know many of you don’t get an opportunity to loop back around to former posts to read the comments.

Great post Erik! As you know, I work as Community Outreach Liaison for an area Federally Qualified Health Center that meets the medical and dental needs of all, regardless of ability to pay, and I can say there are a lot of changes coming. It reminds me of when we used to play hide and seek and scream, “Ready or not! Here I come!” In this case, we have to make ourselves ready, and there are a lot resources to do so.

I have also found a lot of confusion surrounding the Affordable Care Act. Having said that, our organization, Greater Elgin Family Care Center has received federal and state funding for In Person Counselors who can assist in education and enrollment.

If anyone is in the Greater Elgin area and would like to learn more about the Affordable Care Act, please let me know. We can come to you to give talks to your staff, your clients, or any one who might want to learn more!

Rose Reinert, rreinert@gefcc.org

Feedback from an HR professional

hr midwestThe following is an email from a former volunteer and friend of mine who is a human resources professional. Her comments reference resources she recently blogged about. (I should note that she is one of my favorite HR bloggers and I subscribe to her site) If you want to check out her blog, click here to visit her site which is titled “Don’t bite the apple . . . Work is not a fairytale”.

Here is what she said in her email:


Hi there, I hope all is well.  Great Article on Obamacare. I didn’t want to post my blog to yours and some of my information doesn’t apply.  I just wrote a post on the notices with a link to the DOL approved notices.

ALL businesses subject to FLSA (which is pretty much everyone) has to send notices to employees to tell them if they are or are not providing insurance by October 1st.  It has to go to ALL employees f/t, p/t and even if not on insurance.  It’s a great thing to post about and provide the links.  The first page of the notices explain to the employees how to go out to exchanges and look at healthcare.  It also notifies people that if they buy from there and the employer pays part of the premium  they can lose their match. 

Feel free to take anything you’d like out of the post and if you need anything else, I’d be happy to help.  I have access to a lot of info through SHRM.

Have a great day,

Feedback from an insurance professional

lundstromDan Walter is a board member for my local United Way and he is a partner and senior vice president for Lundstrom Insurance. After reading Monday’s blog post, he sent me a guest commentary he recently wrote for The Daily Herald newspaper.

Here is his article about the Affordable Care Act:

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) is about to enter its most far-reaching phase. In 2014, the ACA mandates that nearly all citizens purchase qualifying health insurance or pay a penalty. Guaranteed insurability will provide access to health insurance coverage regardless of health history. Health plans must accept pre-existing conditions that might have been denied or limited under the present rules.

The Health Insurance Marketplaces, also known as the public Exchanges, are scheduled to be operational on October 1st, with coverage that can be effective as soon as January 1, 2014. Rather than create its own exchange, Illinois chose to partner with the exchange established by the federal government. Illinois consumers will have access to six carriers, far fewer than originally anticipated.

By October 1st of this year, most employers are required to distribute a notice to every employee informing them about the Health Insurance Marketplace. The Marketplace/Exchange will provide access to private health insurance plans as well as certain government-based health plans like Medicare and Medicaid. Also, the public Marketplace/Exchange is the only place an individual can access premium and cost-sharing subsidies. Premium subsidies are available on a sliding scale up to 400% of the federal poverty level (FPL) and consider the entire household income for eligibility. Cost-sharing subsidies help offset high out of pocket costs for people with incomes up to 250% of the FPL.

Insurance will continue to be available through brokers and carriers without going through the Marketplace. Brokers will have access to many other plans and other carriers, as well as those on the Marketplace/Exchange. Some carriers like Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois have also created their own private health insurance exchanges which brokers can access on behalf of their clients.

New ACA Fees and taxes will also go into effect in January. Two of these new costs are the Health Insurer Fee and the Reinsurance Fee. Starting at $8 Billion in 2014, the Health Insurer Fee will apply to health insurers offering individual coverage and fully insured group plans. The tax is allocated among health insurers based on relative market share. By 2018 this tax will have grown to $14.3 Billion.

The Reinsurance Fee is scheduled to be in effect for a three year period, decreasing over that time from a starting point of $5.25 per person, per month and applies to individual coverage and fully insured group plans, as well as self funded plans.

Combined, these two fees will add an estimated 3-4% to the premium. The amount will vary based on the number of people covered and a formula applied to the carrier’s net premium for the prior year.

In July of this year it was announced that the penalties and reporting requirements of the so-called “Employer Mandate” would be delayed to 2015. This portion of the law affects businesses with 50 or more full time equivalent employees and obligates them to offer coverage that meets certain standards of coverage and premium affordability. Not doing so will risk fines ranging from $2,000 per full time employee, to $3,000 for each full time employee who obtains a subsidy on the government Marketplace/Exchange. Other requirements and timelines of the ACA remained intact.

This is only a brief summary of some key points of ACA. If this sounds confusing or complex, it reinforces why individuals and businesses should be very discerning about ACA related information. Be sure to identify whether the information you rely on applies to individuals, small or large employers, and even whether it applies to your state or not. Obtain good counsel and guidance to help you understand your choices as well as your compliance obligations and potential penalties.

The impact of ACA is far reaching. With appropriate guidance, you will navigate it just fine.

My final thoughts on this issue

If you think your non-profit won’t be impacted by ACA, you are most likely wrong. At a minimum, this legislation will get your employees talking about healthcare benefits in your workplace. It would be wise to read up on ACA, talk to your insurance people, and be prepared to talk intelligently with your employees about this issue if and when questions arise.

This blog thread appears to have resonated with DonorDreams readers. Do you have more questions or comments? If so, please use the comment box below to share your thoughts and experiences.

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC

Obamacare and your non-profit organization

obamacare1I am not a healthcare expert, and I promise not to play one today. However, the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) has been mentioned in passing a handful of times in meetings I’ve had with non-profit board and staff members over the last few months. Of course, when things like this happen, it tweaks my curiosity and normally ends up here as a blog post. Today, I thought I’d quickly touch upon the quickly evolving topic of healthcare and the non-profit sector and how everyone needs to start paying attention.

In my experience throughout the last few decades, I’ve seen non-profit organizations occupy two very opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to healthcare and employee benefits. These two generalizations can be summed up as follows:

  1. They are expensive and the agency does everything in its power to avoid offering them to its employees.
  2. They are provided to employees generously as a way to compensate for low wages and entice employees not to leave for better salaries in the for-profit sector.

There is an increasing number of news stories about Obamacare as we inch closer and closer to implementation of the law. As this happens, it is top of mind for executive directors and their non-profit boards. As I mentioned in the introductory paragraph of this blog, I’ve heard both board and staff members mentioning things in passing on this subject.

Of course, the thing that worries me most is that all of the passing comments I’ve heard involve verbiage such as:

  • We’ll see if . . .
  • Obamacare might . . .
  • We’re not sure, but if . . .

I recent read an online article published at Online Athens, which is the website for the Athens Banner-Herald newspaper, about non-profit organizations and what the Affordable Care Act means for them. It was this paragraph in the story that sent chills up my spine and inspired this blog post:

Local nonprofits contacted about the tax credit were unaware of their eligibility and did not want to comment at the time of publication.”

Let’s please face facts:

  • Many non-profit organizations are small, under-resourced, and fragile.
  • These organizations tread water on most days and celebrate just keeping their doors open for another few months.
  • These agencies don’t have their eyes on things like the Affordable Care Act because throughout time much of what the federal government has done only applies to larger employers with 50 or more employees (and many non-profits aren’t this big)

The Athens Banner-Herald did a nice job of making this point when they ended their article with this:

There is no requirement on employers to provide health insurance, but there is a penalty under the Affordable Care Act’s employer “shared responsibility” provisions for employers with 50 or more full-time employees that do not provide a minimum level of insurance coverage that goes into effect in 2015. The Act does not require employers to provide health insurance to part-time workers and nonprofits that employ fewer than 50 employees will not be subject to employer-shared responsibilities.”

Regardless, the fact of the matter is that ALL non-profit organizations need to start paying attention and educating themselves about the changing face of the healthcare sector.


There is this thing called the “individual mandate“. To make a long story short, this means that most Americans will soon be required to have some sort of health insurance coverage. It also means that health insurance coverage will soon be on your employees’ minds. So, don’t be surprised when you start to hear things around your proverbial workplace water cooler like:

  • Why doesn’t our employer offer us health coverage?
  • Would it be cheaper to talk to our employer about adding employee subsidized health benefits or purchasing a policy through the government-run insurance exchange?
  • Since my agency can’t/won’t offer health benefits and I now have to pay for private insurance, I wonder if I can push for a better year-end raise to help offset some of these new costs?
  • Can I still afford to work in the non-profit sector? Or should I be looking more closely at sector jumping and applying for jobs that offer health insurance?

Sure . . . you may be a small non-profit organization with fewer than 50 employees, but don’t think that none of this is going to effect you.  None of this is meant to serve as commentary. I am only trying to make the point that every agency should start thinking about healthcare as changes start to occur and they lead to unanticipated questions and additional changes.

My best advice is to start educating yourself about the Affordable Care Act. Take a few small baby steps and start reading articles and attending free webinars and seminars on the topic. BE PROACTIVE! The following are just a few online resources you may want to check out in your spare time:

Let’s use today’s blog post as a starting point for many small non-profit organizations. If you currently work at an agency focused on helping with implementation of this new law, please use the comment box below to share a few thoughts or point folks in the direction of online resources. If you’ve attended a webinar or workshop and learned something worth sharing, please consider taking a moment to share it here.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC